Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax is the newest waifu simulator from legendary visual novel developers ATLUS and Arc System Wo- Wait, hold on. I apologize, my editor has just informed me that Persona 4 Arena: Ultimax is, in fact, not a waifu simulator, but is a fighting game instead. I am sincerely sorry for this mistake, and, moving forward, will work to remedy this issue in the rest of the review.
Let's try this again...
Persona 4 Arena: UItimax is the newest entry in the (seemingly endless) series of Persona 4 spin-offs that ATLUS has announced recently, and is the sequel to the original Persona 4 Arena (or Persona 4: The Ultimate in Mayonaka Arena, if you're in the EU or Japan) which came out in the middle of 2012. The original title was solid, but had a number of issues. Namely the strange format for the multiple-route story, a cliffhanger ending that endlessly teased a sequel, a lack of player base in the EU due to the release being repeatedly delayed, and a small number of balance issues.
Ultimax just released this past week (the 30th of September, if you're reading this review from the future), and has moved to fix a number of the issues present in the original game. While it succeeds at this in the most part, there's still a handful of design issues which prevent the title from being truly perfect.
Persona 4: The Story Continues 2: Electric Boogaloo
The story mode in Ultimax retains the same style as its predecessor, using a visual novel-type format interrupted by single-round fighting matches as the story requires (which is not very often). In fact, Ultimax has fully embraced the fact that many players referred to the first title as a 'visual novel with fighting minigames' and has added a new 'Auto Mode' feature. This new addition allows players to focus only on the story by having the CPU fight for them in their stead, guaranteeing them a victory, and allowing them to proceed easily through the story mode. This is a fantastic addition for those who only want to see through the story for the continuation of the series' plot, rather than for the gameplay itself while also preserving the gameplay for those who want both.
On the plot side of the story, it continues almost immediately from where Persona 4 Arena left off, starting the day after the events of the P-1 Grand Prix, with the Investigation Team meeting in the Junes food court. Of course, we know that things are about to go south once again, because why else would they make a game about it? That's what the anime is for. The story in Ultimax feels a bit repetitive at times due to the method through which it's told, and the ending of the Persona 4 story feels like it leaves... Something to be desired.
The Persona 3 route on the other hand, is, while a bit less linear, a lot more interesting. New character's like Mitsuru's battle maid, who can also pilot a helicopter (!!!). As well as the additions of members of the Persona 3 team to the roster of fighters. However, the ending is -- like the P4 route's -- a bit heavy on 'da powa' of frenship'.
Billions and billions of... Design improvements.
Many of my own problems (besides already addressed qualms with the way the story mode worked) with the original Persona 4 Arena stemmed from it's awkward implementation of online play. The desolate ghost-town of player matches was abandoned due to a lack of use, while ranked matches often took tens of minutes to find you an opponent in the middling ranks (C/B). In addition, it was difficult to find players to play and scrimmage with on a regular basis in order to improve your skill, due to the lack of lobby-style play.
Thankfully, Ultimax takes this problem and just slaps it right across the face. ATLUS and Arc Systems have not only thoroughly revamped the player match system to make it a bit easier to use and find matches with, and ranked play now has the ability to 'enlist' in ranked matches. This feature allows players to sign up for ranked matches, and then go play the story/arcade modes or muck about in training mode while waiting for a match. This easily eliminates the boredom of sitting around and waiting for a ranked match to show up. Another large addition to the online play, and the one which allows you to find people to play with at practically any time, is the new lobby mode. The lobby mode puts you down in a room of (up to) 31 other people, gives you a Persona Q-style sprite of your own choosing, and lets you walk around to make friends (or enemies) as you play some casual matches and chat with other people.
Overall, Ultimax can feel a little bit rough around the edges at points, notably during the ending sequences of the story modes (although there is apparently a 'true' ending that I have yet to unlock...). However, these small flaws are not enough to detract from the fact that Ultimax corrects nearly all of the flaws that existed with the original game, and is entirely worth the money to purchase. As a fighting game, it promises to last for a while, just as the original did, while also delivering on the story that's come to be expected of a Persona title.