Review: Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (Playstation 3[Reviewed], Xbox 360)
Reviewed by @Levito

Satiating the desires of several different communities with a single game is a difficult task for any developer, and it is one Arc System Works and Atlus have dealt with in their Persona 4 Arena series for some time now. The challenge being creating a title that appeals to the hardcore fighting-game fan well-versed in Arc’s history, while also satisfying the fans of Persona‘s traditional RPG roots. The first game attempted this and it was successful in varying degrees, depending on who you ask of course. Now Arc is taking another jab at the concept with Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, and it is time to see if it fairs better than its predecessor.

Note: Slight spoilers for the first Arena in the following couple paragraphs

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax’s narrative picks up immediately after the events of the first game, with both the Investigation Team and the Shadow Operatives heading their own separate investigations to discover the true identity of the elusive antagonist of the first game. Though there’s not much in the way of investigation to be done as Inaba becomes engulfed in a layer of red fog that gnarls the landscape into something sinister. General Teddie returns to announce that another P-1 Grand Prix is about to take place, insisting that if the entrants do not participate that the world will come to an end. Also, a mysterious young man named Sho Minazuki seems to be at the center of all the wrongdoings.

If you are one of the people that was not a fan of the story of the first game, Ultimax is not much of a step up in regards to the quality of the writing. While I believe it’s undeniably better than the first game, it’s certainly not up to the standard of the RPG series from which it originates. My biggest issue is there is not a lot in the way of character development, particularly on the P4 side where it feels like some characters have even regressed from the growth that occurred in Persona 4. The story mode certainly has its moments, especially on the P3 side, but overall you should probably approach this with a “dumb fun” mentality rather than expect a truly gripping narrative. While normally I would never expect an excellent story from a fighting game, it stings a bit because they tried to set up a big overarching plot line over two games and in the end it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Probably the biggest improvement to Ultimax’s story mode over the first game is its presentation. In order to see the entire story of the first game, you had to play through every single character’s individual story route. Normally that wouldn’t be an issue, but each path was more or less the same plot points retreaded over and over with lots of fluff in between. This time around however, Arc opted for a more concise approach to how the story plays out. There’s a large branching tarot card tree that basically allows the player some degree of choice to see how the story unfolds, with each tarot card representing a small portion of the story you can choose to play. That’s not to say that the narrative has a lot of branches and it’s affected heavily by play choice, but it cuts things up into smaller bite-sized chucks while also removing the repetition that plagued the story mode of the first game.

While Ultimax’s narrative is lacking, the things it *needed* to get right like the gameplay, it got absolutely right. Now anyone that listens to the podcast knows that asking me about the intricacies of a fighting game is like asking GWAR advice on how to keep an audience civil during a concert. However, despite my lack of knowledge with regards to the technical merits of the actual mechanics, Ultimax succeeds where most other fighting games have failed for me: it genuinely filled me with the desire to learn all about its inner workings. Whether you decide to play through the story mode at first or just start with the basics in the wonderfully helpful tutorial mode, the game does well to not overwhelm novice players like myself. Furthermore, things like auto combos will help you to not feel useless in your first few bouts with other players; though make no mistake, a skilled player will laugh at your attempt to auto combo your way to victory. It’s a game that is easy to learn on a fundamental level, but you’ll have to really work to understand it to actually be any good. My advice for players just starting out would be to choose either Chie or Mitsuru as a starter just to get a feel for combat, as both of their attacks have quite large hitboxes. Of course you should experiment with everyone on the roster and choose a main that really accentuates your strengths, and more importantly, someone that you enjoy playing as. In my case I’ve taking quite a liking to how Yukiko plays– big fan of the zoning game she’s got going on.

Like with most fighting games the majority of your time spent with the game will probably be with others, and for someone like me it can be difficult playing with others as there is not really a local fighting-game scene where I live. Thankfully the netcode for Ultimax is pretty freaking fantastic. In the numerous hours I have spent battling with others online, I can count the amount of awfully laggy matches on one hand. When you initially start an online match, there’s a brief stage intro that will play that seems to act as a bit of a time buffer for players to smoothly connect to one another. Usually these stage intros will stutter a lot initially but will progressively smooth out as both players get a decent connection. It’s a great way to compensate for the initial lag build up. There’s also a multitude of different lobby systems that help easily bring you and your friends together to keep the pace of matches smooth.

Earlier I mentioned that the presentation of the story mode was an improvement from the first game. Well that excellent presentation extends over to the visuals in the game too. Ultimax sports some of the most gorgeous 2D sprite work that Arc has ever put into a project. The new playable characters really highlight how much better the animation is over that of the first Arena. Rise in particular is the standout; her standing idle animation is perfectly in line with her personality, and all of her moves are like throwbacks to Elvis Presley’s stage antics. All of the characters’ personalities are well defined in their sprite work, it’s really a testament to how excellent the art direction is. Even despite the fact that the game is only available on last-generation hardware, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is one of the most gorgeous games released this year.

