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Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Hands-On Preview

"One of the best fighting games in recent years gets better"
Entertainment Fuse’s best fighting game of 2012 is back with it’s sequel, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. I had a chance to spend some time with the new game at Level Up’s Wednesday Night Fights in Super Arcade over at Southern California. It is actually coming out at Japan next week only on Playstation 3 and the end of the month here at the states for both PS3 and Xbox 360. The build at Super Arcade provided by Atlus themselves is pretty close to the final version with the DLC characters not playable yet, but it felt good to be reacquainted with the Persona cast again in a fighting game setting.

Versus mode was pretty much the only mode playable and for good reason because it is at SoCal’s premier spot for the fighting game community. Some of the best players of the region were there to mess around with the new gameplay changes, characters, and other changes to the existing cast. Even the voice actor of Kanji, Matthew Mercer, was at the arcade playing not too shabby if you saw the Level Up stream here. Atlus even premiered a new trailer with Adachi and Marie in action last night as well on the stream.
Controls wise is the same four button layout with light/heavy normal attacks along with light/heavy Persona attacks. Since I haven’t played Arena in a while, it did take me a game or two to get back on the swing of things and remember what to do. Most of the systems from the original remain intact as well from bursting, which you have seen in other fighting games by Arc System Works, awakening mode, and instant kills when you have enough meter. The number of Persona cards have been changed for the majority of the cast such as Akihiko having only two and Elizabeth having six, so Persona management can become more of a big deal into the metagame especially on high level play. A number of other changes are also welcome additions for those that will play the game seriously such as skill boost supers and gold bursts. The existing cast gets new auto combos as well, but their Shadow counterparts have their original ones.

Speaking of shadow characters, they are one of the biggest inclusions in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. The majority of the existing cast have shadow versions of themselves and if you played the mainline games, then you know they play a pivotal part in the storyline and this game is no exception in the story mode. Compared to the normal incarnations, shadow characters lose some gameplay tools but gain new ones. They can’t use burst and go into Awakening mode, but able to use Awakening mode supers at any time when they have enough meter. Shadow characters can also activate “Shadow Fury” where they have cancel special moves into another for a limited time. Lastly, they keep their SP meter between rounds, but their general damage is nerfed compared to their normal counterparts. I did mess around with shadow Yu for a little bit and while the tools they lose do change matchups a lot, it is early to tell if some characters are better off with their shadow versions or just use them normally for high level play.
The new characters in this Persona 4 Arena sequel are Rise from Persona 4, Jumpei, Ken/Koromaru, and Yukari from Persona 3, and finally newcomer Sho Minazuki along with his doppleganger. Sho is apparently the main villain in the story mode and some of the Persona 3 characters captive as it is up to the Investigation Team and the other Shadow Operatives to save them. DLC characters that will be for the first week are Adachi and Persona 4 Golden’s Marie while Margaret will be coming sometime after the game’s release for purchase. More characters to Ultimax is welcoming considering the number of characters in the last game especially for Persona fans, which I think they’re happy to how the roster turned out and curious how this storyline brings everything together.

Since it is still an Arc System Works game, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax looks beautiful even on last-gen consoles. It is unfortunate that it is coming on current-gen consoles, but considering the fighting game crowd hasn’t fully moved to the new systems yet and Persona 5 still coming to Playstation 3 sometime next year, I’m not surprised Atlus wants to keep it just on PS3 and 360. There are new stages to fight in along with the ones from last game along with new songs for the soundtrack, which still has one of the best soundtracks of all JRPGs.
It has quite a summer for Persona fans with the Golden Animation going on, which I’m been seeing and enjoying for the most part, and ending with the release of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. Fans of both the series and fighting games loved Arena and Ultimax is simply more of the same, but not a bad thing for the sake of fanservice and being a more complete fighting game. The new changes and characters are welcoming enough to be worthy of a new game, but who knows how much playtime this will get with Blazblue: Chrono Phantasma still getting some playtime and Guilty Gear Xrd still coming out supposedly later this year. I’m curious how the storyline will pan out in the game’s story mode and perhaps tease some things for Persona 5. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax comes out on September 30th for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 unless you’re importing it for the PS3 next week.


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