16 May 2022

Having been shelved as an exclusive arcade and console game for the first two generations, now Persona 4 Arena Ultimax is finally playable as a remaster on a variety of modern platforms. More than just a spinoff series, what makes this game so interesting is that the main story is a direct sequel to Persona 3 and Persona 4.

Kazuhisa Wada - Director of Persona 4 Arena Ulimax and Head of Atlus P-Studio
Kazuhisa Wada – Director of Persona 4 Arena Ulimax and Head of P-Studio

Out of curiosity about the history of the game’s development and the reasons for choosing a fighting genre, we had the honor to interview Wada Kazuhisa some time ago. He is the producer and director of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, and currently serves as the head of P-Studio, the main development team behind the Persona franchise. You can see the full discussion below!

Q: Can you explain why this project is a fighting game and not an RPG like other Persona series?

Hota: Personally, I’m a fan of fighting games. I used to play fighting games with character designers like Soejima, Doi, and we always thought “we want to do fighting games too”, but we didn’t because we didn’t have the required skills.

But others feel that the Persona series should be explored to give it more variety than just an RPG.Also, instead of half-hearted character-based games [Kami berasumsi dia mengacu pada game anime berlisensi dengan style arena fighter]if we make a Persona game like this, it must carry the quality of a first-class fighting game.

Based on these considerations, we set out to find trusted partners to create games in areas we truly master, not just outsource. Then, after consulting with Arc System Works (the only company I trust that can handle the task), we were lucky enough to reach an agreement with them and start the development process.

One thing is clear, if Arc System Works didn’t agree to take over the project, the game wouldn’t exist. We also didn’t initially plan a sequel story that far, but the team worked hard to create new characters and settings to finalize a story and bring it to the fighting game.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for each character’s signature ringtone?

Hota: We tried to base the ring name on an image that the character had to relate to in some way because they might be offended by the name. We modified that image into a cute and exaggerated name. At the time, all the writers, myself included, exchanged opinions and then made the final decision, but we also worked harder to add some revisions. The name of the ring should obviously be memorable and not overly offensive to the character, and it should make people laugh…even from a character fan perspective, you could say we were a bit aggressive in pushing the design.

Q: Showing a Persona action that can fight alongside the protagonist sounds difficult. So how did you do it?

Hota: This is the most appealing aspect of Persona, as some of the characters’ activities and real-life involvement are indescribable in an RPG. So the design process went smoothly.

First for each character and Persona, we expanded the idea of ​​the original set, distilling its rough type and characteristics, and then came up with ideas and made important decisions based on those existing ideas. Thanks to Arc System Works’ love for the Persona series and their expertise in fighting games, we had a lot of solid and interesting ideas.

Q: One of the coolest parts of P4AU is how the game incorporates RPG Persona mechanics into the gameplay (such as status effects). Can you talk about how the development team made it into a 2D fighting game?

Hota: We carefully integrated the symbol system of the Persona series, such as full attack, more than 1, status effects, etc. into the Arc System Work fighting game system. There are many different types of status effects, each with their own drawbacks, which certainly makes it a challenging factor for newcomers to deal with. In addition, Navigator, which is a special feature/party member of the Persona series, is presented as a Shoutcast of the fighting game, which also becomes a new feature.

On the other hand, you can also enjoy RPG-like gameplay in the single-player Gold Arena mode, where you can collect experience and reach higher levels with each battle.

Q: Compared to most fighting games, skills and combos in P4AU are simpler. Is this because traditional RPG players who are less familiar with action games have deeper analytical skills? Are there other systems designed specifically for newcomers?

Hota: so true. In today’s fighting games, the standard system of Auto Combo or elimination of difficult commands has been standardized. But P4AU is actually a precursor to the system. P4AU also includes many other beginner-friendly systems. An experimental system called S Hold, where you can perform super attacks by holding down a button, is also designed for beginners.

There are also training and lesson modes to improve beginners’ skills in learning game systems, as well as four types of video tutorials explained by characters. Essentially, we really wanted a fighting game that was easier for newcomers to pick up.

Q: The original Persona 4 Arena series was probably the first fighting game experience for RPG fans. To that end, how difficult has it been to make the game friendly to newbies but still provide fighting game fans with complex mechanics?

Hota: I remember that when we did the positioning test in the arcade center, there were still many Persona players who had no experience in fighting games to witness it. When they try to play the game themselves, they don’t know what to do and the screen freezes on the demo menu display. These events made me realize the importance of being more euphemistic to newcomers.

Arc System Works also sees the issue as an important task for the entire fighting game industry, which is getting wilder and more aggressive. We have gone through various trials and challenges together.

Since every battle is packaged in PVP, every player may face some kind of insurmountable obstacle. It’s hard for me to make this easier, but there are still a lot of players who start out as beginners and go to big tournaments. As a developer, I’m glad to hear a lot of people say that their first fighting game was Persona 4: Arena.

Q: Who is your favorite character in P4AU?

Hota: I like all the characters in the game, but if I had to choose, maybe I really like Labris and Shui Yuexiang, both of whom were born as original characters in this game. Especially like Labrys, since he’s a key character integrated into Persona 3 and the main character in his new story. Starting with the character designs, I especially like them. A big axe that can be used as a jet wing looks really cool.

Well, that’s the summary of the Persona 4 Arena Ultimax interview with Kazuhisa Wada. Thanks to Sega for his help throughout the interview process, and to Mr. Wada himself for providing many new insights. In addition, at the end of the interview, Mr. Wada also expressed his satisfaction because he was able to bring the remastered version of P4AU to Asia, hoping to bring more Persona games to fans.

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax Remaster itself is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch and PC.You can check more information about the game on the official website here.Don’t forget, we’ve also briefly summed up the full review of the remake, which you can check out here.

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