Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a fighting game co-developed by Arc System Works and Atlus. It’s the sequel to Persona 4 Arena, which itself is a continuation of the stories of Persona 3 and 4. Featuring eight new characters, new gameplay modes, and a brand new story, P4AU aims to set itself apart from its predecessor, and not pull a Capcom while doing so. But does it succeed?
My first impression of this game was positive, as the artwork and music design leave little to be desired. The sprites are hi-def and quite detailed, and the music is once again composed by Shoji Meguro, much to my delight. I also noticed the sheer amount of new content, which is contrary to the way most fighting game sequels work, which tend to add a few new characters and not much else.
The graphics in P4AU boast well-rendered sprites and backgrounds. Slick-looking menus and UI underscore the high production values of the game. The animated cutscenes take the cake, though; they’re gorgeous and very well-animated. In short, there’s not much to criticize about the visuals, except for a minor complaint I have to level at the story conversations, in which characters’ faces are animated—but only their mouths, which looks pretty weird, honestly.
The Persona series, as an RPG, is understandably praised for its story. However, even in the form of a fighting game, the narrative still holds up. And it’s long. Like, 20-30 hours long. You’ll be playing P4AU‘s story for a while, and thankfully it’s an enjoyable experience. It picks up right where the first Persona 4 Arena left off, so if you haven’t played that, a lot of the plot points might seem arcane to you. I have heard that there will be a DLC of the original game’s story but, as far as I can tell, it’s just a rumor.
The gameplay of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is quite good overall, but with minor to moderate annoyances here and there. On the positive end of the spectrum, the characters were all balanced, with previously-overpowered characters like Mitsuru being weakened considerably. There are also a wealth of new characters, and some of them have very interesting mechanics. Examples include Junpei (who uses a baseball meter to score home runs, which make him stronger) and Rise, whose whole kit is based around reflecting enemy blows.
Additionally, there are new gameplay modes. Golden Arena mode plays like an RPG, where you go through dungeons and level up. It also brings in the social link feature, allowing you to gain social links to acquire various abilities in combat. There is also a modified online lobby mode, which looks like an arcade. In this mode, you can interact with other players while waiting for a match. It’s a cool idea, but as of the time of this review, it was a bit difficult to test it.
Now, let’s talk about what’s not-so-great about Persona 4 Arena Ultimax. For one, it’s damn complicated, and difficult to learn. There are a laundry list of button combinations you have to keep track of, and on top of that, P4AU adds even more fight mechanics. There are new supers, and a mechanic referred to as “Ultra Suplex Hold.” I’m pretty sure “U.S.H” is entirely useless. Basically, you hold a button and it does a combo for you, without having to do any fancy button combinations. This sounds like a feature that would be helpful to newbies, but it’s incredibly slow. I never used it for that reason.
One More Burst is an ability from the original P4 Arena, essentially letting you use your burst to pop your opponent into the air mid-combo, which allows for some excellent attack chains. It’s pretty useful, but I can’t help but feel like I’m running out of buttons on my controller. This is a problem that some people have with fighting games in general, the fact that you have to memorize a ton of things in order to be even remotely competitive. However, P4 Arena Ultimax takes it to the extreme, in my opinion. I think it’s fun, but I don’t think I could put in the amount of time necessary to become proficient enough to go online, and test my mettle against opponents who actually know what they’re doing.
Another arguable negative is the addition of Shadow versions of the playable characters. Not everyone has a shadow version, but they’re essentially riskier variations on the vanilla character. They lose the ability to burst, but have additional health and a slightly different moveset. There is also a mechanic that allows them to gain an infinite super meter temporarily. It’s nice to have variation, but from what I understand, they’re not particularly useful. The ability to burst out of chain attacks is far too useful to relinquish, even for an infinite meter.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax isn’t a bad game at all. It’s fun. It has great music, a strong narrative, and looks fantastic. It has a really intimidating learning curve, however, and some of the new content seems a bit superfluous. That doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable experience throughout. I can confidently say that this is not just an expansion pack to the original, but a complete sequel in every sense of the word. I’d recommend it to fans of the series, for sure, and the story and Golden Arena mode are fun enough to play even if you aren’t.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was reviewed using a boxed copy provided by Atlus USA. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.