Since its inception, the Shin Megami Tensei series has experienced a number of spin-offs, with one of its most popular being the Persona series. In recent years, the Persona series has taken on a life of its own, with the massively popular Persona 4 receiving two animated series, a Vita rerelease, a dancing spin-off and now two fighting games developed by Arc System Works, the people behind the Blazblue series. The latest fighting game, entitled Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, combines characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 and pits them against each other in a battle to figure out who’s the best. While not massively different from the original Persona 4 Arena, the added characters and tweaks to the battle system more than make this a sequel worth purchasing.
The game’s story takes place a week after the original Arena, in which the Specialized Extracurricular Execution Squad from Persona 3 and the Investigation Team from Persona 4 took down Shadow Labrys inside the TV World, and is split into two campaigns, one following SEES and the other following Yu and friends. General Teddie has returned and, after a blackout, the entire town of Inaba is engulfed in a red fog that is causing the real world to blend with the television world. Shadow versions of both teams are running rampant and a mysterious boy named Sho seems to be the cause. Now it’s up to the teams to try and stop the shadows and Sho from wreaking havoc on the citizens of Inaba in what is being called the P-1 Climax.
If you’re familiar with how the story played out in the original Arena, than you’ll be right at home with Ultimax. Thoughts are expressed through static images of text and interaction between characters is handled in the traditional Persona style of the sprites talking to one another in voiced segments. Occasionally, an animated cutscene will appear, usually to accentuate an important moment in the story, but for the most part, the game plays exactly like what you’ve come to expect with the Persona series. The story itself is really well done, but those unfamiliar with either Persona 3, Persona 4 or the original Arena will certainly be confused as to what all is happening. It’s a story made for the fans and fans of the series will leave satisfied, though like the original Arena, I do wish there was more, if for no other reason than I enjoy seeing all these characters together again.
Besides the main campaign, there are two additional story modes. The first allows you to replay the original Arena story, in case you need a refresher, and the other is told through the perspective of Adachi, who is a character available as free Day 1 DLC with all first run copies of the game. Outside of the campaign, there is Golden Arena mode, which is a survival mode that takes place inside various dungeons and allows you to level up and gain certain perks, Arcade mode for those wanting to jump right into the action, Score Attack Mode, Challenge Mode, Versus Mode and Online play, which has been given a major overhaul in the looks department. Now instead of just sitting in a lobby waiting to play, you can now enlist, which will look for fights in the background while you wander around a virtual arcade with an avatar interacting with others waiting for a fight. There’s a plethora of options to choose from, so I doubt you’ll get bored with this game any time soon.
Now onto the actual fighting. You get all 13 of the original fighters from Arena, but now the cast has been expanded to 20 (counting Adachi, Marie and Margaret who are all DLC). Besides newcomer Sho, you also can now use Junpei, Yukari and Ken from Persona 3 and Rise from Persona 4. On top of that, you can also use Shadow versions of most of the characters, which brings the count up to 34 playable fighters. But the shadow characters are not just palate swapped versions of the original characters. One of the tweaks made to the gameplay was to make the Shadow versions feel much more different, by giving them not only a more aggressive skill based moveset, but by also allowing them to store SP between rounds and unleash a special Shadow Rampage, which lets them use unlimited SP for a certain amount of time. The downside is that normal non-SP based attacks do a lot less damage and they don’t have much in the way of defensive skills. It’s a risk-reward sort of thing. Otherwise general balancing issues have been addressed and there is a new S-hold which charges up attacks but generally speaking those familiar with Arena should be right at home here.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the good kind of sequel. Take what works in the original, add content that helps make it better, tweak the things that didn’t work and generally make it the best possible package for fans of the series. If you enjoy the Persona series and enjoy a deep, well thought out story alongside an equally deep fighting system, than this is definitely the game for you.