Saturday, 22 February 2014

Persona 4: Arena - Story Analysis

Persona 4: Arena - Story Analysis

***** SPOILERS AHEAD *****

This will probably be more an opinion piece than anything, since how much you, the reader, like a given story may vary from that of others. Opinions are subjective after all. But as I alluded to in my main review of Persona 4: Arena (hereafter just referred to Arena), I think this particular game and this particular story deserve a much closer examination as it is, in my mind, a singularly fascinating mix of expectations unmet and how the fighting game genre, while not entirely responsible for the crap plots found in its games (they’re crap because, well, they’re crappily written) can play a part in undermining them.

Firstly though, a thought experiment: did you watch the Avengers film by Marvel Studios? If yes, did you like it? If yes, why was that? I mean, on paper all that happened in Avengers was an invasion of New York by aliens, right? But for me personally, I liked that film more than its contemporaries in the superhero genre for one reason (well okay two, the second being Loki): it featured a roster of characters coming together who had five films of character growth and establishment between them. These characters then initially butted heads and joined forces at the end in the darkest hour to overcome an immense threat, and along the way we got moments like Steve Rogers and Tony Stark clashing, the wonderful banter between Stark and Bruce Banner, the simmering history between Hawkeye and Black Widow, Thor demanding Loki be trialled in Asgard and how he initially comes into conflict with the other heroes, etc etc.

There’s a name for this sort of thing in fiction: it’s called chemistry. Individual characters, if well developed, are elements, and like in actual scientific chemistry, when you combine certain characters you get explosive effects, and it’s a core part of great drama.

So, consider Arena. Here we have two groups of characters from two games, Persona 3 and Persona 4. The gang from Persona 3 had their lives changed due to what I could describe in the understatement of the century as a “brush with death” that sadly did not end like this. Persona 4’s team of miscreants had their lives changed as they sought out the truth about themselves and of the mystery that engulfed their town. But although the means differed, both groups of characters learned about life in the process. And in Arena, these teams (with some missing from Persona 3 admittedly) finally meet to overcome a new threat that affects them all.

That sounds like the Avengers, doesn’t it? And the characters of each group are arguably just as fleshed out, if not more so, than the members of that Marvel superhero group. So in that case, why in Arena is there no real chemistry between these characters? Why do we get a reaction that is more like a whiff of stale smoke rather than, say, Coke and Mentos?

Part of this is structural. The story of Arena, beyond the identity of Labrys’ kidnapper and his veiled threat to return, is resolved within the day, so the time needed for our characters to meet and properly spark off of each other isn’t allowed. But even then, with little time you would expect some interaction that promises further exploration, a “We have much to discuss but now is not the time” kind of thing.

For example (and this is just one of few I could mention), take Mitsuru. In the interim between Persona 3 and Arena she has assumed control of her father’s company and is working to restore the Kirijo name to good standing, including going so far as to alert the Japanese government to the existence of Shadows and the threat to human life they represent. She is a strong woman admired for her beauty but also respected as a leader and someone taking charge of her life and her world to right the wrongs of the past.  

Off the top of my head, I can think of two characters from the Persona 4 roster who would benefit from meeting Mitsuru (and whom might benefit in return): Yukiko and Naoto. Yukiko’s arc was finding a sense of control over her life and deciding how to proceed, if she wanted to run her family’s inn or not at the end of the day. Naoto struggled with her gender and how it affected her preferred profession as a detective and the lack of credibility she seemed to get as a consequence. Mitsuru inherited her father’s company and legacy (just as Yukiko may inherit her inn and Naoto has the Shirogane family name to live up to) and has proven that her gender, rightly, is utterly irrelevant to her skills as a leader and head of a large multinational firm. She is a good because, shock horror, she is good at these things, and gender plays no part in either how people view her or how she goes about her business, and she has had to deal first hand with continuing her family business with far less say in the matter than Yukiko ever had. 

