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TGS 2011 Hands-On: Persona 4 The Ultimate (with EGM-exclusive footage)

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Posted on September 17, 2011 AT 04:46am

The new Ultimate in 2D fighters?

If there was one game that I absolutely had to play at Tokyo Game Show, it was Persona 4 The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena. A 2D fighting game. Based on Atlus’ Persona. That very statement still doesn’t seem real to me, but it sure as hell has me excited!

I had originally heard that P4U would be playable at TGS 2011, and that made me happy. Then, on the first day, I saw in the show guide that the game was listed as being only on display via video, and that made me sad. Then, while wandering around checking out booths, I saw four playable machines for P4U sitting there at the Arc System Works booth. In about 1.5 seconds, I have found the end of line for those waiting to play the game at the other side of the booth, and I was struggling to contain my excitement.

I only had one chance to give the game a go, so I made the only decision I felt I had: I picked Persona 4’s resident kung-fo film lover, Chie Satonaka. (Checking out the two color choices that were available, I saw one of them was basically a “ganguro” version of Chie—no way I wasn’t going that route.)

Fighting games are really hard to talk about from just a short amount of play time (thanks to winning my first two matches, I got to play to the three match maximum each player was given), but here are the impressions I walked away with. First, the game is beautiful. The backgrounds are visually interesting and finely crafted, but it’s the character sprites that I couldn’t stop raving about. Coming from the BlazBlue team, if you’re a fan of that game, you’ll know what to expect; unlike sprite-based games such as BloodRayne: Betrayal—where the developer uses super-smooth edges sprites that give off a more cartoon-like look—Arc System Works uses a style that mixes the concepts of higher-resolution with pixel-based sprites that still remind one of the 2D fighting game days of old. I’ve seen a few people comment online that they aren’t totally happy with this decision, as it makes the characters look “jaggy”; me, personally, I’ll take 2D artwork like this any day.

Remaking the Persona 4 cast with Arc’s art style is interesting, because at once, the characters both look quite different than you’re used to, and yet are also totally familiar. You’ve never seen cast members like Yosuke, Yukiko, or Kanji look like this before, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Play wise, I can say that it definitely felt like an Arc System Works fighting game, though maybe a tad less frenetic or chaotic as something like BlazBlue (though that might be due to the game not being fully finished yet). By this point, even if you aren’t a fan of their products, you have to admit that the team at Arc really knows what its doing when it comes to making fighting engines.

I did had a little trouble getting a full grasp of Chie, simply because she played nothing like I had expected her to. She had a forward rushing move where she kicks her feet wildly, a flying kick that came out in an up-sloping diagonal direction, and a few moves that worked in conjunction with calling out her persona, Tomoe Gozen. At least… I think she did. This was one element that I didn’t have the chance to full get clear on, on account of my trying to simply survive each round (you played against other human players for each round). I know for sure that some of Chie’s calling out of Tomoe was done simply on the basis of using certain standard attacks in certain situations, but I want to say that she also called out her persona for some special moves. I know for almost certain that characters like Yu (the main character) and Yukiko work this way, so I’m sure Chie does as well. I also did something—or my opponent did something—where I wasn’t able to do all of my special moves for a brief period of time. I got the impression it came after I did a power-up ability for Chie and then hit my opponent a few times, but unfortunately for now there’s nothing I can say for sure on that one.

Finally, the entire game has a certain polish to its user interface that is absolutely impressive. Even thought P4U is being made in collaboration with Arc System Works, it still feels like an Atlus title through and through. There wasn’t one moment of non-gameplay where I wasn’t impressed by the presentation or menu design, which says a lot for the effort and care being put into this project. Even the little elements are there, such as Rise giving commentary on what’s happening in the game (as she does in Persoan 4). This is in no way, shape, or form a quick cash-in on a popular license—this game is going to be the real deal.

Parting Shot

I almost regret my time spent with Persona 4 The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena, because I now don’t know when the next chance I’ll have to play the game will come. I was excited for the game before I got my hands on it at TGS, and playing it at the show only made my interest grow.

Persona 4 The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena is coming to Japanese arcades in Spring 2012, and PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in Japan in Summer 2012. No North American release date has yet been announced.

VIDEO NOTE: Please excuse the tripod craziness in the first 15 seconds of the video—I’m still at TGS, and had no way to edit out that part before posting the video up.

Eric L. Patterson, Executive Editor
Eric L. Patterson got his start via self-publishing game-related fanzines in junior high, and now has one goal in life: making sure EGM has as much coverage of niche Japanese games as he can convince them to fit in. Eric’s also active in the gaming community on a personal level, being an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming and consumer rights. Stalk him on Twitter: @pikoeri. Meet the rest of the crew.

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