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Persona 4 Arena in Review

If you’re one of these oh-so-with-it 8-bit indie hipsters that think that the Japanese game industry is over, odds are that the notion of fine purveyors of “soulless” Japanese fare such as Atlus and Arc System Works teaming up to produce a fighting game based on a venerated JRPG series will make you turn up your nose. But if you like colorful, stylish, exciting, and purely fun to play video games then I’m happy to report that Persona 4 Arena is those things and it’s imminently accessible to dabblers in either genre as well as those who don’t know a Zio from a Bufu. It’s as hardcore a fighting game as any out there, but it’s as pick-up-and-play as they come. The depth is there, the range of playstyles is there, and the balance is there. This is a top shelf fighter, and it’s one that I think will have a following for years to come in both casual and competitive circles.

Building from their experience developing the Guilty Gear and Blazblue games, which have to my mind always been on par with the best that Capcom or Namco has to offer, Persona 4 Arena continues the tradition of spectacular anime-style sprite-based fighting with outrageous animations and mind-blowing special attacks. It looks awesome, and the graphic design of the menu screens and interstitials scorches with a hot pink and yellow palette struck with sharp angles, TV static, and hilariously hyperbolic slogans. Melodramatic, over-the-top, and stunning. It looks and moves every bit as beautifully as Capcom’s recent titles, if not more so.

The game most closely resembles Marvel vs. Capcom 3 both in its accessibility as well as its ridiculousness. It’s fast, frantic, and summoning your character’s Persona into battle is similar to the team-up attacks from that popular series. Controls are likewise simpler, favoring easy quarter circles and shorter button combinations to keep the coolest and most effective attacks close at hand. Each of the 12 characters is completely different, there’s no Ryu/Ken analogs among them. As in Blazblue, it’s definitely a quality over quantity impetus in terms of the character selection. Players of Persona 4 will be familiar with the cast. I haven’t played it yet because I’m waiting on the Vita edition, but there’s a couple of faces from Persona 3 that I was pleased to see. Each character brings with them their titular Persona and a range of special attacks and combinations. Personas can also be destroyed during the fight and their ability is limited by a power gauge.

The mechanics aren’t as complicated as Guilty Gear or Blazblue, and the attendant tutorials are more than adequate to get you up to speed with the particulars of cancelling, evading, bursts, and other unique features. Training and challenge modes are de rigeur in fighting games, they’re available here and appreciated. The story mode is almost obsessively complete compared to other fighting games and it follows directly on from the events of Persona 4, which may or may not make any sense to you.

The problem with the story mode is that it’s told through text boxes that ramble on and on and on, leaving you pressing a button to advance through them and literally waiting 10 or 15 minutes to get to the action. If you’re heavily invested in the characters, then you’ll likely dig the long-winded tales it tells about each of the characters. If you’re impatient like me and do not consider Persona to be one of the Great Works of Modern Literature, the Arcade mode actually sums up everything in the context of a basic ladder sequence. Multiplayer is, of course, available and of course you’re going to die unless you’re a P4A master.

I love fighting games in general and there have been a lot of great ones over the past couple of years. It’s a tough call as to what the best of the lot has been, but the shortlist would include pretty much everything Arc System Works has put out include this game. I’m absolutely loving the roster, the action, and how easy it is to dig in and enjoy the game without feeling like I’ve got to have a fight stick and spend endless hours against a training dummy to feel competitive or even able to beat the AI at a respectable level. I bought this game on launch day and paid full price for it, and I don’t regret it at all- that says a lot given the current climate in the industry and my attitude toward it. If companies like Atlus and Arc keep putting out such “soulless crap” like Persona 4 Arena, then I’m happy to give them my money for it. Now, if they can come up with a Dark Souls fighting game together, I’m all in.

A Slew of Persona 4 Arena Videos

What do I think about Persona 4 Arena? Let’s see…I’m a glutton for everything MegaTen, especially the Persona series, and I do love my fighting games. So yeah, you could say that I’m a wee bit excited (ie ten seconds from giggling like a man-child at Disney World). Below, you can see three gameplay videos, plus a behind-the-scenes view of the voice recording process. Enjoy.

Elizabeth

Labrys

Shadow Labrys

Behind the scenes: Voice Recording

A Game of Thrones: Old School Role-Playing

I finished Chapter 1 today of the Game of Thrones RPG from Atlus/Cyanide. You have to understand that I go into this with a huge deal of skepticism simply due to my experience with Cyanide’s games — specifically Blood Bowl and the Game of Thrones RTS. I like Atlus as a publisher quite a lot so I’m hoping for the best but expecting…well, Cyanide.

This is merely a cursory look as Chapter 1 isn’t terribly long, but so far — I (mostly) like this game.

