Persona as a franchise have never shied away from using spinoff titles to translate their cult classic series into new genres and give their beloved characters some further development. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax after Persona 5 Strikers is the best of the bunch and sadly didn’t get the attention it deserved at the time of initial release. So personally, I’m excited to see the game getting a second chance… but it feels like it’s already being immensely handicapped.
Back in 2013, Atlus teamed up with the 2D fighting game superpower Arc System Works to bring you Persona 4 Arena and in the following year the Ultimax sequel. Arc System Works is arguably the best online fighting game developer out there right now who’ve paved the way for near “lagless” communication with their implementation of rollback netcode both on release and as patches for their older titles like Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R where most others are still using a delay based netcode. Nickelodeon All-stars brawl even has rollback netcode! So, it seems strange that creative director Kazuhisa Wada reports that Atlus is only considering rollback netcode as a possibility for a future patch for an already niche franchise that could mean the re-release is a wasted effort without giving it the best shot it can to stand toe to toe with the fighting game elite.
Why rollback netcode is important
Rollback netcode for the fighting game savvy is the most important feature for anyone looking to pick up their next title but, even if you’re more of a casual fighting game player (And… with a game like Persona it’s likely a considerable chunk of the player base will be.) or maybe have no experience of fighting games at all, the implementation is still beneficial. Rollback netcode increases the quality of online play by lessening the effects of poor connection, input delay and bolstering the player base as a result. You could argue that the single-player, narrative driven target market is less likely to care about online play but I personally disagree being a contradiction to that statement who enjoys online competitive play and single-player, story heavy experiences. Rollback Netcode is only going to be a boon for prospective players and keep them playing for longer. Being without it seems like a poor introduction to fighting games for the demographic it’s aimed at and I REALLY want this game to do well.
Why I want it to do well
Back in 2013 I had only really dabbled in the 2D fighting game world with Blazblue outside of Street Fighter. My interest was more in games like Tekken and the ever dormant (and to my heartbreak) Bloody Roar. It was only with Persona 4 Arena that I felt incentivised to dive deep into the mechanics because of my emotional ties to the series. I spent weeks learning how to use the characters to their fullest. I was never the best player but I did reasonably well even then as a budding intermediate – moving away from the single button auto-combo inputs. I had a great time working through the games challenge modes and story that offered a more than adequate ceiling of difficulty while still giving me that narrative fix for the characters I’ve come to care about.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax blends two of my favourite genres together and is more story focused than the average fighting game. Even as a spinoff title Persona 4 Arena and Ultimax are considered a canonical continuation of the series. The gameplay mechanics implement its iconic turn-based JRPG source material into a one-on-one fighting game. SP has been translated into each character’s super meter and is spent to use special moves that you’ll recognise from the JRPG like Mudoon, God’s Fist and Magaru etc. You can even spend SP to utilise the “One-more” cancel to reset your positioning to a neutral state during a combo. It’s a useful tool for mix-ups and combo extension that has reasonable symmetry from the JRPG series where you’d get an extra action for exploiting an enemy’s weakness. Finally, the all-out-attack that can be used to deal heavy damage and initiate combos through wall bounds and air launches.
Persona’s act as a summon and are temporarily called onto the field to extend or enhance an already lengthy combo with their own “health” bar that are essentially damage tokens shown by the ever-distinguishable Tarot Cards (although Ultimax changed to a more simplified design) - when a persona is struck by the opposing player, they lose a card and when all are broken you enter the persona break status and their skills are locked out until they recharge. It’s a stretch on the source material but adds another needed layer to the fighting mechanics.
Each character has their own distinct fighting style reminiscent of their established aesthetics and roles in battle from the JRPG that kept them all from feeling too similar despite their special move inputs all leaning towards the same motions.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s more than enough complexity in the game’s makeup to appeal to the fighting game community while still maintaining its familiarity for the JRPG fans. From the iconic musical stylings of Shoji Meguro and the punchy visual aesthetic, my Persona fix was sated alongside getting my pulse racing during those close call matches online or offline. My hope is that this game has the opportunity to bridge the gap between JRPG fans of the series and the fighting game community that will be looking for their next rollback netcode implemented conquest… and is given the tools it needs to succeed.
Persona 4 Arena Ultimax will be rereleasing on 17th March 2022