Anime, JRPG, and fighting game fans can rejoice. The P-1 tournament is back. Grab your tarot card or evoker, strengthen your social links, and have a great day at your Junes. It’s time for Persona 4 Arena Ultimax.
Persona has become a little bit of a household name since Atlus released the enhanced port of Persona 4 Golden onto the PSVita.
Spawning many spin-offs, it wouldn’t be long until Yu Narukami and his harem tried their hands in the fighting game arena. Persona 4 Arena was developed by Arc System Works and overseen by key staff from the main game. It fuses elements of Persona 4 with traditional 1 vs 1 fighting games.
Following that success, the teams once again came together for a sequel to the game. It adds extra characters, moves, and balance changes. Along with that comes more story, continuing the narrative built up in Persona 4 Arena. This brings us to the final stage with Persona 4 Arena Ultimax.
Welcome to the Velvet Room
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax follows on from the story laid out in Persona 4 Arena, which also followed on from Persona 4 Golden. It’s safe to say that if you haven’t played the latter, spoilers are rife here.
Fortunately, if you missed out on the first Arena game, then Arc and Atlus have you covered. Alongside the two substantial visual novel stories covering both the Persona 3 and 4 crew, they have also included the entire story of Arena 1!
What this all means is that you easily have over 10 hours of story, just oozing with more lore and time with everyone’s favorite best friend, Chie. Even more so, if you have never played Persona 4 Arena, more content is certainly nothing to sniff at!
As mentioned, the story is presented in a visual novel style. There’s lots of dialogue and fantastic art accompanied by those familiar voice actors you spent over 100 hours with during Persona 4 Golden.
The story is split into 2 “paths”, though the “P3” path requires you to play a bit of the “P4” path to unlock it. Naturally, there is a true ending to discover as well, which is tied to story completion.
Whereas I’m not a huge fan of the visual novel/fighting game hybrid which seems to be the staple of the anime fighting game genre, the story here is fantastic. It helps that the characters are well written and familiar to legacy players, and the scenario, while leaning into the whole “fighting tournament” scenario, really could be “Persona 4-2.”
Alongside all of this, there are also rather condensed versions of events that play out through the games’ Arcade Mode, which also adds a little more time to the story. This plays out with in-game conversation scenes, usually at the start of the arcade ladder, midway through, and at the end. It’s perfect for those who would rather spend more time fighting than reading or listening, which is the opposite of the main story modes.
Ready to Junpei in?
In terms of game modes available on Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, you’ll not be left running arcade over and over again should you be more of a single player. Alongside the hefty story content, there are also several modes in the game to keep your Persona fighting itch well scratched.
You have a score attack where you aim to get the highest score by finishing matches quickly, hitting the big moves, and taking as little damage as possible.
Arcade mode, as previously mentioned, is your standard ladder affair where you throw down against the cast in a run of standard fights with the normal rule set. It all culminates in a boss fight at the end with a tougher than usual “boss character”.
The Golden Arena mode is one big daddy of a mode where Arc System Works really leaned into the RPG/fighting game fusion in a big way.
In this mode, you’ll be picking a character and a navigator who will act as your inactive partner throughout. This navigator will offer various skills throughout and is made up of playable and non-playable characters, which means you can take Nanako on the adventure with you and have a great day at your Junes.
Throughout, you have several dungeons to tackle. That said, it’s not in the traditional sense, as these are just arcade ladders but with themes. You go through these and with every fight you’ll level up, which increases your stats such as damage taken/given out, faster meter build, you get the idea.
You also have the ability to level up your “Social Link” with your navigator, which unlocks more skills for them and yourself. This allows stuff like status effects with your attacks, regenerating health, and other traditional RPG goodness.
This mode is not only brilliantly done in the way it mimics Persona 3 upwards with its social links and other nods such as navigators, but it also adds even more playtime and presents players with unique ways to tackle fights within the game. Igor helps you if you make it to the last dungeon, which is home to some of the toughest fights you’ll have in this game online or offline!
Of course, because Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a modern fighting game, it also has a Practice mode for practicing combos and getting acquainted with the roster. This is alongside the usual online options like Ranked and Casual matches.
