I wish I could've seen the collective surprise of Persona fans when Atlus announced that the new Persona title would be a fighting game. Then, the raised eyebrows when it mentioned the fact that this was a collaborative effort with Arc Systems, developers of such titles as Blaz Blue and Guilty Gear, fighting series with enough depth to draw in some of the more experienced fighter game afficionados. Persona 4 Arena, a game taking place two months after the event of Persona 4, is the result, and I'm pleased to say that it holds up to the level of quality that will please both fighting game and Persona 4 fans.
Much like any Arc System title, P4A comes complete with more than just a few types of moves. For each character, there are counters, bursts, dashes, air turns, and more, and that's in addition to the actual move list that each fighter has. Luckily, there is a Lesson Mode to guide you through all these mechanics, but it'll still be a while before a beginner will actually be able to remember the variety of moves at their disposal. For each character, there's also a Challenge Mode that allows you to go through and master each of the combo lists available to them. Unfortunately, there's no way to actually reference these combos once in a battle.
There is a very large amount of depth here despite only using the four face buttons, definitely deserving of a place in a tournament. The persona mechanic, which fits in well with the rest of the series, means having a manifestation of each character's pyche appear that fights alongside them, in a way. Each character's persona acts in a different way and finding out how to use them best to your advantage in the middle of battle is the key to winning. If they take too many hits, however, they'll be out of the fight for a while, forcing you to fight with only physical strikes, effectively weakening you by half.
If you're a fan of the series, the Story Mode is probably for you. Taking place two months after the events of Persona 4, you'll find that the Midnight Channel has once again started up, forcing Yu Narukami (the main character of P4) and his friends to investigate. Though you initially only get access to four characters to begin, as you complete more and more of them you'll unlock additional viewpoints on the story, including those of characters from Persona 3. Suffice to say, if you haven't played these games you're going to be confused to all hell when people start jumping into televisions and a giant stuffed teddy bear begins making terrible puns while talking to a robot.
The biggest issue that the story has is the walls and walls of text. It is written to be a fully-fleshed-out Persona adventure, but it's more of a visual novel with some fights interspersed here and there. Despite that, they're pretty interesting, and some of them (like Kanji's) actually had me looking forward to seeing more of what would happen. Luckily, if you just want a typical fighting game experience of battles with brief dialogue interspersed between, the Arcade Mode has you covered. Then of course there is always Versus Mode to fight your friends or a computer opponent. And if you want to fight online, you can do that too with a full lobby system that allows you to choose a silly-sounding title for yourself if you so desire.
One of Persona 4 Arena's strengths is definitely the visuals and audio. Covered with bright colors and flashy moves, smooth animations and sharp sprites, the graphics are quite impressive the ability to see your favourite characters from Persona 4 is crisp high-definition is also pleasing. The music is also as you would expect from the Persona team: haunting melodies and catchy rock tunes, some new and some old, will keep you bobbing your head to the rhythms (as long as you aren't too busy finishing up some crazy combo).
Persona 4 Arena is a treat for both fighting game fans and those who have enjoyed Persona 4 (and to a lesser extent, Persona 3). The incorporation of the series' signature moves into the title, a fully canonical storyline, and the integration of personae into the base mechanics of the game make for a great hybridization of two companies with enthusiastic fanbases. In short, if you're a fan of Persona 4, or of complex fighting titles, then you'd be remiss to pass on Persona 4 Arena. Because really, not much is more theraputic than watching Kanji beat Yosuke all to hell with a folding chair.