Yu danced crazy!
If you really think about it, rhythm games are weird. As music plays in the background, you hit buttons in time with the beat. And?well, that?s it, really. Why is that fun? I don?t know that I can truly explain, but it is, and when you mix a genre I love with Persona, a series that I quite adore, my interest is doubly piqued.
As fun as the idea sounded, however, I was worried about the execution. The single most important part of games like Persona 4: Dancing All Night are their track list, and having a project like this fully based on the soundtrack from one singular game seemed like an incredibly hard concept to get right. And yet, it completely works here. Persona 4?s music was always stellar, but it?s surprising how well it works as the basis for a rhythm game, offering up songs that you?ll want to play many times over while also providing a proper level of challenge. Those original tracks are then joined by remixes by artists such as Towa Tei, Lotus Juice, and Silent Hill veteran Akira Yamaoka?and these additions are pretty darn incredible in their own right.
The second requirement for a good rhythm game is making sure the ?game? part of the equation is up to snuff, and Dancing All Night also works impressively well here. While it doesn?t replace my favorite offerings in the genre, the set-up is easy enough to get the hang of, but complex enough to provide a proper level of depth. On each side of the screen, you?ve got three hit marker options: Up, Left, and Down on the left, Triangle, Circle, and X on the right. Notes appear in the center, and then travel outward toward either side, requiring you to hit the proper button or d-pad direction when note and marker overlap. Then, as an extra step, circles will also extend out from the center, and when they reach the outline on the sides of the screen, pushing either analog stick in any direction will trigger them.
What?s interesting about these additional notes is that they?re completely optional when playing, but going for them will boost your score even further and provide for ?Fever Time? dances at certain points in the song (where another member of the cast joins your character on stage). When you combine those two elements, you?ve got a game with a nice amount of challenge?but longtime fans of the genre might not feel particularly stressed until they get past the initial trio of difficulty levels.
The unsung hero of Dancing All Night, however, is its visuals. During each track, one of the cast of Persona 4 will be on a Shadow-surrounded stage busting a groove, and it?s not how ridiculous?but ridiculously awesome?that whole idea is. From Rise to Yosuke to Chie to Naoto, each character dances with their own style and flair with routines obviously aided by real-world choreographers. (If you want to die from cuteness, wait until you see Nanako hit the dance floor.)
And man, the character models. With the relatively simple scenes that had to be rendered, the team at Atlus put a lot of effort and power into the character that?s on stage. These models look simply fantastic, and are better than plenty of examples that I?ve seen on more powerful consoles. Of course, being an Atlus game, menus are no slouch either, though they can?t compete with the super-slick design of mainline Persona titles.
Getting into the groove of those dance battles comes in one of two ways: Story Mode or Free Dance. The first we?ll get to in a moment; the latter will be familiar to anyone who has played similar rhythm games. Here, you?re given a track list, which grows longer as you pass songs and unlock more choices. Expectedly, things start out simple, but by putting in playtime and spending earned in-game cash on bonus items or extra outfits, the full Dancing All Night experience opens up.
Story Mode is an interesting beast in and of itself. This is an inclusion one doesn?t necessarily expect to find in games of the genre, but I suppose it wouldn?t be a Persona title without one. Taking place after the events of Persona 4, protagonist Yu Narukami and the rest of the investigation team have offered to help pop icon Rise Kujikawa with an upcoming live event as her backup dancers. Also set to take the stage are rival idol group Kanamin Kitchen, who?shortly before the show?suddenly go missing. Another parallel reality called the ?Midnight Stage? appears, and the team soon find themselves jumping head first into this strange alternate universe to battle Shadows and save the girls.
The problem? The cast?s Personas can?t use any of their special abilities or attacks in Midnight Stage. Instead, the Shadows and the boss creatures that await must be defeated in a different way?with the power of dance. As a longtime Macross fan, music used as a weapon is no strange concept to me, but I can?t help but feel a little unsure of Atlus? insistence that Dancing All Night be considered part of the official canon of Persona 4. I also think the team missed out on having characters falter and look distressed when the player misses too many notes in a row. I think back to games like Bust a Groove that did that, and it would have been so much more fitting for the overall story than just having the characters continue on with their routines uninterrupted no matter how good or bad you?re doing.
Those are small little dings, but there is something bigger than bothered me about Story Mode: it?s so damn wordy. Mainline Persona games are known for their overflowing amounts of text, but that works in the confines of a 90-plus hour RPG. Here, in Dancing All Night, I think Atlus went a little overboard in the chattiness of the cast and the time it takes to get to the dancing, which ends up being only a sliver of the overall experience. If you take one piece of advice away from this review, it?s to dig deep into Free Dance before even thinking about Story Mode. I did the opposite at first, and was getting frustrated waiting for my first moments of actual gameplay. Once I made the switch and returned later, I could appreciate the narrative and additional time spent with these old friends far better.
Oh, and I?d also be remiss if I didn?t make a quick mention of a particular moment of concern I had during Story Mode. At a certain point, a character shows up that?unfortunately?hints back to the problem a lot of Japanese media has with particular portions of society and their difficulty getting away from obnoxious stereotypes. The character ends up being one that?s rather positive, so thankfully, their existence didn?t bother me beyond a bit of disappointment in seeing yet another botched example of this particular minority?especially since I expect a lot more from a company known for its strong characters like Atlus is.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night really shouldn?t have worked. A rhythm game based on an RPG series focusing on an extremely narrow selection of music seems ripe for a game that?s more gimmick than gratification, but I was extremely surprised at how much joy I got from most of the time I spent with it. Dancing All Night isn?t the best example of the genre that I?ve ever played, and it could be a hard sell to anyone not a fan of the franchise, but it?s far, far better than it has any right to be. And, now that I?ve gotten both a fighting game and a music game based on Persona, I?m left wondering which of my favorite genres are going to surprisingly get knocked out by Atlus next.
|Developer: Atlus ? Publisher: Atlus ? ESRB: T – Teen ? Release Date: 09.29.2015|
Atlus somehow finds a way to craft a music game based around Persona 4 and have it end up as a serious entry to the rhythm genre. Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a great experience, with gameplay, visual, and a soundtrack that all come together in one heck of a package.
|The Good||Persona 4?s soundtrack works shockingly well for a rhythm game; the gameplay is on the better side of the genre; character models and visuals are fantastic.|
|The Bad||I love these characters, Altus, so why are you making me wish they?d just shut the hell up already?|
|The Ugly||Seven years later, and still all I can hear is ?Your affection, your affection, to get the coffee??|
|Persona 4: Dancing All Night is available exclusively on PlayStation Vita. Review code was provided by Atlus for the benefit of this review.|