Few fan bases are more passionate about what they care about than Persona fans. So when acclaimed fighting game developer Arc System Works was tasked with creating a fighting game based on Atlus' beloved RPG series, many were skeptical on how it would be able to translate the turn-based gameplay into a fighting game. The end result was 2012's Persona 4 Arena which managed to combine the series' charm with a well made, accessible fighting game. Now, two years later, a sequel under the name Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has been released and it has managed to outdo the original game in all areas.
The core gameplay found within Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is largely the same as its predecessor. Each character still has a Persona they can summon during battle for powerful attacks and a SP gauge that is used to limit the use of skill-based attacks and powerful special moves. Much like Arc System Works' BlazBlue series, the player is incredibly mobile in battle and can fly around the screen with ease. The Auto Combo system also returns which allows players to unleash a powerful combo with repeated presses of the 'X' button. The gameplay is just as polished and frantic as before and the game is simply a joy to play.
The original Persona 4 Arena was highly accessible to new fighting game players due to its excellent tutorial and challenge modes which taught players both the basics and how each character played. Both of these modes are back and a new "S Hold" system has been added which allows players to charge special attacks by holding a single button. So, while Persona 4 Arena Ultimax makes the game even easier to get into, there also has been additional depth added for more dedicated fighting game fans. Most of the added depth comes in the form of the new Shadow forms of each playable character.
The new Shadow form of characters are heavily skill-based as their regular attack damage is reduced compared to their normal forms. Each Shadow character has an altered move-set including a new Auto Combo and have the ability to use a Shadow Frenzy which allows players to use an unlimited amount of their SP Gauge for a limited time. The Shadow Frenzy also allows for new combo opportunities, as skills that previously would not be able to link to other moves can now be used in combinations. Another interesting change is that the Shadow character's SP does not reset after each individual round in a battle. This all adds up to a more aggressive play style for these characters, which allows for even more exciting matches.
Shadow characters are not the only new addition to the roster though, as characters from both Persona 3 and Persona 4 have been added to the sequel alongside a new original character. Teen Idol Rise Kujikawa from Persona 4 has been added to the game and has a unique style of play that includes a rhythm game as a special attack (a reference to the upcoming Persona 4 Dancing All Night spin-off). Several members of the Persona 3 cast have been added including the baseball bat-wielding Junpei, Ken who fights alongside the dog Koromaru, and Yukari who uses a bow to attack from range. All of the new characters have unique play-styles and are a blast to use. Three additional characters are inexplicably available as paid DLC including Marie from Persona 4 Golden, the detective Adachi, and the Velvet Room resident Margaret. There is really no reason for these characters to not have been included in the base game, although the game still has plenty of value to be found within it.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax also features plenty of modes for players to participate in including fighting game mainstays such as an Arcade mode and the returning Score Attack mode which now features several different courses and difficulties. Online play is also back and makes it easy to find and create lobbys. The netplay proved stable in our play sessions and matches were lag-free. But, the most exciting addition to the game is the new Golden Arena Mode. As the player battles in this mode, their character earns experience and can level up. Leveling up allows players to assign skill points to categories such as attack, health, etc. and equip new abilities which have an impact on matches. There are four different courses for players to conquer in this new mode with each one more difficult than the one before. The Golden Arena mode does a great job of marrying the RPG elements that Persona fans love, with the addictive fighting gameplay.
A new Story mode is also present and it picks up right after Persona 4 Arena's ending. The story plays out like a visual novel (with an occasional dialogue choice) with fights sprinkled in after every couple of scenes. Players can actually choose to have the AI battle for them in this mode so any Persona fan, no matter how inept at fighting games, can fully enjoy Persona 4 Arena Ultimax's canonical story. The story is quite lengthy, does a great job of handling fan service and includes several gorgeous animated cutscenes.
Sadly some of the voice actors from previous games do not return (most notably Troy Baker as Kanji) but the new voice actors all do a good job of portraying the characters. Despite the departure of some great voice talent, the game's audio is one of its most impressive areas. Its soundtrack is basically a 'Best Of' album of the Persona series, featuring over 50 songs. Some fans will undoubtedly feel that it's the soundtrack of the year.
The game's visuals are equally as impressive as the game is one of the best looking fighters on the market. With detailed sprite work, gorgeous special effects and some of the best animation you'll see in a fighting game. Overall, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a visual treat and uses Persona 4's striking art style to its full extent.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is an excellent sequel and one that manages to outdo its predecessor in every way imaginable. Arc System Works and Atlus have teamed up to create a game that plays as well as it looks. There are enough modes and enough depth to the game to keep players playing for hours on end. Not only is Persona 4 Arena Ultimax a must play for Persona fans, we'd go as far to say that it's a must play for fighting game fans as well.