Ever since the original release of Persona 3, the series has become well known for having excellent soundtracks. A tradition that carries over to Ultimax as well, for the most part. The main theme Break out of…” sung by Hirata Shihoko & Lotus Juice is arguably one of the best songs in the history of the franchise. There have been several instances where I found myself just sitting at the title screen listening to that song. Probably my only real complaint with the soundtrack though is there isn’t quite enough new music, or at least not enough that resonates the way the main theme does.

Probably the most surprising thing about Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is the fact that it’s absolutely brimming with content. The story modes for the P3 and P4 casts (and Adachi’s campaign if you download him) are likely to run you around the 14-18 hour mark. Not to mention the strangely addictive RPG-like Golden Arena mode where you can level up and increase the stats of whichever character you choose. Really though, when it comes to “bang for your buck”, Ultimax delivers and then some.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax walks a fine line in its goal of appealing to both the hardcore fighting-game fan and the fan of the Persona RPG series. Obviously I can only really speak on behalf of one side of that duo, but as a whole I would say the game is quite successful in what it sets out to accomplish. More than that though, for the first time in years a fighting game has hooked me to the point where I want to learn all of its intricacies.

8/10

Episode 40: Let’s Fighting Love with Dacidbro, Lordknight, and Atlusprime!

The journey has culminated, after 39 Episodes we’ve finally reached the first big landmark in the podcast’s history. To celebrate this occasion we’ve got an all star panel to discuss Ultimax, EVO, and the future of anime fighting games.That panel includes the legend and our old friend Dacidbro. The Persona 4 Arena EVO 2014 champion LordKnight. Finally we actually managed to convince someone some Atlus to join the panel, that’s right–John Hardin AKA Atlusprime is on this episode as well!

The anticipation was great for this Episode, but it feels like we surpassed the hype. Hope you all enjoy this one, as it’s one of the best episodes yet!

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Thanks to Jintor for the show outtro.
Thanks to TrueSelf for the title card.

Piano tracks from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Question Time with Dacidbro, Lordknight, and Atlusprime.

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For the 40th Episode of S.Link FM we’re bringing out the big guns, or at least for those of us that love fighting games. Old friend of the show Dacidbro is coming back, as well as this year’s EVO Persona 4 Arena champion Lordknight. Last but certainly not least, we somehow convinced someone from Atlus to come on the show. That’s right, John Hardin AKA Atlusprime will be on this panel as well!

This episode we plan to discuss Persona 4 Ultimax, EVO 2015, the future of anime fighting games, and of course whatever else you want to ask the panel about! So post your questions below and we’ll pick out the best of the lot.

Note: We’ll be recording this episode on August 15th, so you’ve got just over a week to get a question in.

(For the future: all question posts will be titled “Question Time” so we don’t have stupidly long titles on the site anymore)

Episode 34: Not All Magicians

Yosuke Hanamura is arguably the most divisive character in the Persona franchise. However unlike say Ken Amada, there’s actually a lot more substance to the disdain a lot of people have for Yosuke. In this short episode, we discuss whether or not Yosuke would don a fedora in the real world.

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Thanks to Jintor for the show outtro.
Thanks to Guess Who for the title card.

Piano tracks from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Episode 22: Sho Me Your Moves! – with LordKnight and Dacidbro

The month of S.Link FM continues with a comprehensive look at Persona 4 Arena The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold from some Top Tier™ players. For this episode our good friends Dacidbro and MikeMuscles joined us once again, along with EVO 2013 Grand Finalist LordKnight. We discussed a whole manner of things from the future of anime fighting games to the intricacies of the LordKnight dance. Jokes aside–if you really want some good advice from some of the best players in the world, this is the episode to listen to.

Thanks to TrueSelf for creating the fantastic banner image.

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Piano tracks from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Ep #22 on Suplex Hold with Lordknight and Dacidbro records friday, post those questions!

So keeping with the promise that we’d do another episode on fighting games, we’ve decided to…. Well record another episode on fighting games! Dacidbro will be returning once again, along with the gentleman that came in 2nd at this year’s EVO 2013 Persona 4 Arena tournament LordKnight.

So if you have any questions on Arena, Suplex Hold, BlazBlue Chrono Phantasma, or again just fighting games in general. There’s no better time to ask, did you see the step? It’s genius.

Episode 19: Emancipation Anticipation — Persona 5 revealed!

