Out of all of the games and spinoffs that comprise the long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise, none has been so singled out as a strong brand unto itself as has Persona 4. Although remakes of past titles have certainly not been unheard of, the wealth of content that makes up Persona 4 is rather staggering — a remake, a fighting game, two seasons of anime, and soon, a dancing game and a crossover RPG with Persona 3. Out of this mishmash of releases comes a sequel to the aforementioned fighting game, Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax.
What is it?
Ultimax is a sequel to 2012’s Persona 4 Arena, which brought Atlus’ Persona development team together with the legendary fighting game studio, Arc System Works, for an unusual but entertaining 2D fighter very much in the vein of Arc’s other well-known franchises, Guilty Gear and BlazBlue. The twist is that it wasn’t your usual one-off, non-canon spinoff that you often see when a series jumps genres or mediums — its events were a direct follow-up to those of Persona 4. Ultimax follows suit, taking place just days after the first Arena, and features yet another well-constructed story mode as Arc is known to deliver. Moreover, it was crafted with the understanding that the game’s audience will include a massive influx of players from outside the fighting genre (RPG fans in particular), and Arc has spared us their usual crop of insanely difficult story mode challenges as a result. The story of Ultimax is particularly intriguing, as some characters get distinct closure, while others imply further development to come. This may hint at future prospects of the Persona franchise.
The playstyle is also your typical Arc fare, retaining the overall feel of your average “anime fighter” while also implementing mechanics consistent with the Persona series. You have four attack buttons, two of which control your character, and two more that control their titular Persona, which is a summoned avatar that performs the characters’ more powerful attacks for them. Functionally, this is an elaboration of the assist mechanics that have been seen in many fighting games over the years, but assigning them to the main control scheme allows for much greater variety in their use, and making the most of that is what sets Ultimax apart from its peers. In addition to the aforementioned story mode are your fighting genre standards like arcade, versus, and online, as well as post-Street Fighter IV expectations, such as a good training mode and combo trials to help you get to know each character’s overall game and give you an idea of their potential.
Why Should I Care?
As is the case with any fighting game, it takes a sequel/revision or two before it can really come into its own. Persona 4 Arena was an extremely solid game and held up well at the highest competitive levels, but was somewhat wanting for character selection. Atlus has alleviated this by pouring in so many characters that the roster has truly gone from anemic to robust in a single sequel. Persona 3’s Mitsuru, Akihiko, and Aigis are joined by all of their surviving Shadow Operative teammates, as well as the P3’s Velvet Room attendant, Elizabeth. Meanwhile, the Persona 4 cast is expanded by the addition of team navigator Rise Kujikawa and a host of DLC characters that include Persona 4 antagonist Tohru Adachi, Persona 4 Golden bonus social link Marie, and Velvet Room attendant Margaret. Shadow Labrys becomes playable from the first Arena, and the split personalities of Sho Minazuki make their debut as the game’s antagonists. Finally, most of the game’s characters have alternative “Shadow” versions (Labrys has two, due to the events of the first game), which are a constant in the world of Persona 4, and serve to add quite a bit to the already well-expanded cast. This ultimately makes for a game that is not so much a sequel to Persona 4 Arena as it is “Persona 4 vs Persona 3”.
None of that would matter, though, if the core game didn’t hold up its end of the bargain, and Ultimax certainly delivers on that front. If it wasn’t already implied with Arc System Works as the developer, Ultimax plays beautifully, but comes with the added bonus of avoiding the typical Arc pitfall of what you might call “terminology excess.” There’s a lot going on here, but the game never drowns you in gameplay mechanics the way Arc’s games are sometimes wont to. This makes it perhaps the ideal gateway title for those curious about this arm of the fighting genre.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the complete package you would expect when you have Arc System Works’ fighting game architects working alongside Atlus’ master storytellers. Being as different as the two studios are, some skepticism might still be justified, but the collaboration has worked out perfectly. As a result, Ultimax is not only a great fighting game, it’s one of the best in recent memory.