It’s telling therefore that in Arena’s Story Mode Mitsuru meets Yukiko and Naoto in their respective tales, but the opportunities afforded by what I’ve just described do not come up at all. There is no lip service paid in actual dialogue to these possibilities partly because the events allow no time for them to happen, but partly because it never comes up anyway except in rare moments of introspection that are not acted on and are left just as observations. This is not the only wasted opportunity: Yu never learns that his SEES counterpart, Makoto, the wild card user from Persona 3, actually died to save the world, and therefore those events mean nothing to him even though they could colour his own understanding of what it means to possess the wild card. Chie and Akihiko meet and all that happens between them is some light shipping between the two that, while cute, does nothing to advance either of their characters. About the only meaningful thing that does happen as a result of character interaction between the two teams is that Aigis comes to realise that there are people outside of the SEES members and Shadow Operatives that would accept her and Labrys as more human than machine, but this is just a small footnote rather than anything covered in depth.

But this is just an issue with the lack of meaningful interaction between the Persona 3 and Persona 4 characters. There’s another, and that lies inside just the Investigation Team themselves.

Arena’s conceit that is that the Persona 4 characters will end up fighting each other physically, but usually physical violence is preceded by intent, or rather a reason as to why you would want to attack someone. Margaret herself in Yu’s story says that the status quo of the Investigation Team is going to change. If they are a family, then Arena should be the family argument that drives them apart and concludes with them reunited stronger than before.

This doesn’t happen, and this is again due to structural and narrative issues inherent within the plot. There isn’t time to allow the team to be divided because the events are concluded within a day, but the means by which they are to be divided are completely devoid of any venom or bite. Shadow Labrys’ method of trying to drive a wedge between the characters is by making each of them believe one of their friends is saying horrible, cutting things about them, but as Shadow Labrys is merely putting words in their mouths rather than driving existing issues and divisions to the surface they ultimately don’t matter. The only time it does, and it stands out as the highlight of Arena’s contribution to the Persona 4 characters, is with Yosuke. Having been jealous of Yu for quite some time, and with this being alluded to at the start of both their stories with Yosuke wanting to play leader in Yu’s absence, the two fight in Yosuke’s story and he comes out on top. So, in his moment of triumph, Yosuke… does not gloat. He does not proclaim himself the bigger man. He does not relish in his victory over the subject of his envy. He is shown to be aware of his jealousy issues but does not fall victim to them. It enhances his character significantly and makes him one of the most relatable in Persona canon.

That is the only time this happens. Yosuke’s story may not be canon anyway as there is no agreed true path in the Story Mode and his story also states he can defeat Aigis, a mechanoid so heavily armed that she’d give Robocop firearm envy, in single combat without either holding back. So take whatever meaning you wish from it, I guess.

The issue also lies in the fact that authorial responsibility for the divisions between the team does not actually fall with the scriptwriters, but rather with Shadow Labrys. It’s almost meta in how this plays out, but thinking about it, it is her that tries to drive the team apart rather than the actual writers. Her method is very basic and blunt, which matches the mentally of the character Shadows in that they only think in basic terms and along simple lines without recognising the deep subtleties of human interaction (a trait shared with the Malveolent Entity that is the puppetmaster behind the events of Arena as a whole). But as far as delivering on the promise of the “family argument” this completely fails, and I should stress that I do not believe that driving them apart just for its own sake is a good thing, but with a restoration of their family unit this would serve as great character growth for all involved. Atlus are not prudish when it comes to their writing; the entirety of Kanji’s arc and the visual and character motifs of his dungeon and Shadow in Persona 4 alone refute that, but in so far as trying to drive the team apart Arena only proves one of two points: either that the writers couldn’t think of a way that they could do it effectively, or chose not to.

