Six years after its original release, “Persona 4” keeps finding new ways of coming back, giving fans more to chew to on.
“Persona 4 Golden” on the PS Vita reintroduced the much loved role-playing game in 2012, to those who may have missed the PlayStation 2 release. “Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth” will unite the game’s cast with those from “Persona 3” in a chibi-style dungeon crawler on the Nintendo 3DS in November. And next year, “Persona 4: Dancing All Night” will have all your favorite characters dancing about in rhythmic fashion. However, the fighting game “Persona 4: Arena” for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 was one of the most interesting spin-offs in the “Persona 4” series. Taking the cast of “Persona 4” and “Persona 3” and putting them in an arcade fighter was a risky move by publisher Atlus, but thanks to the talent of famed “Guilty Gear” developer Arc System Works, the gamble payed off.
Now, Atlus and Arc System Works have teamed up once again for a sequel, “Persona 4 Arena Ultimax,” and the results have thankfully remained brilliant. Taking place a week after “Persona 4 Arena,” “Ultimax” has Inaba engulfed in a mysterious red fog, as the rural Japanese town becomes the new setting for the next “P-1 Grand Prix” fighting tournament. Obviously, Yu and his crime-solving buddies find themselves involved again in the matter, along with the friends they met at the previous tournament. Despite the scenario basically being ” You know that fighting tournament that happened last week? It’s happening again,” the writing in “Ultimax” remains enjoyable, but not as great as the RPG that inspired it. The anti-climatic ending in arcade mode is a disappointment, but story mode unsurprisingly delivers a richer experience with its visual novel approach.
Like many successful fighting games on the market, the drive behind “Ultimax” is the fast-paced combat that’s easy to understand, but hard to master. Main combat is divided by fast and strong attacks of the character of your choice and two attacks powered by that character’s Persona. Obviously, when your health bar is depleted, it’s game over, but there are many ways to avoid that conclusion or subject it to your opponent.
Are you the victim of a seemingly endless chain combo? It’s possible to break free by initiating “Burst,” knocking your enemy all the way back. Afraid you’re going to forget how to perform all those special moves? The special attacks in “Ultimax” are simplified, relying on the classic commands like the half-circle motion from “Street Fighter.” Arcade mode even goes beyond the traditional difficulty levels by providing one that ensures fighting newbies will have a great time, without being spit out like chewed gum.
The great care made by Arc System Works to make “Ultimax” accessible is appreciated, but fighting veterans need not worry over the game being dumbed down, as there’s still plenty of challenge provided by its entertaining bouts. In addition to story mode, “Golden Arena” brings more of the RPG familiarity with its level-up designed combat and skill selection. Other modes include Score Attack, which focuses on getting the most points from executed attacks, and online play, where you test your fighting skills against players from around the world. In regards to controls, an arcade stick would make some of more complex moves in the game easier to perform, but the customization for the Xbox 360 controller will suffice for average players.
Visually, “Ultimax” is a delight. Character sprites are wonderfully animated, showing off the characters’ personalities in combat and victory. The animation for Japanese pop star character, Rise Kujikawa, is just one of the many lovable animations from the game. The 3D cel-shaded backgrounds sticks out a bit from the general 2D graphics, but the presentation remains impressive and varied. The music in “Ultimax” bring back memorable melodies from the “Persona” series, along with a new opening performed by female vocalist Shihoko Hirata, who is best known for her musical contribution to the franchise.
If there’s a serious flaw with “Ultimax,” it’s that longtime fans will get the most enjoyment out of it, than those hopping on for the first time. “Ultimax” doesn’t leave newcomers completely in the dark, but it’s not the best introduction to the “Persona” series. But if you feel uninterested or confused by the world of “Persona,” ‘Ultimax” is bound to keep you hooked with its satisfying and stylish brawls.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is available for purchase on the PS3 and Xbox 360. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.