Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is finally out in Europe. This is my life now. I’m dreaming about suplex holds in my sleep and since release I’ve been playing Ultimax almost non-stop.
As a huge Persona fan, and as someone who absolutely adored Arena which was the perfect blend of one of my favourite series’ and genres, my hype for this game was at its very own ultimax. Having spent a good 24+ hours on the game since its release, I wanted to write a review to explain my love for the game (fairly, of course, although much gushing will be involved.)
First things first, if you didn’t like Arena then you’ll most likely not like Ultimax. However, if you loved Arena then read on and by the end you’ll be thinking, “oh wow, I should totally buy a copy of Persona 4 Arena: Ultra Ultimax Suplex Hold right now!” and that would be the right thing to do. You’ve probably already guessed that Ultimax will be my game of the year, and I’m not going to tell you otherwise because truer words have never been spoken.
I’ll avoid spoilers from both Arena titles, but do play Arena first (or buy the story DLC for Ultimax) as Ultimax’s story takes place in the same week as Arena. Arena was left open and Ultimax is here to finish the story, but now it’s told via P4 and P3 sides rather than playing through as each individual character as this lead to much of the content being repeated, allowing for a detailed yet streamlined experience.
Newcomer Sho Minazuki is aiming to destroy the world for reasons you’ll find out during your adventure, and he’s captured most of the Shadow Operatives and tied them to crucifixes; the Investigation Team are then forced to fight for their lives and the sake of the world. Inaba is taken over by a red fog that makes the quaint town similar to the TV world, meaning the Investigation Team can summon their Personas and battle Shadow-like versions of themselves. It filled me with excitement and nostalgia, and it helps that the talk between friends can be hilarious; similar to Golden, I felt as if I was meeting an old friend again.
Whilst the loveable Persona 4 cast remains largely unchanged due to the small gap between the end of Golden and Arena, the Persona 3 cast faces striking changes in both career and appearance. Whilst some have been covered in the first Arena, Yukari, Junpei, Ken and Koromaru now join the fray. Yukari is now a model and acts as Pink Ranger for Phoenix Ranger Featherman R, Junpei is a little league baseball coach and Ken is part of the student council as Mitsuru once was. Ken now takes care of Koromaru and wears the former’s old orange hoody, but his bite and bark are as aggressive as they’ve always been!
Arc System Works know how to make outstanding fighters and Ultimax is no different – it expands on Arena with brand new combos, special moves, creative instant kills and playable Shadow characters for most of the cast; some characters don’t get Shadows such as the Velvet Room residents and Adachi, who never had to face their Shadows in the first place. If you just want to enjoy the story, you can now set the CPU to fight for you if you’re struggling, but it’s easily accessible regardless due to the auto-combos and simplicity of special moves. Shadows play very similarly, but have no Burst and can perform as many SP actions as possible once they’ve gone in a frenzy, which is essentially their awakening.
If you’re worrying about difficulty and the depth of the game, then don’t. There’s plenty of technical details and competition to sink your teeth into, and it’s quickly become my favourite fighting game as Arena had done – I absolutely love fighting games and play online plenty, leaving me a lot of time to get to grips and learn the game entirely. The tutorial system is also quick and painless, so make sure you give it a whirl even if it’s just as a refresher.
The SP system is still present, where you fill your gauge everytime you attack or are attacked and the SP points allow you to perform special moves. If you take 75% damage, you enter your awakening mode which gives you access to more moves which can turn the tide of the battle. Special moves cost 50 SP, and Instant Kill moves cost 100 SP which is usually the limit, but you can earn 150 SP in your awakened state. You’re given one Burst, which slowly recharges, and should only be used if you need to break out of an enemy combo as it forces them away from you.
There are several modes to play this time around, including story, online and local multiplayer, Score Attack and the new Golden Arena mode. If you’ve ever played Score Attack in the original Arena then you’re familiar with how difficult it is (I got to the last round and well, never again…), but there are difficulty levels and courses of four this time around so it’s not quite as daunting. You need to complete four courses of Risky per character to unlock their navigators though, and this amounts to fourty battles; luckily, you can restart a battle rather than be thrown back to the beginning.
