It’s actually kinda funny how one of my favorite fighting games within recent years is one that I never exactly expected to get into. Before the release I had only slightly heard of Persona 4 Arena back in 2012. Early one morning on what was the game’s US launch day, I decided to watch a live stream for the game to finally see what it was all about. Once I saw it in action it didn’t take much time for me to come to a conclusion; I needed to get my hands on this game as soon as I could. The game looked both fun to watch and looked pretty fast, and I like a good sense of speed in my fighting games. Through watching the game I not only picked out a character to try out but even learned the game spun off from a series of JRPGs, for quite a genre shift. A couple of days later I not only bought Persona 4 Arena but also Persona 3 FES from the PlayStation Store, and soon got hooked on both. I’d never have expected my love of fighting games to spark back my interest in RPGs, since I was in a slump with the genre at the time. I’d eventually play most of the rest of the Persona series (3 still is my personal favorite), all because of one fighting game. I was that hooked.
Now an interesting thing to note is that Persona 4 Arena was developed in collaboration by Atlus and Arc System Works. ASW has made fighting games based on other IPs, specifically Sengoku Basara X and the hilariously broken Fist of the North Star. It’s important to keep in mind that neither game ended up getting a sequel or second version, as opposed to games they actually worked on normally like Guilty Gear or BlazBlue. So when word spread that there was a Japanese arcade location test for a sequel, I didn’t believe it at first. Heck, I laughed a little thinking it was a joke. Then when I found out it was actually a thing, I jumped for joy. Given Arc System Works’ previous history with game releases it would only be a matter of time before a home console port would come into existence after some arcade exclusivity, and now it feels like it’s not too far off. For returning players, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax seems to have a decent amount of content on the way to make the second trip into the ring feel fresh this time around between new characters and game modes.
Between announcements from the Japanese and US releases, we already have a pretty good idea going in on some of the content to expect for Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. First in terms of game modes is a special mode known as Golden Arena. This mode allows you to take on waves of opponents, almost like a survival mode, but with a couple of twists. For starters, as you fight you receive experience points which you use to level up and distribute stat bonuses to your characters across various categories. In doing so you can also unlock bonus skills for your character that can help you in a fight. On top of that, the Golden Arena takes the mid-fight Navigators and gives them another purpose: they also can assist you with skills of their own as you increase your rank with them. The structure to this mode sounds incredibly fun, and I could easily see myself sinking time into it. While not exactly a new game mode, the returning Story mode has been revamped for the sequel. In the first game, every character had a story mode, which led to a decent amount of overlapping material between the cast (this was easily one of my bigger issues with the previous game). Ultimax takes a page from BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma, Arc System Works previous fighting game to come to console, by giving several story mode campaigns that focus on multiple characters instead. This should lead to a lot less repeated ground in the plot this time around.
A key thing to look at in any new fighting game sequel or revision is the new roster additions brought to the table. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax doesn’t appear to be skimping out on that department between the brand new fighters and the new Shadow variations for most of the cast (I’ll get to that a little later). Ultimax has several new characters joining the fray, and just like before most come from Persona 3 and Persona 4 with a couple of new characters sprinkled in. First up to the plate is Persona 3’s Junpei Iori (with his Persona, Trismegistus), who in this game is a little league coach who just stumbles into Inaba at the wrong time. Continuing ASW’s history of developing special mechanics and meters for characters, Junpei has his own interesting meter that awards him bases, runs, strikes, balls, and outs based on the use of his baseball bat attacks. Hit the opponent to get a base, whiff an attack to get a strike, having the opponent block gets you a ball. If you get an out your current strikes and balls reset, and get three to have all your bases emptied out. It’s a pretty clever way to incorporate baseball-style rules into a fighting game, and makes for an interesting character gimmick. If you hit 10 runs then Junpei activates Victory Cry, which increases his combo potential and damage, as well as gradually recover HP and meter. Joining him is fellow Persona 3 veteran Yukari Takeba, who now is an actress on a Japanese sentai program after the events of 3. Like Yukiko and Naoto from the previous game, Yukari plays like a zoning character who excels in keeping the opponent out at a distance. She’s capable of calling in her Persona, Isis to aid with wind magic while using her bow and arrows to lock down the opponent.
Also joining from 3 is the recently announced Ken Amada, who fights alongside Koromaru (a Shiba Inu also from Persona 3. Their Personae are Kala-Nemi and Cerberus respectively.) . Ken’s attacks have some of the longest reach in the game, due to him fighting with a spear. He can also send Koromaru out to attack for him, which in the right hands could probably lead to some nasty combo potential. Ken users will need to keep tabs on Koromaru though, since he has what functions similar to a health meter that can limit his use (If the opponent hits Koromaru enough times and the meter empties, he gets tired and lies down on the floor for a little bit before he’s back on his paws to fight alongside Ken again.), which adds some additional resource management tactics to keep in mind. Next from Persona 4 comes Rise Kujikawa with a modified version of her Persona, Himiko. Rise’s combat style reflects the fact that she’s primarily an idol and, well, doesn’t really fight much at all normally (Heck, one of her supers is just her slapping the opponent repeatedly before smacking them over the head.). She fights with her microphone stand alongside Himiko being able to summon projectiles. By far the most unique part of her is her Awakening super, which actually functions similar to a rhythm game via timed button presses to the beat of the music. Very recently confirmed to join the cast is Persona 4’s Tohru Adachi, but there’s very little footage to go on in comparison to the rest of the cast. Finally, rounding out the new fighters is a brand new character to the Persona series named Sho Minazuki. This red haired, scar-faced, twin sword wielding character is interesting in that there’s actually two versions of him on the character select screen, similar to Labrys. One of which fights on his own, while the other fights with the Persona, Tsukiyomi. When solo, Sho has normal attacks on buttons A, B, and C (everyone else has normal attacks on A and B and Persona attacks on C and D usually), while D is a button that gives him several tools to dodge attacks. While fighting alongside Tsukiyomi he has more traditional controls as well as all new attacks. Even from a personality standpoint the two versions are drastically different, which adds a bit of mystery to the situation. With a multitude of new fighters on the way, chances are players will definitely find someone to try out within the newcomers.
However, as if new characters weren’t enough, the developers took the standard combat and went one step above in terms of new additions: an all new Shadow variation for most characters. Shadows have some drawbacks in comparison to the standard versions in that they don’t deal as much damage, lack the ability to burst, and don’t get the Awakening mode defense boost. They more than make up for these losses however by having the ability to use Awakening supers at any time for the meter cost, more overall health, being able to carry over super meter between rounds, and a special Frenzy mode that allows players to temporarily cancel special moves into each other similar to King of Fighters XIII, although this is all based entirely on your special meter rather than a separate gauge in that game. For returning characters, Shadow versions retain the autocombos they used in Persona 4 Arena. Normal versions of the returning cast have brand new autocombos instead. Shadows seem to offer a nice variety to how you can play the game, and with Frenzy the combo potential should be a sight to behold.
I could probably ramble on more if I wanted to on just how excited I am for this game. Just about every thing being added into the game so far on this list is something I’m very much looking forward to. The previous game is probably the fighting game I’ve put the most time into in recent years, and for me is still an absolute blast. I can’t wait to try out the new cast and Shadows, the newer structure to Story mode sounds like a much needed improvement, and Golden Arena sounds like it will be an immensely fun time sink. There is no official US release date at this point, but for me this port can’t come soon enough.