There are certain things in this life that just sound strange when you put them together. Ketchup and Kraft Dinner, or Disney and Final Fantasy. Oh wait, those things happened. So I guess it isn’t the craziest thing in the world to see the Persona franchise, typically a JRPG, transported into an one-on-one beat-‘em-up. But as evidenced by ketchup and Kraft Dinner, just because you can put two things together doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Thankfully, Arc System Works has pulled off the impossible: they made me appreciate a fighting game, a genre I am typically terrible at and admire from afar. Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax successfully combines the wacky flavoring of the Persona series with a fast, fierce fighting game that fans of the genre and the series itself will be able to enjoy.

Let’s start with the fights themselves, shall we? Fights are fast and flashy as hell. Gamers with epileptic tendencies beware: the screen will literally explode with color during SP Skills and Instant Kills. The fighting system itself can seem daunting at first — fatal counters and dash canceling and max bursts, oh my! If it weren’t for the lengthy lessons and challenge modes, newcomers might have drowned under the flood of fighting terminology, but Ultimax does a great job of easing newbies into the shallow side of the pool before diving right into the deep end. For some reason, I never felt like I knew what I was doing in the original Arena. I would just mash buttons and pull of combos with a ‘what the hell do I just do?’ shrug. I felt far more in control with Ultimax, possibly out of experience, but I think it was the in-depth tutorials that made the difference this time around. When I pulled off a long combo that made my opponent put down his controller in frustration and wait for his turn to play again, I knew what I was doing and it felt great.

The roster is quite a bit larger than it was last time around, thanks to the addition of Persona 3 characters that were left out in the original Arena, along with Shadow Characters for many of the fighters. The Shadow versions of each fighter have their own move sets that are similar to their non-Shadow counterparts with a few tweaks. It’s a great cast of characters, each one playing to the well-drawn strengths established in the games they hail from. Aigis can fly around and shoot bullets from her arm, Yu has his legendary sword that can cut through anything, and Kanji has… a chair. He’s not the most effective fighter, but I appreciate the effort.

This being a Persona game, Ultimax doesn’t skimp out on the story. The narrative picks up where it left off in Arena, so you’ll want to play that first to have any idea what’s going on (in fact, you’ll probably need to play Persona 3 and 4 while you’re at it). The story mode is long and sprawling, told from multiple perspectives, and filled with enough fan-service to make any Persona lover die happy. Having so many weird, interesting characters interacting with one another, like Junpei teaching Yukiko the importance of Stranger Danger, is an absolute treat (and makes me even more excited for Persona Q). Just don’t go into the story mode expecting a steady string of fights. In fact, the battles are so few and far between that you can just hit ‘auto-mode,’ which lets the computer fight for you. The story, set up more like a graphic novel than a traditional video game narrative, is clearly created for die-hard fans that want to hang out with the Investigation Team and Shadow Operatives one more time. If you want fights, there’s plenty of other modes in the game for that.

Simply put, there is an enormous amount of content in Ultimax. On top of the lengthy story mode, there is a traditional Arcade Mode and the newly added Golden Arena mode. Golden Arena is like a cross between a fighting game and an RPG (very akin to Persona 4 itself, actually). Floor after floor, you fight your way up a tower against a seemingly endless number of opponents, leveling up your character and slotting new abilities along the way, each giving you a distinct edge in battle. Some abilities replenish your health between fights, while others cause status ailments to the opponent under certain conditions, like poison or freezing. Score Attack, Versus and online modes check the rest of the boxes you would expect, but I spent most of my time in the Golden Arena.

Having played Persona 4 Arena only two years ago, there is just enough new content in Ultimax (new story, new characters, Golden Arena mode etc.) to warrant another purchase. You wouldn’t be wrong in wanting to wait for a price reduction, as many of the additions could be considered ‘tweaks,’ but if you skipped out the first time, this is the better deal. Plus, it’s not like Persona 5 is coming out any time soon (damn you, Atlus), so maybe that will scratch that pesky itch in the meantime.

Sometimes, it’s good to get out of your comfort zone, even in gaming. Fighting fans will be exposed to an endearing cast of characters examined through the warped lens of identity and friendship present within the Persona series. JRPG fans will get their asses kicked by people who devote dozens of hours to mastering the myriad mechanics infused in Ultimax. Truly, it’s a win/win for everyone. Except me. I’ll continue to lose to anyone with a shred of talent online.


Chris loves anything Persona Out Of 10

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