So, I’ve been playing some Persona 4 Arena the past couple of weeks. It finally released over here in the UK and the rest of Europe after a fairly agonising nine-month wait. That in itself is something that may or may not be worthy as a separate little ranty post on its own. Atlus are somewhat… incompetent when it comes to getting their games released in Europe. I sort of understand the logistical problems they face, but having virtually ALL of their games releasing in Europe so late after the rest of the world in this day and age is… well, a little annoying to say the least. In P4A’s case, it was also region-locked, so importing a copy wasn’t even an option.

But alas, Persona 4 Arena is out now. And it’s a video game-ass video game, so I’m going to attempt to articulate how I feel about it, as well as just fighting games in general.

Persona 4 Arena is a rather… interesting package. It’s a sequel to Persona 4. That game, however, was a PS2 JRPG that released in 2008 (’09 in Europe). I’m not sure anyone was quite expecting a sequel to one of the most beloved JRPGs in recent memory to be a… fighting game. And it’s a fighting game-ass fighting game. It’s basically BlazBlue, but with characters from Persona 4 and 3. Hell, it’s even developed for the most part by the same people.

So what you have is a game that appeals to two very specific audiences: people who enjoyed Persona 4 and want more from those characters and that world, and those who enjoy ArcSys’s specific brand of somewhat mechanically-complex fighting games, two groups where you would think there wouldn’t be a whole lot of overlap. At least that’s how I see it. And while I can’t speak with much authority on the latter, there’s more than enough Persona in here to satisfy those who fall into that corner.

The bulk of my 36 hours in the game thus far (according to Raptr) has been spent with the story mode. Of the two groups mentioned above, I fall into the Persona 4 group. There was a time where I was (and arguably still am) borderline-obsessed with that game. As you should know by now, I love a game that tells a good story, and Persona 4 tells a pretty damn good story. So, I’ll happily take more of that in any form I can get it, even if that form happens to be a reasonably complex fighter that I will never be particularly great at playing.

Sound advice there, from Akihiko-san,

Sound advice there, from Akihiko-san,

Fortunately, for those that are only here because of the Persona hook, you don’t need to be good at (or even like) fighting games to get everything the game’s story mode has to offer. It’s essentially a visual novel, with a few very easy, single-round fights strewn throughout, which you play from the perspective of each character separately. So, lots of voiced dialogue, a whole lot of reading, and not much actual gameplay. But for people that really enjoyed the original game, that’s not really a detriment. Initially, you only start out with a couple of characters as options, but as you play through more character’s stories, other characters are opened up. As I said, you play each story from a particular character’s perspective, as if that character was the main protagonist, which left me wondering how they’ll treat the canonicity of the story come the next time we eventually hear from these characters again. The plot of the game plays out the same regardless of what character you play as, with only some minor differences throughout, so it’ll be interesting (though not a particularly wild guess) who’s story will be canon. Or maybe if they make Persona 4 Arena 2, and structure it the same way, they won’t have to deal with that. As you could expect from a fighting game, the scope of the story obviously isn’t quite on par with it’s 60+ hour RPG big brother, but there’s more than enough here to keep fans satisfied for the time being.

I won’t say much else about the story, since I feel you can’t really do much justice talking about it in depth without talking about some of the details of Persona 4’s story. And Persona 4’s story is one well worth experiencing, in my opinion. Not your typical JRPG fare, but for the most part plays out like something more akin to a Scooby-Doo adventure. It’s a nice change of pace from the sort of stuff you’d find from the likes of Final Fantasy and its ilk.

