When Dissidia Final Fantasy was first announced to say I was, in a single understated word would be, skeptical. I like Japanese Role Playing Games. I like Fighting Games. However the mixture just seemed really odd (however the tactical RPG “Namco x Capcom” – for whatever reason, made perfect sense to me). While far from awful it wasn’t a game that I could really stick with in the long run. Ultimately the game turned into more of an interesting nostalgic trip rather than a game I would continued playing if they stripped all the Final Fantasy aspects out leaving the core game place.
Fast forward a good number of years. There is a new Persona game announced. Persona 4 Arena. I love the Persona series, I’m sold. They mention that it’s a Fighting Game. There is a pause. Hesitation sets in. I find that Chie Satonaka is a playable character. Once again I’m sold. Arc System Works is developing it. Double sold.
As developers go, I usually err on the side that an Arc System Works offering will be good (excluding the entirely banal Guilty Gear 2: Overture). Guilty Gear and BlazBlue are great fighting games. And they do a good job even on items that aren’t their property – such as the completely broken yet completely excellent Fist of the North Star fighting game.
When it’s all said and done. Does Persona 4 Arena end up being both a worthy successor to the Persona RPG games while being an excellent Fighting Game? The answer is an unequivocal YES.
Story wise it takes place after Persona 4 and tries very hard to garner why it would reunite these characters after that particular game. For those who jump straight into the story, expect about 20 minutes of dialog and reading before jumping into your first match. And about 10 minutes in between matches of story and voice over work. While this seems incredibly daunting for those who are new to the series, it tries valiantly to catch them up to what is occurring in the world of Persona, the Midnight Channel, and the strange abilities the characters possess and presents it in a way familiar to fans of the series. If you’re looking to jump straight into the action – I highly recommend sticking with Arcade mode otherwise you’ll likely be bored to tears.
Visually the game is immaculate and I am about to beat this description to death several times over. The music, the style, and backgrounds fit the series. The character sprites are gorgeously animated and BlazBlue players will feel right at home with the animation quality. In terms of the Persona games and as a current generation fighting game, it is perfect.
Mechanically at first it appears to be pretty easy. The fighting is done with the joystick and 4 buttons. A light and heavy attack for the character. A light and heavy attack for the character’s Persona. There is an easy combo button that allows new players to mash repeatedly. If it connects it’ll launch into a combo, which turns into a special move, which can then turn into a super move if you have enough meter built up. The combo isn’t optimized by any means. This allows new players to jump right in the action but leaves a vast landscape for players to improve and develop their own combos.
As you start digging into the game, the depth really starts shining through. Hitting certain two buttons simultaneously results in certain actions such as rolling away, throwing, or unique attacks such as an all out attack. Though having the hop command as a two button action rather than a quick flick of the joystick felt more of them trying to justify one more button combination rather than one that seems to feel natural – though this may be my enjoyment of the King of Fighters series coming through. There are ailments such as Mute, Charm, Poison, Shock, etc. that make a call back to the RPG origins as well as providing interesting match mechanics. The Persona’s themselves are more than just different attack animations for the characters as they can be attack themselves. Play too recklessly and you may find yourself without your Persona (and thus half your buttons) for what will feel like an eternity. You’re also never out of the fight as characters that run low on life they reach an ‘awakened state’ that results in damage reduction, a larger special meter gauge, free meter, and a new attack to allow the player to come back during the match.
The characters and their personas look and feel different than fighting game clichés where this is immediately apparent the fast light character, this is the grapplers, etc. Which is both good and bad as it remains true to the series but hampers newcomers looking for a new game that generally gravitate towards a style of play rather than aesthetics. The Instant Kills are some of the flashiest animations of the game but there are a number of them that just feel very flat. Not only compared to others in the game but even to some other fighting games. As with any game that has universal air dashes and air recovery, the matches plays out very quickly. Coming from a Street Fighter entry or solely from the Persona games may overwhelm players at first. Players familiar with the VS. should feel right at home
For those who are on the fence, I implore you to try it before you buy it. There are other great fighting games out as the market is extremely saturated with great fighting games both as retail and online releases that deserve your attention. When it is all said and done and you like both Persona and Fighting Games, check it out. Each piece remains strong on their own but are strengthened as a total package. It’s been out in Japan and the States for a while so there is plenty of information of the game and metagame available. If Persona 4 Arena is the continued path of what Fighting Games based on RPG properties entail, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future. 
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Arc System Works