You got Personas in my fighting game!


I’ve finally finished all of the main story modes for Persona 4 Arena, my Christmas Gift this year, and it was definitely entertaining. Whether or not it was good, though…that’s another question.

It’s such a weird prospect to analyze a fighting game’s story in general. It’s not impossible…it’s not even unpleasant. As long as you go into the proposition with a good-humored willingness to acknowledge ridiculous tropes and paper thin motivations, it can be a lot of fun to discuss what makes a good main character, a memorable villain, and the like. But the heart of any fighting game is the mechanics, followed by the characters, the graphics the music, the sound effects…trailing everything else is the story. The story in many video games are just a thin covering over the actual play, and fighting games exemplify that. There is no good reason why such blatantly illegal fighting tournaments would be able to thrive year after year (especially when the story has confirmed participant fatalities), but if people aren’t provided with a story, they’ll just make one, so you might as well slap one up there to keep them from making a terrible replacement.

P4A, on the other hand, is only grudgingly a fighting game. I don’t say that because the mechanics are bad or the AI unfair/criminally stupid. Rather, it comes across as the best format they could use to tell the story they had, while keeping it as a video game. It’s not hard to think that a manga would have worked better for the main thrust of the story, but Atlus is generally not a comic creating company over here. So in between the matches, you get long expository sections to catch up anyone who didn’t play Persona 3 and 4, and then each character’s individual insights (or lack thereof) on the mystery of who created the tournament, why, and how to stop them. Obviously the answers are the same each time, but the point is to focus on each character’s personal style, and in some get a few extra tidbits of story. It’s kind of a fascinating experiment.

Unfortunately, the experiment’s success came crashing down after finishing the first Arcade mode playthrough.

Don’t get me wrong, the story mode was still worth playing, and I think Labrys’ in particular was very affecting (which is good, since it was the one that needed to justify its emotions the most). But the minute I saw actual sprites acting out the story instead of having to read about what just happened, I wanted to see that applied across the board. I’m sure it would have taken more time (and involved creating a lot more sprites that wouldn’t see use in the actual fights), but it would have fallen much more on the “show” side of the maxim.

I’m not trying to argue that the game isn’t fun (it is), the story is bad (it’s not), or that the Story Mode as is was a waste of time (it’s not). But it’s long as hell at times, and I would have appreciated any reduction in text I could have gotten.


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