With so many excellent fighting games already on the market, it can be hard to pick just one to invest the time with. The obvious choice would be something like Injustice: Gods Among Us or Tekken Tag Tournament 2. They both look fantastic in motion and - if we're being honest - who doesn't like playing as Batman, or one of the devilish members of the dysfunctional Mishima family? But to pick one of these games without considering the vibrant charms of Persona 4 Arena would be a mistake, as it's not only one of the best fighting games in the bare-knuckle business, it's also surprisingly accessible to boot.
Ask your average gamer on the street about the Persona series and they'll describe a role-playing game where you attend secondary school during the day before battling powerful demons at night. Arena takes this anime-style premise and reworks it into a 2D brawler. This means that unlike most other fighting games, Arena features a comprehensive Story Mode with over 10 hours of densely packed dialogue. And while knowledge of the past games is far from essential, fans of the series will get a kick out of returning to The Midnight Channel - an alternate dimension that exists beyond the television screen.
If you think that's a little unusual then wait until you meet the eclectic roster of fighters and their demon-like Personas. Yu is a katana-wielding teenager with a trendy haircut who can command Izangai to electrocute his foes. Aigis is a mechanical maiden who can use her arm-mounted mini-gun to bombard the enemy while Athena counters their strikes. And Akihiko is a boxing enthusiast who can draw his opponents in close with Caesar's gravitational pull before letting his fists fly. Some may moan that 13 characters is a low head-count, but when you judge them on their individuality, it's clear that Arena offers more diversity than most.
This is partly down to a fighting system that delivers considerable depth in a less intimidating framework. To ease first-time players into the art of building intricate assaults, Arena gives each character a multi-hit attack that requires a simple tap of the button. This is quickly downplayed by the more advanced systems that reveal their versatility with extended play, but it gives casual players a viable springboard. Conversely, if you're the type of player that likes to spend hours learning the ins and outs of each character, then Arena certainly isn't lacking in depth - it's just less insular than many of its closest competitors.
As well as the aforementioned Story Mode, there's a comprehensive Lesson Mode that outlines the finer points of the combat system, a tough Score Attack Mode that tasks you with beating an enhanced version of every character, a Challenge Mode that teaches how to turn every successful hit into a technical fireworks display, and a full compliment of online modes. This last point is another area where the game shines. It doesn't matter whether you're playing a stranger in a ranked match or a group of friends in an online lobby, as long as you all have a stable connection to the internet, Arena with make the experience as painless as possible.
Strange as it may seem for a game about kung-fu fighting school girls and chair-wielding punks, painless is a good way to describe Persona 4 Arena. If you're familiar with the developer's previous work on Guilty Gear or BlazBlue then you know that this is a fighting game with the highest possible pedigree. It wears its 2D pixels with pride, and there's a whole universe of fighting game sophistication to uncover beneath its vibrant surface. But even if your fighting game experience doesn't run any deeper than a few stolen games of Street Fighter and Tekken, then this is one rodeo that won't leave you feeling dazed and confused.
- Accessible fighting system
- Surprisingly deep story
- Highly stable when online
- The dialogue can drag a bit
- Slightly lacking in characters
- This is a late arrival in Europe