The Netcode, as it currently stands, is serviceable but is due to be replaced with the fighting game community messiah known as Rollback Netplay, providing a much smoother, close to offline experience. Sadly, this isn’t active yet and is only coming to the Steam and PlayStation versions of the game, so the Switch owners are going to have to sit this out and play Fighting Ex Layer instead for that Rollback fix.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax features a roster of over 20 characters ranging from Persona 3 to Persona 4 and original characters made for both Arena and Ultimax. A lot of the characters have “Shadow” versions which change their stats and some of their attacks, meaning you’ll have plenty of characters to test out until you find your best girl or boy.
The game is a traditional 1 vs 1 fighter and an Arc System Works title. They are synonymous with the “anime fighter” subgenre, which, as in this case, are faster-paced fighters than Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.
You have the usual attacks, special moves, and ultimate attacks with all the flair and dramatics you would expect a fighting game with a heavy anime art style to have. But what would a Persona game be without Persona?
The Persona system is handled much like the old JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure game from the late 90s developed by Capcom. They have specific attacks which can be used at the press of a button and they also have a health bar. This means that if you attack a persona you can destroy them for a limited time, reducing your opponents’ options.
Alongside that, some characters have attacks that have status effects, such as poison. These can reduce health slowly over time, slow characters down or gain meters, or even heal characters.
Another feature of the genre and something Arc System Works is known for is character gimmicks. An example is Naoto from Persona 4. Due to her carrying a gun, she only has a finite number of bullets in her chamber. Taking this into account, you have to reload the gun with a special move input. This furthers choices when picking a character and what to expect when you come up against them.
That was a Critical Hit, Joker!
There is quite a lot to take in, and I would say, despite its crossover nature, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is one of the tougher fighting game titles to comfortably dip your toes into if you are completely new to the genre or have never ventured over to the anime side of the fighting game world.
To ease this, there is an auto combo option that allows you to knock out combos with a simple repetitive button press, but they are never optimized. These are designed like training wheels to get you used to combo flow and somewhat even the playing field between oldtimers and newcomers.
If you do feel like taking those wheels off, there are combo challenges within the training to teach you your characters’ “Bread and Butter” combos in a trial setting. These really help you maximize your time between fights before you jump online and take on people who have been playing the game since its arcade and PS3/360 initial release.
Finally, the game is actually based on the latest version of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, which was released exclusively in arcades. This is full of balance changes and move changes for the whole roster and should help the game feel fresh even for those who played it way back when.
Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There
One of the first things that comes to gamers’ minds when it comes to the Persona series is its strong art direction, smooth U.I, catchy and engaging music, and fantastic voice acting from the cream of the English dub crop. I’m happy to report that nothing has changed for this title.
I would happily go on record and say that Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has one of, if not my favorite visual packages of ANY fighting game. From its character models to its menus, it just oozes the source material and couldn’t be more stylish unless it was set in a jazz bar and wearing a fedora.
While the character models are starting to show their age when compared to other Arc System Works titles such as Guilty Gear: Strive, they still stand up well, are well-drawn, and the changes made to the Persona 3 cast are fantastic, showing how they have aged and changed since the events of the game.
The stages are fantastic and vivid, using 3D graphics, which really makes them stand out, and they follow the source material of Persona 4 Golden perfectly. There are many new and familiar locations to throw down across the “Shadow World.”
Throughout fights, even the combo notifications ooze that Persona 4 art style, and the fact that you have a navigator in between the health bars commentating on the match using the in-game and font really just ties everything together. It blurs the line between fighting game spinoff and Persona 4 sequel in the most tongue-in-cheek way and is an absolute masterstroke in my opinion.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a cult fighting game hit for all the right reasons. It’s such a genuine pleasure to have the title once again readily available on modern platforms. It offers enough options for fans of Persona 3/4/5 who may not be fighting game fans to have a good time, but it also offers enough heft and chaos that only an Arc System Works fighting game can provide.
It’s a shame that not all ports are created equal and the Switch owners are going to be missing out on the Rollback patch, which will no doubt breathe even more life into the game, but with its plethora of modes, unlockable artwork, and hefty roster to play around with, it’s very hard not to recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of the source material or the genre in which the game is set.
Even though it’s been years, every day at your Junes is still fantastic!
PERSONA 4 ARENA ULTIMAX IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Atlus for a PC review code for this title.
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Pride of utopia & greatest thing ever, I found the One Piece, Collected the Dragon Balls & won the Mortal Kombat Tournament in one night, it was quiet for me that night! Follow me on Twitter @powahdunk