|Dev: Arc System Works|
|Release: September 30, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is out, and I’d like to rescind something I said in several previews I wrote about the game. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax does not feel just like an expansion pack. There is certainly enough content here to make the game feel like a fully fleshed out sequel. It’s fun and interesting and the balance changes are great. But while Atlus and Arc System Works really hit the nail on the head with some additions to the game, a lot of others seem like just throwaway pieces that at best you’ll never use and at worst greatly complicate an already complicated system. Persona 4 Arena is likely a game worth getting, but with a lot of extras that probably could have been cut in order to work on another character or stage or something.
The most important thing people look for in fighting game sequels is an increased roster, and Persona 4 Arena doesn’t disappoint. The rest of Persona 3’s cast, including Junpei, Ken, and Yukari, has joined the battle, along with Rise from Persona 4, a brand new character called Sho Minazuki with two separate forms, and 3 new DLC characters, Adachi, Margaret, and Marie. That’s 9 new characters in total, which is outstanding for a fighting game sequel. In addition, each character has their own “shadow” version as well, which gives up the ability to burst i.e. break out of combos, in exchange for increased health, a slightly different move set, and the ability to get infinite meter temporarily.
The new characters are very interesting on the whole. Yukari is a dedicated zoner whith huge screen filling arrow beams. Junpei uses a baseball meter to score runs and power up. Rise uses “reflect” style skills that actually reflect physical blows. Ken uses Koromaru the dog and his persona in order to attack from multiple angles at once. They are all really cool and unique and the DLC characters are probably going to be just as awesome.
But there are also some points of needless complication here. Sho Minazuki, for example, has a form with a persona, and a form without a persona that fights more like a traditional fighting game character. While both versions of the character share a lot of moves and normals, they are mapped to different commands. For example, his projectile is mapped to a charge command without a persona and a quarter circle command with! They both look almost identical and the only way to tell them apart on the character select screen, aside from the persona itself, is that one is smiling and one only has a small smirk.
A similar problem occurs with Labrys, who has a normal form, a shadow form, and then a “shadow labrys” form which was the boss from the original game. Having these slight variations on characters with very similar names makes it very, very hard to even discuss them outside the game, much less play them inside the game. It’s a small detail, but it feels sloppy. Even Marvel 2’s Wolverine and Bone Claw Wolverine were hard to mistake for one another, either in the game or in plain speech.
The shadow forms of characters are fun, after all who doesn’t want infinite meter, but in the end they are kind of useless. Nearly across the board, according to professional Japanese players, non-shadow forms are better than shadow forms. This is because the ability to burst out of combos is so valuable, not to mention the move-sets of non-shadow characters tend to be more expanded and flexible. If you are a casual player these are a nice addition, but if you are someone who is looking to win they will go mostly ignored. Also, note that several character, like Elizabeth and Sho, simply don’t have shadow versions.
There are a lot of new system elements introduced into Persona 4 Arena Ultimax as well. Perhaps my most favorite is the addition of, essentially, EX super moves. You can now burn more meter than usual to do powered up versions of your supers, just like in King of Fighters, and it is a great way to burn just a little bit of extra meter for an advantage.
There is also the new “suplex hold” system which doesn’t really have anything to do with throwing an opponent. Instead, when you hold the weak attack button down, a meter will charge. When you release it, you will do a special skill, ex skill, super, ex super, awakened super, or even an insta kill. Basically it’s a one button way to do special moves for people who have problems with quarter circles. The only problem is that it drains far, far, far too slow, and it prevents you from using your weak attack which is arguably your most important attack. Even newbies stop using this after a match, because it is just too slow to be useful.
A system element that I am sort of neutral on is the addition of One More Bursts. Like One More Cancels, One More Bursts cut off the end lag of whatever move you were doing, but instead of simply returning to neutral, it causes the opponent to be popped into the air. In terms of functionality, it’s pretty cool, but it takes up a very specific 3 button combination on the controller, which pushes one more cancel to a very specific OTHER 3 button combination on the controller. On a pad, you basically HAVE to map these to shortcuts on the trigger, but then you still have to map shortcuts for furious action, throw, all-out attack, dodge and short hop, and more. Basically, if you aren’t playing on an arcade stick, you are running out of buttons.
You’ll be happy to know that the balance of Ultimax has been increased exponentially. Problematic characters like Mitsuru and Elizabeth are weaker this time around. Kanji still sucks and Yu is still good in a sort of “generic jack of all trade characters are always good” way but I feel like there are fewer very bad matchups this time around. Of course, the game is still young so who knows how this will end up.