The almost sudden surge of popularity the Persona series has seen the past few years is strange, yet sort of amazing. Toys, anime, spin-offs, there’s even a musical concert in its Japanese homeland. Not that we’re complaining as it’s quickly become one of our favourite series’. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the latest spin-off and sequel to the 2012 fighting game. And it’s very, very good.
For the Persona faithful, the main attraction here will be to complete the story that was left on such a painful cliffhanger in the last game. And yes, it finally gets an ending, albeit one that could potentially open up other avenues for further sequels in the future. Whereas in Arena the story felt more sided towards the Persona 4 characters and plot events, in Ultimax it’s been flipped. There are a lot more references to the events in Persona 3, so words like Tartarus and The Dark Hour get bandied around quite a lot. The game does a good job however in keeping the players unfamiliar up to speed.
As expected, mechanically the game feels nigh on identical to the first game, though I’m sure there have probably been balance tweaks to certain characters as is always the case with fighting game iterations these days. Moves are the same, with regular and Persona attacks, bursts and many other words that will sound like gibberish to outsiders. It’s a system that is incredibly deep and rewarding, yet even complete novices will be able to get involved and have fun. You can chain supers and combos together, but if you want then just hammering square will result in an automatic combo ending that looks good, and on top of that, will make you feel like you’re playing better than you actually are.
The one move that will no doubt split opinions (much like in the original) is the one hit kills that can occur. On match point and with 100sp built up players can perform a move that if it works results in a one hit kill, usually involving some fancy/crazy animation. Amazing to watch if you’re performing it, not so much if you’re on the receiving end. But, if you don’t want it to happen, then be better!
Speaking of the fancy animation, everything in Ultimax consists of some lovely 2D animation. The developers Arc have a knack of creating some great looking 2D art and this game is no exception. At times though there’s so much going on that it can actually be difficult to see what’s happening on screen. It’s put simply, an explosion of colour, especially during the more intense fights. You might not understand what’s happening, but by god it looks beautiful.
On top of finishing the story, there’s plenty of other new content added making this more than a simple update. On the disc you get new characters Ken, Yukari, Junpei and Rise, as well as the extra DLC. Each feels completely different, Yukari is very much a ranged fighter equipped with bow and arrow, whereas Ken has the unique ability of fighting alongside the dog Koromaru. Then there’s also the new stages and music. Well, kind of new. The music has basically just been ripped from P3 and P4, not that we’re complaining as Shoji Meguro’s soundtrack is simply fantastic and has some epic battle music.
In addition to characters and music, there’s also a brand new mode called “Golden Arena”. This feels more routed to the original JRPG audience, as you fight each character, moving up floors, earning stats and skills. It’s a great new addition. Then there’s the new online lobbies. Selecting a character avatar you can walk through a physical area, sitting down at an arcade cabinet, waiting for a new opponent. It’s purely cosmetic mind and you can just do the traditional match search without the fanciness. Online works perfectly, if you can find someone with a decent connection, which can be quite difficult when the game has yet to be released in the European region. Hopefully it builds up a decent following, something which may be hard when it’s already a niche product on last generation hardware.
Altogether Ultimax is exactly what you would want and more. Those who are deep into the Persona story will be satisfied with the conclusion and those that just want a solid, challenging fighter will also be well catered for. A fantastic swansong for the previous generation.