Platform: PS Vita/PS TV (Reviewed on PS TV)
Release Date: September 29th, 2015
The Persona series is one that I’ve known about for a while, but I’ve only gotten into it recently. It’s gotten a lot of love from its fanbase, and justifiably so for its unique take on the JRPG genre. I’ve also been enjoying the Persona 4 remake Persona 4 Golden thanks to my recently acquired PlayStation TV.
When I heard about the rhythm game spinoff Persona 4: Dancing All Night, I knew I had to try it, no matter how absurd the premise may be. Does it stand on its own as a rhythm game, or is it just aping a genre for fanservice? Honestly, I can say that it deserves a special place in the rhythm game lineup.
The story of Dancing All Night takes place a month after the epilogue of Persona 4 Golden. Rise Kujikawa is making her idol comeback at the Love Meets Bonds Festival and wants her friends to perform as backup dancers. However, rumors of a cursed video that plays on the festival’s website and the disappearance of members of the idol group Kanamin Kitchen leads Yu Narukami and his friends to discover the Midnight Stage. Now, it’s up to them to get to the bottom of the mystery with the power of dance.
As absurd as the setup is, the story in this game is what fans of the Persona series have come to expect as far as quality is concerned. While there is a bit of a retread with Persona 4’s style of storytelling, it’s just as engaging thanks to the performance of both the old and new cast.
I didn’t expect to appreciate the voice acting of the characters in Dancing All Night beyond the original cast, but I was pleasantly surprised. Almost every one of the new characters has some excellent voice casting, with my favorite being Kanami Mashita of Kanamin Kitchen.
On the flipside, It took me some time to adjust to Yu Narukami’s voice actor. In Persona 4 and Golden, Yu was a Silent Protagonist, so he never had extended voice acting. The weirdest part of Yu’s voice casting in this game is that Atlus used the same voice actor as Tohru Adachi, a prominent character from the main game. Fortunately, Yu and Adachi are not both in the game, so the bizarre scenario of two characters sounding the same won’t come up.
Along with the voice acting, the localization for Dancing All Night is pretty good. However, there are a few nitpicks I have. For example, an annoying aspect of the plot is how much it uses more literal translation. If you weren’t tired of hearing the words “bonds” and “connect” before starting the game, you may be afterwards.
In some cases, it’s lack of translation as seen in some of the cutscenes and backdrops of the game. It’s a little weird to see characters talk about how they’re in the Midnight Stage while the backdrop behind them clearly says Mayonaka Stage. Proper for Japan, but seems like an oversight for us.
Backdrops also play a prominent part in Dancing All Night because the story is presented in a visual novel format. It’s not too farfetched for the series, but the moments loose some weight for me when I don’t see the characters animating in any way besides still images changing and mouths moving.
This presentation also makes the Story Mode a bit of a chore if you want to get to the gameplay. I timed it, and it takes about 30 minutes to get to the optional tutorial and about 15 minutes after that to play your first song. Luckily the pace increases dramatically after that. Those first 45 minutes of sitting and listening to a story with minimal dialogue options is best described as a slog.
Besides that, everything else in the visual presentation is spot-on. Menu design is colorful, yet simple both visually and control-wise. I do appreciate that Story Mode shows branching paths in the chapters, as well as making it easy to leave and pick up where you left off.
The gameplay HUD takes some time to get used to, but it works pretty well. However, I do think that the smaller the screen the better in Dancing All Night’s case. The way the notes travel from the center to the outer sides can be difficult to keep track of on a large screen when you have a barrage of notes coming at you. Vita users will have no problem, but for the PlayStation TV players, this is one of the few games that having a smaller screen actually makes the gameplay a lot better.
The basic mechanics of Dancing All Night (while pretty involved) are what you expect from the rhythm genre. Timing notes, chaining notes together, holding notes, clearing songs, that’s all here. Notes travel to six zones on the edge of the screen, which correspond to six buttons on the controller. For notes on the left you press Up, Left, and Down. For notes on the right, you press Triangle, Circle, and Cross.
Even though the gameplay gets pretty complex at higher difficulties, the core comes down to just four types of notes. Standard Notes require just a button press. Unison Notes require you to press two buttons at once. Hold Notes require you to press the button and hold it until the end of the note. Scratch Notes are blue rings that require you to flick either the Left Stick or Right Stick when it crosses the outer circle. Scratch Notes aren’t necessary to hit, but they can add to your combos and fill up your Fever gauge for Fever Time (this game’s Star Power equivalent).
There are also different ratings for hitting notes, which are Miss, Good, Great, and Perfect. You need to hit either Great or Perfect on your notes to keep the combo going. Sometimes, Good will work as well but it’s hard to tell what dictates that.
Hitting (or missing) these also affects your Hype Gauge. The spectrum for the Hype meter ranges from Red as the lowest to Rainbow as the highest, and the Shadows in the audience will match the level shown on the Hype Gauge. The rules for completing songs are a bit strange in that it’s not about finishing the song. You won’t clear the song unless you finish with the Hype Gauge showing Green or Rainbow. That can be frustrating when you miss a few notes near the end and you can’t build the Hype Meter back up in time. Oh well, git gud I guess.
From a technical standpoint, Dancing All Night’s gameplay performs pretty well with the exception of perhaps the most important thing. From what I can find with other users, playing the game on the Vita works just fine, but playing the game on the PlayStation TV can have noticeable input lag. It is fixable if you have the ability to on your display. If you don’t, there’s not much you can do since the game doesn’t have any calibration settings. That’s something that seems like it would be a given if the game has PlayStation TV support.
Now we get to the most important part of Dancing All Night, and that is the music. The music brought to the table here spans the Persona 4 games, including Golden, Arena, Q, and the Never More remix soundtrack. About half of the tracks are original remixes made for this game by popular Japanese music artists, and they are all fantastic. All together we have close to 30 tracks, with some available as DLC now and in the near future. You can check out some of them on SoundCloud in the gallery links below.
As you may notice in the gallery, each song has a specific main dancer. Due to the variety of tracks at your disposal, each dancer has their specialized tracks that match their personalities. Partner dancers can be triggered when Fever hits with the Hype Gauge at Green or above. This applies to most songs with the exception of ones that only feature 1 dancer or only play a video in the background.
Story Mode songs and partner dancers are set in stone, but you can mix it up in Free Dance, along with other things. Completing songs will net you P$, which can be spent on costumes, accessories, and modifiers. Costumes and accessories are character-specific and can be changed before starting a song. Partners have to be unlocked first before you can change their appearance.
Modifiers can either help you or make things more difficult, as well as offer an incentive to use them. Modifiers that help you, like letting any button hit a note, grant you less points and P$. Modifiers that make it more difficult, like mirroring the notes, grant you more.
After buying all of the modifiers, you unlock the hardest difficulty, All Night Mode. Frankly, it’s borderline impossible for me without modifiers, especially with the aforementioned input lag. Still, I’ve only had less than a week of experience and it’s been some time since I’ve played a rhythm game. I’m sure I’ll be playing at least one or two All Night tracks legit in no time.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is not just a cheap imitation of a rhythm game, it’s the real deal. The fact that it is a canonical extension of Persona 4 is still absurd, and that gives the game a lot of charm. The visual quality and the excellent soundtrack really add to the experience even with the technical flaws while playing on the PlayStation TV. It doesn’t do anything special as far as rhythm games on the Vita go and the Atlus Tax may bump the price a bit too high for some, but fans of the genre shouldn’t overlook this game.