Return to the Arena

Secrets are hard to keep in this industry, but somehow Arc System Works managed to keep an update to its anime fighter Persona 4 Arena under wraps until suddenly debuting a public-ready test version in Japanese arcades. Having not made any announcements that they were working on it beforehand, fans were caught totally offguard by the update, and scrambled to figure out what exactly has been added and changed.

Information and observations are still coming in, translated from various Japanese sites and publications, but we have a much better idea of what this as-of-yet unnamed followup adds. In addition to two completely new characters, Junpei Iori and Yukari Takeba from Persona 3, nearly every character will have a playable Shadow version. In regular P4A, characters can use the Burst system, which allows you to (on a long cooldown) break out of combos, extend combos, or open an enemy up for a big punish. Essentially, a blast radiates out from your character, its exact effects changing based on the situation.

Shadow characters trade the Burst system for Shadow Rage- hitting the same input as a Burst with a Shadow character instead grants you temporarily infinite super meter, and also allows you to cancel a special move with another special move. This would make completely insane, impractical, devastating combos an option for a short time- an incredible offensive boon. Every character in the regular cast except Elizabeth and Shadow Labrys will be able to choose either Normal or Shadow mode at the character select screen.

p4acharacterselect

In addition, ArcSys is adding new systems- SB Supers, and S-Holds. SB Supers are just EX Supers- more powerful, versatile versions of a super that cost more meter. S-Holds are special skills that can be charged for longer before executing for extra damage and properties. Neither of these seem like huge changes at a glance, but when applied to characters you already know, it completely changes the way they play. As if that wasn’t enough, though, there will be a full rebalance, with new moves and supers for most if not all characters.

All that explained, let’s get on to the exciting part- the new characters. This being a fighting game, it’s almost certain we’ll see more characters revealed than just these two before the game hits consoles, but for the time being, Yukari and Junpei, your first two party members in Persona 3, are all we’re aware of. Yukari plays classic keepaway- in the game, she used a bow and arrow, and she’s no different here. Her zoning game reminded me a lot of Hawkeye from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3: a variety of projectiles to handle different angles of attack, combined with a surprising level of acrobatic agility to get her out of tricky situations. If you thought Elizabeth and Naoto were annoying to get in on, I expect Yukari will be on an entirely different level of frustration.

Junpei, however, is the one I’m excited about. Equipped with a baseball bat instead of the sword he used in-game (which, granted, he wielded like a baseball bat), Junpei has a special leveling system that no other character in the game has. As far as analogues to other fighting games, it’s most similar to Frank West- he gains experience, and eventually levels, which powers up his attacks. Any levels he gets, he keeps from round to round- you start out the fight weak, but build momentum as you go. But what’s really interesting is how you get levels.

p4achievshadowlabs

In keeping with the baseball metaphor, the game treats Junpei like a baseball team. Right next to his super bar, Junpei has a little picture of a baseball diamond, with the three bases and home. Any time he gets a hit on the enemy, that’s considered a Base Hit, and one of the bases will light up. If he lights up all four bases, he gets a Run- a level-up. Also, each time he forces the opponent to block an attack, that’s a Ball… and as we all know, four Balls and you get a Base.

It’s not all Base Hits and Runs, though- Junpei has to watch out as well, or he’ll lose his runners on Base. Any time he swings an attack and misses completely, it’s a Strike. Three Strikes and he gets an Out, or if his opponent hits him, that’s an Out. Three Outs and he loses any runners he had on Base.

It’s a little absurdly complex to describe, but the effect is fascinating. Instead of controlling space through intentionally whiffed attacks like most characters in fighting games, Junpei is forced to strike with precision, when he knows he’ll make contact. If he’s right, the momentum of the match shifts in his favor, making him stronger and stronger as he guesses right more and more often. However, only a few mistakes can stop that momentum in its tracks, forcing Junpei to start building up Bases again. Personally, I think the depth it promises is the most exciting thing that has been announced so far.

There have been a bunch of other changes as well, mostly balance changes that won’t mean much to anyone who isn’t already way into Persona 4 Arena. If you’re interested in those, I’m happy to chat about them on Twitter @SixTwoSixFour but getting into them here would just leave us more confused than when we started. Rest assured, if there are any other big announcements in the development of this game, I’ll be there!

Images are from Persona 4 Arena, not this new sequel. Sorry- the only shots of the new one are camera footage from other sites, and I don’t wanna steal from them!