The first Persona 4 Arena blended the wild and humorous personality of both Persona 3 and 4 with the deep combat system of modern fighting games. Not only was the a continuation of the storyline established in Persona 4 on the PlayStation 2, but also a merging of the characters and story arcs of Persona 3 and Persona 4. The combat was fluid and fast paced, and yet still managed to still feel like a unique experience that players can only get from the Persona series. The sequel, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, builds upon everything from its predecessor by giving players new additions to the roster and extra story plotlines to follow.
Much like its predecessor, Ultimax’s focus is on making experience feel like an extension of the Persona 3 and Persona 4 games. Despite the bulk of the game being primarily a fighting game and not an RPG, this is definitely still a Persona game. The presentation and soundtrack is incredibly sweet with plenty of locations and remixed music from the series. The entire roster oozes with personality and diversity, each with their own importance to the story of the game as well as their own special moves and attacks. Returning characters have different changes to their arsenal of attacks to not only compensate for all the new characters, but also to balance out any of the issues from the previous game.
Every character on the roster has an alternate Shadow version of them. When you choose a shadow version of a character, their abilities and combos differ from their original version. Instead of being able to use a burst ability to escape combos, they can instead go into Frenzy Mode, which powers up all of your attacks and special moves. This adds up more variety amongst the large roster of fighters to use and can make up for some great matchups not seen in the first game. Knowing which version of characters is better harkens back to the days of Hyper Street Fighter 2 Turbo and can make for some important strategic decisions in matchups.
The Story Mode from the first game is back, only it is presented in a different fashion and is meatier than before. The story follows the events after the first P1-Grand Prix tournament from the TV world of Persona 4, and brings in more characters from Persona 3 into the mix. A selection tree of events allows you to choose a character to follow at a given point in the story, with more branches opening up as you complete sections. Yet once you finish the main story that follows the Persona 4 characters, you can then play through from the perspective of Persona 3 characters. Each story offers different scenes and gives explanation of events happening in the plot from alternate perspectives. If you love the story from the first Persona 4 Arena, you’ll definitely be spending a lot of time enjoying this.
Modes like Arcade, Time and Score Attack, as well as Training Mode all return with expanded content. The real neat addition to Ultimax is Golden Arena Mode, which feels the most like a traditional Persona RPG. In this mode you fight through a series of matches against opponents with different abilities, and you level up your character with experience with each win. As your character levels up, you gain abilities and increase stats, as well as a Social Link with an announcer character, just like in Persona 4. While the matches play out similar to a Survival Mode for a fighting game, the progression feels like an RPG with elements that heavily influence each match. You can fight different opponents on varying difficulty levels, which change up the stats and abilities of enemies for added challenge, but the theme for this mode is taken straight out of Persona 4.
Online play is once again hit or miss depending on the connections of players. There are plenty of filters to help find the right kind of opponent you want, and the options for such are easy to implement. You can customize a player card with your stats and progress in the other modes, with little avatars of characters from Persona 3 and 4. It can be hard sometimes finding a match with someone who has a decent, but once you do matches what you would expect from a fighting game. You can unlock more customization options for your player card as you fight other online.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a great sequel to its predecessor. While it may not have the same impact for the series as when the first game appeared, it still takes everything that was done well and makes it even better. For a series that puts so much emphasis characters and story, it’s nice to see this kind of game still feel as part of the whole series despite being of a different genre. Persona fans will love seeing how some of their favorite characters from previous titles ended up and enjoy meeting some of the newcomers. Fighting fans will have plenty to work with here as well; exploring the deep combat system and game modes that Ultimax has to offer. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a game definitely worth checking out, because more of a great thing is always for everyone.
This review is based off a purchased retail copy of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax for the PlayStation 3.