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Publisher: Atlus Co.
Developer: Arc System Works
Review title: Welcome to the Velvet Room
Platform played on: PlayStation 3
Fighting games probably would have died if Street Fighter IV hadn't revitalized the genre. Most of us can agree to that. What is not discussed as often is how Street Fighter IV achieved this goal. If you ask me, Capcom basically made the game easier to play, which both brought in new players, and helped gamers in the 30s feel the way they did when they played in their teens (and likely when they had more free time and better reaction time). It's worth noting that it probably took a game like Street Fighter to pull this off, as any other fighting game would have been accused of being dumbed down and thus dismissed by the fighting community. With this backdrop, enter Persona 4 Arena. A fighting game based on characters in a popular JRPG series, and developed by a developer with a history of making punishingly difficult-to-master fighting games (I'm looking at you Guilty Gear and that damn FRC...). My fear was that the fighting game genre was once again on the road to make the genre so hard to play that many new players (and even many increasingly older veteran players) were effectively priced out (to my student age readers - try getting 1 frame move timings down when you are over 30, have a full time job and a spouse and kids to support - yeah, not gonna happen). Well, my hats off to Arc System Works. Persona 4 Area is paradoxically one of deepest yet accessible fighting games I have ever played. At the heart of Persona 4 Arena's accessibility is its auto combo system - a satisfying yet easy-to-pull off combo that all characters have. Skilled players will surely find and perfect more effective combos in short order, but players with moderate skill have at least one option to place pressure on or to punish their opponents. This changes the dynamic of the game immediately. Landing an auto-combo still requires you to find an opening (essentially out think your opponent) preventing auto combos from being spammed. Yet they almost immediately place the game on that plane where 2 players who are reasonably skilled clash. This effectively creates types of matches where proper execution of moves is assumed by both players and, in my view, the most fun matches. Winning becomes more about reading your opponent and out thinking him, rather than relying on some over powered move. Allowing players to achieve the level of execution-is-assumed gameplay essentially on the first day without dumbing down the game is an incredible achievement. I can only hope over time the brilliance of Arc System Work's game design is fully appreciated. I could go on and on about the layers and layers of sub systems, but rest assured, tournament players will find a lot to love in the subtleties and complexities of this game. If you like fighting games on any level, you should check out Persona 4 Arena.
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