With the sudden barrage of Persona spin-off titles, it's easy to forget how shocked people were when Persona 4 Arena was first announced. The franchise had been almost exclusively JRPGs, and it was branching out into a new genre. Persona 4: Arena found a dedicated fan base thanks to its fast-paced gameplay and persona-based mechanics. As with all good fighting games, a sequel was inevitable. Persona 4: Arena Ultimax — or, as it is known in Japan, Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold — is this sequel. We had the chance to check out Persona 4: Arena Ultimax at E3 2014, and it's shaping up to be everything fans could want.
Story-wise, Ultimax continues from the ending of Persona 4: Arena. The combined forces of the Investigation Team and the remnants of the SEES have driven off whatever evil was lurking in the television, but the peace doesn't last for long. The town of Inaba is subjected to a strange combination of the Dark Hour and the mysterious fog of the Midnight Television world, and a boy named Sho seems to be at the center of the trouble. The Investigation Team and SEES must team up to save Inaba from disaster.
There are a series of new fighters in Ultimax, although most are going to be familiar to Persona fans. Joining the cast from Persona 3 are Yukari, Junpei, and Ken and Koromaru, who function as a single new unit. An addition from Persona 4 is pop idol singer, Rise. New to the series are Sho and his counterpart, also named Sho, who are original characters. Both Shos, much like Labrys from the first Arena game, are the main drivers of the plot, and much like Labrys and Shadow Labrys, they are separate characters with their own fighting styles. Although Atlus couldn't talk much about it, the Japanese version of Persona 4: Arena Ultimax is going to include a special DLC version that features Adachi from Persona 4 as a playable character.
Speaking of Shadows, the above list of new characters is technically much larger than it looks at first glance. Aside from Elizabeth and Sho, every character also has a Shadow variant, although most function differently from Labrys. They share the same moves but have altered mechanics. Shadow characters lack the Burst and Awakening mechanics that the original characters have, and instead, they build SP as they attack and are far more geared for offense. They can also enter a special Frenzy mode that lets them chain together special attacks. In essence, each Shadow character trades defensive power for offensive power. They also have their own dialogue as well as entrance and victory animations.
We got some hands-on time with a few of the new characters. Yukari is probably the simplest of the three. She is a heavy zoning character with an emphasis on projectiles, and she can use her bow to snipe enemies from a distance, throw air-bombs, and use her persona to drive back enemies. Ken and Koromaru function as a single unit. Ken can access his persona, but most of his action buttons order Koromaru to attack. Koromaru has his own life bar, and depleting it causes him to be knocked out temporarily. On the plus side, Koromaru functions as an extra hit box that can nullify certain attacks.
Rise is a character with an emphasis on speed. She doesn't do a lot of damage, but she can pile on attacks, set up defenses, and overwhelm the enemy with a lot of attacks. She also has a super move where the player does a small rhythm minigame to increase the damage. Junpei has perhaps the most complex addition to the mechanics. He has a baseball-themed combat system where hitting enemies builds up strikes, balls and runs, and being hit gives him outs. If he can build up enough runs, he enters a special super mode where he is more powerful and regenerates HP for the rest of the round.
The core combat hasn't changed much from Persona 4: Arena, but a lot of mechanical changes and rebalancing are being done to the game. In addition to the obvious inclusion of Shadow variant characters, every character has seen some tweaking and rebalancing. Some formerly overpowered characters are less so, and weak characters have gotten some much-needed tweaks. It's difficult to give a complete change list since the game is still in the process of revisions and adjustments. Persona 4: Arena Ultimax is due Sept. 30 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
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