Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review — Friendship Is Key

I really like this OP. Something about it just screams “badass” to me.

Christ this has been a bad week looking for things to review. I’ve pretty much exhausted all the recent anime I bothered to pay attention to this year and the movie releases around this time aren’t even worth talking about. Hitman 47? The Man from U.N.C.L.E.? Why don’t you just ask me to review the latest Saturday Night Live episode or the hype for the upcoming NCAA football games whilst you’re at it?

I did recently finish the Ezio trilogy from the Assassin’s Creed series and thought about reviewing that. The thing is, said trilogy is so famous amongst gamers and my opinion is so similar to the common consensus – first game is awesome whilst other two overcomplicate things – that it’s not worth throwing my hat into that ring. Then there’s Arkham Knight, but when it comes to reviewing video games, I’d like to play more than an hour of it. And unfortunately, I’ve been distracted by Shin Megami Tensei x Blazblue 2 and a Squid Girl product that’s actually fun to interact with. But there’s no point in me reviewing Splatoon at this point. It’s no Super Smash Bros, but it has the same aura of “you can review it, but who would it benefit?”

So that left me with Ultimax, or to be more accurate, Ultimax’s story. Because aside from being a kinda-sequel to Persona 3 and 4 along with the hilarious sight of Yukiko busting out karate moves she’d never use in the original game in order to defeat a professional boxer and a robot, there was really no other reason for me to buy the thing since the appeal of fighting games as a concept is kinda lost on me. And even then, I waited until the price dropped a ton, because as far as I’m concerned, sitting through overly-long visual novel dialogue is more frustrating than playing Flappy Bird no matter how attached to a character you are.

Mind you, I was kinda hoping that the game’s story would be less tedious than the first Arena’s since I heard they combined all the P4 characters into one mode and all the P3 characters into another rather than that fundamentally flawed “let’s give each character his own route” pile of ballsacks. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a fleeting dream because both story modes are significantly longer than any of the individual ones from the first game and the fight scenes are still as sparse and token as before. In fact, the game actually gives you an option to let the computer take over the fighting parts for you if you’re just in it for the story. To which I say, “this is NOT the kind of audience you’re supposed to be making games for, Atlus!” And it would have helped if your story had actually been good!

The characters are still as fun as they were before. In fact, the Persona 3 characters are more fun to be around now that they’ve mostly shed their baggage and learned to actually socialize with people let alone each other. I still prefer the P4 characters though because of my preference towards strong character relationships and how they never miss an opportunity to take jabs at each other. But all the charm and nostalgia of characters you’ve grown fond of can’t save you when your story is cash-in mediocre tripe. Now I know that a majority of my current fondness for Shin Megami Tensei products lies in the hands of the director, Katsura Hashino – not to be confused with the female anime writer, Katsura Hoshino – and that even the spin-off games I enjoy where he’s not involved like Raidou Kuzunoha aren’t exactly “Game of the Year” material. But say what you will about Catherine’s gameplay, difficulty, iffy morals, and lack of replayability: at least the story wasn’t simplistic “power of friendship” garbage.

I don’t know which of the three directors was in charge of the actual story for this thing, but I suggest he never get to head any of the main games, because the P4 story – which is the only story you can initially play – was pretty damn bland. It starts with the Investigation Team going off on their own with the promise to meet tomorrow, only for their town to turn into some combination of the TV World and the Dark Hour, allowing them to use their Personas in reality. Then they confront a bunch of Shadow versions of themselves who might as well have yelled out “obvious trap” as soon as they were defeated. And then it turns out the main culprit is a teenage brat we don’t even know, helped by a deity who is such a mishmash of all the other Satans from other JRPGs you could have had him voiced by Keanu Reeves and it would have been an improvement. After defeating them with their bonds – which they hammer in with more hamhandedness than pigs trying to re-enact Macbeth – said culprit gets away and the team basically splits up with reaffirmation of where they wanted to go in life from the original ending to P4 before the inclusion of that obnoxiously fan-pandering one in P4 Golden that I am all but content to pretend doesn’t exist.

– And since we’re bringing up Golden, this game officially made Marie’s existence canon. Excuse me whilst I go dunk my head into a fish bowl filled with seahorse manure.

The P4 side of the story was thrashed so thoroughly by the fans to the point that they consider it non-canon, especially compared to the P3 side. Problem is, the P3 side of the story isn’t all that hot either. It gives more background to the main villain and his motivations and all, but the story was still pretty damn generic and tacked on – not helped by the fact that I never cared for Ikutsuki as a character. Plus events played out so differently from the P4 side that I had just finished that it it left me confused a lot of the time. Which just goes to underlie the problem with this multiple story approach. I’ve given the stories in Netherrealm’s fighting games shit, but you know what? At least it stuck to one canon!

Yes, there are times when having branching paths adds to the game’s quality. On the other hand, you have that godawful Shadow the Hedgehog game that I somehow finished despite the complete lack of fun I had playing it. Obviously, I’m not saying P4A Ultimax’s story is that bad, but canon wars are something I can do without and there was no real reason why both sides of the story couldn’t have been integrated better – especially since there is barely any in-fighting in this game. All it would take is some dialogue changes and a better integration of the routes for both Yu and Labrys, who are ultimately the main heroes of this story (Labrys more than Yu for obvious reasons). Instead, we’ve got this shitty fan backlash regarding how the true ending that’s only available after beating both sides (and isn’t all that great by the way) is attached to the non-canon route that shoos me even further away from the game community than I already am – as well as compromises things as badly as that godawful moral choice system.

Of course that wouldn’t have fixed the story’s problems in general, because as well know by now, fighting games are just bad at creating substance whilst including reasons to have one-on-one fights at the same time without coming across as incredibly artificial. It works better in the classic mode, but story-wise, it’s just too convenient for me and the reason doesn’t even have a good payoff. Really, the only reason you’d want to play through it is to see the characters interact with each other again, and uh-oh. I think we’re experiencing another product infected with “Marvel Movie Disease” right here. And when you combine that with “Visual Novel Disease”, it might as well turn into a real brain disease that eats your ability to think or feel.

Still, at least everything wraps up alright in its “Return of the King if ten times longer”-style of ending the story and the game has some other fun modes you can access with or without playing the story (I’m currently getting some entertainment from the Classic and Golden Attack stuff), so if you’re a fan of these games and are less allergic to fighting games than I am, check it out if you haven’t already. It’s definitely at a price where said look would actually be reasonable by now, that’s for sure. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look at some other things that are at a reasonable price just so I can have something to effing review by next week.

2 responses to “Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review — Friendship Is Key

  1. I think the main grip I had with Ultimax’s writing is on the thematic front. The whole idea of friendship = power in the original P4

  2. and p3 works because it ties to a more nuanced and compelling overarching theme. When you just simply took it and have it clash with the “power of solitude”…….it doesn’t really make an engaging narrative