Developer: Dingo Inc., P Studio
Publisher: Atlus USA
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: September 29, 2015 (NA)/November 6, 2015 (EU)
The publisher provided a product code for the purposes of this review.
Persona is a series that manages to garner mainstream attention considering the niche status of JRPGs in general. The strength of storytelling, solid gameplay, organic character development, superlative art direction and fantastic music all add up to a series, iteration after iteration, that delivers the goods. Success leads to a desire for more of the same and, instead of yet another numbered Persona release, spin-offs spring forth from the mighty one’s dome like heads of the hydra. The animated series for Persona 4 had its moments and the rather dynamic fighting game, Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, garnered a small but rabid following as well. Persona Q not only drew from P3 and P4 but the Etrian Odyssey series that resulted in a memorable if difficult journey. A rhythm game, though? Is that just kicking a dead horse at this point? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding “No!” Persona 4: Dancing All Night not only succeeds as a rhythm game but as a fantastic addition to the already rich stable of Persona 4 related titles. Let’s dance.
Time To Boogie, Senpai
Most will ask if prior knowledge of the Persona 4 canon is necessary to wring enjoyment from Persona 4: Dancing All Night before getting their mitts on it. No, it’s not required, but it sure helps to get the full impact. This is, without a doubt, one of the most fanservice-friendly titles I’ve ever played. I’m not talking in the sort of manner that might cause someone to cry, “Help! Help! Misogynists dead ahead!” but, rather, a game the revels in its history. Persona 4, especially the later re-release with Golden tacked onto the title, is a fantastic game. One that not only deserves to be considered one of the best titles to grace the medium but a gateway into a series so overflowing with quality titles that it might just be the ultimate gateway drug. Does it help to know who Naoto is? Of course it does. Or why Teddie (Yes. The bear who loves to make puns about bears.) occasionally appears as a human being? Sure. Necessary? Not at all.
It could have been very insular but, instead, there is quite a strong narrative attached to the skeleton of this rhythm game. The gang, now in the big city away from their country burg of Inaba, has been recruited to help their good buddy, Rise Kujikawa, make her triumphant comeback into the Idol scene. That means they’ve traded their detective shoes for dancin’ kicks and, man, do the writers in charge take a thin premise and make it groove all night. There are strange things afoot at the
Circle K the recording studios where Idols lay down their latest tracks and practice their choreography. Yu, Naoto, Yosuke and the rest are toiling away to serve as backup dancers to Rise at the upcoming festival but, lo and behold, something eerily reminiscent of the Midnight Channel is responsible for the disappearance of numerous potential singers/dancers. It is up to Yu Narukami and his friends to unravel the mystery, save the Idol Festival from being destroyed and pull off some sweet moves too. Time to Pop and Sherlock it, Senpai. (NOTE: The horrible joke just made by the reviewer does not reflect the humor of APGNation as a whole and, likely, this would-be comedian will be sacked after submitting this article.)
The story mode, which plays out much like the original game in regards to mode of delivery with a visual novel style, is fully voice-acted and will take about 20 hours to complete. Skipping through dialogue will shorten that substantially but there’s still a whole lotta meat in this sandwich to chow down on. The mode not only allows for them to be some context to the notion of dancing to these songs but it’ll require about thirty different tracks before all is said and done. The only way to unlock certain songs, in fact, is to complete Story Mode (including gaining the unlockable Margaret character). Players looking for a real challenge should finish out Story Mode as, well, the only way to get “Dancing All Night” mode is to do so. PRO-TIP ALERT.
The storytelling chops of the Persona team continue to amaze her as this paper-thin reason to reunite the Inaba Detective Agency, as it were, could have been awful and unnecessary. It, instead, feels like a worthy addition to the cornucopia of Persona lore. Each major figure gets at least one or two interesting story beats, and even the newer additions don’t feel one-note either. A few more hours tacked on to the mode would have helped to flesh things out further but, frankly, there’s so much content already that it would have been superfluous at that point.