The rest of the modes featured in the game are the standard affair you’d expect to find in a fighting game. Arcade mode, all fighting with a (heavily) condensed version of each character’s story; Score attack mode, where you’re pitted up against ridiculously hard, souped-up versions of the characters: score attack’s difficulty is one higher than the highest selectable difficulty in the options menu and the AI fighters have some insane buffs applied to them; Challenge mode, where you have to pull off a bunch of combos for each character; Practice mode, which is exactly that, and some fairly standard modes for online play. Everything that a fighting game fan would reasonably expect, it’s in there. I’m not great at fighting games, but the Persona hook is enough to keep me wanting to play and try and get a little bit better, even if I’ll never be at any real competitive level. And if nothing else, it’s that much more satisfying on the rare occasions where I actually do manage to come out on top against another human being.

If nothing else, it's certainly a flash game.

If nothing else, it’s certainly a flashy game.

And that sort of leads me nicely into the part where I wanted to talk a bit about fighting games in general. More specifically, the one major issue that I have with the genre in general. I’m not good at fighting games. In fact, I’m downright terrible at them. And while I haven’t played every fighting game ever made, I think I’ve played enough to get to the point where I feel comfortable enough to say what I’m about to say.

Fighting games do an awful job of teaching new players. A godawful job. No fighting game that I have played has made any reasonable attempt to help a new player get better at the game outside of teaching them the very basics. They are inherently inaccessible games.

Persona 4 Arena has a lesson mode, wherein it teaches you all of the mechanics of the game. This is all well and good, except it only gives you a brief description of each mechanic, shows you how to do it (the button combo) and then has you perform it a couple of times, before swiftly moving on to the next one. For someone who’s well versed in fighting games, yeah, that’s more than enough. But for new players? Almost useless if you ever want to compete at anything above the most basic level. Simply giving examples of the sort of scenarios and situations in which you should or should not use these mechanics would go a very long way in helping new players actually understand them.

There’s also a challenge mode, similar to Street Fighter 4, or most other modern fighting games, where the game presents you with a list of different combos to pull off. The game will give you a practice dummy, show the moves (and their commands) you need to perform on the left of the screen, and you have to bust out that combo. Persona 4 Arena goes further (I believe, might be wrong here) than other games that share this mode, in that it’ll highlight each part of the combo as you’re performing it, and should you mess up, it’ll tell you which part of the combo you messed up on. But for me, that’s not enough, I want to know HOW I messed up. Did I try the next move two early, too late? Hell, even if I fumbled button presses or stick movements, tell me that as well! This is the sort of information that actually TEACHES the player and helps them to improve. Just saying “nope, try again” doesn’t do that.

Timing is everything with combos in a fighting game, anyone who’s ever played one can tell you that. And especially in the very fast-paced fighters ArcSys is known for making, those timings can be particularly brutal. There’s a particular combo challenge that I can’t quite get down. I can perform all the moves that make up the combo, one after another, but my timing on the very last move isn’t quite right. And by that, I mean I’m mere milliseconds too early or too late. Which? I’ll never know. And because I don’t know that, I’m not able to adjust what I’m doing, meaning I’m just floundering about hoping I’ll maybe get lucky and pull it off by accident, rather than actually LEARNING how to achieve it.

And sure, to play devil’s advocate, all that sort of information is out there on the internet, provided by fans and other players who know the game inside out. But therein lies my issues: the game itself doesn’t provide that information. I’m all for a game teaching you how to play through its gameplay: you gain knowledge of the maps and weapons by simply playing a first-person shooter, you gain knowledge of strategies, build-orders and the like through playing online in an RTS, but for intricate, yet absolutely integral things such as combo timings in a fighting game? You’re for the most part not going to learn that through simply playing the game. A game should never require you to access external resources in order to learn anything above the absolute basics of the game.

And of course, the fighting game community is often seen as a harsh, toxic environment that doesn’t welcome newcomers and while that is far from the truth, it can still be daunting as someone with no fighting game experience who wants in on the fun.