What strikes me is how old school the design is. If you are unfamiliar with A Game of Thrones the RPG it’s a 3rd person action game set in the George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire universe.

You almost always read “action” after 3rd person but this is anything but an action game. It’s the anti-Dark Souls in terms of combat. Mechanics like these are a relic of role-playing games past. That’s not necessarily a knock on it but it’s not what I was expecting. It’s sort of…Mass Effect/Dragon Age-y in its approach. Here’s how it works:

You have your avatar, in all of his 3rd person glory. You start as a veteran of the Night’s Watch with your war dog companion. You move around like a normal 3rd person game, but when combat starts you can slow-motion pause the action. It’s not totally paused — it’s sort of like the “pause” mechanic in Witcher 2. Things are still moving so you don’t have unlimited time but it’s slow enough to make decisions.

What you are deciding in AGoT is what skills to use. You start off with a few skills from which to choose –a knockdown attack, an attack that stuns foes or a headbutt. Each skill requires energy so you can’t just spam them over and over. You may also chain skills together if you have enough energy. So I can try the stun attack followed by the headbutt (which causes extra damage). If you don’t use a skill you just do a regular attack and you don’t need to keep pressing buttons to do it, it will auto attack your desired target. The game will also automatically move you to the closest enemy after you kill your current one. Very old-timey.

It comes off feeling almost turn-based in its pace.

When in a group you can switch members by pressing Y or even issue commands to your war dog by pressing LB which brings up its own radial menu. There is a certain amount of pleasure I still get from a slower paced combat model such as this. It’s not hands on tactical like Dark Souls or Witcher 2 — it’s more methodical, but I don’t mind that.

The writing isn’t bad, either and much like the books no character is safe — you learn that as early as Chapter 1. There is a metric TON of dialogue so far and I’m thinking you may need to be a fan of the books (or the show I guess) to get a lot out of what is going on. They include a codex but it will help if you know King’s Landing from Castle Black. Hell I even like the dialogue tree options because unlike a Bioware game you don’t click on EVERY option eventually — you have one choice in how to approach a situation verbally and it is not clear cut how “best” to handle it. I really, really, like that.

I also love the perk system. You can choose “advantages” and “disadvantages” when creating your character — like “gifted” or “asthmatic” but you can also earn them as you play. I tortured a Wildling early on and gained the Sadistic trait. I like how your actions can shape your character; a nice touch.

There are some oddities, of course. I don’t like that a veteran of the Watch will find a Wildling armor set that is better than what he’s wearing and don it without hesitation. I put on a weird demonic looking helmet which looked ridiculous in context. Same with some heavy armor I found. I mean just…no. I also don’t like that I can find coins in crates. Come on, now. Will we ever get past this in RPGs? And yeah, it’s not the best looking game around, either. Murky textures, mediocre animations, the budget was clearly limited here. This isn’t a sexy game by any stretch. If you demand top shelf visuals, move along.

This game, and again I am a mere two hours in, comes off as Todd likes to say as a “slow burn”. It’s not instant action but it shows promise.

After writing that I went to Metacritic out of curiosity to see that the game is at a rough “54” score. IGN gave it a 4/10 which for IGN is like saying the DVD is radioactive. Guess I’ll have to wait for it to turn terrible?

Right now, I admit, I’m into it.

Game of Thrones “Epic Plot” Trailer

So here’s another video for Game of Thrones, the Cyanide/Focus Home/Atlus rpg production set in the world of incestuous blonde people. The text that accompanies this trailer announcement is incredibly adept at using a lot of words to say very little.

This new trailer will immerse you in the heart of the intrigue of the Game of Thrones RPG, a story tainted by treachery and backstabbing! Guided by vengeance, allegiance, honor and family, the two heroes of the game – Mors, sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, and the red priest Alester – will travel across Westeros and its most famous locales to accomplish life-changing quests. From the Wall to King’s Landing, the destiny of our two heroes weaves a complex tale as they meet famous figures, discover plots and conspiracies, all the while seeking answers to their questions.

Ok…

I’m going to play this, don’t get me wrong, but Cyanide…the gun is getting empty. How many bullets does this company have left?

A Game of Thrones Combat Trailer

This is the first real look we’ve had of this one. Atlus released a trailer today for A Game of Thrones, its upcoming role-playing game from Cyanide. Say what you will about Cyanide, and you can really say a lot about Cyanide, but it’s currently the keeper of the fantasy license. I’m working on a hands-on preview for Confrontation, another licensed Cyanide joint, which I’ll post tomorrow but this trailer for AGoT looks interesting and with Atlus behind it maybe this developer can finally take the next step from “developer with a license” to “developer with a really good game.”

Here’s hoping.