Niche Game for the Masses
I feel like I should preface this review with a number of comments. I have never played a Persona game prior to this release. I am an avid fighting game fan at this point with and find myself drawn to both new and classic fighting games. I do enjoy the BlazBlue series, but fully understand why those games do not have mass appeal. I am also a huge fan of games like Mortal Kombat and the Street Fighter series.
With that said, most of my draw to this game has been due to this very website. I followed the Person 4 endurance run from start to finish and have found myself going back from time to time to enjoy random episodes. I think the characters in this series are compelling and the art style in general draws me in more than most anime-style games. Due to this connection to the series, I was immediately drawn to this game based on early previews, and a chance to play the game in Japan in arcades before it's US release.
OK, my background has been explained. After all that, I truly feel that this is potentially one of the easiest fighters to pick up and play in recent memory. I think the closest example would be Mortal Kombat, but in practice, Persona 4 Arena is far more unified from a control standpoint. There are four buttons that are clearly defined. On top of that, just about all the inputs are quarter circle joystick turns with a single button press, with a few exceptions.
On top of the simple command list, there are a number of systems going on that can be utilized to keep matches close, or punish players who are not as well versed in the game. Overall, I think the design choices have made for evenly matched bouts more often than not. Both offline and online battles seen to end without a completely dominant foe. This may not be the same experience for all involved, but with a quick tour through the robust training mode, and a bit of time spent in the challenge mode with a single character, I find myself matching up against players well enough to at least take a single round and many times get the life bar of my opponent very close to defeat.
On top of a deep tutorial mode with a challenge mode that can rival any other fighting game, this game boasts potentially the most fully realized story mode of any game in the genre. Granted, this mode may not be as interesting to a newcomer to the series, I found much of the voice acting engaging and the text portions very well done. I hope to see this much thought put into the characters of future fighting games.
The online functionality for the Xbox 360 version has been patched since the launch of the game and I personally have been experiencing almost not latency in my matches. The network play in this game has a great leveling feature that will force you to better yourself and also provides that ability to save your replays for study. I really like that you can pick your favorite character and you can have them be auto selected when searching for ranked matches. As of this review, I have been finding many matches online with great talent and continue to feel as though I am improving even when I am being completely dominated online.
In closing, I feel that this is a game that many will never know exist due to the limited exposure a title like this will get. Great word of mouth may spread this a bit beyond the niche crowd that have been seeking this out form the get go, but I really think that this game is more accessible that just about any fighter on the market while also having endless value in a robust story mode. With a complete training mode that will have you putting together endless combos, you could easily master the most difficult of characters in a very short amount of time.
If you are a fan of fighting games or are just looking for a new story in the Persona universe. This game has everything you are looking for and more. Please share this game with as many people as possible. This is a game that many can and should enjoy.