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Impressions of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax
The first thing that came to mind when I saw a new Persona 4 fighting game was coming out was me thinking that it was really soon and that the previous one had just come out. Then I looked on Wikipedia and was floored to find out the last one came out two years ago. Needless to say, I’m an idiot for losing track of time and that I grabbed a copy of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax and gave it a whirl to see what was going on.
So whats different in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax then that sets it apart from its predecessor and earns its $60 price tag? Well, we get 9 new characters. Junpei, Yukari, Ken and Koro (they fight as a combo), Adachi, Marie, Rise, Sho Minazuki, Sho Minazuki without his persona, and Margaret who was not out at release. Thankfully, the new characters and the added Shadow Frenzy mechanic add some depth to the roster and each bring some flavor to spice things up. More stages and more of the storyline are thrown at us as well and we get a new mechanic which helps to add depth to the game. Other than that its Persona 4 Arena with a fresh coat of paint which isn’t bad.
First let’s cover the Persona 3 characters who are joining the roster. Junpei is based entirely around baseball complete with him having a miniature baseball diamond above his meter bar. Whenever he combos he puts a batter on base and his special attacks cause home runs assuming you hit with the sweet spot of the bat and his entire goal is to score ten runs to trigger a powerup which makes him pretty beastly. Yukari is 100% zoner, she fires arrows in multiple directions including some higher priority arrows which just eat through other projectiles. Her persona’s wind attacks also increase the damage of her ranged attacks and cause the projectiles to change the angles that they travel at if the arrows pass through the wind spells. Ken and Koro are a sort of tag team duo, Ken pokes with long range attacks and he can have Koro attack with several attacks like low attacks or flips in the air. Koro comes at a cost though as he occupies Ken’s heavy persona button so his persona tools are themselves much more limited.
More of the Persona 4 cast joins the team as well. Adachi is unsurprisingly a little weird and mirrors the main character in certain ways unsurprisingly. Adachi seemed to specialize in sticking the fear status on his opponents and utilizing the extra damage to his advantage in addition to his dashes, but overall felt clunky to me as I tried to get used to him. Rise is an odd character and feels more like a support character rather than somebody who should be fighting (makes sense considering her role in Persona 4) as she has several moves she can put on herself such as barriers which push opponents back when she blocks or reflects projectiles when they come in contact. Additionally, her base heavy persona attack causes her attacks to lock on and home in on the opponent which can be wonky considering the slow startup of the attack, but I found myself enjoying her as she has this one special that when you land it where she starts up a rhythm based mini game where you have to press buttons in sync to the games theme music. Its infuriating for your opponent to have to just sit there and take it and I love it. Lastly, we have Marie for the current Persona 4 cast since Margaret has yet to be released at this time. Marie likes to pull things out of her bag and throw them at her opponent similar to Faust from Guilty Gear. You can pull out these tiny clouds that float above your opponent and zap them if they jump into them or are knocked into them or you can summon chests which have enemies or Igor heads pop out for damage. Marie also comes with the added effect of causing weather effects like she’s some sort of Pokemon. She can make it sunny, snow, rain, or cloudy and each rain has different effects on her moves which adds an interesting sort of field mechanic to her which you don’t see a lot in games.
Finally, we have Sho Minazuki and… Sho Minazuki with his persona as two original characters that introduce themselves in the games story. Its odd to break the character up into two separate character slots, but it makes sense from a storyline purpose so that’s what we get. Sho without his persona is pretty standard rushdown as far as characters go . He has down to forward attacks where he rushes forward and thats about it besides his charge projectile. It is important to note though that Sho hits like a truck as a means to balance him lacking the persona utility and it shows when he throws out basic 4k combos just from autocomboing a counter hit. Moving on from Sho we go to Sho with her persona. Sho with his persona plays fairly different. His persona can attack from multiple directions and allows Sho the ability to teleport which gives him some interest forms of pressure on his opponent as the teleport can crossup when an opponent is in a corner. He trades the crazy damage he has in his normal form, but the added utility from his persona helps to differentiate himself from his non-persona’d self.
Besides characters we get some more story and a new mechanic. The game literally picks up right where the last installment left off and kicks things off right away again as a new tournament is started and its up to the characters to stop the baddie like they have in the past. The story itself isn’t bad per se, but I can’t claim that it was gripping, especially when I just wanted to skip large portions to get to the actual fights in the story to find out why the hell Sho was in the game. The new mechanic where characters can opt to play as their shadow versions is interesting and pretty neat in its own way. At the select screen a player can choose to go shadow as opposed to the normal version of the character and this unlocks “Shadow Frenzy” a mechanic that shadow characters can activate when they 100 meter and immediately starts a timer ticking down. While in this mode, special attacks can be cancelled into other special attacks, all normal moves are able to be jump canceled on block or hit, SP attacks are free, and most importantly can be cancelled into from most attacks for big damage. What normal people can take away from that is that shadow versions of characters are much more threatening from the get go as opposed to their normal counterparts, but at a price. Shadow versions cannot awaken period which means that normal characters become more threatening as a match goes on as opposed to the shadow and most importantly shadows cannot burst so if you are in shadow mode and get combo’d you are going to have to eat it since you can’t burst the combo.
I was worried that it would feel like a bit of a cash grab, but considering the roster buff and the added shadow mechanics of the game I was surprisingly satisfied with Persona 4 Ultimax as a fighting game. The game left a good impression although I would not say I am happy Margaret is already there, but we need to pay $5 for her. I went in expecting a slightly silly anime fighter now with all the Persona characters from 3 and 4 beating the crap out of each other and that’s exactly I got and then some so I would definitely say the game left me satisfied.