If you're a fan of the Persona series or Atlus in general, you already know they've been releasing quite a number of games in the Persona 4 series over the past few years. We got an enhanced port of the original PS2 game on the PlayStation Vita and to everyone's surprise, two fighting games developed by famed fighting game developer ARC System Works. And there was even a Etrian-themed dungeon RPG that brought together the heroes from Persona 3 and Persona 4.
So when Atlus announced their newest musically-themed Persona 4 spin-off title, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, many were intrigued by the concept but wondered if it could carry on the quality found in the prior spin-off titles. And it delivers, both in the sheer absolute character and Persona 4 fan service and in being a quality game to boot.
The initial mode most players, and especially fans, will likely check out in Persona 4: Dancing All Night is the story mode. It takes place a year after the events of Persona 4 Golden's new ending epilogue, where the Investigation Team has decided to help out Rise as backup dancers in a musical festival aimed at bringing her back into the idol spotlight after her break during the events of the original Persona 4.
Yu and Naoto get to the city ahead of the others and during practice with Rise are introduced to the members of another idol group performing at the event, "Kanamin Kitchen". They end up finding out a few days before the big event that the members of Kanamin Kitchen mysteriously go missing. And unsurprisingly, this just happens to coincide with a mysterious rumor involving people getting sucked into another world if they watch a video showing supposedly dead idols dancing at midnight --- sound familiar? After they watch the video they end up inside an area that greatly resembles the Midnight Channel, but now it's called the Midnight Stage and they have to dance their way to save the people trapped there.
The premise is absolutely absurd, but the localization goes a long way to making this feel like a consistent Persona 4 title, instead of a random spin-off. Unlike Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, the characters don't feel like two-dimensional caricatures of their former selves, instead acting like you'd expect them to. That isn't to say everything is totally serious, as the story mode includes some pretty funny lines occasionally that used the spin-off aspect of the title to include jokes that wouldn't necessarily fly in a traditional Persona title. There's also an incentive to play through the story mode, as there's some items and a bonus stage that's unlockable following its completion. But if you're looking for a totally serious game like the original, you might be somewhat disappointed.
But for most hardcore fans of the genre, the real meat of the game is in the "Free Dance" mode. If you've played other musical rhythm titles like DDR or Project Diva, you'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. You use the face buttons and the directional buttons in tandem, aiming to press them on time when the notes move on top of the corresponding buttons on the PlayStation Vita's screen.
The game slowly ramps up the difficulty, adding in other touches such as tapping the analog stick to create a scratch when a circular pattern matches up with the face/directional button border, or combining buttons presses and having to hold specific buttons for a given length of time. Story Mode in particular does a good job in being a tutorial, as it layers on the complexity in a way that lets newcomers learn the mechanics gradually, especially at the Easy difficulty which gives the player ample ability to get back into the groove. The developers also did a good job at re-introducing new patterns at given intervals during the songs, so if you fail it initially but can get a grasp of the timing, you'll have another chance to try later on in the song.
What becomes important in the higher difficulties is the way the game denotes how you're doing in a given song. Since you're trying to tame the shadows by dance, there's a digital bar of sorts that changes color from red to rainbow colored. Like other music games, you need to get a good string of correctly inputted notes together to raise the bar, with a couple missteps interrupting the flow --- like a real dance routine. And for those hardcore music/rhythm players out there, there's a special "All Night" difficulty that adds in more notes but also also changes up the patterns quite significantly. This difficulty does bring to light a minor issue with the game, though, as the primary color for the main note color and the UI is yellow. Thus, it becomes somewhat hard to track the notes properly when everything's going on at once.
Speaking of difficulty, the in-game shop, humorously themed after Tanaka's TV shopping channel complete with voice clips from the infamous host, has difficulty modifiers that can be bought from money earned from successfully completing the songs. There's the standard penalty reducers for missed notes and allowing any button press to register as a successful press like you'd expect for newcomers, but there's also ones that can up the ante such as making notes appear suddenly, changing their order randomly, and even increasing the speed.
As far as the song selection goes, the set list, excluding any of the DLC, might be a mixed bag depending on what you're looking to get out of the selection. Clocking in at a little under 30 different songs in total, the majority of them are variations of the same song utilizing different themes in genre. If you're a fan of songs like Pursuing My True Self you're in luck as there's a couple different variations available, but if you're a fan of some of the less popular songs such as Backside of the TV, there's generally only one or two at the most here to choose from. Granted a music game generally needs to skew to more upbeat songs, so it's makes sense why Atlus skewed the track selection how they did.
That said, even with the variations, each song feels unique enough to stand on their own. But if you want more variations you'll need to pay for the song track DLC that'll be available post-launch. We were able to sample some of the paid song DLC thanks to Atlus prior to this review going live. Most of them were taken from the Persona 4 animation, which utilizes animated cutscenes from the anime in lieu of dancers. If the other DLC is up to the same quality as these tracks were, it'll most likely be worth the purchase if any of those tracks favor your fancy.
Speaking of the dancers, the graphical style the developers implemented bridges the Persona 4 graphics with the fluidness one would need from songs that feature real dance moves. There's some initial weirdness as the developers used a form of motion capture from real-life dancers for the character's animations, but most players will tend to get over this a few songs in. The developers did a good job of making each character have their own style, with the main protagonist Yu being disco-inspired, while Yosuke dances in more of a breakdancing fashion. One of my favorite character's, dance-wise, was easily Nanako, who is absolutely adorable (imagine the cuteness from the infamous Junes line and you'll have a pretty good gauge of her charisma here).
A special note should also be made to the UI overall in the game, as it's incredibly slick and feels like one would expect from a Persona 4 title, with the prevalent disco themes adding to that feel.
There's some minor stumbles, but overall Persona 4: Dancing All Night is far above and beyond what one would have expected from a dancing spin-off title, especially after the underwhelming Persona Q. Persona 4 fans already had this game pre-ordered long ahead of the game's release, but anyone who enjoys a good music/rhythm game would be missing out if they pass up on this title. Once you're hooked, this is easily a title that will keep you dancing all night.
|The story mode functions well as an actual story mode and as a tutorial for the game overall.|
|The motion capture used for the dance moves is animated quite well.|
|Game has Nanako in it, 'nuff said.|
|At higher difficulties, the occasionally clashing UI can become a distraction.|
|While the songs are all unique enough, some might be annoyed at certain songs being frequently repeated.|
|Might not be your cup of tea if you don't enjoy music/rhythm games at all.|