While Persona fans were undoubtedly disappointed by the announcement that Persona 5 was pushed back to 2016, there is still a Persona game hitting shelves this year. In fact, the series’ latest spinoff, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, will be available for the PlayStation Vita this coming week. On the surface a rhythm game certainly seems like an odd crossover, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
You’ll have six buttons to keep track of, three on each side with the directional inputs on the d-pad for the left side and three of the four face buttons on the right. Notes will start at the center and move out to either side, and it’s up to you to match when they reach the circle with the timing of your input. Rings will also ripple out periodically, and these you’ll try to match by flicking the analog stick.
If you prefer, you can also use the Vita’s touch screen capabilities. This felt incredibly awkward to me, however, and I quickly abandoned the experiment after failing a few songs. Still, if you have smallish hands you might find it to be more to your liking.
Technically, the game controls quite well. It felt a little awkward to drop a thumb off my resting point to engage the analog stick, but where I really ran into trouble was in my own head. After years of having the d-pad as a redundancy of the analog stick, hitting the down arrow and pushing down on the analog stick often crossed wires, and probably about half of my “misses” spawned from that setup.
Visually, the game presents three different takes on the same material. Some cut scenes look like a full-on anime, while the story is still images of characters with animated mouths and eyes. Actual gameplay has the various characters on stage performing dance moves, though your focus is almost always on the “notes” so you don’t really get a chance to appreciate it unless you watch replays. It’s a decent presentation but nothing special.
As a rhythm game, the quality and diversity of the soundtrack is critical, and on that front Dancing All Night largely succeeds. It features many memorable songs from Shoji Meguro‘s work throughout the series, which is awesome, but the game also throws in a number of remixes that aren’t as engaging as the originals. That hurts an otherwise respectable track total.
There’s also a sizeable story here, which is fully voiced. While most of the actors return from the original Persona 4, some changes have been made and that might take some getting used to. Everyone does a solid job, however, and it’s those performances that bring the story — told via the aforementioned static images — to life.
Part rhythm game, part visual novel, Dancing All Night is set months after the events of Persona 4 with the investigation team gearing up to appear as backup dancers for Rise in an upcoming music festival. Rumors of a cursed website that transports all that watch it at midnight to another place have started, though, which bears an eerie resemblance to past events. And when idol group Kanami Kitchen vanishes it’s up to the team to, well, investigate.
Yu and company end up getting sucked in this alternate world, known as the “Midnight Stage,” where a mysterious presence has ensnared people and turned them into “shadows.” Despite their appearance, no violence is allowed in this world, and therefore the only way to save the victims is to dance with such raw emotion that they break free of their very literal bonds (because reasons).
Sure, it’s a silly premise, but it’s well told, has some nice changes of pace over the lengthy story and provides some genuine entertainment. Everything ultimately leads to dancing, though, and viewed purely as a rhythm game Dancing All Night is fun but limited.
Issue No. 1 comes in the form of the user interface. Based on the size of the Vita it’s difficult to track notes heading in both directions. This becomes a serious problem the higher you crank up the difficulty setting as notes start to bombard you constantly, asking you to tap, hold and simultaneously press buttons. You’ll need to rely on your peripheral vision to be successful, and even then I felt like there were times it wasn’t enough.
My second complaint is a lack of feedback. Each note has only four possible outcomes — perfect, great, good and miss — which simplifies the scoring a bit too much and offers limited information to improve your skills. Why did I get a great instead of a perfect? How far off was I? More variants could’ve helped clear some of that up.
Outside of the story, there’s also Free Dance, where you can play all unlocked songs on any of the game’s four difficulty levels. Earned money can then be used for new outfits, accessories and items that modify how the game plays.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a solid rhythm game, but it’s the implementation of series lore and the lengthy story mode that are its top selling points — making it a better purchase for existing fans rather than rhythm enthusiasts.