Pursuing My True Groove
HIGH Dance, my pretties! Dance!
LOW So many repeating songs…
WTF Teddie. Just… Teddie.
Fans are clamoring for more Persona, and Atlus knows it.
Over the past few years, they've released a remake of Persona 4 for the PlayStation Vita, an Etrian Odyssey crossover for Nintendo 3DS, multiple films and anime, and not one, but two fighting games. Now, Persona 4 has arguably strayed from its RPG roots as far as possible with its latest spinoff, the rhythm game Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
Originally a joint project between Atlus and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva developer Dingo, the staff was later reshuffled, leaving only Atlus on production. For Project Diva fans such as myself, this was some cause for worry. Would an RPG-heavy developer such as Atlus be able to make a competent rhythm game? Luckily, the release of Persona 4: Dancing All Night has left me assured that yes, they most definitely can.
Dancing All Night begins with the nigh-impossible task of creating a story that even partially justifies the dancing element of the game. Told in a visual novel format similar to that in the fighting games, Dancing All Night's tale takes place after the events of Persona 4. Pop idol Rise has decided it's time to make her big comeback, and invites everyone's favorite high schoolers to join her as backup dancers on stage. Unfortunately, a wrench is thrown in their concert plans: members of another idol group set to perform are disappearing, so it's up to Yu Narukami and friends to crack the case once again.
Of course, this plot is tied in with a version of the original game's Midnight Channel, only this time shadows can't be defeated with normal attacks. Instead, they must be appealed to in the form of… interpretive dance. While this might sound light and cheery, Dancing All Night does explore darker themes, such as the fake personalities many performers are forced to put on for their fans. The script's tone feels right in line with a proper Persona game.
The story mode clocks in at about 10 hours, and while there are some dance numbers, it's mostly a whole lot of reading. Fans of Persona 4 will undoubtedly be happy to see their favorite characters return, but I found myself hurrying through much of the dialogue. Perhaps if some of the inane chatter was cut, the story mode could have been a lot tighter. As it stands, the 10 hours feels quite bloated with mundane conversation.
Story aside, the real meat of the game can be explored in the free mode, where players can pick any song and difficulty to dance to.
Gameplay is similar to the battle portions of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, where players must press the Vita's face buttons when the on-screen reticle lines up with the corresponding key. Notes travel from the center of the Vita's screen outwards, leaving the center relatively clutter-free to showcase whichever character is getting down. Like the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva games, the colorful, moving backgrounds made it quite difficult to see what was going on until I got used to it.
Interestingly, Persona 4 Dancing uses only the up, left, down and triangle, circle, and x buttons, as well as the analog sticks for occasional ‘scratch' command. The scratch notes appear as pulsating blue circles that are optional to execute. However, players are encouraged to hit as many scratches as possible since doing so adds to the ‘fever' gauge at the top of the screen. When the fever gauge is full, another Persona 4 character will pair up with the current character onscreen to perform some extra funky moves. As far as I could tell, this didn't have any effect on play—it's merely a visual reward for entering fever mode, but I'd never turn down twice the dancing.
There are three difficulty levels in free mode, with a fourth available after everything in the item section of the in-game store has been purchased. My experience with rhythm games is that harder difficulties are usually unlocked once all songs on the previous difficulty are cleared, making Persona 4 Dancing's method unintuitive, and I wonder how many players will miss the fourth difficulty entirely because they may not find need for the items apart from being nifty fanservice.
Besides that unconventional choice, the biggest gripe I have with Dancing All Night is also one of the most important aspects of any rhythm game—the music.
The songs are comprised of all the catchiest Persona 4 numbers, but there just isn't enough variety. In the base game there are 27 songs, but many of them repeat two or even three times in the form of remixes. "Pursuing My True Self," for example, has three different versions alone. As someone who has only mild familiarity with Persona 4 and was coming to this game as rhythm fan, I found that the track variety pales in comparison to similar titles.
It almost goes without saying that fans of Persona 4 will enjoy Persona 4 Dancing All Night. The story mode offers 10 hours of additional canon events with the popular cast, and Atlus has done a surprisingly solid job with the musical gameplay. It's slightly more difficult to recommend to those more interested in the rhythm, though—the track list is just too small. But, if that's the worst I can say about Persona 4: Dancing All Night, then it's safe to say that Atlus has got themselves one hell of a spinoff.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Nintendo 3DS. Approximately 12 hours of play was devoted to the single player mode, and the story mode was completed. The game does not have a multiplayer mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: language, mild blood, mild violence, partial nudity, and suggestive themes. While that might sound like a scary list, the game's content is pretty mild overall. It's totally safe for any young person who was mature enough to play through the original Persona 4 game. The plot might be a little intense for young ones, but if they keep to the story-free mode, it's all good.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Due to the emphasis on music and timing in this game, it is hard to recommend for deaf and hard of hearing gamers.