I Suck At Fighting Games: Persona 4 Arena

Part 3 of my ongoing series of trying and failing miserably to get good at any fighting game.

It's been a while since I've written one of these. My immediate positive reaction to Soul Calibur V lead me to try more 3D fighting games, and since then I've gotten a little better at that game and I'm trying to learn Virtua Fighter V. Before I get back into those things and really committing myself to my "main" game, I got significantly distracted by a 2D fighting game based on an eyeball-explodingly popular PlayStation 2 RPG.

I don't know if you knew this about me, but I love Persona 4. It has a permanent place on my top five favorite games of all time list and I don't think that's changing any time soon. My fondness for that game, and knowledge that Persona 4 Arena continues the story of Persona 4 sealed the deal. I HAD to buy this game.

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Persona 4 Arena was developed by Arc System Works, the developers of BlazBlue. At least, that's what I've heard. To be honest, I know very little about BlazBlue and Guilty Gear and I don't really care to play them. Those games seemed incredibly complex and impenetrable before I was even trying to get good at fighting games, and they still do now. I like the character design of BlazBlue, but nothing about the gameplay is for me. I also don't care for the company's tendency to release multiple iterations of BlazBlue in seemingly short time periods. I could be wrong but it seems like there was a new BlazBlue every year, and they all had downloadable content including alternate versions of characters and new fighters. It's just a little off-putting to me.

I probably just lost all my street cred for dissing BlazBlue so bad. Oh well.

On the other hand, Persona 4 Arena has excellent character design AND understandable gameplay. It's complex, but not overwhelmingly so. A big part of that is the multiple learning tools the game gives you.

I've said it before, but I love when fighting games actually try to teach you how to play them. I'm not just talking about giving you a move list, I mean giving you basic commands, telling you how and when to use them, and then slowly working up to more complex concepts. I praised Skullgirls for doing this, and Persona 4 Arena does it even better.

(Side-note: I learned the "keypad" notation before starting this game, and since most players refer to it when talking about certain moves, I figured it was important to learn. I can't really explain it well without looking at it, so just look at this and hopefully it makes sense. 2 is Down.)

The first learning tool they give you is Lesson Mode. For a four button fighter, there are a LOT of commands to remember in this game. The Lesson Mode gives you all of them and has helpful text boxes that tell you why you should use these moves. I still haven't fully learned how and when I should be using certain techniques (the short hop and One More Cancel in particular), but I'm glad the developers went out of their way to explain why these things are useful.

The second learning tool the game gives you is Challenge Mode. Each character has 30 challenges that get more difficult as they go on. These challenges are basically a list of combos every character can do. So not only does the game teach you basic concepts that apply to every character, it gives you tips on how to play them and goals to strive towards. I can do at least 20 challenges for each character so far, but some of them took a long time to get down and took a lot of practice. It's really rewarding to get the big "CLEAR!" message when I finally finish a challenge I've been grinding out for an hour, and as I'm doing these, I'm understanding how to use every character better. And since the roster is small, it is feasible to get a basic understanding of how everyone works and what combos you can reliably pull off with them.

How To Play Mitsuru: Always use this move.

The final learning tool the game has is a fantastic training mode. You can set the dummy to multiple states like jumping, blocking, etc. You can even record the dummy's behavior and play it back, which I've used to learn how to avoid certain attacks that always hit me. Like Mitsuru's Furious Action. Damn that move.

I won't really talk too much about the Story mode besides that I'm enjoying it a lot. There are some weird discrepancies between the stories though, because it is a tournament and not EVERYONE can win in the tournament. Therefore the endings for each character are different, and it's tough to tell WHO was really fighting that final boss or who truly "won" the tournament. Maybe it's because I haven't unlocked the True Final Path of Truth yet.

I can't speak about the Story mode in a wholly unbiased manner either. I can say that if you like Persona 4, the Story mode is a sequel to it and you need to see it. If you don't like Persona 4, maybe skip the Story mode. I think it's good, but if I didn't like Persona so much I would get annoyed at reading so much text and fighting so little. Luckily Arcade mode condenses the talking and has a lot more fighting, so that might be a good single player choice if you're not a crazy person who played Persona 4 for thirty-eight weeks.

tl;dr time

What I Liked:

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-Lesson Mode and Challenge Mode actually doing a LOT to teaching how to play the game. If you're new to fighting games, this is one to check out. It'll ease you right in.

-Consistent rules for every character. Everyone shares the same commands for certain attacks/actions (Evasive moves, Sweeps, Furious Actions) and super moves. SP Skills are almost always Double Quarter Circle Forward (236236) + C/D, Awakened SP Skills are almost always Double Quarter Circle Backward (214214) + C/D

-It's a sequel to Persona 4!

-For the most part, the gameplay is pretty fair. You can Burst out of seemingly endless combos to get some breathing room if you need it. When your health gets low enough you get some extra meter and access to a REALLY powerful super move that could change the tide of battle. Throw escapes are really easy, and the game even tells you if you were blocking a move incorrectly so you know to do it right next time.

Even the Instant Kill mechanic (yes, there is an Instant Kill) is pretty much for the person who is already going to win. Even then, it is possible to miss it so it's not even guaranteed.

Oh, and can I talk about how cool the Instant Kill is for a moment? Not only is the character doing some intense, visually AMAZING attack, it plays that awesome final boss song from Persona 4. It's basically the hypest shit EVER.

What I Didn't Like:

-Even as I'm having a huge fangasm about the Story mode, it really is a TON of reading. It's a cool story, but perhaps a poorly delivered one. And it's full of plot holes.

-THE MUSIC DOESN'T LOOP. For a game with such fantastic presentation in terms of visuals and audio, why is this even a problem? It's not a problem in any other fighting game I've ever played. The music just fades out and restarts from the beginning, as if it's a one-song CD with no Repeat function. It's a little annoying in Story mode but TERRIBLE during fights. Those awkward moments of silence before the song starts again. Wow. Terrible.

-No Rematch button in Versus.

I probably won't be trying any other Arc System Works fighting games, but I like Persona 4 Arena a lot. It's accessible for newcomers but has such an absurd amount of depth that I'm not sure I'll ever really get good at it. It's really fun to play, and I'm personally glad it wasn't just a cheap cash-in on the license: this is a legitimate, tournament ready fighting game.

I'm trying hard to get started on another game, but I'm having too much fun with this one at the moment. And I've gotta see how the story ends! So I'll be back next time to talk about another fighting game that I might get good at. Maybe one where the music loops (SERIOUSLY?!)

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