Review: Persona 4: Dancing All Night

Anyone that has listened to S.Link FM knows that the show’s origins date back to a very cringe-inducing dancing contest entry way back in 2012. So when ATLUS announced Persona 4: Dancing All Night, it felt like a strangely appropriate direction for the series in my eyes. Persona 4: Dancing All Night is probably the last game to feature these characters, so it has a lot riding on it. It doesn’t quite land every move, but thanks to excellent gameplay, wonderful presentation, and an exhilarating soundtrack, it hits just enough high notes to be worthy of its namesake.

For most Persona fans the meat of the franchise is its story and characters, so naturally Dancing All Night includes a story mode of its own. The game is set several months after the events of Persona 4 and catalogs Rise’s climb back to the top of the idol world. Amidst the bustle of competing with rival idols and training her friends as backup dancers, there seems to be instances of several other idols going missing. Without giving away too much of the plot, it’s essentially a situation very akin to what the Persona 4 cast went through in the original game.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story mode is very much a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of the writing. It’s pretty interesting when it delves into themes such as the pressure Japanese entertainment companies place on young women that decide to become idols, and the effects said pressure has on their psyche. However the trouble is these narrative highs are few and far between, and they’re themes that were better explored during Rise’s arc in the original game. Dancing All Night goes into a little more detail with these ideas, but it is not nearly as powerful because the time spent with the other idols in this game is far too sparse. It’s difficult to get invested in these new characters’ stories when the game doesn’t give them ample screen time to form a connection with the audience. Couple that with the fact that in this game you literally dance to solve most problems and you’ve got a recipe for schlock. Persona has always been a series that embellished in the absurd, but this is taking it a bit far. There’s something unintentionally hilarious about the cast approaching a dire, life threatening situation, and their solution to the problem is always to hit the dance floor. There’s an in-universe explanation as to why they have to do this, but it comes off more as contrived plot reasoning to justify the core mechanics of a rhythm game.

The game also utilizes the same visual novel presentation that was in Arena and Ultimax. I didn’t care for it then and I don’t like it now in this game either. The visual novel presentation has a really bad habit of reiterating the same information over and over again that the characters in game just explained themselves. It gets really tiring and makes the story mode a total chore to play at times.

While the plot leaves a lot to be desired, the gameplay is an absolute delight. Rhythm games have never been my cup of tea to be perfectly honest, even during the days when Guitar Hero was brought out at every party. However with Dancing All Night, I found it hard to pull myself away from it. The presentation and HUD pretty much break things down immediately for the player upon starting the game up. The triangle, circle, and X buttons along with the directional pad on the Vita are your primary means of interaction with the music in the game. You will have to press these buttons at the right times as the various markers fly towards them. Pretty standard affair for a rhythm game, but what sets Dancing All Night apart from a lot of its contemporaries is the background and foreground never clash with each other. Whenever I tried to play Project Diva for example, I’d often fail at songs cause I’d keep glancing at the dancing going on in the background when I was supposed to be paying attention to the notes in the foreground. That doesn’t happen in Dancing All Night, the color scheme of the HUD and overall presentation makes everything blend together much better.

The game is also pretty friendly to those new to the genre or even for players not good at this type of game like myself. There are three different difficulty settings and you can even adjust the speed of the notes in each song. It may not sound like a huge addition, but it’s nice that ATLUS considered beginner and low-skill players when making the game.

It would be safe to say that probably the biggest reason Persona 4: Dancing All Night even came about was due to the incredible soundtracks of the Persona series. In that regard, Dancing All Night lives up to the legacy of the franchise. Most of the music in the game is either ripped directly from prior games in the series, or is a remixed track, although there are several other original songs composed just for Dancing All Night. ATLUS brought in a number of great musicians to remix tracks for the game, one of which being one of my favorite musical artists of all time, Akira Yamaoka (his remix of Time To Make History is just fantastic). Safe to say Persona 4: Dancing All Night is probably in the running for best game soundtracks of 2015.

There’s also a whole wealth of hidden content in Persona 4: Dancing All Night that’s sure to keep you busy for many hours. You earn currency after completing each song successfully and can spend it on various in-game items. The main draw of these optional items is sure to be the costumes you can buy for each of the dancers. I’ve spent more time than I’m comfortable admitting just unlocking every costume for Yukiko.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night feels like the culmination of a lot of things. It’s probably the last time we are going to see these characters together again in a game all their own, and with that comes a degree of responsibility on its shoulders. Thankfully it more than carries that weight as it does justice to these characters, is the send off this franchise deserves, and is a wonderful celebration of the series. So, jack that swagger and don’t miss it, baby.

9/10

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