Dance the Night Away . . .
In 2008 Atlus released arguably one of the best Japanese role-playing games to ever hit PlayStation – Persona 4. The story followed the journey of eight teenagers in their task to bring a murderer to justice and eliminate the source of the shadows. This time, the kids are laying down their arms. The only way to stop the shadow threat is by . . . dancing? That’s right. Time to “g-g-g-get down” with Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
Inspired by other rhythm games before it such as Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, Dancing All Night is a complete departure from the role-playing genre that Persona is associated with. The core of the experience is a simple idea: players select tracks for their favorite characters to dance along to. Much like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, a stream of notes move across the screen in correlation with the directional and command buttons on either side of the controller. Tracks start out easy, but progressively grow in difficulty as the game introduces simultaneous beats, dual notes that require precise entry and release, and even record scratches with the joysticks.
The concept is not easy to master. Rather than containing the sequence of notes in one particular area, your eyes will be rushing in circles around the screen to maintain accuracy with button input. On the hard difficulty, it often abandons the predictable clockwise rotation and becomes chaotic. While this creates a fair, top-tier challenge, it makes the beautiful character animations in the background feel frivolous. Time spent playing will be so focused on the outer rings, causing everything else to fall by the wayside. This is truly a shame, as Dancing All Night is one of the best looking games on the Vita.
Dancing to these numbers come by way of either free dance mode, which allows you to jump right into the action, or through the game’s surprisingly long story mode. There is a decent attention to narrative quality for a rhythm game (it took me around thirteen hours to complete). It chooses to adopt the visual novel style, with various fully animated, beautiful cutscenes to illuminate important moments. Emulating familiar parts of Persona 4, the team finds themselves investigating mysterious disappearances that occur when individuals visit a certain website at midnight. Particularly, an idol group disappears while Rise and company practice their routines for the upcoming Love Meets Bonds Festival. Rather than visit the Midnight Channel we all remember, the gang is heading to the Midnight Stage where shadows seek to enrapture victims and make them one of their own. The story clearly borrows from the familiar plot formula we all know, yet it manages to work. It certainly is more lighthearted and silly, as is to be expected from a dance game, but it lends meaningful moments not only to the investigation team, but to Dojima, Nanako, and newcomer Kanami.
In addition to the fun to be had in playing, there are several categories of unlockables. You can earn new dance partners to accompany characters during tracks by successfully clearing them. You will also earn credits to spend on costumes and accessories for each playable dancer. Many classic outfits from the original game return along with some that are downright ridiculous such as the butler outfit or Kanji’s reindeer costume.
Much of the original cast returns to voice the gang, with the exception of Troy Baker and Laura Bailey unable to reprise their roles as Kanji Tatsumi and Rise Kujikawa respectively. That being said, the entire cast, new and old, rises to the occasion with the help of well-written dialogue and character moments. This is to be expected, however, as these actors essentially ARE these characters at this stage. In addition, the soundtrack features classic Persona 4 tunes such as “Signs of Love,” “Your Affection,” “Time to Make History,” and my personal favorite “Shadow World.” A noteworthy mention goes to the Junes theme which features a Nanako-chan dance-along so adorable that it may destroy the universe.
What’s disappointing is that for a music game, it sorely lacks in track variety. You’ll find yourself unlocking less new tracks and more remixes of songs you’ve already danced to. While the remixes aren’t bad, you’ll find yourself wishing there was more variety two or three iterations later. The lack of unique pieces takes a toll on the game’s longevity.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is an engrossing experience. That being said, it is one that is short-lived. While the interesting narrative serves as a pleasant surprise, there is little intrigue to be found once each track is bested. There are DLC characters and songs in the works, but as the game is already priced just short of a primary console title, paying more for a fuller experience is not enticing. While the gameplay is excellent and the mood is enjoyable, it ultimately lives up to the description of “spinoff.” That being said, it serves as a fun way to say goodbye to the gang as we await the upcoming Persona 5.