E3 2012: Persona 4 Arena lives up to its pedigree, at least for now

When you hear that Atlus has teamed with Guilty Gear creator Arc System Works to create a 2D fighter based on the former’s long-running Persona series, what would you expect the end result to be? Fluidly animated? Slavishly devoted to established Persona canon? So flashy and frenetic that it absolutely earns that epilepsy warning attached to all modern game consoles?

That’s what I was hoping for when I sat down to play Persona 4 Arena, and thankfully it seems to have nailed all three of those key concepts.

Aesthetically and thematically the game is most definitely based on Persona 4, though its characters have been given a more “realistic” look. I could describe it as a cross between Guilty Gear’s style and Persona’s, but it’s far more restrained than the former, and is really more of a stylization of the latter. The true strength of the game’s art though is only seen when you watch it in motion on a high-definition screen. It’s no hyperbole to say that this is the most attractive game Arc System Works has ever created, and it seems that working with another company’s characters (and the inherent restraint the otherwise over the top developer is forced to adhere to) makes Arc’s aesthetics work more focused and refined.

That said, the actual fights are still explosions of color and action. The familiar Persona characters utilize styles that equally demonstrate their traditional, human fighting abilities, and their supernatural Persona attacks — both of which will be instantly familiar to fans of the Persona games. I didn’t spend nearly enough time with the game to speak authoritatively on the game’s mechanics, but if you think of the Personas as the driving force behind each characters “special” and “super” moves (whereas normal attacks are all sword slashes and punches), you have a pretty solid idea of how the title works.

Notice the hint of wary apprehension in the title up there? That’s not due to any fault I could see with the game per se, but with a seemingly deep fighter of this type, we won’t really know how the thing turned out until hardcore fighting gamers can spend a few hundred hours tearing the thing apart piece by piece. So far I’m impressed, as a fan of both Persona and Arc System Works’ past games, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that the game will remain as enticing when it hits the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on August 7.

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