Over the weekend I watched a Japanese fighting tournament called KVO hosted in Osaka, Japan. The broadcast was by Iplaywinner, a fighting game stream I follow. There were some great Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 matches, but what really enticed me was the promise of the first major Persona 4 Arena, or Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena as it is known in Japan, tournament. This was the first time I got too really see the game in motion on a competitive level and it was a very revealing look that inspired me to write up some more thoughts about the game. Keep in mind a few things though. I haven’t played the game so it is difficult to know exactly what is going on or how challenging the moves are. Also the game has only seen release in arcades so far, and even than it has only been out for about two months, so people are still figuring things out. Arc Systems has already promised a patch too, so some of the issues I noticed may not even be apparent in the final console version. If you would like to look at the tournament itself, it can be found here. So without further stalling let’s get to the actual game.
The first thing I noticed was that the air combo system was pretty different from what I was used to. The aerial combos reminded me more of King of Fighters XIII than Marvel. Displayed alongside the aerial combos was the air recovery system. Players were able to recover between moves if the other player was unable to land a hit fast enough. The ability to recover and then block attacks seemed vital in preventing easy follow ups. Timing of bursts was also incredibly important as they sometimes seemed necessary to break out of the corners.
By far the most lasting impression the game left on me were the abilities of one Chie Satonaka. Now Chie is one of my favorite characters from the original game so it pains me to say this, but she seemed more than a little unbalanced. In fact the whole game seemed heavily weighted in the favor of three characters: Mitsuru, Akihiko, and Chie. While Chie didn’t win the tournament, a Mitsuru player did that, she was by far the most popular character and five of the final sixteen players were using her. The main issue seemed to be her speed. Chie was able to launch long strings of repetitive attacks, seemingly without fear of punishment from the defender. The speed made it really difficult for characters to defend against her mix up. Her Agneyastra super also posed problems as it forced the player to make a series of blocks while Chie was able to freely move around the screen and begin her next combo. Many times she wrecked opposing fighters with a handful of incredibly long combos.
I saw almost no Teddie (or Kuma as he is known in Japan), Naoto, Yu, Yosuke, or Aigis play. Elizabeth, Labrys, Yukkiko, and Kanji made a few appearances, but the most popular choices were Mitsuru, Akihiko, and Chie. Again these are early days so hopefully as players get practice time with the game Chie will become less dominant than she is right now. When I watched a pre-release tournament for Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Deadpool was one of the most popular choices. By EVO no one was using him anymore and his viability had dropped severely. I mention this anecdote as a reminder that things do change over time, even without balance patches. I’m sure at the lower levels of play the balance issues will be much less pronounced so it will hardly be a deal breaker for your average player, but these are things that could haunt the game in its later competition life.
I may sound highly critical of Persona 4, but there were a lot of things that I really enjoyed as well. For one it looked awesome. Stages were neat and dynamic in interesting ways. The action on screen was really crazy and a ton of fun to watch. Shoji Miguro did an excellent job on the score for the game using a mix of old and new songs. I really liked how the game embraced the TV show presentation with post match interviews and pre-fight stat cards. Perhaps most importantly the game looked like a ton of fun to play too. I found the integration of the Persona into the combos to be really interesting.
Overall the tournament gave very valuable insight into some of the game’s mechanics and how they will actually be used. I’m a little wary of some of the balance issues, but hopefully these will be patched out or solved by the community before the game releases on consoles here and in Japan.