When a new port of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was announced, it certainly took us by surprise. After all, the original was released way back in 2014 and we would have expected a Persona 5 spin-off before a return to this particular classic. We checked it out on a PlayStation 4 Pro.
The Playstation 3 era sure had some excellent fighting games, and the collaborations between Atlus and Arc System Works were definitely among the more unique examples. Blending the visual novel/narrative/JRPG appeal of Atlus’ Persona series with the signature flashy combat of Arc’s fighters (which include Guilty Gear and BlazBlue) was unexpected, but they struck a balance that ultimately appealed to fans of both franchises.
Although “Ultimax Ultimate” sounds like a bit too much, it’s a fitting description for what’s on offer this time around. The new PlayStation 4 version of the game is essentially the same base game that PS3 players got to enjoy eight years ago in terms of content, with the exception of the post-launch DLC that’s all included this time around – which makes this a great entry point for those who never played the original or for those who never bought the DLC.
Looking under the hood there are more changes than just the extra content, but outside of a few hardcore fans we can’t imagine too many people will instantly spot the balance changes that were carried over from the latest arcade update that was included. The release also boasts higher resolution visuals, but we had trouble seeing the difference – if you’ve played the PS3 original, expect this to look almost identical except for a few menu changes to help navigate all of the included content.
As with games like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is easy to pick up with its 4-button control scheme and auto-combos, yet offer a fantastic amount of depth for those who stick with it and learn its intricacies as you get better at executing move lists and changing up tactics based on your opponent’s style. What sets it apart from other games is how your move list includes special attacks based on your “persona”, which of course ties into Atlas’ work but also gives each fighter a unique feel and sense of character – one that ties into the game’s visual novel/story aspects.
Opinions are divided on the actual writing that’s on offer here (and it matters how familiar you are with the main Persona games), but there’s plenty of fan content here for longtime franchise fans. You get the original Persona 4 Arena story (which came out before Ultimax did), but you also get the Ultimax story (Episode II) as well as the third Episode, which focuses on Tohru Adachi from Persona 4. If you need a good starting point for the narrative, then we suggesting playing the amazing Persona 4 Golden first. Ideally you’d start with Persona 3 as some of the characters here are from that entry, but that might be a tall order. Long term fans have lots to look forward to though, and that includes the return of voice actors that have been with the franchise for over a decade at this point.
Fighting game fans who aren’t as invested in the narrative component can play the game’s arcade mode as well, which includes a impressive roster of characters, or head into the Golden Arena, which introduced an RPG-like character progression system that lets you level up and unlock skills as you progress through dungeons – another nice piece of crossover gameplay.
Audiovisually, it’ll come as no surprise that you’ll get a real Persona feel from the visual novel-like exposition and dungeon-based gameplay mode, though those who stick to the arcade mode will probably get more of an Arc System Works vibe from it all. The soundtrack is all Persona, and the characters carry over well to the fighting game genre, making this an unmissable entry for long time Persona fans and a solid fighter in its own right. After eight years, it’s finally available again on the latest consoles, and that’s excellent news.