Persona 4 Arena Preview - E3 2012
It's hard to believe that Persona 4 was, once upon a time, a brand new JRPG on the PS2. Back in 2008, there was no way anyone could predict the game's popularity. In most cases -- especially on a dying console -- you get that one game that's great, you play it, and you remember it fondly before your system collects dust.
Persona 4 is one of those games. It has all the makings of being one of the best JRPGs to hit the PS2 -- or any console, for that matter. The story is interesting, the characters are fantastic, the music is catchy, the battle system is fun, and the stuff you do outside of dungeon crawling is just as addictive as running down the long corridors of a castle, strip club, secret lab, men's bathhouse, 8-bit fortress, and... Heaven?
But who would've thought that now, four years later, Persona 4 would still be so popular that it would be turned into an anime, manga, stage play, fighting game, remake on the Vita, and a porn-o -- um, s-so I heard, not that I've watched it or anything!
This is getting awkward, let's talk about that fighting game, shall we?!
At this year's E3 the Atlus booth was decorated in glorious Persona 4 stylings. Teddie T-shirts were being passed out and multiple stations were set up with Persona 4 Arena, a fast-paced fighting game that'll be available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 in August. You might see the words “fighting game” sitting next to Persona 4 and think, “No. Absolutely not.” Persona 4 is a JRPG, an extensive one at that, full of school studies, basketball practice, paper cranes, cross-dressing pageants, and -- of course -- friendship and murders.
However, the 2D fighting style not only works for it, but it makes for an incredibly addictive game. Guilty Gear and BlazBlue fans will recognize the studio behind this game. If you're not familiar with those two fighting game franchises then fear not, Persona 4 is in good hands with Arc System Works at the helm of Arena. This studio is great at making 2D fighters full of interesting characters and stories to match the crazy combos, instant kills, awesome music, and snazzy color changes for characters. You can even make Arena characters look like the cast of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, a clever nod to both franchises. Despite Arena being a fighting game, it feels like a legitimate entry into the Persona 4 franchise. Fans will notice, right off the bat, how true to the JRPG this new fighter is.
Taking place after the ending of Persona 4 -- which you've hopefully beaten by now, it's been four years -- Yu Narukami heads back to Inaba to visit friends and family. Much to everyone's surprise, the Midnight Channel seems to be broadcasting again. On top of that, Teddie is acting strange -- well, stranger than usual, he's not trying to score with all of the girls on the team but he seems to be cosplaying a cigar smoking M. Bison from Street Fighter. He talks about something called the “P1 Grand Prix” and declares, “May the manliest of men come on down!”
I'm impressed that the developers have not only come up with a plot that works in the same timeline as Persona 4, but they've managed to work in characters from Persona 3. Aegis, Mitsuru, Akihiko, and Elizabeth are all in the game, and each character has their own personal reasons for fighting in the tournament that fit with the overarching plot. Persona 3 took place a couple of years before Persona 4, but the developers have taken that into account and have made sure that nothing in this game clashes with the storylines of 3 and 4. If my information is accurate, the storymode starts with Yu, Yosuke, Chie, and Yukiko with everyone else being unlockable. This is similar to Persona 4, which opened with those four characters until everyone else showed up.
The animation and stages are straight from the Midnight Channel. A lot of stages look normal, like you're walking down the streets of Inaba to take on the Rainy Day Challenge, but then you'll notice small things in the background. The people are shadows, the framed pictures have moving eyes, the sky flickers in static, the schoolyard has televisions stacked on top of one another. It's these small details that make you feel like you're in the television world once again. The music in the game is absolutely perfect. Each character has his or her own theme, each one fitting the character perfectly. Yukiko's theme, for example, has a bit of an old style Japanese flair, while Kanji's is pure rock and guitars. Personally, my favorite theme is Naoto's, but I was very pleased with Yu Narukami's theme which is a new mix to the battle music from Persona 4, “Reach Out to the Truth.” These details also apply to the Persona 3 characters, for example, Elizabeth's theme is, “Battle for Everyone's Souls,” the final boss music from Persona 3.
At E3 the focus wasn't the story, but the fighting. Versus matches took place at each station, a few featuring pretty arcade sticks decorated in Persona 4 stylings. Let's face it, the combat is the meat and potatoes -- or giant meat bowl, if you will -- of the game, and there are a lot of things that Arena does right. Despite the short character roster, it feels like a game you can get lost in for hours. In fact, this was the game I played the most at E3 because I would keep wandering back over to play some more. Being a Guilty Gear and BlazBlue player, I recognized a lot of the techniques in the game -- namely, doing a combo, canceling it, and doing something else to completely humiliate your opponent. There are also the aerial combos.
