If you’re a fan of the “Persona 4 Arena” series or fighting games in general, then you’ll want to check out our review. We break down everything there is to know about this PlayStation 3 exclusive and give it an overall score.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a fighting game that was released on September 30, 2014. The game was developed by Arc System Works and published by Atlus as the sequel to Persona 4 Arena. It’s almost fighting fit, but there are some flaws that make it hard to recommend.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review: Almost Fighting Fit

If it’s been a long time since you’ve seen your pals, you’re bound to imagine the reunion in a specific light. Everyone is cheerful, the atmosphere is ideal, and food is almost certainly involved. But there’s no insane bear embarrassing people in fight club events by hurling them into a television.

However, in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, there is a huge gap between the ideal and the actual, and there is a deranged bear broadcasting fistfights amongst your friends’ inner selves while giving them humiliating names.

If the plot seems a little strained, that’s because it is. The tale of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a strange mix of “here’s where they are now” and an intriguing, though undeveloped, storyline centered on a new and multifaceted villain. Normally, you don’t play a fighting game for the story, but in P4UA, it’s a major emphasis outside of the arcade modes.

The combat, on the other hand, is fantastic, an exciting mix of chaos and skill that never gets old. It’s really a pity the tale falls so flat.

Review of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax: Almost Fighting Fit

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P4AU begins with Yu, the protagonist of Persona 4, returning to Inaba for Golden Week festivities with his cousin and uncle. It’s just a few months after the events of the previous game have concluded, and P4A Ultimax’s conflicts have already begun. 

When Yu walks off the train and the Inaba background appears, the Persona 4 nostalgia strikes strong – yet there’s no reason to be there. The Midnight Channel begins broadcasting again that night, as you expected due to the long foreshadowing that takes up the first ten minutes of the game, and having the phenomena you put an end to in the first P4 make a comeback for the sequel simply seems cheap.

The larger plot is more engaging, with a surprisingly complex and Persona-like storyline that you wouldn’t anticipate from a fighting game. It follows one of the Kirijo lab’s experiment subjects, a violent young man called Sho, and is as much a sequel to Persona 3 as it is to Persona 4.

Sho’s goal, however more complicated, is to find acceptance and significance in a world where everyone has abandoned him. There’s also a subplot involving Adachi, Sho’s surgically implanted Persona, and yet another all-powerful monster that intends to destroy the planet by using human frailty as a conduit. Oh, and there’s an Aigis clone who isn’t Aigis but works for both sides. It’s a difficult situation.

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The issue is that, unlike other Persona characters, you never have a chance to sympathize with Sho, which means the message is undeveloped and the execution is clumsier than in the core Persona games.

The narrative and characters involved, on the other hand, provide a satisfactory resolution to some of Persona 3’s loose ends, which leave its characters and even some important plot aspects unresolved. The cast of Persona 4 plays a part, but it’s a little one, and I can’t help but assume they were merely introduced since Persona 3 is more popular. 

The storyline is also hampered by the writing. Characters often repeat themselves unnecessarily or spend much too much time debating basic issues. In addition, the tone and language are less formal and more stilted than normal. It wouldn’t be a big issue if Persona 4 Arena Ultimax didn’t include hundreds of long cutscenes that take up significantly more time than the bouts itself.

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P4UA is an entirely different and very amazing fighting game when you get to battle – or if you simply ignore narrative mode. Each character has a set of fundamental actions, which include heavy and regular strikes, specials, grabs, and dodges, as well as the ability to weave in unique Persona attacks since it’s Persona. In instructional mode, it’s simple to master.

There are practically infinite combinations you can create, but if you’re new to the genre, you’ll probably discover them through being on the receiving end, like I did. The matches in Persona 4 Arena are difficult, and there is a steep learning curve if you’re unfamiliar with this kind of fighting game.

Slashing people with a sword and unleashing a barrage of lightning strikes still works, but nothing beats the joy of pulling off a solid combination — partially because it indicates you remembered how to execute it. Each (live) major character in Persona 3 and 4 has their own set of talents, and it’s a lot of fun to play.

Golden Mode is a must-have if you’re just interested in the combat and not the plot. It’s simply a series of ever-increasing trials in which you combat other characters and their Persona alts in hundreds of bouts. It’s the game’s greatest mode, and it’s a great way to appreciate the game’s amazing pixel graphics and pre-rendered scenery. Whatever else Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has to offer, the artwork is stunning.

The Verdict on Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

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Pros

  • Top-of-the-line combat systems.
  • Golden Mode is a ton of fun.
  • Beautiful art style.
  • The idea of the story is intriguing.
  • The gremlin in me is just relieved to see the Persona 3 characters back.

Cons

  • The plot becomes a little muddled, and the issues are never fully developed.
  • The Persona 4 segment is enjoyable, but it seems put on.
  • The writing isn’t as good as you’d expect from a series like this, and there’s a lot of it.
  • The lack of a rollback Netcode for Steam and Switch is a major disappointment.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax’s combat is still fantastic over a decade after its first release. The thrill of eventually knowing a character’s move pool is only surpassed by actually using them in combat, and whether you’re playing alone or not, Golden Mode and online bouts provide plenty of opportunities for both.

It’s even more perplexing to wrap all of this around such a jumbled and undeveloped tale, but there’s still enough to warrant jumping into the ring.

[Note: The copy of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax used for this review was given by Atlus.]
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