It needs to be said: Fighting games are too darned complicated. In a couple decades, we've gone from punches, kicks, throws and a couple of character-specific special moves, to memorizing maneuvers that only apply when your opponent has canceled your reversal of his super-move. Who is this for?
How nice, then, to find in "Persona 4 Arena" something I've been looking for in a fighting game forever: a tutorial. Finally, a game walks you through all the crazy scenarios that are easy to read about in the manual but hard to translate to the controller.
It's the first indication that "Arena," a spin-off of the beloved 2008 role-playing game "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4," is more than just a cash-in. Following the adaptation of "Persona 4" into a novel, a comic book, a TV show and even a stage production, this happy contrivance reuniting the dramatis personae of "Persona 4" could even teach "real" fighting games a thing or two.
For one, it does a good job at storytelling, which isn't exactly the genre's strong suit. "No fair," other fighting games may protest, as "Arena" has a built-in roster of beloved characters, rendered here in silky-smooth hand-drawn animation. But "Arena" takes narrative pains to bring newcomers into the fold, and the soundtrack creates an immediate sense of place.
|'Persona 4 Arena'|
|System: PS3, Xbox 360|
|Rating: 3 out of 5 stars|
And then, of course, there's the tutorial, which means no more running off to GameFAQs or YouTube to figure out the product you've purchased.
So, the good news: The game teaches you the Super Ultimate Double Cancel Takedown Specials. The bad news: The Super Ultimate Double Cancel Takedown Specials still exist. The fact remains that such moves invariably get lost in the shuffle of actually playing the game, when smashing a bunch of buttons over and over is usually just as effective. It doesn't help that the moves are -- still -- way too hard to perform. Who, outside gold medalists in finger gymnastics, can pull off quarter-circle-up + quarter-circle-up + X + Y in the middle of a fight? As my playing companion Mike remarked, "When did fighting games become data entry?"
Here's hoping all future fighting games follow "Arena's" example of demystifying their complexity. Or, better yet, don't make the games so darned complicated.