If you're coming into the game as a beginner, no worries, Arena has simple, one-button combos for you. Think “Super Smash Brothers,” if you will. It's a great way to get into the game if you're not use to the crazy combat style of Arc System Works. Don't worry, veteran players, you're not being left out. You can still get really fancy with your moves and -- with the right amount of energy in your super meter -- you can kill a person with a series of punches, kicks, and persona assists in one breath. Or, you could pull off an Instant Kill move, taking your opponent out immediately. If you play as Naoto, you actually have access to three instant kills instead of one since she can use Hamaon and Mudoon when the time is right.
Speaking of Hamaon and Mudoon, these magic spells are what make Arena stand out. The game remembers that these kids could have their persona cast spells. Yukiko will use fire, for example, while Yosuke will dabble with the wind. There are also status ailments that can be cast -- Silence, or Poison, or other annoying tricks that can prevent you from using your persona or drain your health. There is even the ability to use an “All Out Attack” where your character will run in and pummel his or her opponent behind a cloud of smoke in the shape of a skull. Persona 4 -- or 3 -- fans will remember this technique fondly from the days of crawling through Tartarus or the Midnight Channel.
Also, the game remembers who these kids are and keeps them in character, from their fighting styles right down to what they say to one another before and after battle. Kanji gets extremely flustered when fighting Naoto, a nod to the major crush he had -- and still has -- on her. But it's not just characters that are close to one another who have something special to say. Yosuke -- who barely had any screentime with Naoto unless if other characters were around -- calls Naoto a “pint-sized detective,” an insult he had for her in Persona 4. It's a small detail, yes, but it's one that fans will notice and appreciate. Character entrances in general fit their personalities. Chie will jump kick into the stage, for example, while someone graceful like Yukiko wears her kimono, portraying the elegance of the Amagi family.
The characters I played with the most were Chie, Naoto, and Yosuke. Chie is a fast little combo maniac with quick kicks. Her personality in battle really shines through; she tends to fight with a smile on her face while making these little kung-fu noises. Her instant kill is even a nod to her ultimate move in Persona 4, “Galactic Punt.” Naoto isn't as fierce with combos as Chie -- not that she can't do them, but out of all the characters Chie is the kung-fu master who will jump kick you in the nads. Naoto is full of tricks and bullets, setting traps and always ready to fire her pistol. As I said before, her skills in Light and Dark magic carry over in Arena so she can pull off multiple instant kill moves associated with those elements.
Along with that she's got other super moves, including using a machine gun, or walking towards you and firing her gun three times before she kicks the crap out of you -- a nod to a move she has in Persona 4. Yosuke is freakishly fast, probably the fastest character in the game, but it's to be expected since his element is Wind. His moves are very quick as he twirls those kunai knives in his hands, jumping around like a little ninja. Even his super moves have him spinning around, creating a green tornado that his opponent becomes trapped in.
Watching others play the game, you can see the differences in fighting styles among all of the characters. Someone like Yosuke isn't going to be as strong as someone like Kanji, who specializes in brute force, but Kanji isn't nearly as fast as him. Aegis is full of weaponry, bullets flying all around her, while Akihiko is a straight up boxer, stringing together a series of deadly punches. It's up to you to figure out which character fits your style of battle. Kanji's combos won't be as quick as Chie's, for example, but him touching you is like Street Fighter's Zangief getting a hold of you -- run, run away, as fast as you can, because you'll blink and half of your health will be gone. There is also a brand new character, the robot girl Labrys, who can be played in her normal form or her yellow-eyed shadow form.
I am seriously looking forward to this game. Fans may have been put off with the 2D fighter idea, but it's honestly a fun game. I can't wait to get my hands on it again in August -- for longer than half an hour, this time -- and see what the Investigation Team has been up to. It'll definitely tide me over before Persona 4 The Golden comes out for the Vita in October. So, fighting game fans, this is definitely something you need to jump into. Persona 4 fans, the same goes for you. Or if you're a fan of jolly bears who want to score with all the girls in your neighborhood... we need to talk about those special interests of yours, but for now, get psyched for Persona 4 Arena!