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Well, Persona 5 was announced… What else needs to be said? Hope you enjoy this week’s episode as we recap the entire Atlus countdown. There’s more than enough chibi-dancing-grimdark-localized-SUPLEX-hype goodness to go ’round for everyone.

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All music from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Episode 17: Armada n’ Apple with Michelle Ann Dunphy

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Did you know that the secret to being a 400+ year old inhabitant of the Velvet Room is a healthy low carb Paleo diet? Thanks to the insight of voice actress Michelle Ann Dunphy, we do now! Jokes aside, this episode the talent behind Ayane and Margaret joined us to discuss a whole manner of things–It was a lot of fun! Also by the end of this episode, you’ll be a full on Armada/Apple shipper guaranteed.

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All music from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Episode 13: Arena’s Climax

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Atlus and Arc System Works shocked the gaming world with the sudden reveal of Persona 4 Arena Climax on the 15th of this month. So we decided it was best to get an episode out quickly while the thirst was still very real.

This episode’s panel consisted of Levito trying to understand what “5A/really situational 2B’s” are. MoTheHawk representing the FGC muscle of PersonaGAF. LogicHole proposing his Ryotaro/Nanako Dojima tag team ideas. Finally Dacidbro and MikeMuscles break down the complexities of Arena’s gameplay to a science.

We went over a myriad of topics such as: What does Arena Climax mean for competitive fighting games? Will there be more returning characters besides Junpei and Yukari? What is so special about the shadow characters? Will a certain historical figure from Persona 2 make his fighting game debut? All this and more on Episode 13 of S.Link FM!

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All music from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Persona 4 Arena 2 was revealed! Episode 13 recording tomorrow! Post your questions!

(You can check out a whole plethora of screens here)

Well it’s not quite the Persona game everyone was hoping to be announced this month, but hell if we aren’t all really excited! We’ve decided to do a surprise podcast about the sudden announcement of Persona 4 Arena 2!!

Dacidbro will be returning, cleansing the world of all thirst as he always does! As will MoTheHawk, Logichole, and new to the show yet another fighting game connoisseur MikeMusclesMurphy!

So if you have any questions or thoughts on the game you’d like to share with us, post’em below!

Episode 12: Every Day’s Great with Karen Strassman

It’s a landmark day for S.Link FM, after a tremendous amount of hype we were able to sit down and have a wonderful discussion with voice actress Karen Strassman. Karen has been among the most requested guests listeners have suggested to join us on the podcast. Obviously Karen voiced several characters in the Persona series from Aigis-the robot that longed to be human in Persona 3, to everyone’s favorite little cousin Nanako Dojima in Persona 4.(Several others too!)

Karen gave us plenty insight on how she steps into a role, not only in how she sets a character’s timbre, but also in how to have the correct mannerisms that fit said character. We also got a live demonstration of such, it was way too awesome!

It was such an honor to have Karen on, and this is easily among our best episodes-or if not, THE best episode we’ve done thus far.

Enjoy!

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All music from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Karen Strassman interview coming August 9th, send us your questions!

It’s high time we posted another megaton announcement, and the next episode is sure to set the bar for all to follow it. We’re very happy to announce that voice actress Karen Strassman will be joining us for Episode 12! Karen voiced Kirijo’s Anti-Shadow Suppression Weapon and everyone’s favorite robot Aigis in Persona 3. That’s not all though, as Karen was also the talent behind the Junes jingle quoting Nanako Dojima in Persona 4. Finally, Karen also voiced the fog enshrouded and true antagonist of Persona 4: Izanami. So yeah, Karen has quite a storied history with the series!

We will be recording Episode 12 with Karen on August 9th, which gives you plenty of time to come up with questions. So if you have any questions for Karen, please leave them on this post or tweet @SLinkFM on twitter. They don’t need to pertain to just Persona either. If you’d like to ask a question about any of her other roles or even things pertaining to the voice over industry, by all means ask!.

We’re also available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Episode 11: EVO 2013 – The Thirst Is Real

The annual EVO Championship Tournament in Las Vegas is the grandest stage of them all for fighting games, and this year Persona 4: Arena was able to take center stage. In the quest to solidify S.Link FM as a Top Tier™ show, we’ve once again sought the assistance of the legendary Dacidbro, who taught us all a great deal on how to quench the thirst that was all to present at EVO 2013. Well known streamer and tournament organizer Logic Hole was also kind enough to join this weeks show as well. Finally Armada and MoTheHawk tell us all about how they fared in the P4: A tournament. This was probably our funniest show yet, and by the end you too will be a believer in BananAmerica.

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All music from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Post-EVO podcast Episode with Dacidbro and Logic Hole records this Friday, send us questions!

