Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a sequel to Persona 4 Arena which is a sequel to Persona 4 but Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a sequel to Persona 4 Golden as well as a prequel to Persona 4 Dancing All Night and I believe a prequel to Persona Q. I just wanted to say all that. Before I go on I do want to point out that this game features very heavy spoilers for the story of Person 4/Persona 4 Golden, so if you haven’t played any version of the original Persona 4 story then stay away, that goes for P4A as well, I believe – this review doesn’t have any though.
This is a game with incredible presentation on every front and you can feel both the overall effort and the incredible amounts of love for the franchise that went into this. It’s really phenomenal and every single big or small thing in this game looks and feels like its pulled right out of its namesake in the best ways possible, it was designed fantastically and I really enjoyed that whole aspect of it. I mean hell, even just the character select screen is presented in such a way that it feels so “right”, let alone the menu design, loading screens between fights with great and very fitting imagery, and so on. It really excels in this way on a level I haven’t seen many spinoffs of anything ever do, it’s truly something to praise. Sadly the rest of the game doesn’t quite live up to this.
Before even getting to the actual game, I do have one massive complaint: while not as filled to the ceiling with DLC as it could be, it does boast some upsetting types of extra pay content. Adachi, Marie, Margaret, several “navigators”, and even the original story from P4A are all DLC along with a few other things if I recall correctly – and none of it is very cheap. I can kind of understand the P4A story being paid (though $10 is a bit steep) given the depth of the story mode here, but at the same time the only thing you’re really BUYING when you buy Ultimax is the exact same game with a new story – that 10 dollars should have been included in the price without making it cost more than it does already. If anything Ultimax is less of a ‘sequel’ and more of an expansion in its own way, as it adds absolutely nothing that P4A didn’t have aside a continuation to the story for the most part. In a non fighting game that’d be fine, but here it’s not like the mechanics are new, the characters are new, or anything else.
There are some things about the DLC I can’t forgive though, those being Marie and Adachi. Not only because of who they are, but because of the fact THEY BOTH SHOW UP IN THE FUCKING ARENA ULTIMAX STORY. Marie, as far as I had gotten anyway, was only brought up by the cast but didn’t actually show up in person. She wasn’t necessary to bring up though and this is why it irks me. Why randomly mention a character who you know isn’t in the game? To make you want to buy her. It’s just a fucking advertisement right in the dialogue, not to mention she’s such an important character in P4’s story that it’s retarded she’s not properly put in a spin-off. Adachi though, he’s much worse – he’s an actual character in the story who shows up and all, he’s even involved in the main plot. It’s outrageous that they wouldn’t have him as an unlockable character or something instead when they included him so much. It only gets worse when you go to the character select screen and both of them and Margaret are right there on it with a little lock on their icons – just rubbing in your face that you have to go pay more money for them. Even Dead or Alive 5 isn’t this shitty about it – they just didn’t include the DLC characters in the story at all because that’d be retarded. It’s all the more irritating when you consider this game is already barely any different from the prior fighting game for the series, and yet you still don’t get all the characters.
Carrying on: the voice acting is mostly as you’ll remember it from the original release of Persona 3 and the Golden version of Persona 4, yet oddly Igor seems to have two voice actors in this game. In the story mode he sounds worse than a fandub, while in the character select screen it is clearly the original Igor. Margaret also seems to have a second VA for the story mode who is as bad, if not worse, than Igor – yet in the character select she sounds more like herself. In Margo’s case it may just be me remembering her voice wrong or the actress doing an INCREDIBLY shitty job both at redoing her voice and at acting because holy shit she’s awful in the story mode, but with Igor it is very clearly not the same person in the story mode. The only other new change I noticed – and maybe I’m just wrong and she’s simply doing a total shit job this time around, was Naoto who sounds not only wrong but pretty bad too. Aside that, even Troy Baker who these days seems like he’s done doing anime and Japanese game work reprises his role as Kanji and the whole crew aside those 3 are all as great as ever, even the P3 voice cast all seems to be the same as before.
Given this is a Persona 4 spin off you’d expect an incredibly catchy and cool OST, but it’s actually very disappointing in this aspect. We get a lot of generic BGM for all of the fights and only really a single “Persona” sounding song in the main menu. They don’t even play any vocal tracks during the fights, just typical fighting game stuff instead that you tune out after the first couple fights entirely. This is probably the one way where I suppose you could say the presentation wasn’t all that incredible.
Story mode is pretty cool and full of a lot of Persona 4 styled events throughout, sometimes going on 10 minutes of pure dialogue without anything else. This is great to see but with the lower quality of the overall story it starts to feel a little like you just want to skip it, unlike the main games where this stuff is the best part. It’s not bad but at the same time it just doesn’t feel the same as the real games and while it’s definitely a good selling point as it’s a pretty in depth little story, I just couldn’t really get into it. I think it’s a problem with knowing that this is just a fighting game and not being able to really care about hours of dialogue when it’s not really going to be deep enough to fully enjoy. It might also be in part due to the fact that the story seemed fucking stupid from what time I spent not skipping it entirely. One thing I did really like during the story was the fact that you weren’t locked in to Yu’s perspective – instead you get the story being told from the first person by a bunch of characters throughout. You also get various characters being your ‘navigator’ depending on the scenario. Plus if you are even worse than me at fighting games and find yourself stuck somehow then story mode has an option to let the CPU fight for you so you can just sit back and enjoy the story. Another cool thing though is that you can unlock the story from the perspective of the Persona 3 cast if you can somehow tolerate them at all.
