I'm a large fan of the games Atlus puts out, especially the Shin Megami Tensei series. Persona 4 ranks up as one of my favorite games of all time, so when I heard they were releasing a fighting game based on it, I was thrilled. I doubt it'll be anywhere close to game of the year, but it's a fun game to play with my friends, I'll be happy. Atlus has been releasing various videos to hype up and prepare players for the game, but the latest gameplay trailer worried me more than it excited me.
The game uses the standard fighting game control scheme, using the face buttons as "ABCD" in a clockwise fashion. Longtime fighting game fans already know what this control scheme means, but the story is quite different for newcomers. Considering the game is meant for fans of Atlus's RPGs, I feel like it's a missed opportunity for them to rework the control scheme. In this case, on an Xbox controller, 'A' stands in for X, 'B' stands in for Y, 'C' stands in for B, and 'D' stands in for A. If a player looked at a move list and saw "Down, Forward, A," they would instinctively press the A button on the controller, rather than the X button, which is what the ABCD system is referring to.
Fans have defended this system, saying that almost every fighting game is designed for arcades, first and foremost. Also, these labels are not arbitrary - each fighting game uses the four buttons in different, designated ways. In the case of Blazblue, which is the engine that P4A is based off of, ABCD refers to Light, Medium, Heavy, and Special attacks, respectively. In that case, why not make that clear up front, and just label the buttons "LMHS"? The less you force the player to memorize, the better. Admittedly, this is less of a problem for PS3 owners, since the buttons are named after symbols, not numbers, but that's no excuse to confuse your players like that. The western-developed 2011 Mortal Kombat understood this, with the standard buttons labeled FP, BP, FK, and BK (front, back).
Another troubling thing about the P4A trailer is that the video acts as if those four buttons are the only buttons a console player has access to. It show how to grab an opponent or escape a grab by pressing the C and D buttons simultaneously. In an arcade, such shortcuts are necessary, but this video excludes all the shoulder buttons that controllers have gotten over the years. Avoiding multiple-button inputs is one key to good game design that fighting games have failed at for a while. What's particular strange about this is that in Blazblue, you COULD press the right shoulder button to grab. Why not just teach the player that, instead of assigning additional commands to the face buttons?
More party-focused fighting games seemed to have adapted to this much better. In the Super Smash Bros. series, you can either grab an opponent by pressing the Z button on the Gamecube controller, or you could hold block and press the A button. To be honest, there are unique instances to use each case. Press Z when you're going in for a quick grab, or hold block to defend against an attack before pressing A to grab him when he is vulnerable. However, in Blazblue, C and D are both attack buttons. There is never an instance where pressing both buttons is preferable to using the shoulder button, so why teach your players that?
Similarly, I'm not a fan of the mechanic of pressing backwards on the control stick in order to block, which is another staple of the fighting game genre. Not only does it restrict movement, but when fighting in close quarters and one opponent jumps or slides over the other, controls immediately become reversed. This might be a tactic commonly used in high-level player, but beginners are much more likely to gravitate towards the Smash Bros. method, where the direction you push is the direction you attack in. Also, having there both be "standing" block and "crouching" block is just an exercise in frustration. Watching the video, many of the combos are made up of both upper and lower attacks, so unless you've memorized every combo in the game, your block is going to be broken and you'll be left vulnerable. Some fighting game players might call it anticipation, but when I'm playing, it's more likely to be a random guess.
The video also explains an "Evasive Action" command done by pressing A and C, which causes the player to dash forward to evade attacks. Reassigning attack buttons to evasive buttons is a poor choice already, but once again, Smash Bros. gives us an alternative - pressing L or R (the shield button) along with the control stick causes you to do an evasive roll. In this case, a defensive button and a movement button are combined to do an evasive maneuver, which is much less confusing that trying to remember which attack buttons pressed together do what.
These many, MANY barriers to new players may help explain why the fighting game genre is so disliked among game critics, and a good chunk of video game fans in general. It doesn't help that the fighting game community doesn't think of Super Smash Bros. and similar titles as "real" fighting games, due to their nonstandard control schemes. I feel that this design choice may really hurt a game like Persona 4 Arena, which is attempting to attract RPG fans, but sticking to established fighting game conventions that may drive them away.