But what is deeply ironic and disappointing about all of this is that Atlus have done this plot, or a similar variation of it, properly in the past and in the very same franchise with Persona 3 FES: The Answer. The Answer is the wake to Persona 3’s funeral dirge, and later in that story the surviving SEES members are given an opportunity to go back in time, and with that, alter a single moment of history. This splits the team four ways: Akihiko says that they shouldn’t use this one shot retcon at all, Yukari argues they should use it to undo Makoto’s sacrifice (and thereby doom the human race but to be fair she was incredibly grief stricken and not thinking straight), Aigis wants to go back just to understand how Makoto died, not to actually change anything, and Junpei simply wants to beat everyone to cool their heads. Subsequently they fight, and would you believe it, the stage for these battles is a coliseum, a synonym for which is, you guessed it, “arena”.  

This series of events worked far, far better than anything we see in Arena. The primary difference between the two is that The Answer is a JRPG while Arena is a fighting game. One is the bread and butter of Atlus’ work, the other is not. And that sums up my issues with Arena’s plot: Atlus tried to write a sequel to both Persona 3 and Persona 4 but did so in unfamiliar ground with a fighting game, and in doing so slotted a square peg into a round hole by sanding off all of the edges. I honestly believe that, had they done the plot of Arena as a JRPG it would stand tall with the rest of the series, but as it is Arena simply goes to show that even great wordsmiths like Atlus can fall prey to the structural constraints of the fighting game genre. Hopefully Arena’s sequel will alleviate some of my complaints and deliver on the promise of these two teams interacting (or possibly Persona Q but as I don't own a 3DS I'm SOL on that front), but for now, if I want my Coke and Mentos fizz bang wallop in Persona form, I’ll revisit The Answer, where it was done right.

-      - Shadon1010 still wants a Persona game by way of Battle Royale. But instead he’ll have to settle for a disco simulator. Huh.

News - More Conception II Details

Good morning readers!  This morning we have eight new Star Children classes for the wacky Spike title, Conception II.

Archer – This early-to-mid game unit excels at hitting weak points with bows and tricky movement. Archers are good attackers that can add effects to their attacks, be it debuffs, status conditions, etc. 
Blacksmith – This master of weaponry can wear down opponents with repeated smashing. Can break enemies’ defense, and shatter enemy power. They’re a fairly powerful unit to acquire early game, but drop off in mid-to-late game. 
Bondsman – With dapper hats and tuxedo outfits, Bondsmen are late-game units that require maxing out your relationship bond with their mother. They wield lances and unlike most other units, they use Bond Points for their magic attacks and heals instead of mana. 
Diva – This pop idol-like musician is a stronger version of the minstrel. This support unit requires an extremely rare item to create. But in addition to buffing allies and debuffing enemies, she can also revive her teammates. 
Gun Saint – Take a paladin, give him a gun, and you get a Gun Saint. This late-game unit requires a special rare drop, but with gold armor and a powerful weapon, the GS can penetrate any armor. 
Lancer – Strong attacking class that excels at building Chain gauge quickly to help immobilize units. Deals an incredible amount of damage in the right team composition, and are available mid game. 
Merchant – This early game unit is great for wheeling and dealing, as well as axing monsters right in their face. In addition to strong attacks, Merchants also have the ability to summon a shop to buy or sell items, in case you find yourself mid-dungeon without enough health or mana potions. 
Ranger – Rangers are quick to adapt to a multitude of roles within a party. They have effective heals, and debilitating debuff attacks. Their defense also allows them to be solid protectors. Rangers are a good mid-game choice for all but the most specialized parties.
You can see all the new classes in the screenshots below.  Conception II is due out in North America on April 15.  Don't worry Europe, it has Digital release in Q2 2014