The Junes Song
Before we go any further, I would like to point out that the ever-popular Junes theme from Persona 4 was included in the great roster of songs in this game. Not the 30 second jingle that everyone’s favorite little sister, Nanako, sings obsessively but a three-minute infectious pop song that will surprise with how catchy it is. That means the entire world can finally dance and sing along with Magical Detective Nanako to the theme song for the best department store in all of Inaba, maybe all of Japan! I brought that up because not only did it surprise the hell out of me when getting to play it but points to the level of quality the song list has from top to bottom. Big time songs from P4 and bodacious remixes pad out the numbers a bit but damn if these songs aren’t all great. The remixed options could have been tedious but, instead, actually bring new dimensions to the old favorites and are a joy to play through. Not only did longtime series composer Shoji Meguro step up to the plate but a whole slew of talented folks like Akira Yamaoka (!) and many more came together to redefine these now classic songs. A rhythm game has zero chance of succeeding if the music doesn’t click with its audience. The song selection in Dancing All Night will dazzle players and keep Persona fans tapping their toes until Persona 5 comes around at least.
The soundtrack is strong, but it is playing the actual game that a fantastic package stumbles a bit out of the gate. It starts with the placement of anchored buttons for notes to work towards, i.e., the note highway. The configuration is novel but, ultimately, there are songs where this configuration does not serve the game well. It also doesn’t help that 16th notes don’t seem to exist here. That leads to strange timing issues on certain songs where it just comes down to feeling it out more than anything else as opposed to staying on the beat all the time. That can be a bit of a buzzkill for fellow rhythm game aficionados. It isn’t a dealbreaker, though, as songs that seem to vex at first will become mastered quickly enough after a few tries once the player susses out the correct cadence of button pressing. Thankfully the fantastic character models and animation, supplemented by constant chatter from the team of encouragement or (if you’re doing poorly) worry help to soften the blow of the sometimes problematic mechanics.
Play It To The Beat
One might point to the fact that the former developer of the game, Dingo Inc. (makers of the fantastic Hatsune Miku series) initially took the reigns of the project. They were ultimately shuffled out of the mix as the Persona team took charge, though. That means that the user interface is pristine, the presentation is crisp (probably one of the best looking games on the Vita period) and overall it is a joy to behold. That said, the RPG team in charge of making a rhythm game could have used a bit more time with the Dingo folks in regards to the things that make rhythm games work. Don’t get me wrong here. Nothing in Persona 4: Dancing All Night is unplayable, even at its absolute hardest difficulty, but it certainly doesn’t help that the layout and note highway aren’t exactly optimal for this sort of game. Once a player gets deep enough, though, all those problems fade away. It does, however, mean that to make sure songs are cleared the number of notes needed tends to be One thing to note for those wanting to play this on their Playstation/VITA TV units? There is a noticeable amount of input lag regarding inputs so make adjustments accordingly, and it appears there’s no way to recalibrate that for the Playstation TV. That’s a shame, too, but ultimately a minor annoyance.
The simplicity of the layout works to its advantage despite all the wordage above. The six button layout with flicks of the thumbsticks for quick optional point bonuses and Fever bonuses (Star Power deploy). It is quite accessible to pickup regardless and will feel decidedly easy to those who’ve at least played another genre-specific title before. The hardest difficulties are where the game shines especially with modifier items that can cater the experience to the player’s whims. Want “All Night” mode to be even harder? Plug and play items (a feature smartly taken from the Miku games and others like it) that make notes invisible, up the speed at which they scream towards the edges of the screen and more. It offers a degree of player choice in regards to the difficulty that feels natural and, frankly, is a great move on the part of the development team even if it isn’t exactly a novel addition.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night could have easily been a mediocre effort by a team more accustomed to making RPGS as opposed to rhythm games. Not only does the Story Mode shine but the music selection is among the best one will encounter in the genre. The quality over quantity argument is valid here as the lack of an overstuffed song list gives way to amazing originals and transcendent remixes. There is one hell of a game here despite a few missteps here and there. Add to that the heaping helping of Persona fanservice and there’s so much to like here. P4: DAN is a love letter to the P4 faithful but also a jubilant entry into the rhythm genre that also happens to the best-looking title available on the PS Vita to date. Buy this now for the soundtrack alone but stay for the great game contained within.
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