Release date: March 17, 2022
Developer: Arc System Works
A longtime cult classic among Persona and fighting game fans, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is finally seeing a re-release on modern systems as part of the series’ 25th anniversary celebration. Atlus and Arc System Works came together ten years ago to create a crossover for the ages, combining Arc System Works’ wild and incredibly fun fighting game style with the world of Persona and its unmistakable overflowing swagger. This swagger is present in every facet of the game, including the familiar characters and aesthetic, the electric soundtrack, the flourishes throughout the presentation that would go on to capture even Masahiro Sakurai’s heart later in the series. , and its classic Persona-style mystery.
The story of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax centers around the cast of Persona 3 and 4, a new character named Labrys, and the mysterious P-1 Grand Prix tournament that takes place in the Midnight Channel. Those who enjoyed Persona 3 and especially Persona 4 will feel right at home with the game’s story, as familiar locations, supporting characters, and iconic music all return in the same amazing Persona style. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is technically a sequel to Persona 4 Arena with an all-new story set shortly after the original. Luckily, the Switch re-release features both stories; however, the Ultimax story is oddly the first option in the story mode menu. If you want to check out the full story, be sure to start with the original Persona 4 Arena story, as the Ultimax follow-up story will heavily spoil it from the start.
While the story mode is heavy on exposition, at its core it’s still a fighting game in its own right. Co-developed by Arc System Works, a longtime developer of anime-style fighting games that recently rose to prominence after the success of Dragon Ball FighterZ and Guilty Gear Strive, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a 2D fighting game fast-paced featuring genre hallmarks such as air-dashing, flexible combo systems, and outlandish special moves and supers.
Players have a lot of freedom to move around the screen during matches, with air dashes, double jumps, jumps, and even the ability to spin and face the opposite direction in the air to their disposable, making movement in play incredibly fun. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax also features an auto-combo mechanic whereby a character will perform a standard combo (ending in a super if they have enough meter) by repeatedly pressing the light attack button. It’s a great mechanic for those looking to have fun with the game immediately or without spending a lot of time learning combos in practice mode, and in keeping with the game’s freeform nature, each attack from the auto combo can usually be chained to other moves as well, opening up avenues for more advanced use.
Whether it’s auto combos or custom combos, there are plenty of opportunities to offer both, as the single-player content in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax offers more than just a story. The game features a Golden Arena mode, where RPG mechanics such as leveling up, stat boosts, and skill acquisition are layered over the 2D fighting game system as your chosen character tries to survive consecutive battles on each floor (a throwback to dungeons in older Persona entries). Arcade and Shop attack modes are also present, with a host of difficulty options to suit different player preferences, as well as several ways to learn and improve in the game.
In addition to a practice mode, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has more guided options for practice, such as combo challenges for each character and tutorials explaining the game’s different systems. The tutorial mode covers a lot of ground, from basic movement such as a step back to more involved options like the One More mechanic used to extend combos. It does a great job of explaining the purpose and limitations of each mechanic, but could have been better served by forcing players to apply it appropriately during the practice phase (rather than having them perform in front of a stationary target). However, that’s a minor complaint, as the tutorial manages to educate new players on the game in a concise way, and the combo challenges are a lot of fun when you’re ready to learn more about specific characters. Overall, the Persona 4 Arena Ultimax single-player offerings are an impressive collection of fun, varied, and informative content.
Standard in the genre, the game features a capable head-to-head mode that players can take a lot of advantage of if they have others to play with offline. If you aspire to play online, this is where Persona 4 Arena Ultimax gets riskier. At best, I’ve played online matches where the connection was decent: there was some lag, but not enough to totally ruin the experience. When the matches are bad, however, they are terribly bad; and we’re not just talking about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate where there is a significant delay after the connection goes down, but you can still fight. Sometimes Persona 4 Arena Ultimax has reached the hallowed level of Super Smash Bros. slideshow. Brawl literally unplayable.
Atlus announced that Persona 4 Arena Ultimax would be getting rollback netcode on other platforms (which in theory would improve online play), but unfortunately the Switch version seems destined to be stuck with the current netcode based on the delay. Without going into too much detail, the result of restoring the netcode is smoother online matches that approximate the seamless offline experience. When executed properly, the restore netcode is a game-changer; Fighting games can be frustrating even at the best of times, so not having to worry about the online component on top of that is a big boon. We can hope it will eventually be granted to Switch gamers, but at least for now, it’s not on the horizon.
A given person’s degree of enjoyment of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax on Switch will vary greatly depending on what they expect from the experience. If you’re looking to step back into the world of Persona 3 and 4 and enjoy a cool story involving crossover with these characters, the narrative aspects are entertaining and likely to please. For those looking for a fast-paced, versatile, and extremely fun 2D fighting game filled with exuberance and plenty of meaningful single-player content, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is also a winner. Anyone looking to dive deeper into the competitive side of gaming or grind online is likely to be frustrated, however, as the below-average netcode on the Switch version holds it back. Which is a shame, because Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is a truly magnificent package and a love letter to both the Persona series and anime fighting games.
Copy of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.