Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review (PS4) – Revitalization Of A Fun, Accessible Persona Spinoff

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax PS4 Review – You know a franchise has done when it ends up getting released across multiple genres. This release of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a comprehensive bundling of content that ultimately launched across two games in the early 2010s, and thankfully, most of the intrigue from Ultimax translates well to this generation.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax PS4 Review – Revitalization of A Fun, Accessible Persona Spinoff

Tuning Back In

The Persona 4 gang comes together for another excursion. This time around, the Midnight Channel now showcases a tournament, with our teenage heroes facing off against shadow versions of themselves. After this, the stakes are raised as the fighting makes its way into the real world.

Ultimax benefits the most from including the story content from both the original P4A from 2012 and the re-release that launched in 2013. The original story cuts off with the villain escaping and the gang not knowing who actually masterminded the Midnight Channel revitalization. Completing the story with the content from Ultimax makes this a perfect re-release option for modern consoles.

Like all Persona spinoffs, Arena plays to the strengths of the franchise, leaning on interactions between the gang members. And like most spinoffs, they favor catering to fans with light callbacks and short scenarios to keep those interactions coming. Thankfully, the Persona energy flows through the entire game, keeping the experience intended for Persona fans by design, even if the stakes don’t quite live up to their potential.

10 Years Later

Nobody releases fighting games at the frequency Arc System Works does, and most of the other developers can’t create fighters with Arc System’s attention to detail. That holds true with Persona 4 Arena, especially since the Persona franchise evokes such a stylized presentation. Most of this presentation ages well enough, but aspects of the game lack the visual refinement that others received.

The biggest visual reminder that this game released almost ten years ago is just how pixelated the characters look. The aesthetic still looks great, but the age spreads out a bit more liberally on larger screens. This on its own wouldn’t be worth mentioning, but many attack animations use blur effects. Combine those two elements, and many attacks blend together and can be hard to follow.

The lesser visual discrepancy comes from backdrops. Character models receive polished visuals, but the backdrops appear pixelated as well. Graphic novels tend to take backdrops out of focus a bit to accentuate the foreground, which makes the background pixelation here look more pronounced. This is a nitpick, and it doesn’t make or break the experience, but either way it took a couple hours of playing before I stopped noticing it.

Taking The Field

One of the coolest features from the original Ultimax returns to the PS4 version in the online arcade. Really, this acts just as a lobby to meet other players and compete. At the same time, seeing people waiting at a station for a competitor feels oh so motivating to play them.

Claiming your station takes a few seconds before the server registers your input, and confirming the match takes a similar amount of time before it starts loading. Once you start the fight, the servers do not get in your way.

As you can see, though, I didn’t get much time to interact with filled servers by any means. Fortunately, I got lucky enough to end up in a lobby with another person to try it out a couple times.

Combat itself feels good, even when you don’t quite know what you’re doing. On that note, the game includes a built-in option to long press a face button to make your character chain a specific combo. These shortcuts get you through most of the story fights if needed, making this entire game quite user friendly.

Open To Everyone

The ease of combat becomes a bit of a catch-22. While the accessibility allows more people to play it, the challenge of fighting games rarely rears its head here. More often than not, I spammed the same five-hit square button combo to dispatch every enemy I encountered. Just don’t expect to succeed online with these techniques, because players use every skill at their disposal.

On the topic of accessibility, the entire story mode features an Auto Battle option, simulating all fights on your behalf. This allows many players to treat this game strictly as a visual novel. Auto Battle did exist in the original Ultimax, but still seeing it feels right with this franchise.

Don’t get me wrong: combat still features the kind of depth most fighting fans look for. Each of the main characters uses their own Persona attacks as well as their own attack cancels, leaving tons of room for the ebbs and flows of combat. Unfortunately, all of the shadow versions of the roster do not have these cancels, instead trading them for stronger attacks.

Strength is nice, but it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get out of a combo. Again, the options allow people more ways to play how they want, but I just can’t see many people primarily using the shadow characters very often.

Spinoff Success

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is an easy recommendation for a wide audience. Fans get more story to sink their teeth into, hardcore fighting fans test their mettle against another Arc System Works title, and newcomers can come into this game without much time invested in either Persona or fighters.

The story lacks the same oomph as mainline titles, and some of the visuals don’t age as well as others, but Ultimax includes a complete package of fun, story, challenge, and accessibility. If you missed out on Ultimax in 2013, you need to try it in 2022.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is out on March 17, 2022 for PS4 and PC.

Review code kindly provided by publisher.

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