Friday, 21 February 2014

News - Famitsu's Most Wanted

The guys over at Gematsu have translated the lasted issue and have revealed the Top most wanted 30 games in Japan at the moment.  No surprise that Persona 5 has the top spot.
  • 01/01. [PS3] Persona 5 (Atlus, Winter 2014) – 562 votes
  • 02/03. [Wii U] Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo, 05/29/14) – 549 votes
  • 03/02. [PS4] Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix, TBA) – 470 votes
  • 04/04. [PS3] Samurai Warriors 4 (Tecmo Koei, 03/20/14) – 371 votes
  • 05/05. [PS4] Kingdom Hearts III (Square Enix, TBA) – 272 votes
  • 06/15. [PS4] Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Konami, TBA) – 257 votes
  • 07/06. [3DS] Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (Atlus, 06/05/14) – 244 votes
  • 08/08. [PS3] 3rd Super Robot Wars Z Jigoku-Hen (Namco Bandai, 04/10/14) – 242 votes
  • 09/16. [Wii U] Hyrule Warriors (Nintendo, 2014) – 236 votes
  • 10/09. [PS3] The Evil Within (Bethesda Softworks, 2014) – 228 votes
  • 11/27. [3DS] Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (Capcom, Fall 2014) – 215 votes
  • 12/07. [PS3] Tales of Zestiria (Namco Bandai, TBA) – 205 votes
  • 13/12. [Wii U] Super Smash Bros. for Wii U (Nintendo, 2014) – 184 votes
  • 14/24. [3DS] New Love Plus+ (Konami, 03/27/14) – 183 votes
  • 15/28. [3DS] Game Center CX 3-Chome no Arino (Namco Banai, 03/20/14) – 175 votes
  • 16/10. [PS3] Yakuza: Ishin (Sega, 02/22/14) – 173 votes
  • 17/11. [PS3] Dark Souls II (From Software, 03/13/14) – 172 votes
  • 18/17. [PSV] Freedom Wars (SCEJ, Summer 2014) – 171 votes
  • 19/19. [PS4] Watch Dogs (Ubisoft, 2014) – 167 votes
  • 20/22. [3DS] Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (Nintendo, 2014) – 166 votes
  • 21/21. [PS3] The Last Remnant (Square Enix, lolnever) – 159 votes
  • 22/13. [3DS] Harvest Moon: Tsunagaru Shin Tenchi (Marvelous AQL, 02/27/14) – 146 votes
  • 23/18. [PS4] The Evil Within (Bethesda Softworks, 2014) – 141 votes
  • 24/23. [PS4] Yakuza: Ishin (Sega, 02/22/14) – 136 votes
  • 25/26. [3DS] Senran Kagura 2: Deep Crimson (Marvelous AQL, 08/07/14) – 135 votes
  • 26/20. [3DS] Bravely Second (Square Enix, TBA) – 127 votes
  • 27/29. [PS3] The Last Guardian (SCEJ, TBA) – 120 votes
  • 28/25. [PSV] Soul Sacrifice Delta (SCEJ, 03/06/14) – 103 votes
  • 29/14. [PSV] Hatsune Miku Project Diva F 2nd (Sega, 03/27/14) – 98 votes
  • 30/—. [PSV] Over My Dead Body 2 (SCEJ, Summer 2014) – 97 votes

News - Persona Q Details

This weeks issue of Famitsu has revealed some new details for upcoming 3DS game, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth

Just like previous Persona gnaws, Q sees players battling shadows in a different world using weapons and Personas. 

The big difference in Q is that all the other characters are free to use multiple Personas. In previous games it was only the main character who could do this. 
Another nifty feature is when you hit an enemy is their wee spot will in a "Boost" for the attacking character. What does this do then?  Well you get a preemptive attack and their next skill use costs zero SP.
A Persuit feature sees your teammates constantly assisting you during battle & everyone has their own unique moves.  As well as that, some times they can take all the enemies on screen down with an All-Out Attack. 

There are 20 characters and you can have 5 members in your party. You can combine any characters today but certain ones offer unique dialogue. 

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is due out for 3DS in Japan on June 6.

But wait!  That is not all!  We have been treated to two new trailers. One for Persona 3 & the other for Persona 4. Enjoy!