I also like the idea of the mode I forgot the name of so lets call it “dungeon mode” wherein you go down through a lot of fights while “social linking” with your navigator (though apparently that just happens by them talking during fights so it’s not as fun as it sounds) and it’s just kind of a cool way of doing survival mode, but on top of that you have experience points, level ups, and skills you unlock. I just can’t get into the fighting enough to really go anywhere in this mode but I did enjoy the concept of it. I could definitely see this being popular with anyone who really enjoys the gameplay in this though, as it really gives it an extra layer instead of just being a survival mode.
The gameplay is okay, I guess. I’m not a big fighter fan but I’ve played a good amount and this feels a lot like Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax in how simple yet “fine I guess” the overall game feels to play. Another thing that reminds me of DBFC is how the Personas are handled – they just appear for some moves and don’t do much else, though they are available far more often than the partners in DBFC. I found the fighting to be kind of random button mashy outside of playing as Chie who seems much more like a common fighter character in how she controls and how her combos work. Everyone else feels like you have to really learn the character to do anything aside a few moves, while Chie feels much more “casual” which with a fighting game that you aren’t playing at some big game tournament is a good thing. You can actually do stuff with her while if you pick someone like Aigis you just end up spamming the machine gun because almost any input aside using her Persona causes that or the cannon attack. I’d say it plays a lot more like Street Fighter than Melty Blood, if that helps get across the way it feels at all.
In terms of the quality of the matches with the computer, I felt they were pretty well balanced. I had a tough time sometimes – mostly because I just couldn’t figure out how to do combos and such, but also just because the AI sometimes was just good enough to kick my ass without much trouble. However, and this can often be a problem in single player modes of fighters, the fights with the AI seem fair and there are no “I’m at 10% health so I’ll unleash insane attacks now out of nowhere” moments that I ran into. The fights all seem very fair and if you suck you die, but if you are at least “alright” you can hold your own and come out on top. Many of my matches ended pretty excitingly, with me barely squeeking out a win at the last second – unless I was Chie, then I just destroyed my opponents and nearly got perfects every time.
Another thing somewhat tied into “presentation” would be the animations, I fucking love them. This is especially true with Elizabeth who will whenever knocked down (or even when she loses a match) will lay on the ground in a sexy pose. It’s not only just fun to see, it really fits her character given (if I’m remembering right) she’s one of the only characters in P3 or P4 to canonically have sex with the main character so she’s a character that’s not surprising to see sexualized a bit officially outside of that too. I feel like thats true for the whole cast in this game – not that they’re all lewd, but that the way their character is represented really fits who they are both on a very obvious level and sometimes in a way you’ll only really understand if you know the character enough from their original games. I think that’s really cool and its another way this game shows how much effort was put into it and that the staff working on it knew the material very well.
Character wise, if it’s not obvious my favorite was Chie. Her playstyle is just so smooth, fast, and snappy. I felt like everyone else was a little clunkier and I couldn’t figure them out, but with Chie I was doing great. I don’t know if this is her being more casual friendly as I said earlier or simply having a more typical move list than the others as well as being one of the faster characters, but she’s great fun to play and of course she’s as cute as always. I might not really play fighters too often but I know basic combos and things – and none seemed to work with 95% of the cast in this, Chie was pretty much the only one. Yukiko was surprisingly probably my second choice most often to switch it up – she also has a pretty fluid fighting style that feels like you’re actually in control of it, though I couldn’t do too much with her either. I’d say Elizabeth was my third favorite, purely because of the character and how they got across so much personality for her even compared to the rest of the cast. She was just always very fun to watch during matches no matter what she was doing or if I was in control of her or she was kicking my ass.
Overall, I’d say getting this game even at it’s current reasonable price depends on how much you like the series and how tolerant you are of fighting games. I can’t imagine buying this for more than maybe $15 myself though, especially when the P4Arena story is $10 on top of that (in case you haven’t played it, as this story continues directly from the end of that one) and each of the three character DLCs is five fucking dollars. If you buy all 3 of the characters only, you’d already be spending more than half of the cost of the game before shipping and tax (the game runs $25 before those currently). It’s ridiculous and so I just can’t see buying it unless it’s cheap enough to counteract those costs given these are basic characters that should be in the game to begin with. There’s other DLC, but I’m not even going to bother checking the prices on that stuff.
Anyway, the story mode has a great amount of meat to it but the ability to grip the player feels like it’s missing and I found myself tuning it out and even skipping it often, the fighting is okay I guess, and really the reason to buy this would be purely for the presentation and being able to spend more time with these great characters in a new way. If that seems worth it to you then have at it, otherwise buy it used or something. It’s really cool but it’s still just a low-tier fighting game that mostly serves as alright fanservice for people who enjoy P4 and/or P3. Though as someone who recently reviewed P4Golden and even said it’s possibly the best overall experience I’ve ever had with a video game in my life, I have to say I didn’t really enjoy this all that much myself. Again though, I’m not very good at fighters and not a big fan of them, so mileage may vary.