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Persona 4 Arena
Score: 87%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Arc System Works
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Fighting

Graphics & Sound:
I had my doubts about Persona 4 Arena. I have faith in Atlus and Arc System Works, but Iíve seen way too many games unsuccessfully cross genres. Thankfully, the collaboration is a success. Atlus was able to focus on what it does well, and Arc System Works was allowed to do the same. The two donít completely mesh in every area, but the end result is something both fans of the series and hardened fighting genre fans can enjoy.

Presentation is bright, bold and a heck of a lot of fun to watch and hear! It is a perfect combination of the Persona series art design and Arc System Works high-end, 2D magic. Arenas are packed with little touches for fans, yet never so packed that they distract from the action. All sprites are hand-drawn and animated down to the last detail, resulting in incredibly fluid battles, especially when the Personas Ė the characterís demonic helpers Ė burst to life during certain moves. Itís incredibly cool.

When a fight really kicks into gear, it becomes a brutal light show. The soundtrack helps enhance the feeling even more. Audio has always been a high point for the series, and Persona 4 Arena does just about everything it can to boost the series' reputation even further. The game also sees the return of most of Persona 4ís voice cast, which is great considering the amount of dialogue featured in Story Mode.

Story Mode serves as an official sequel to Persona 4 and is pure fan service. It is two months later. The investigation team is gearing up for a relaxing reunion. They soon discover Rise is missing, only to appear as co-host on the "Midnight Channel," which is back on the air and advertising a fighting tournament featuring members of the team. The occurrence is enough to send the group back into the TV. Separated, the group must fight each other Ė and a handful of characters from Persona 3 -- if they want to figure out whatís really going on.

Events unfold via a visual novel; characters talk and you click through, making a few minor dialogue choices along the way. Each character has a narrative arc, all of which tie together to help solve the gameís bigger mystery. If youíre already invested in the characters/ story, it is great, but it isnít something hardcore fight fans will want to endure. Story Mode pushes long, multi-minute (usually cracking double digits) dialogue scenes on players, every once in a while tossing in a one-round battle that is usually over in a couple of minutes. Of the first forty or so minutes of the game, probably five were spent actually fighting. Again -- great if youíre a fan; if not, it is a major drag.

Genre enthusiasts will spend more time in Persona 4 Arenaís more "traditional modes." Thereís an Arcade Mode that distills the story into more manageable bites, pushing the core-fighting mechanic to the forefront. Versus offers no-frills, one-on-one fights. Online fights are also available, complete with a neat replay function so you review fights either to brag, or improve your skills.

Persona 4 Arena is either incredibly easy, or a challenge Ė it all depends on which mode youíre playing. Adding more evidence that Story Mode isnít meant for anyone other than players who just want to find out what happens next to their favorite characters, Story Mode puts up next to no challenge during its few fight segments. One or two characters may give you some trouble, but I was able to get through most of the game with button-mashing.

Randomly pounding on buttons wonít get you through other modes. Hardcore fight fans will love digging into the gameís mechanics. For those of us who arenít as adept at figuring out combos down to the last frame, a suite of helpful modes is available. Lesson Mode breaks down every mechanic, while Training Mode lets you practice as much as youíd like. Challenge Mode is a fantastic complimentary mode, and surprisingly, where I spent a bulk of my playtime. Combos are demonstrated and you are asked to ape them. Itís a great way to get under the hood of the fighting mechanics, and itteaches combo timing Ė which is important if you want to venture online and still hold your own.

Game Mechanics:
Unfortunately, Iím not the best person to offer in-depth analysis on fighting games. I know systems well enough to understand them, but when it comes to distilling mechanics down to combo efficiency and timing, Iím completely out of my league. So, if youíre looking for that sort of depth, I probably wonít be able to offer it, but will do my best.

From the outset, Persona 4 Arena is incredibly simple. Attacks are tied to four attack buttons split between your fighter and their Persona. Move sets contain commands for both characters, often times crossing over between the two entities. For example, you might start a combo with your human character, only to have the Persona manifest and continue the attack. From there the Persona disappears or, with the right commands, sticks around a little longer to continue hammering away with other attacks.

This is where things go from simple to complex. Character depth doesnít come from mastering a characterís every move. Instead, youíre mastering two different characters and focusing more on situational tactics. Iím by no means a master, but fights usually tend to come down to how a particular player handled their character based on a set of circumstances. Itís not just a matter of countering an opponentís move, but figuring out what to do based on position, how much special energy is built up or your characterís special traits, such as Aigisís ammo counter. Youíll definitely want to spend time in the Practice and Challenge Modes to get a handle on everything Persona 4 Arena throws at you.

Personas will take damage during a fight, and can "break." While this reduces the amount of stuff you can do in a fight, it doesnít mean youíre completely out for the count. Instead, it offers a nice puzzle element to every fight.

As someone who isnít into fighting games but likes Persona, I figured I would like the game, but wouldnít want to delve into the fighting mechanics as much as I did. I came for the story, but ended up enjoying the mechanics more. Not that the story is bad; I just didnít like listening to thirty minutes of dialogue for every five minutes of actually fighting. Fortunately (some might even say mercifully), Story Mode isn't mandatory, only part of a bigger, meatier experience.

Persona 4 Arena has the task of serving two masters and should provide just the right experience for both.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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