Source [Gematsu]

Thursday, 20 February 2014

News - Basement Crawl Release Date

A Teddy Bear's Picnic

Bloober Team have announced the release date for, the once delayed, title Basement Crawl.  It will be hitting the PS4, via the PSN on 25th Feb in the US and 26th Feb in the EU for $9.99 / €9.99 / ₤7.99.

Never heard of this title and what it is all about?  Check out the official description below;

With wildly creepy characters and blood-curdling environments, Basement Crawl combines the Bomberman-style maze-based mayhem gamers have known and loved for years with high intensity action, explosive traps and potent multiplayer competition. Players can choose to grab extra controllers and challenge their friends in-person via four-player local multiplayer or jump onto the PlayStation Network for an eight-player battle for global domination. Players can even gather their friends and go online together from the same PS4 to battle four additional players from around the world.
So, in the mean time, find yourself three friend and prepare for battle!

New Set of Screenshots via Gematsu

Screenshots - Yakuza: Ishin PS4 Version

A wave of screenshots have hit the web for upcoming game Yakuza Ishin. A title which currently only has a Japanese release date.  It may hit western shores as the once shot down localization of Yakuza 5, may see the light of day.

So far, by looking at the screens below, this title is looking rather beautiful and it would be a great shame if it did not hit our shores. 
But you still want to play it? Best way is going to be import it but be expected to pay up to $100 for it!  You can always wait and see though. A few Yakuza titles have made it west and stranger Japanese only titles have been localized recently!  Looking at you Conception 2!

Source [AGB]

News - Release Date for Daylight

A release date has been announced for Atlus and Zombie Studios' upcoming survival horror, Daylight. It will be available for you to buy on PC and PS4 on the 8th April for $14.99/€14.99/£11.99.

Here’s a list of features for the game straight from Zombie Studios:

RealD 3D – The PlayStation 4 and PC version of Daylight will be fully 3D compatible out of the box! 3D-enabled TVs and monitors will bring the scares, jumps and all other things that haunt the Mid Island area to life in a very tangible way. RealD is the same technology they use in movie theaters for 3D movies and excels at giving the game terrific depth-of-field. Catching an overhead light flicker down an incredibly long corridor is one of the more chilling 3D applications…until you come across a spirit, that is. If you have the means, we highly recommend giving this mode a try. Oh, and here’s a casual reminder that Daylight is also compatible with the Oculus VR, for those brave enough…

PS4 Multimedia Integration – This is a very cool feature that we’re super stoked about. It’s no secret that Daylight is extremely friendly for the PS4′s “Share” button (ditto, PC streaming). The tinkerers at Zombie Studios found a way to use Twitch chat to cue in-game events. The example we’ve been tossing around (and is in no way final) is that someone watching a stream types the word “Meow” into the chat, which causes the game to make a corresponding sound of a cat. So yes. You can literally scare your friends now by watching them stream. There are two caveats to this:

1. They’re all on timers, so you can’t spam them. That would be ridiculous.
2. We’re not going to tell you the full list of words. You’re going to have to find them through experimentation.

New Area – The Prison – The Prison area unlocks after players find their way out of Dr. Mercer’s office. The hospital doors are replaced with iron bars, nurses’ stations replaced with guard checkpoints, and the prison is punctuated with a lurking 3-story stack of prison cells. Remnants players will find in this area are notes from prisoners to each other, guard logs about various altercations, and even a few cover-ups of impropriety. The spirits players begin to encounter in the prison are the first ones in the game that start to get aggressive. Staying safe in the prisons will require being able to quickly and efficiently navigate the prison block, but the tight corridors and guard rooms will put players to the test.

New Area – The Forest – One of the later levels in Daylight is the Forest. After players traverse through the Prison and the Sewers, they will find themselves outdoors in a big open area, lit only by the trusty mobile phone light and the faint glow of a sallow moon. Despite being a giant open area of scrub land and swamps, the Forest still has the same procedurally generated environments as the rest of Daylight. Several notable landmarks will be randomly generated in the open world. The random landmarks will also contain the location of the remnants to find, but only the bravest players will live long enough to see what kind of horrors the forest holds (the shack full of nooses is a personal favorite of mine).

