(PlayStation Vita Review) Persona 4: Dancing All Night

Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Rhythm
Players: 1
ESRB: Teen
Reviewer: Marcus Way

Overall: 8.5 = Excellent

Dancing All Night is the new music-themed spin-off of Persona 4, which is itself a popular spin-off of the long-running Shin Megami Tensei series. Dancing All Night isn’t the first, either, as Persona 4 has proven to be fertile ground for genre exploration. In addition to an Etrian Odyssey-style first-person dungeon crawler, Persona Q, it has also provided the foundation for an excellent fighting series co-developed by Arc System Works, Persona 4 Arena. Atlus’ hot streak continues as the Investigation Team finds their way into another enjoyable, if unexpected, adventure.

For those new to the series, the Investigation Team is a group of high-school students that formed to look into mysterious events surrounding the Midnight Channel. Their time together has since been extended through a PS Vita re-release as well as the previously mentioned spin-offs. The team often finds themselves working side by side with friends, namely the S.E.E.S. Team from Persona 3, and that trend continues in Dancing All Night. However, instead of fellow Persona users, they are joined by Kanamin Kitchen, a pop group led by team member Rise’s protégé Kanami Mashita. It’s been half a year since the group was together, and they find themselves reuniting to support Rise’s comeback at an upcoming musical festival, Love Meets Bonds. Things go awry when a website appears that causes its visitors to vanish, similar to what happened to viewers of the Midnight Channel, which leads to the disappearance of the young idols. It’s up to the player to guide the gang onto the Midnight Stage and free the imprisoned singers the only way they can…through dance.

In many ways, the Midnight Stage is similar to the world of the Midnight Channel. There is a key difference, though, in that the inhabiting Shadows do not attack visitors. Not only are the Shadows nonviolent, but there is a strict rule against physical harm. Instead, an unseen, malevolent force beguiles those trapped into giving up their true selves in favor of what others want—or at least what they are told others want—in order to form a bond with everyone within the realm. Since violence is out of the question, the only way the group can get the crowds of Shadows to release their hold and thereby weaken the power of the stage’s overlord is by expressing themselves through dance. To that end, the team splits up into two groups, with the seniors (Yu, Chie, Yosuke, and Yukiko) going after half of Kanamin Kitchen and the juniors (Kanji, Naoto, Rise, and Teddie) the other. A multi-chapter story unfolds as the teams work their way back together for a final showdown.

A familiar pattern quickly emerges. As each group approaches one of the kidnapped members, they must perform a routine to clear out a gathered crowd of Shadows. Afterwards, a second routine must be performed in order to free the trapped singer, who inevitably succumbs to the comforting siren call of conformity. Completing a routine requires destroying yellow orbs in time with the beat. To do so, players must time their button presses carefully, ensuring that the yellow orb is inside one of the small outer rings. There are six smaller rings, with three on either side of the screen: up, left, and down on the left side and Triangle, Circle, and X on the right side. Special notes will require that buttons are held down, pressed or held simultaneously, or the analog sticks flicked. If enough ‘Great’ or ‘Perfect’ notes are hit, a combo modifier is engaged and increased for as long as the moves hit their mark. Other characters might also join in for a double act.

The system is simple but engaging, though the dancing and background effects can be visually overwhelming at times. The distance between ring-sets also made it difficult during hectic moments, as even with practice my darting eyes would still catch notes too late. Fortunately, a generous timing window on the lower difficulty settings minimizes the chance of completely whiffing notes. It also doesn’t hurt that one of gaming’s catchiest soundtracks was there to soothe any misses.

In-between performances are often lengthy story sequences. Players who have gone through the story modes in the Persona 4 Arena titles will know that Atlus does not shy away from packing a lot of dialog in their non-role-playing titles. Even then, I was still surprised by just how much character interaction was squeezed in a rhythm title. Not that I’m complaining; the studio knows that Persona 4 has had such staying power because of the characters, and each is given plenty of time to have their say. I did find some of the dialog a little off, though. Generally conversations are spot-on in Atlus titles, but there were a few strange one-off comments and abrupt tonal changes that stood out from the otherwise naturally flowing chatter. The odd uncharacteristic line aside, it is always nice to see the gang pal around and encourage one another—as sappy as it might get from time to time—and unravel a new mystery.

In addition to Story mode, Free Dance allows players to shake it in single routines. Only a handful of songs are available at the start, and each song has a set character that dances to it. By completing performances, players can unlock new partners for those songs as well as new songs. The cash earned during both modes can be used to purchase items, clothes, and accessories to dress up the characters in Free Dance. Items can be pricey, given how long it can take to accumulate funds, so it will easily take several hours before everyone has an extra outfit or two. There aren’t as many things to do as in, say, Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai DX, but the catchy tunes and cosmetic unlockables offers a strong amount of replay value.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night has a solid button-tapping system, excellent tunes, and unlike most rhythm games, an interesting story with a likable cast. The plot isn’t as involved as in Persona 4, unsurprisingly, and some of the dialog has some unexpected tonal shifts, but it’s thematically well-fitted to the universe and offers a great excuse to jam to one of gaming’s best soundtracks.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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