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Well the annual fighting game spectacle EVO 2013 recently concluded in Las Vegas, and there’s a lot to talk about. More specifically Persona 4: Arena’s place in the tournament, the winners, the losers, the drama, BananAmerica, hype, Yume’s dominance, and of course the Waifu Grand Prix. (Yeeees)

We’ve got 2 special guests lined up for this episode too: Professional fighting game guru Dacidbro will be joining us once again. As well as Logic Hole, a tournament co-organizer, streamer, and competitor himself.

We’ll also get to hear all about how podcast regulars Armada and Mo fared in their EVO pools!

So if you have any questions at all regarding EVO, or the future of P4: Arena, by all means ask away!

Episode 10: A Beary good time with Sam Riegel

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Well folks, we were once again able to sit down and have a chat behind one of the voices of the Persona 4 cast. This time, Sam Riegel, who voiced Teddie in Persona 4: The Golden, Persona 4: Arena, and Persona 4: The Animation came on the show. Sam shed some light on his acting career, touched on what it was like working on the Persona projects, and gave some Beary good advice on for those looking to make it in the voice acting industry. This was a very bearable episode to record, nothing grizzly about it!

Apologies in advance that we did not get to everyone’s questions, we were on a bit of a time constraint. This episode is a lot more concise than previous ones and Sam really elaborate on the questions we did ask, so a lot of the reader questions were answered in passing anyways.

Many thanks again to Mr. Riegel for joining us!

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All music from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Episode 10 with Sam Riegel is recording soon, send us your questions!

tedGOTAfter our somewhat  episode-light month of June, the podcast is coming back in a big way. For the upcoming Tenth Episode, we’re bringing on and interviewing voice actor Sam Riegel! Sam provided the voice for Teddie in Persona 4: The Golden, Persona 4: The Animation, and Persona 4: Arena. Sam has also voiced a whole plethora of popular characters from various media like BioShock Infinite, Guild Wars 2, Samurai Champloo, World of WarCraft and a whole slew of other titles. Don’t hesitate to ask about the other work he’s don outside of Persona!

So if you have a question for Mr. Riegel you want read on that episode by all means post it here! Alternatively you can send you questions to @slinkfm on twitter.

We’d beary much appreciate it!

Episode 7: Voices in My Head with Erin Fitzgerald

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At long last the day has finally come, the highly anticipated 7th Episode of S.Link FM is here for all to hear. I mean, what could be more exciting than having the mind behind the kickboxing carnivore Chie Satonaka on the podcast? It’s true, immensely talented voice actress Erin Fitzgerald was here to school us with her vast assortment of knowledge. We talked about linguistics, the voice over industry, and most importantly steak. So enjoy this one, we had an absolute blast recording it.

Thanks again to Erin for joining us.

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All music from the Podcast provided by composer Doug Farrell, check out his work here:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Alternatively here’s how you can subscribe and download on itunes via our RSS feed:

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. From the File menu, choose Subscribe to Podcast.
  3. Enter: http://feeds.feedburner.com/SlinkFmPodcast in the text box and click OK.

Episode 6: Fightin’ words with Dacidbro

Episode 6 is finally here! This one is all about Persona 4: Arena, the competitive scene surrounding it and fighting games at large. Our panel consists of Levito and Armada, with GAF’s own fighting game enthusiast MotheHawk and pro fighting game player, Dacidbro. We talk all about the FGC, overcoming competitive gaming anxiety, the differences between the various fighting game genres. Dacidbro and MotheHawk give comprehensive detail on the mechanics of Persona 4: Arena. Don’t think, feel!

Dacidbro also live streamed the whole show, which you can watch here.

Download Link (Right Click + Save as)

Link dump:

We’re now available on the itunes store, just search “S.Link FM” and subscribe! Also you’d be doing us a big favor if you gave us a review on itunes.

Alternatively here’s how you can subscribe and download on itunes via our RSS feed:

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. From the File menu, choose Subscribe to Podcast.
  3. Enter: http://feeds.feedburner.com/SlinkFmPodcast in the text box and click OK.

Episode 6 with Dacidbro recording soon, send us your questions!

Well folks we’re gearing up to record Episode 6 of S.Link FM soon, the focus of this episode will be on Persona 4: Arena and it’s competitive fighting scene. Joining us for this discussion will be Professional competitive fighting gamer and commentator David Broweleit AKA Dacidbro.

So if you have any questions for Dacidbro about Persona 4 Arena, competative Catherine movement he started, or fighting games in general be sure to left a comment on this post! Also can also send questions to @SLinkFM or @Levit0 on twitter. Also be sure to check out our thread on GAF.