Sounds all so frightening!  Anyone excited?  In the mean time check out this video of Atlus staff playing Daylight

Source [AGB]

News - Release Date for Ragnarok Odyssey Ace

XSEED have announce that Ragnarok Odyssey Ace will release in the US and EU on April 1st form the PS3 and PSVita. 
The PSVita will ship retail and digitally with a price stamp of $34.99 and will include a bonus soundtrack of 25 songs from the game.  The PS3 version will cost $39.99 and again available retail or digital. 

This upgraded action RPG originally release on the PSVita in 2012 includes many news features;

  • The Tower of Yggdrasil 400-floor dungeon
  • New Ace Skill system
  • A dozen new elite AI mercenaries
  • New character customization options

Also, the original games ending is now the midpoint!  Check out the new trailer below.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Trailer - Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD

As the release date edges closer for Final Fantasy X | X-2 HD we are treated with another trailer. This one showcases the new features you will expect see including new graphics, stunning sound, trophy support, cross save and many more.
Take a look for yourself and are you to double dip with this title?

Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD is releasing on PSVita and PS3 on 21st March in the EU, 18 th March in the USA and already out in Japan. 

Review: Persona 4: Arena

Persona 4: Arena
Platform: PS3/Xbox 360
Price: £12.49 (prices may vary elsewhere)
Release Date:   Out Now

Okay, to start off, this review comes in two parts: a mostly spoiler free discussion of the actual game itself and a full fat, balls to the wall analysis of the story. If you’re somewhat incredulous that a fighting game deserves a close examination of its plot I’d normally agree with you but in this unique instance I feel a separate look is required. That will follow at a later date, so for now let’s see how Persona 4: Arena stands up.

Persona 4: Arena is the canonical sequel to Atlus’ hugely popular JRPG Persona 4. Yet Persona 4: Arena (hereafter referred to as just Arena) is a fighting game, a far cry from the series JRPG origins. However this particular game was co-developed between Atlus and Arc System Works of Guilty Gear and BlazBlue fame, a marriage of two teams not too dissimilar to the collaboration between Kojima Productions/Konami and Platinum Games for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It is with some regret then that, while Arena is a rather well executed title, it underwhelms when compared to both the story pedigree associated with Atlus titles and the fighting game calibre of Arc System Works.

While I mentioned I would leave the bulk of the story discussion to a separate article, I can at least state the premise and how you might fare as a newcomer. Arena is set in the fictional country town of Inaba, Japan (originally considered as the prime location for an Asian adaptation of Midsomer Murders) and features a cast of high schoolers who, having solved a year-long murder mystery in Persona 4, are drawn into a new confrontation with an unseen enemy inside what is known as the “TV World”, which is essentially an ethereal realm representing the collective unconscious of the human race. Inside this TV world our heroes can draw on the power of their own “Persona”, a manifestation of their inner self, to fight and defend themselves. But in Arena, the friends find themselves forced to fight each other as they try to unravel the mystery behind this new threat.

If that sounds like a highly condensed and generalised version of a thick plot, you’d be right. While I have saved the bulk of my story analysis for another time, I can at least state that for new players Arena is welcoming as far as plot goes, but it only accomplishes this with a bland, paint by numbers method of storytelling. Every character’s individual story arc restates the set up I described previously to the point of redundancy, and a lot of what made Persona 4 so charming is glossed over. There is some expectation that perhaps you might know some things about the previous game, but at the same time the concession to newcomers does no service either to them or to returning fans by opting for a flat retelling. Part of this might also be due to Atlus wanting players of Arena to try Persona 4 as a result of wanting to explore the backstories of the characters and the world, but aside from the platform disparity (Arena exists on 360/PS3 but Persona 4 is PS2 or Vita only) this is a tactic, intended or not, that backfires badly.

