Persona 4 Arena probably wasn’t the Persona 4 spinoff that fans necessarily wanted or expected back in 2012, released a few months before Persona 4 Golden for Vita. It’s a solid fighting game with a story mode that plays like a visual novel peppered with poorly explained one-on-one fights. But more relevant to our RPG interests, Shoji Meguro is listed as one of the composers, and that means the soundtrack is at least worth a look.
Each of Persona 4 Arena’s 13 characters has a signature tune that plays when he or she occupies the 2nd-player position, and those songs are the meat of the soundtrack. Other than those, you have a neutral battle theme, an end credits ballad, an anime music video opening, and a few short interstitials for things like victory and defeat screens. The prevailing voices are guitars, drums, and piano, and nearly the whole tracklist could be labeled as pop-rock. Strings and brass do show up occasionally — I liked the strings in Yukiko’s and Mitsuru’s themes in particular — but most of the music sounds like a five piece rock group performed it.
There are two light remixes of Persona songs on the album: “Reach Out to the Truth” from Persona 4 and “Heartful Cry” from Persona 3 FES. They’re the character themes for Yu Narukami (aka Persona 4’s silent protagonist) and Aigis, respectively. The two remixes are inoffensive and don’t change the originals much. They both add stronger downbeats, and, in the case of “Reach Out to the Truth,” speed up the song’s intro. Elizabeth’s theme in-game is an unaltered “The Battle for Everyone’s Souls,” but it’s not present in this collection. You’ll have to pick up the Persona 3 OST for that one.
Many of the songs on the album are catchy and fun — I’ve had several of them appear in jogging and gym playlists over the past two years — but so many of them sound so similar that it’s a problem. They follow a specific formula; most of them are designed to be up-tempo and able to loop comfortably every 60 to 90 seconds. I wouldn’t be surprised if Meguro and Kitajoh wrote three or four melodies and composed the ten new character themes by making variations on them. The Persona 4 Arena OST is not bad by any means, but I expect more from the Atlus sound team. Listeners will be disappointed if they are expecting something at the level of one of Meguro’s Persona or Shin Megami Tensei soundtracks.