When Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 first landed on the PlayStation 2 back in 2008, no one could have predicted the mainstream success that the IP still enjoys to this day. Shin Megami Tensai: Persona 4 was an entry in a spin-off franchise, but at this point Persona 4 has become its own brand and franchise, far removed from its Shin Megami Tensei parent. Prior to the mainstream appeal of Persona 4, the series was always something of an acquired taste. Starting with two incredibly challenging entries on the PlayStation (PSOne), the series would make a comeback after a major hiatus in the form of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3. That title was a breath of fresh air at the time, and for Western gamers who had grown tired of Final Fantasy, they couldn’t have asked for a more alternative Japanese RPG.
It didn’t take long for Persona 4 to arrive after, and at first it enjoyed the same niche word of mouth success like its predecessors. For numerous reasons, however, the success of Persona 4 suddenly skyrocketed and spawned several forms of media: manga side stories, two anime adaptations, an enhanced remake (Persona 4: Golden), a dungeon crawling spin-off (Persona Q), and even two fighting games by Arc System Works (Persona: 4 Arena). To put it simply, Persona 4 is the Final Fantasy VII of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, as it arrived at the right place and time to become the most successful entry in the franchise. Even with the long overdue Persona 5 looming on the horizon, Persona 4 still remains a priority for ATLUS and the Persona fanbase.
The latest Persona 4 entry is the mother of all spin-offs: Persona 4: Dancing All Night. This fresh jug of milk from the Persona 4 cow is a rhythm action game situated in a text heavy visual novel adventure. Is Persona 4: Dancing All Night a half baked cash-in effort, or is it a worthwhile rhythm action game that does right by the books?
I walked in expecting it to be a waste of time, designed to lure people who would buy anything with Persona 4 slapped on it, but fortunately the game proved me wrong as Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a thoughtfully produced musical adventure that brings colorful visuals and some fantastic music together.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is far more story focused than you’d expect from a rhythm game, and the story mode has hours and hours of fully voiced text for you to sit through. The story revolves around a TV special where Rise has enlisted the help of all her friends to be dancers for her big performance. It starts out innocently enough, after all what could possibly go wrong during preparations other than untimely broken ankles and late delivery of the snack table. Still, Dancing All Night steps into the dark side of Japanese pop idol culture, complete with an urban legend of an idol committing suicide and a spooky video circulating around the internet that must not be watched at midnight (but everyone does anyway). Shadows get involved, pop idols get captured, and it is up to Rise and the rest of the Persona gang to save the day and solve the mystery. Do they accomplish this by crawling through dungeons and attacking Shadows? Not at all, this time the power of music and dance is used to entertain all the Shadows to death. It’s so silly that it works, and it almost helps how seriously the plot takes itself.
There is a lot of text to sit through, but the writing is always entertaining and the English cast do a great job at delivering the dialogue with enthusiasm and personality. All the characters you’ve come to love behave like they always have, and it’s fun to see them in this new setting, especially with Naoto and Kanji stepping out of their comfort zone to get jiggy with it. The new supporting cast are memorable too, in particular that one idol (Sumomo) who has the most charming southern/small town American accent, which is funny because the game takes place in Japan. Not to mention, the manager/producer (Ochimizu) of the TV special is a dark and tough lady who was very likely modeled after Sue Sylvester from Glee. One of the most bizarre things about Ochimizu are the analogies and examples she uses to motivate the idols, which are completely nonsensical but will make you laugh. That’s the beauty of the story delivery in Dancing All Night, the script is filled with all these neat little quirks that make it just as engaging as any Persona RPG. What’s cool about the story is that it still focuses on themes of self discovery and self acceptance like the main RPG, and this time we have pop idols trying to come in terms with their true selves, which is interesting because pop idols pretty much make a career out of projecting an ideal that is completely unlike their true selves.
So it’s pretty clear that story has a strong emphasis in Dancing All Night, but when it comes to rhythm action games the thing that matters most (apart from gameplay) is the music as well stunning,dazzling visuals to complement the experience. Needless to say, Dancing All Night simply does not disappoint at all with its vibrant and colorful visuals, and in particular the character designs have improved so much from a purely fashion/aesthetic standpoint, it’s especially cool seeing Yukiko rocking those headphones and sneakers. Persona games have always been infused with a strong urban fashion aesthetic, and Dancing All Night is packed with plenty of style and fashion sense. Although, Kanji looks like he got fashion inspiration from Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean music video, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
The music is great here, in fact a rhythm game featuring the music of Persona probably should have happened a long time ago. Whether it’s the jazzy hip-hop instrumentals or the infectious vocal performances, most of the songs from the original Persona 4 OST make their way here all remixed and groovier than ever before. The dancing itself is actually pretty nicely choreographed to the style and theme of the music, although it’s a little difficult to pay attention to the dancing when there are so many buttons to be pressed.
Now this brings us to the actual core gamplay of Persona 4: Dancing All Night. The gameplay follows the tradition of numerous other music games in the past, where you time button presses in a Simon Says sort of affair that worked so well in games like Bust a Groove and Parappa the Rapper, and still does the job just as well in Dancing All Night. The Vita’s face buttons come into play here, and it’s just a matter of pressing (and occasionally holding down) the relevant button at the right time. It’s as simple as it sounds, but combined with the catchy music, dancing, and colorful graphics, along with the progressively challenging pattern of button presses, the core gameplay ends up being quite stimulating and addictive. Persona 4: Dancing All Night never has a dull moment despite it not departing too much from genre norms. That being said, the score attack nature of the gameplay gives it a lot of replay value, not to mention flicking the analog stick at certain points during a performance activates Fever Mode where you’re joined by a dance partner for a fun duet. The content on offer is pretty substantial too with a Free Dance mode, a wealth of unlockables, and using in-game currency to purchase new outfits and accessories for the characters. There is plenty of offer here, most of it being cosmetic, but as far as rhythm action games go you can’t really complain.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night proves to be far more than just a cheap cash in, instead presents a commendable and memorable musical adventure that any fan will simply adore, and gamers who love music games in general (like Hatsune Miku) will get plenty of enjoyment out of this release. It keeps things simple with the Simon Says gameplay, but there are layers of great music, visuals, presentation, and some memorable characters to make the experience special. While it doesn’t break too much from the genre mold like Rhythm Heaven or Rhythm Thief did, but Persona 4: Dancing All Night is the kind of game that is simply perfect for the Vita. If you’re in the mood for a fun, stress-free romp that entertains with its music and visuals, then you can count on Persona 4: Dancing All Night for a groovy time.
Bust a move and check out Persona 4: Dancing All Night.