But that’s as far as I’ll go into the story here. Let’s instead discuss the actual fighting mechanics. As this is a game developed by Arc System Works, those familiar with Guilty Gear or BlazBlue will instantly feel right home with the fast paced, technical gameplay. Each character possesses both their own attacks and Persona attacks, with their Persona functioning as a separate entity for the most part. This creates a fairly unique style of fighting gameplay in that players both must consider their spacing more carefully, as it is possible to have some Personas attacking from a different direction than their host, allowing for tricky mixups and on screen ambiguity. Newcomers need not be discouraged however as most characters simply can have their Persona attacking in tandem to form combos, but the depth is there. Damaging a character’s Persona will for the most part cost a “Persona Card”, of which each character has four. Lose all four and your Persona is disabled for a time along with any attacks which require it. Atlus and Arc System Works have not entirely disregarded the series JRPG heritage though. All of the various character’s Personas and attack styles are faithful to their origins and certain Persona attacks can inflict status ailments such as Poison, Confuse (which inverts your directional inputs) and Charm to name a few, which is a neat gameplay touch that distinguishes Arena somewhat from its contemporaries while making Persona fans feel more at home.

Arena is actually more welcoming to newcomers on a technical level than other games also. Compared to the likes of BlazBlue’s various incarnations Arena sports a few mechanics in game that seem designed to appeal to newcomers and novice players (and possibly reluctant Persona fans who might be put off with it being a fighting game rather than a JRPG). For example, each character has an Auto Combo which is accomplished simply by hitting the appropriate button repeatedly. Auto Combos generate a lot of super meter and also finish with a super if sufficient meter is present. In addition, all characters possess a dragon punch or reversal move called a Furious Action which can be activated with just two buttons rather than the typical shoryuken input. The game also features as usual a solid training mode and Challenge mode to teach you basic and intermediate combos, but much like with BlazBlue or Guilty Gear you will need to take to the internet for videos of high level play and frame data to become truly skilled at the game. It should be noted however that players familiar with BlazBlue or Guilty Gear will be able to drop in right away as Arena shares several mechanics from those games also such as Rapid Cancels and Bursting.

However, where Arena trips up in its hubris to appeal to novice players is that both the Auto Combo and Furious Action systems are actually counter intuitive to their intended goal of helping new players. Auto Combo damage with a super is relatively low, which is to be expected, but the ease of performing it wrongly incentivises new players to go straight for the super ender rather than spending the meter said combo earned on something more productive. Worse though is that Furious Actions, as an easy defensive measure to perform, do not encourage good decision making. Against a player familiar with Arena, new players who rely on Furious Actions too much will find their defences baited and a brutal combo to follow. The game in neither instance either functionally or educationally emphasises that overuse of these system mechanics is a bad idea, and in my early days of Arena I fought many new players who fell prey to both of the above pitfalls.

Where Arena does succeed though is in its presentation, replicating the yellow colour scheme and style of Persona 4 and bringing back Shoji Meguro as composer. Whilst each character gets their own musical theme, and all are good Persona style tunes to be sure, the game also brings back a lot of the environmental and incidental music from the Persona 4 as well either in its original form or as a remix. Personally this doesn’t bother me as it’s a nice nostalgia touch for fans of the series and is not overly excessive. Aesthetically the character sprites are drawn just as fluidly as those you’d find in any BlazBlue iteration and it’s nice to see the various characters given a 2D rendition with fully featured movement and animation as opposed to the relative stiffness of their 3D representations in Persona 4. The game also has a consistent design of making everything look like a TV show, with the KO noise being a ringside bell to the post fight victory screens being a television interview, not to mention the inclusion of many Persona characters as announcers who commentate on the match as it develops. It’s a consistent and neat design that helps Arena fit into the Persona series despite its markedly different gameplay.

