Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Review – Reach Out To The Truth

Persona 5 may have been where Atlus’ long running Persona franchise finally broke into the mainstream, capturing lightning in a bottle and captivating over 5 million players around the world, also delivering one of the highest rated games of all time in the process – but before there was Persona 5, there was Persona 4, a cult hit game that found passionate fans around the world who continued to champion it and stuck by it to such a degree that Atlus, getting the message, decided to milk it for all it was worth.

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And Persona 4 was worth a lot. We got a glut of Persona 4 media and spin offs, from an enhanced re-release to a crossover dungeon crawler, from a dancing game for some reason to not one, but two fighting games featuring the casts of Persona 3 and 4 duking it out against each other, and some new characters in a story that was emphatically declared “canon” and the “true conclusion of the Persona 4 saga.”

That was all nonsense. The story in Persona 4 Arena and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is terrible, the writing flanderizes all the characters in Persona 3 and 4’s casts, reducing beloved fan favourites such as Chie, Kanji, or Mitsuru into one note gags (if that), and introducing frankly ridiculous stakes that are hard to take seriously on their own, much less as a continuation of the thematic nuance and richness of Persona 3 and 4. If storytelling was the true appeal of Persona 4 Arena, then it failed spectacularly.

But that’s really not why Persona 4 Arena and its sequel became so popular. They became popular because they were damn good fighting games, featuring great fan service, pulling together beloved characters, music, visuals, and locations from two fan favorite games, and because they were teeming with content. All of that holds true as much today as it did when they first came out. Which is why this re-release of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax for the PS4, Switch, and PC, including not just all the content that Ultimax had, but also all its DLCand the story campaign from the original Persona 4 Arena, pretty much sells itself. It is essentially the exact same pitch as Persona 4 Arena and Ultimax originally were. If the idea of a Persona Smash Bros. appeals to you, then Ultimax is right up your alley. If you wanted a legitimate narrative continuation of Persona 4, and are hoping this game gives you that, run away and never look back. If you want something that plays like Persona, go away and look elsewhere. If you just want a good fighting game, Ultimax is your jam.

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So, all the same issues and strengths are present here. The writing is still awful. The story is utterly trite. The characters have been flanderized almost beyond recognition. The story mode is practically a visual novel, with how much text and cutscenes it throws at you in between a few precious minutes of letting you actually fight – and as mentioned, the actual story and writing is terrible, so you’re subjected to multiple minutes of terrible storytelling at a time, over and over.

But on the other hand, it controls and plays marvellously. It translates the Persona universe and characters into an excellent fighting game, one that stands as much as a great bit of fan service for series fans as it does on its own merits. It is a love letter to Persona 3 and 4, including riffs on their themes, music, visuals, aesthetic, and motifs all over the place. It is packed with content, and you can lose hundreds of hours of your life to it if you decide to dedicate yourself to it (more so than even the original Ultimax, since, as mentioned, the base package comes with Persona 4 Arena‘s campaign included off the bat this time around). Even the online mode is going to be a big improvement over the original game’s online functionality, with the PS4 and Steam versions getting rollback net code in a few months. 

Strong presentation (a hallmark of the Persona franchise) and extremely tight gameplay, along with a dedication to providing an absurd amount of content, all make Ultimax stand out even today – few fighting games pay as much attention to their visual flourishes, fewer still deliver this much content. While there are a lot of great playing fighting games, Ultimax is still distinct because of the way it incorporates the characters’ Personas themselves into combat, allowing for a nice variation of elemental and special attacks compared to how other fighting games handle it. The ability to play this game on modern consoles is enough of an incentive to justify this re-release by itself. Atlus making the content from the original Arena available in this package, and also striving to deliver better netcode, further makes this the definitive edition of the definitive Persona fighting game.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax

Like many, I hope that one day, we get a Persona 5 Arena game, one that allows the all star casts of Persona 3 and 4 to duke it out with the Phantom Thieves. And judging by the way that Atlus has handled narrative in Persona 5 spin offs so far, either 5 Arena won’t be saddled with an elaborate story mode, or if it is, it will be actually well written for a change. If and when it happens, we will have a hopefully superior product to rally around – but until it does, if it ever does, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax on PS4, Steam, and Switch represents the definitive Persona fighting game experience. Anyone looking for a chance to duke it out with their favorite characters, some great fan service for Persona 3 and 4 lovers, or just a great fighting game, is going to enjoy what’s on offer here. 

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.

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