The Persona series has been a long-time favorite with millions of fans, both on our shores and overseas.  The series has been going strong well into the PS2 era, and continues to be in high demand today.  But Atlus’ next move with the series may be one that their dedicated fans probably won’t expect.  All the same, they should be excited.

The game is called Persona 4 Arena, and as you might guess, it’s not a typical role-playing game.  Instead, it’s a brawler, being put together by Arc System Works, the same team behind the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear games.  So you can probably gather an idea what to expect – beautiful hand-drawn 2D animation, sharp fighting physics, and all sorts of options that let you brawl with your friends.  That’s hardly what you’d expect from a next-gen Persona title, but we’ll credit where credit is due.  Atlus is really reaching out with this one.

The game features a variety of characters from both Persona 3 and Persona 4.  Coming from the third chapter are Aigis, Mitsuru Kirijo and Akihiko Sanada; while the fourth game will bring Yu Narukami, Yosuke Hanamura, Chie Satonaka, Yukiko Amagi, Kani Tatsumi, Naoto Shirogane, and Teddie, among a couple of others.  Though the game will only feature 13 characters in all – a small count compared to most of the other brawlers on the market – each one will have their own storyline, and unlike most fighting games, you won’t just blow through each one in a matter of rounds.  In fact, each storyline expands to around two hours, giving you plenty to figure out with each character.

The game is set two years following the events of Persona 3 FES’ The Answer, and about two months following the true ending that emerged from Persona 4.  Teddie has all but vanished, and the Investigation Team turn to the Midnight Channel, keeping an eye out for him.  He re-emerges, but in a pirate outfit, and announcing a fighting tournament known as the P-1 Grand Prix.  He’s looking for the “Ultimate Persona User”, and the team, curious to find out what happened to him and find out who is this “Ultimate” user, enters the tournament.

Like previous fighting games, Persona 4 Arena features a number of striking attacks, set across four buttons.  You can tap these buttons to pull off punches and kicks, and also execute single-tap combos as well, should you want to line up an opponent for multiple hits.  Along the way, you’ll be able to fill up a Burst Gauge, which allows you to activate defensive maneuvers should someone be wailing away on you pretty ferociously.  The only downside to that is that it takes a bit to refill again, so you’ll want to use it wisely.

Along with the story mode, which, again, expands to about a couple of hours for each characters, there’s also online play, as you challenge fellow RPG fans and fighting enthusiasts to battles.  Sadly, the game comes region locked, so if you’re looking to snag an import copy and battle overseas masters, you’re out of luck.  Thankfully, there should be more than enough of a US audience to oblige in battle.

It isn’t just your character that will be engaging in battles.  You’ll be able to call upon Personas to help you out.  These magical creatures previously appeared in Persona chapters on the PS2, and return here to aid you with attacks, strikes and Burst Gauge tactics.  However, they can be taken out with strikes, and losing them will cost you some of your stats as they heal.  This leaves you vulnerable in battle, so it’s highly suggested you stay on your toes and try to protect them, lest you get laid to waste by someone proudly wielding their own Personas.

If you need help figuring the game out, don’t worry.  Arc System Works is also including a Lesson Mode, which not only teaches you fighting mechanics, but also how to use the three levels of guarding, which will help in a pinch if you’re getting pummeled.  Learning is part of the battle, so we highly advise you take part.

Though we haven’t heard much of the game’s audio yet, we expect Atlus to fill the game with familiar voice acting and plenty of quirky tunes to choose from.  However, we can say that the graphics are spellbinding, just as brightly colored and animated as the previous BlazBlue games, but with content taken straight from the Persona universe.  This is easily one of this generation’s most beautiful fighting efforts – and that’s saying something.

Persona 4 Arena is set to brawl to store shelves this August, and judging by what we’ve seen, fans are definitely in for a treat.  Newcomers will find a lot to like as well, even if they’ve never touched a chapter of the series.  Hop into this Arena when it arrives in a matter of weeks.