I can't decide if Persona 4 Arena Ultimax was intended to be a sequel or an expansion.

I originally thought this game was going to be less "Street Fighter 4 to Ultra Street Fighter 4" and more "Street Fighter III to Street Fighter 4." However, in my time with the game it seems that the former is true.While the Story Mode immediately follows the events of the first Persona 4 Arena game, usually indicative of a sequel, the core mechanics of the game haven't been drastically altered, and the number of "brand new characters" isn't very high, as most of the additions are "Shadow" versions of the pre-existing cast. Whatever it is, I do know that it builds on the momentum of the original very well, creating a solid 2D fighting experience within the Persona world.

Fighting in Persona 4 Arena Ultimax feels identical to how the original P4A felt a couple of years ago. The pace of a battle is still fast without seeming like hyper-speed, each character has clear strengths and weaknesses than can be exploited, and the button scheme is still two attacks for the character, two attacks that summon Personas.

There are a few additions, like the S Hold System, which gives players the ability to hold a button after completing a special move and charge it into a more powerful move, or the auto-combo feature where basic combos can be performed by pressing the weak attack over and over again. These make things easier for new Arena players to utilize flashy moves like the seasoned veterans, but otherwise they don't add much to the overall experience.

Atlus

The other modes are where Persona 4 Arena Ultimax shines brightest. The beginners I mentioned earlier should jump into Lesson Mode before doing anything else, as it is a fantastic teacher of the game's systems and unique mechanics. After that is Challenge Mode, where character-specific trials teach specific characters' movesets and abilities. After that comes Training Mode, which is the standard free training mode that every other fighter offers. Separately they don't sound revolutionary, but together they show that Persona 4 Arena Ultimax goes out of its way to make sure everyone who boots it up has a way to learn the game and hone their skills, even if they've never played a Persona game before.

The game's Story Mode may be the coolest part of the game. Fighters aren't known for their detailed narratives outside of Mortal Kombat and Injustice, but Persona 4 Arena Ultimax turns this fighter into a RPG-caliber story filled with twists and turns. It's a lengthy story, with the first part taking me about five or six hours to complete, but it was able to keep me entertained throughout. Completing the story did require me to learn how to play as a lot of different characters before I succeeded, but that only added to the challenge.

However, despite how much fun it was to view this interesting tale, I have to say that the Story Mode is one of the most deceptive and misleading modes I've ever played in a game. When I started the mode, I saw a screen full of cards with only two at the top flipped over and I thought to myself, "Wow, there are a lot of cards here, which means I'm going to get into a lot of fights. This could take a while." That's a logical assumption that every "mission" the game shows would have a fight associated with it, right?

Atlus

Well, it turns out that of the 50 or so cards in this story mode, only about 11 of them were battles, the rest were just cutscenes. I was baffled the first time I saw three missions completed after only fighting one match. This is a very minor thing to be harping on, and I understand that a faster story mode only helps the player to get back into the versus and online modes that they want to play, but I would have loved to have taken someone on at every card on the board.

Even if you have the original Persona 4 Arena 100 percent completed, Ultimax brings enough new characters, mechanics, and story elements to earn a spot on your shelf right next to it. It still amazes me that Atlus and Arc System Works were able to convert a long-standing RPG franchise into a full 2D fighting experience, and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax does an admirable job of maintaining that amazement. The game is a solid 2D fighter that I can see having a long shelf life in the homes of fighting and RPG fans alike, with the story elements that RPG fans want and the mechanics the fighting fans want blending together to create a fun experience.

This review was completed with a digital copy of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax provided by the publisher for PlayStation 3.