It’s been a long wait for the sequel to Persona 4 Arena, especially since there’s always plenty of Japanese footage to ogle. There’s been a surprisingly short amount of time between the JP and US disk release, so while I’ve been messing around with the overseas version leading up to Sept. 30th, I got it now, all to myself. Instead of doing a proper review, I’d rather lay out a few thoughts, informally.
If ArcSys x Atlus’s main goal was to shake things up, they dramatically succeeded. Those who hate one-hit-decisive games and thought the original Arena was like that, Ultimax is considerably amped up. Everyone seems buffed, crazier, stronger (unfortunately, some less). If full-screen supers, near-instant teleports, and often easy 4k-6k combos. Offense is still, by far, the best defense, and characters who can spam and reset easily are top-tier. This feeling goes out of the park with Shadow characters, who, once they build up the meter, can finish an opponent in one combo.
That said, the game feels even more accessible and beginner-friendly that ever. Maybe that’s just my impression, but somehow the game feels very transparent. All the special moves in the game are still just quarter circle motions, and there’s a new mechanic that does moves automatically by holding square, or A. I’d love to entice some new players, and I really enjoy teaching, but don’t think I ever stuck with a student for very long. Most of my friends just aren’t into it.
That accessibility is just a smoke shield, however. While you can easily get away with doing practical, simple combos, in order to get max damage from hits you need to sweat quite a bit. I’m speaking mainly from Yukiko’s perspective (because how could I speak for everyone’s combo learning curve). Not sure why or how, but they made her combos much harder than ever before. Whereas in the first game she had to make loops with Maragis, the ground fire, and do those while holding and letting go at the right time to release Agi explosions, this time around she has to do the same while doing insane cross-ups under the opponent and with tighter timings. Yes, to do combos with SB Agi, she needs to run under the enemy while they are popped up in the air from a Maragi and then continue the combo. It does sound hard, and the execution isn’t that insane, but the timings literally are 1-2 frames apart.
I think ArcSys is trying to layer the difficulty in Persona, and to be honest, can’t blame them. The caveat is that Yukiko can do simpler combos, but they just won’t be for that much damage. To get that highest damage or appropriate corner carry or okizeme set up really takes perfection. I suppose that’s a plus, and beginners won’t tell the difference as they do auto combos or just simpler, custom ones. The game is significantly more volatile and explosive, and some characters really amp up their damage a lot. If I can offer some critique personal to Yukiko Amagi, I think they sort of lost her character concept. Not in her combos, but her relatively weak confirms. It’s unclear what her game plan is supposed to be.
A feeling I get after playing for some time is that the matches feel really similar to one another. There’s a lot of repetition, which I’m not sure comes from a smaller number of tools or what. It’s not that the command list is small, but the game is very much about spamming and repeating what’s effective. In spite of games like Guilty Gear having characters spam things similarly, those things always felt like tools, rather than mere things to throw out. Think about Sol’s Gunflame, Baiken’s tatami, Anji’s butterfly, or Millia’s discs.
In conclusion, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is weird, zany, explosive, and unpredictable. Anyone who’s looking for a more “sane” experience should head over to Blazblue. I didn’t play the story mode yet, just Arcade, and this time around I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in Arena. Just to see Koromaru interact with the cast. He’s so cute!