Golden Arena mode also has four difficulty modes and they’re laid out as towers – you’re expected to fight dozens of enemies (depending on difficulty there will be 50, 100, 200 and Heaven which I’m not entirely sure on), and every five battles you fight against a ‘boss’ character which also acts as a checkpoint so you can quit and return later. You build up your Social Link with your chosen navigator by battling as they cheer you on, and you can learn up to four skills to aid you in battle including self-healing, nullifying elements and taking less damage against certain characters. You also level up and assign points to various stats such as health, damage and experience earned.
There’s a lobby system which allows you to use a chibi avatar online as you sit at arcade booths waiting for an opponent, and you’ll rack up Persona money so you can buy icons – and there are so, so many icons including ‘fan-service’ ones which cost 3000 points, whereas a normal icon usually costs 300. I bought the Mitsuru and Rise icons though, which required a lot of sparring. This feature is exclusive to PS3, which is the version I’m playing, although Atlus hasn’t explained why this is. I assume the PS3 version was predicted to have a much bigger fanbase like Arena had.
All of these modes can be enjoyed along with the abundance of new stages, with all previous stages returning, featuring locales from 3 and 4. There’s also a huge amount of tracks to set as background and battle music including the Junes Theme so everyday can be great! This selection should please everyone with fan favourites such as Deep Breath Deep Breath, I’ll Face Myself, Burn My Dread, Mass Destruction, Heartful Cry, Reach Out to the Truth, Time to Make History, The Fog and many remixes of these tunes. The new characters have befitting, catchy themes and I can’t wait for the official OST to release!
I’m a sucker for 2D sprites, and Ultimax is up there with the best of them. Arc System Works creates beautiful artwork which captures the essence of the characters I fell in love with, and gives them flashy character-specific moves which perfectly fit them; the Instant Kills are great examples of this. I particularly liked Rise’s animations (best girl) as she idly stands by ready to sing and dance, waving her microphone stand from side to side. The game is a visual feast so it’s a good thing that there’s an in-game gallery!
The animated cutscenes are gorgeous, although few and far between, and the opening videos depicting battle between the cast really got me going, Senpai! There’s plenty of 2D artwork though for certain scenes, one of which sees Teddie day-dreaming about the girls in swimsuits and well, Teddie has an active imagination which I clearly do not share, not at all. Really.
I’ll firmly stand by the fact that the Persona series has one of the strongest English voice-overs around, with some of the industry’s greatest talent including Johnny Yong-Bosch,Yuri Lowenthal, Tara Platt, Erin Fitzgerald and Laura Bailey. They’re on top form in Ultimax with plenty of dialogue to read and listen too, and Labrys’ New York accent is still incredibly cute. The artists aren’t ones to be shown up though, with series regulars Lotus Juice, Hirata Shihoko and Yumi Kawamura delivering great vocals alongside the work of composer Shoji Meguro. ‘Break Out Of…’ and ‘Today…’ are the songs opening and credits themes, and they’re both brilliant.
There’s so much to do in Ultimax that I wasn’t sure where to begin, but I’ve played every mode extensively and I’m showing no signs of slowing down. I’m as energetic as Chie, as dedicated as Akihiko and I lust after more playtime like Rise when she spends a long time with Yu (she’ll always be my canon partner, damn it), and I could gush about it all day but I’m already well over the word count; well, it’s Persona!
If you love Persona and want to see more of the excellent casts of 3 and 4, then Ultimax is the ultimate cross-over title to see them in battle, although we’ll be seeing them again in the near future with Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth and Persona 4: Dancing All Night. I couldn’t recommend Persona 4 Arena: Ultra Ultimax Suplex Hold any higher than I already do, and I hope to see you online one day. It’s a thrilling, heartwarming adventure that left me satisfied and with bittersweet feelings; I’m nowhere near ready to say goodbye yet, and will cherish my time with these casts the best that I can.
Haven’t got your copy yet? Rice Digital has you covered with its exclusive Fan Edition with Tarot Cards and Juness t-shirt, which you can order here! We can’t forget about the upcoming Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth either, which releases this coming Friday, 28th November. You can pick this up with a set of Chie’s badges and a Teddie keyring here!
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