Happy New Year, I guess, this being the first post on here dated 2013 and all. If you’re at all familiar with my blog you’d know going weeks without posts shouldn’t seem too out of the ordinary. I generally don’t adhere to the philosophy that more content is better. I’d much rather there be a post ever month or two where I actually have something to say as opposed to once or twice a week where I have to force myself to write about something that I don’t particularly feel the need to. I was the same way when I used to make silly Call of Duty videos on YouTube. I didn’t have a partnership, so I didn’t make money, so there was no benefit for me to shit out videos every day. I could put out something when I felt I actually wanted to, and as a result, my soul remains thoroughly intact.

But today, I do have something to write about on here. Since last we met, I’ve attained an entirely new device for playing video games on. A PlayStation Vita. I didn’t really ask for anything for Christmas, so I was originally planning on using the inevitable Christmas Money towards a Wii U. However, since the new Nintendo console is on the better side of £300 (and there’s fuck all games for it yet), I decided to hold off for a while and put my money towards a Vita instead. So imagine my surprise when I was gifted one on Christmas. First time in a long time that I remember being genuinely surprised at what I received. I had casually mentioned to my mother that I was interested in one and might think about picking one up maybe 6 months prior, but apart from that, I’d made no mention of the thing.

So I picked up a few games for it, both retail and downloadable. The hardware itself is very nice. Sleek, sexy black, with an absolutely gorgeous OLED screen. It’s a capacitive touchscreen as well, and is really responsive in that regard. The analogue sticks feel pretty decent, considering their size. The Dpad is nice (and apparently one of the best in existence for fighting games). The system just feels good. The OS interface itself, is not so good. It’s fine for what it needs to do, but there could definitely be some improvements. Being a touch screen, it’s inherently easier to simply navigate than the XMB was, but the OS has some really odd omissions, like not being able to manage your save files. The home menu apparently has a 100 item limit as well, which may not seem like a total problem now, but a couple years down the line when the system is (hopefully) more established, it could be a real problem for people who play a lot of games. The use of expensive, propriety memory cards is annoying as well, especially considering the system doesn’t even come with one. But other than a few glaring issues, some of which could hopefully be fixed with firmware updates, the system overall seems pretty well made.

oh jeez what

oh jeez what

But onto the games. I’m yet to amass a vast collection, but I’ve picked up a few: Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Modnation Racers: Road Trip, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Persona 4 Golden. Mortal Kombat and Gravity Rush I also got through PlayStation Plus as well. I’m not going to talk too much about them all (except for Persona 4, which I will at some point in it’s own separate post), but they’re as you’d expect. Console-like experiences on a handheld system has always been PlayStation’s thing, so the games play as you’d expect, though obviously not with quite the same amount of graphical fidelity. Need for Speed in particular has some particularly brutal framerate issues, especially in multiplayer, in my experience. Uncharted as well, while looking pretty fantastic for a handheld game, is nowhere close to the quality you’d expect from the full-blown console releases. When comparing with console releases, I should probably make special mention of Mortal Kombat, since they’re pretty much functionally the exact same game. The portable version has taken a pretty hefty downgrade in the looks department though. The character models, especially when viewed close up, are laughably terrible. The game still runs at 60 FPS though, so that’s something. Whether or not this is indicative of the system’s power or simply a case of devs not being intimately familiar with it remains to be seen. For the most part, the games I’ve seen look pretty good though, considering the context. Unfair comparisons are inevitable though, simply due to developers aiming for console like experiences on a system that can’t handle the fidelity expected of such releases.

But overall, the system is good. Would I recommend one? That depends. Generally, I’d never say buying a console for a single game is worth it, though Persona 4 Golden is that game for a lot of people, and I’m almost inclined to agree with that sentiment. However, the amount of games out for the thing right now is pretty sparse, with not a whole lot announced for the future, it seems. The PSN store has a large back catalogue of PSOne and PSP games that are downloadable and playable on the system, but recommending a system solely for old games from a previous system isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. I wanted my Vita mostly for Persona 4, with a passing interest in some other titles. It’s an awesome Persona/Final Fantasy machine, but its not that great of a games machine at the moment. Unless you are desperately wanting one, I’d recommend holding out for a price-drop and/or some more signification game releases.