October 10, 2014
If the world were a farm and all its countries were farm hands, analogically speaking, of course, Japan would quite easily be those guys and girls who pull udders all day long. You know, the milkers… you know, because they milk everything. Get it? Sure you do. The biggest culprit is obviously Final Fantasy, a franchise that was milked so much that instead of milk all you get is powder – they milked it dry, see? Persona is the latest in a long line of franchises that has hit insane popularity levels, prompting sequels, spin-offs, concerts, bizarre merchandise and sequels of sequels.
Firstly it was a JRPG, then it was a fighting game, then there was a chibi spin-off and soon there’ll be a rhythm game. It’s madness, but because we love Persona, we’re okay with it. When it works, that is. Persona’s latest foray into the hearts and minds of gamers is Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, a sequel of sorts to the impressive Persona 4 Arena, and you know what? It’s actually bloody great.
When it comes to sequels of sequels, especially with fighting games, actual value for money is always one of the sticking points. Usually it’s a few new characters, a few new moves and bang, there’s your game. That couldn’t be any further from the truth with Persona 4 Arena Ultimax.
At its core, Arena Ultimax is a fighting game, one developed by 2D fighting specialists Arc System Works. Compared to Arena, Ultimax is for the most part, more of the same. You have your usual SP meter and SP skills, a Burst meter, All Out Attacks, Furious Actions and so on, but for Ultimax, there are a few subtle differences. Firstly, there are new moves for most – if not all – of the characters. Secondly, there’s the new ‘Skill Hold’ system, that allows players to charge up auto attacks by holding down the weak attack button. It’s obviously aimed at making the game more accessible, but a skilled opponent will still outsmart a newbie down to the fact you have to charge the move up, leaving yourself open to attacks. It’s a real risk versus reward scenario.
Lastly, and by no means least, there’s the new Shadow variants of all the characters. These Shadow variants have more HP, do 20% less damage, have no access to Burst or the Awakening state, but they do have access to a Frenzy Mode when the SP gauge is full, allowing them to use as many SP skills as they want while the gauge counts down to zero. There are advantages to both the normal and Shadow variants, but at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference.
Let’s talk new characters for a minute. New to the fray are Persona 3’s baseball-playing-wise-ass, Junpei Iori; the smart alec, turned TV star and model, Yukari Takeba; and youngster Ken Amada with his capable-canine, Koromaru. From Persona 4, players will now have the chance to play as teen-idol and pop-sensation, Rise Kujikawa. On top of those, players can also play as the new antagonist and if they so choose, can download Adachi, Marie and Margaret as DLC too. Each of the new characters have their specialities, for instance – Junpei is a brawler, Yukari is good for range, and so on – and are a pleasure to at least try, but it was the classic Arena characters that we always went back to.
So, as a fighter, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is an impressive package mechanically, but beneath the core fighting package is a Persona fan experience that anyone with even a passing like for Persona must check out.
Ultimax’s main draw for Persona fans is its lengthy, lengthy story. I didn’t actually time how long it took, but I’m guessing it’s roughly leaning towards 10-hours in duration. It’s a classic Persona experience if ever there was one, bringing the characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 together once again to finally crack the case that you solved in Persona 4 Arena.
It’s not just a rehash of Persona 4 Arena, or even a small addition, it’s a perfect piece of fan service continuing the story that was started there. It’s a different structure to Arena as well, meaning no retreading the same path with multiple characters to get the true ending. There is one path this time, but it’s told from two perspectives: the Persona 4 character’s story and the Persona 3 character’s story, both worth a run through. Granted, if you missed out on Arena, you might feel a little out of your depth when it comes to story, but you can always spend an extra $10 and buy Arena’s campaign for Ultimax if you so wish.
As someone who’s ploughed over 300 hours into Persona 3 and 4, it was a complete joy to have two great casts of characters come together for what is likely to be one last hurrah – not including Persona Q on the 3DS, of course. It boasts the same classic environments from both Persona 3 and 4; the iconic music that all Persona fans will know and love; and the same characters and voices – aside from Igor and Margaret who appear to have been replaced. Sure, the end boss is a little lame and it would have been nice to have more animated cut-scenes rather than the traditional Persona-delivered text screens, but other than that, it’s pure unadulterated fan service.
In terms of modes, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has a lot to keep players occupied. There’s the usual training mode; its traditional arcade mode; the online multiplayer and its somewhat shaky netcode, which could be the result of us playing overseas; and the returning challenge and Score Attack modes, but new to Ultimax is the impressive Golden Arena mode, a mode that effectively introduces the classic Persona 4 RPG levelling elements into a fighting game.
Taking a level 0 character, you’ll fight through what is essentially a tower-style mode for a fighting game, but with a twist. You’ll work your way up multiple towers, not only defeating other characters and bosses, but you’ll also have to level up your character. That not only means investing XP into health, power, your meters and so on, but also what skills you get to use, which will assist you in the fight. In case that wasn’t Persona-orientated enough, there’s also an S-Link sidekick character that will assist you in battle. The longer you fight with them, the stronger the S-Link – and subsequently, the character – becomes. It’s a great addition to an already great game.
From a trophy perspective, it’s all rather bland, in truth. Do this thing so many times, do that so many times. I know it’s a fighting game, but there needs to be more imagination than this. The secret trophy, “Clean Up Grandslam,” for hitting a home run with the bases loaded, full count and two outs is the perfect example of where Arc System Works should have gone. It’s unique (for Yunpei), takes a bit of skill to pull off and is something distinctive that the game has going for it. Other than that and a few others, it’s very grindy. It’s not abysmal by any stretch of the imagination and does encourage you to try out other areas, but it’s far from being decent. If you want the game's Platinum trophy, prepare to get insanely good at the game and grind your way to the top.
As a package then, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax represents impressive value for money and is far from being a shameless cash-in on a brand that is gaining traction globally. With the insanely lengthy story, new Golden Arena game mode, new characters and new movesets, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a game that will appeal to fighting game aficionados and Persona fans alike. If you love both, then oh boy, you’re in for a treat.
It’s got most of the voices and all of the music from Persona 3 and 4. It’s just delightful, full stop.
It’s an authentic Persona experience if ever there was one, with great visuals across the board. It could have done with a few more fancy cut-scenes in the story mode though, just to give it a little extra pizzazz.
It handles as you would expect an Arc System Works’ fighter to handle. There’s a lot of systems going on, so it will take some time before you’re a true master.
Ultimax is chock full of goodies and modes. From the more traditional online and arcade modes, to the lengthy story and engaging Golden Arena mode. There’s a truck load of content here to sink your teeth into.
Way too much grinding and by-the-numbers trophies. Needs more creativity.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a stellar follow up to Arc System Works’ 2012 offering. Not just a shameless cash-in, Ultimax continues Arena’s story with a lengthy conclusion, delivered in classic Persona style with some dazzling cutscenes. On top of that, there’s new characters, new moves, a RPG-inspired Golden Arena mode and much more. It’s the perfect piece of fan service for Persona fans and a pretty great fighting game at the same time.