STAFF REVIEW of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (Xbox 360)

Monday, October 20, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Box art When Persona 4 Arena released in 2012 I believe it took a few by surprise. It’s not often an RPG series can transition into a fighting game, but also a surprisingly deep and robust one at that. Persona 4 Arena proved itself to be a competent fighting game right off the bat but also didn’t completely forget about the fans that made the Persona series popular in the first place. While the fighting game genre isn’t generally known for its deep stories or plot lines, Persona 4 Arena remedied this and had quite an in-depth campaign with a fully-fledged story that related to the previous games. The sequel is finally here and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (simply referred to as Ultimax from here on) keeps this tradition going by once again boasting a deep story mixed with a refined and even more diverse fighting mechanics than Arena.

Ultimax improves upon what Arena did so well; creating a fighting game that is incredibly easy to pick up and play but have many complexities under the hood for the more hardcore fans. Regardless of your skill level, you’ll be able to play and enjoy Ultimax, and you don’t even have to be a Persona fan to really enjoy it either. Truth be told, I’ve only dabbled in the series before Ultimax, so at first it was a lot hitting me all at once to wrap my head around, but eventually characters get more fleshed out (for a newcomer like me) and things start making more sense. The main point to keep in mind is that Ultimax is not just an expansion or a DLC collection of Arena, it’s a fully-fledged sequel with a ton of new content and changes to what made Arena so popular.

As mentioned above, Ultimax boasts an incredibly deep story mode, probably more so than any other fighting game I can think of. Surely part of the reason is because of its RPG roots and it is impressive how much backstory is really contained within. Ultimax picks up right where Arena left off and one of the most impressive feats is how Atlus brought back the same voice actors and art style to mimic its source material from the Persona games pre Arena. For a fighting game to have a deep and lengthy story mode, is impressive and not done very often for the genre.

Not even a day has gone by from the conclusion of Arena where the characters recently fought in the P-1 Grand Prix, as the clock hits midnight once again, it seems as though General Teddie has once again returned to start another tournament; this time, the P-1 Climax! A mysterious red fog overshadows the Inaba region in the real world and it’s up to the gang to once again solve what’s going on. Something is very different this time though, as instead of fighting in the TV world on the midnight channel, it seems as if the red fog is making the P-1 Climax tournament happen in their real world instead.

Shadows, essentially copies of people, are appearing and not only are they somehow in the real world this time, but they now also have use of Persona’s themselves, identical to their true counterparts. This new threat also draws in new characters into the mix, and if you’re a fan of previous Persona games you’ll be most pleased to see characters such as Yukari and Junpei make a return, but who have also matured since the last time you’ve seen them. You start the story mode from the Persona 4 cast, but once complete you actually unlock the campaign to be played from the perspective of the Persona 3 cast which plays out quite differently. If you’re a Persona fan you’ll really enjoy how much depth the story mode contains, as there’s a lot of smaller details within that true fans will only notice.

Be warned though, if you’re mainly wanting Ultimax for the fighting, story mode will probably be more of a burden than anything else. Chapers are divided up into smaller sections and play out much like a graphic novel. There’s a lot of dialogue, as in almost way too much. Some chapters are mostly all text without any actual fighting involved at all. If you were to let the text scroll and listen to everything, the story mode is going to take you at least a few hours, there is seriously that much back story and dialogue. If you want to simply enjoy the story you can have it auto scroll for you and even set it so that the computer does all of the fighting matches for you as well if you’d rather experience it like a movie. I don’t see many fans using this feature, but if you want to just sit back and enjoy the plot, it’s a welcome addition.

Arena was a surprise, not only because of its genre jump, but that it was actually quite good and a balanced fighting game in its own rights as well. Developer Arc System Works, best known for their foray in 2D fighting games such as Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, are the ones behind Arena and now Ultimax, so fans need not worry as they have the experience. There are a lot of underlying mechanics but is easily accessible by players of any skill. Even if you’re a complete beginner, mashing the ‘X’ button will allow you to string together a small combo that looks quite impressive. Advanced players on the other hand will constantly be learning the intricate systems that allow you to combo and counter even deeper. Once you get really good you can then learn the new status modes like being able to freeze, poison, and other debuffs on your enemies in a combo.

Ultimax hosts a slew of new characters and fit in with the tone of the rest of the characters and source material. Some characters even are based around a specific resource or unique mechanic that adds a whole other level of complexity and strategy. Junpei is a great example of this, as he uses his bat to fight with in combat, but there’s also a Run counter that accumulates the more damage he does. The higher the runs the more powerful he gets. Rise is another unique selection that can use a special that almost mimics something you would see out of Dance Dance Revolution when used. Small things like these really make some of the characters truly feel unique and special and not simply a copy and paste of another character with some slight tweaks.

While Ultimax’s roster might not even come close to roster numbers of others in the genre, there are now Shadow versions of almost every character which allows for a completely different approach to your fighting style. These Shadow versions favor a more aggressive playstyle as they don’t have anywhere near the same amount of defensive abilities, but the tradeoff is that they get some amazing abilities to boost their damage output, even allowing them to carry over their super meter between rounds. Shadow versions are really risky but the payoff can be amazing when you get some proper combos going and decimate your opponent quickly.

For those that don’t want to sit through the hours of dialogue in Story Mode, there is a classic Arcade mode included as well that allows you to simply jump in and test your skills against the computer or a friend. The real gem of Ultimax in my opinion though is the Golden Arena mode which harks back to its RPG origins. Essentially you’re working your way up from the bottom floor to the top of a dungeon, floor by floor, battle by battle. As you defeat opponents you’ll earn experience, level up, gain new passives, and gain skill points to become even stronger. I was quite surprised by this mode and the easiest dungeons start at 50 floors while the hardest can go on indefinitely.

If you’re the type of player that wants to test their skills with the best, then you’ll obviously want to head to the online mode as soon as possible. I would love to have played online and told you more about it, but even after the official launch, I was unable to make it work. The game makes you download the newest patch through the Xbox Games Store rather than a title update. I did so, multiple times and the game still prompted me to redownload it and wouldn’t let me access online matches, so unfortunately I was unable to test it even though I could see the leaderboards.

Even for someone like me that doesn’t get every reference, I was able to really enjoy Ultimax for what it is. Gorgeous hand drawn sprites and even classic anime scenes in the story mode made everything look natural and like it belonged together. The fact that voice actors reprise their roles and songs from previous Persona titles return, it’s clear this is made for the fans of the series as well, not just for the fighting genre players. And again, the ease of accessibility really was a strength, as I was starting out by mashing one button and able to do some cool combos. As time went on I was slowly learning the deeper mechanics behind everything and able to eventually perform more experienced moves, counters, and more. I’m normally not a fan of the anime art style, but the artwork in Ultimax is fantastic and as a fighting game alone, it’s surprised me with how deep and accessible it was.

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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