The roster features thirteen playable characters in total. From Persona 4 the entirety of the Investigation Team return (excepting Rise, but she was never able to fight anyway despite whatever nonsense the anime might have to say about it) and we also have the pleasant inclusion of several Persona 3 alumni, with Aigis, Mitsuru, Akihiko and Elizabeth all present. Two new characters, Labrys and Shadow Labrys, are also introduced here. Each character feels unique and not just by merit of their Personas, and it’s clear that Arc System Works and Atlus hashed out in detail ways to make the characters feel and play differently while remaining faithful to their JRPG incarnations. Yukiko for example still focuses on setting everything on fire and Akihiko as you’d expect is all about his boxing, being not as reliant on his Persona as other characters. However, much like BlazBlue: Chronophantasma the balance is a bit off, with some matches being ridiculously unfavourable for certain characters such as the Kanji versus Elizabeth matchup which I’ve seen ranked at a staggering 3 – 7 in Elizabeth’s favour. Only about half the cast is truly viable at a high level, and while I concede this is the first iteration of the Arena series the fact that some characters have ridiculously powerful options (such as Chie’s okizeme being far too strong) is a mark against the game. The characters certainly have avoided feeling homogenous, but this seems to have been at the cost of a more even power balance between them.

Offline there is, as always, Arcade, Versus, Score Attack and Challenge Modes. A gallery is present but is strangely devoid of anything short of in game art from cutscenes and the like and you won’t find any concept art or separate illustrations. Story Mode is present of course as well and is told in the visual novel style Arc System Works uses for the likes of Guilty Gear and Blazblue, but I find with Arena this actually impedes the storytelling, as all characters do is stand and deliver dialogue and exposition at each other without any sense of scene setting, body movements or the other ingredients that make for watchable drama. In fact, even compared to Blazblue which featured a lot of individual character art for various poses such as fighting stances or collapsing in the defeat, the static and lifeless nature of the visual novel style here really hurts what, in its JRPG form, was a well directed, living breathing world (the fact they even chose the visual novel style over making a dungeon overworld of sorts frankly staggers me). Worse, the final nail in the coffin, without getting into major spoilers, is that the story is not structured to avoid the old fighting game plot pitfall of “every story is canon, therefore none of them are canon”. Yu’s story has him defeat Yosuke in single combat, but for Yosuke’s story the situation is reversed, and this fight in both iterations happens in the same room and in the same fashion. Only one of the two can win, but if both claim they won, either one of them is lying (not exactly a good thing for well-loved characters in an established franchise) or the writers messed up, which for Atlus of all people is shocking, and is only just one example of where the story structurally stumbles and falls.

Online you’ll find your usual suite of modes such as Ranked & Player Match, although the more recent persistent lobbies and multi-match rooms of Blazblue: Chronophantasma are not to be found. Thankfully Arena sports a fairly solid netcode and feels superior to Chronophantasma in the fluidity of its online play, but beyond that there’s nothing really of note that distinguishes Arena’s network multiplayer. It’s solid, it works, but it doesn’t excel or innovate, seeking only to replicate the options offered by Blazblue: Continuum Shift Extend and not the richer selection of features that other fighting games now have by default.

A sequel, Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold (inspired by many a word salad wrestling move and in complete defiance of the old axiom that brevity is the soul of wit), is now out in arcades in Japan with a console release scheduled for Fall 2014. Some balance issues such as overly powerful okizeme options have been resolved but otherwise I can state that my issues with the core gameplay have not been resolved as such, with Auto Combos and Furious Actions still serving as traps for the unwitting newbie, but I shan’t offer any further opinion until the game is in my hands. But I can state this: for newcomers to the Persona franchise you are far better off in both pocket and time to pick up Persona 3: FES from the Playstation Store, and for fans of the series interested to see where this next chapter takes these beloved characters, well, I suppose I could say to treat it like how I treated Terminator 3: Solid & well executed, but forgettable and, dare I say it, irrelevant.

-         - Shadon1010 once fell into his TV. The screen smashed into a thousand pieces. Needless to say, he felt like a right tit.