With the upcoming release of Persona 4 The Golden and the recent release of Persona 4 Arena, it makes you wonder how well does Persona work as a fighting game and how does it compare to the more recent RPG entries in the series? Does the story telling take a hit, or is it just as strong, if not stronger, than the RPGs? Does the game play differences between games genres take away from either experience?
The Persona franchise is one that places a great emphasis on its story and characters. Each modern Persona game follows a cast of characters through several months as they go through personal growth while dealing with some supernatural force that is threatening the world around them. One of the most impressive parts about Persona 4 Arena is its focus on a story and growing the world of the recent Persona RPGs.
In the RPGs, gamers are given dozens of hours to get to know the cast of Persona and watch how they handle adversity through personal trials and come out stronger for it. Surprisingly, Persona 4 Arena finds a way to tell stories about each character that challenges their growth in previous games and has their characters develop even further. The worries many have, including myself, about the story lacking depth is proven wrong as time is taken to explore each of the characters and their personal stories.
Persona 4 Arena may not be as involved and the player may not be stepping in the shoes of the main character, since there are several characters with different individual stories, but that doesn’t mean the story is any less potent. Persona 3 & 4 placed a greater focus on personal struggles within a social context while Persona 4 Arena concentrated on the internal solitary struggles the characters face. The stark contrast in story telling fits, though, because of the different ways each of them are presented and played by the gamers.
Speaking of gameplay, Persona 3 & 4 as RPGs feature gameplay and stories that put a focus on a large ensemble of characters and their back stories. These games feature the Social Link system that has players interact with characters in the game and allocate time together to get to know them. Also, being an RPG, players can control or fight alongside with several of the characters in your party. There is also a sense of more freedom in these games as players can choose what they want to do or not do. Persona 3 & 4 make it clear that these are games about social settings and group dynamics that arise.
Persona 4 Arena, on the other hand, is a fighting game that has a focus on one-on-one fighting. To match the shift in gameplay, the story focuses on telling personal struggles of each character being controlled, while limiting options. The game takes a straight forward approach to telling the story, though there are some branch points. This is not a bad thing since the game features a large cast of characters with involved stories to play through. As a fighting game, Persona 4 Arena requires time to be spent with individual characters over a long time to become familiar with how they control and fight adding to that feeling of developing the individual.
How do each of the games work in relation to each other, though? RPG gamers may not always translate their skills to a fighting game and fighting game fans may feel there is not enough action for them in RPGs. So the change in gameplay is a hurdle between the games that can make the experience feel disjointed at times.
In terms of story, the team at Atlus put much care in to preserving the characters of Persona 3 & 4 in Persona 4 Arena due to the fact that the game is a direct continuation of both games. Persona 4 Arena is able to bring detail to some characters that may not have been explored fully and grow out the world of Persona.
The fact is that Persona 3 & 4 vary greatly from Persona 4 Arena, and that is not a bad thing. Persona 3 & 4 are designed to be RPGs that focus on a picture greater than an individual, while Persona 4 Arena is all about individuals. One can appreciate the design and writing between Persona as a RPG and Persona as a fighting game that provide two very unique but strong experiences. Everyone will have a different opinion on the matter; I personally love Persona as both a RPG and a fighting game, but one thing that can be said is the varying experiences between the games provide two different yet thoughtfully created experiences.