|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Arc System Works|
|Pub: Arc System Works|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
The Shin Megami Tensei series has a weird history. It started as collection of first-person dungeon-roaming RPGs with heavy religious overtones. As Doom-style corridor exploration fell out of the graces of RPG fans, the series took on more traditional RPG roles. Nevertheless, the games had an almost Pokémon style of collectivity to them as your main method of getting stronger was befriending demons and merging them together to create new creatures. This all changed in the Persona series, which shifted the focus to the characters themselves and framed the demon acquisition system as a part of the characters' minds or souls.
The Megaten games were relatively unknown through the generations of the NES, SNES, and PlayStation, and while the early days of the PlayStation 2 brought us hits such as Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga, the franchise really hit home when Persona 3 came to American shores. Fueled partially through a media controversy that highlighted the characters shooting themselves in the head to summon their Personae (many of which were named after demons), its bizarre combination of dating game-type social simulation, time management, demon raising collectivity, and random dungeon crawling made it a cult classic. In fact, it's this same style of gameplay that has become synonymous with the Persona and possibly even the Megaten names today.
And now Arc System Works is making a fighting game out of it.
Yes, the next game in the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series is entitled Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena. Instead of duking it out with hit points, items, and magic spells, you'll be perfecting your combos and footsies in a 2D fighter that is reminiscent of Blazblue or Guilty Gear. That being said, the game actually brings many aspects of the RPG franchise over to the new fighting game formula, including peculiar things like status effects and instant-death attacks. Can this fusion of RPG and fighting game be a hit with fans of either genre? Will it do enough to satisfy the loyal Persona fanbase?
The roster includes the entire cast of Persona 4 and some characters from Persona 3. Each character brings their Persona into battle with them, and while two buttons in this four-button game cause your character to attack, the other two buttons cause that character's Persona to attack. Each character actually operates as a peculiar fusion of two different and often complimentary concepts. For example, Mitsuru is an extremely fast combo-heavy sword user, while her Persona has ranged attacks that reach the entire length of the screen. Akihiko is an up-close boxer, but his Persona has magnetism abilities similar to Tager from BlazBlue. Every character/Persona team has an interesting split of abilities like this, so it almost feels like you are controlling two characters instead of one.
Each character also tends to have their own special system to use as well. For example, Aigis has to keep track of her bullet usage. Naoto gradually lowers a "fate" meter by attacking, and if it hits zero, Hamaon or Mudoon attacks will cause instant death. Yosuke can confuse opponents, scrambling their controls. In fact, there are tons of RPG-like status effects in the game such as paralyze, poison, stat buffs and debuffs, and many others.
There are a couple universal abilities in the game. Every character can chain their weak and strong attacks together. They also all have universal throw commands, launcher commands, and even a universal command for an invincible attack that uses some of their health.
Aside from their health meter, every character also has an SP meter at the bottom of the screen. Like super meters from other fighting games, this meter allows characters to use extremely powerful super moves by spending fifty units of it. (Its maximum capacity is 100 units.) Characters can also use EX versions of their special moves by spending 25 meter. EX moves are less powerful than super moves but tend to be more useful. Characters can also spend 50 meter to perform a "once more," which immediately cancels them out of whatever move they were doing in order to attack again or become safe.
When a character falls below a certain level of health, they go into "awakening" mode. When this happens, their SP meter maximum is increased to 150, they get 50 free meter immediately, and their SP gain is rapidly increased. In this mode they also have access to their "ultimate attack," a super attack that does a lot of damage and can help the character come back from the brink of defeat.
Characters also have a burst meter that fills over the course of a match. When it's full you can burst by pressing all four buttons at once. Bursting does different things depending on what state your character is in. Bursting while attacking will knock your opponent into the air slowly in order to be easily comboed. Bursting while getting attacked while throw your opponent across the screen and break their combo. Bursting while doing neither actually heals some of your HP like a healing spell.
When you press a Persona button, your Persona shows up to do their attack, but they are vulnerable at this time. The Persona health meter is shown at the top of the screen below the character's health meter. If a Persona falls to 0 health, its corresponding buttons cannot be used for the rest of the round. This includes bursting, once more, and a plethora of super and special moves. As you'd expect, certain characters can be more effectively fought if you kill their Persona first.
The game has gone on location test in Japan several times now, and it's actually looking pretty balanced. No one has been able to find any infinites yet, and there is a hit-stun timer directly under the combo counter so you know when your combo is going to drop. As a fighting game, it looks fast-paced, fun, and solid. As an installment in the Persona series, though, we don't really know much about its story yet. Fighting games are unfortunately not known for their stellar plots. Still, the character designs for Mitsuru and Akihiko look great.
Overall, it seems like a good majority of the fighting game community is pretty excited for this one. Be on the lookout for more Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena information in the near future.
Angelo M. D'Argenio
Date: January 18, 2012