Dancing through the shadows
Persona 4: Dancing All Night reunites the cast of Atlus’ venerated role playing game for an encore performance. However, rather than slashing through shadows and other supernatural creatures with blades and Persona-powered spells, this time around the protagonists are forced to trade in their supernatural abilities for their dancing shoes in an exciting, arcade-style rhythm game that manages to stand among the greats in the genre, while delivering a superb new chapter in the Persona 4 canon for fans to experience.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night features both an addicting Free Dance mode, as well as a surprisingly robust Story mode that will take players roughly eight hours to tap and scratch their way through. Both modes are incredibly infectious experiences, and offer a pretty substantial challenge as players cut a rug across nearly three dozen iconic songs from Persona 4’s soundtrack. That’s not to say these musical numbers that accompany the frantic rhythm-based action are merely lifted from their predecessor. P4: DAN provides a ton of remixes that add new and exciting twists to many fan favorite tracks, from a number of notable artists (including Silent Hill’s nightmare maestro Akira Yamaoka himself).
While the premise of turning a turn-based RPG into a rhythm game is certainly strange, the core gameplay of Persona 4: Dancing All Night is similar to what you’d rhythm games such as Hatsune Miku and the Project DIVA games. When a player assumes his or her place on the Midnight Stage, the screen is surrounded by a circle with down, left and up arrows on the left and Cross, Circle and Triangle on the right. Whenever a star icon goes through either of those icons, you have to press the corresponding button. In addition to tapping notes, you’ll also have to hold multiple notes at once, oftentimes in rapid succession, and flick the analog sticks to “scratch” when pulsations emit from the center of the screen, which work to excite the crowd and build up your Fever Meter, which allows for a dance partner to join your hero for an explosive duet. These choreographed dance numbers are always entertaining, as Atlus has done a fantastic job of bringing out each character’s personality on the dance floor, providing fan favorite duos like Kanji and Naoto with a natural chemistry as they work the stage.
It’s worth noting that Persona 4: DAN offers a pretty substantial challenge when compared to many of its contemporaries. Even on normal mode, it’s easy to become overwhelmed as notes flash across the screen, Fever pulses pound and stage lights strobe wildly. Of course, with enough practice your bumbling recitals will become legendary performances, but even genre veterans will sweat under the punishing stage lights of Dancing All Night‘s Hard mode. Thankfully, Persona 4’s iconic TV pitchman returns with “Tanaka’s Amazing Commodities”, allowing you to spend your hard-earned cash from completing songs on a wealth of helpful items including Revival Beads and Fever-boosting goodies to help you get through the game’s most punishing tracks. In addition to these helpful tools, you can also purchase a ton of costumes and quirky accessories from the channel, many of which are lifted straight from Persona 4’s story, such as Chie’s gloriously goofy gag glasses.
If you’re looking to dive right into the experience then Persona 4: Dancing All Night‘s Free Dance mode should be your first port of call. As you progress through the tracks in Free Dance mode, you’ll unlock even more songs from the game’s sizable tracks list, as well as new dance partners to choose from and money to spend n a wide variety of costumes, usable items and other accessories to deck out the game’s cast of characters in the aforementioned shop menu. It’s great fun, but the heart of Persona 4: DAN’s musical journey lies in the game’s story mode, which is staggering in terms of both its depth and for its exceptional writing.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night‘s story mode begins shortly after the events of Persona 4. Yu and the rest of the Investigation Team have been roped into performing alongside the teams’s resident idol Risette for the Love Meets Bonds festival. After several members of the group Kanamin Kitchen go missing, rumors begin to surface about a bizarre online video of a dead idol who pulls whoever watches the video into another world. Of course, bizarre occult drama unfolds and it’s up to the Investigation Team to save the day, and ultimately the world once again in a mysterious world called the Nightmare Stage – a world not unlike the T.V. world team explored in Persona 4. While the previous adventure may have been chock full of skull-cracking action, physical violence has no effect in this strange world, and the heroes must fight through the power of dance. Is it silly? Absolutely. But somehow Atlus’ clever writing pulls through, carrying this quirky quest along as the team fights to save the members of Kanamin Kitchen with the help of some new friends – as well as some old favorites.
All in all, you’ll end up sinking close to ten hours into this story, which is brought to life through superb voice acting from the game’s original cast, as well as a few well done anime cutscenes during major moments in the game’s story. My only real gripe with the main story is that it becomes a bit formulaic at points, but the payoff at the ends is simply phenomenal as everything begins to fall into place. The fact that Atlus has crammed such a substantial story into a seemingly inconsequential spinoff title should come as sweet soothing salve to those burned by the recent delay of Persona 5, providing fans with another short but sweet chapter to hold them over until next year’s main course.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a psychedelic feast for the eyes. Whether you’re playing the game on the Vita’s small screen or on the big screen via the PlayStation TV, the game looks simply gorgeous. From the vibrant use of color to the exceptionally well animated dance moves, the game never ceases to impress. That’s not to say you’ll be able to take it all in thanks to the frantic action on screen, but that’s what P4:DAN’s handy replay feature is all about, giving you sweet respite as you enjoy a successful performance, or glimpse your crushing defeat on the dance floor. The game’s wide variety of outfits and other collectibles all look great as well, with many of which giving direct nods to previous games in the celebrated series’ history.
It goes without saying that the music is the pulsating heart and soul of Dancing All Night, and this aspect of the game truly shines. There’s no question that fans of the series will be intimately familiar with many of the songs on this burgeoning playlist, but the way they’ve been remixed breathes new life into these classics, and keeps series stalwarts on their toes. From the sexy, synth-laden My True Self (ATLUS Kozuka Remix) to the harsh, industrial cut of Akira Yamaoka’s remix of Time To Make History, Persona 4: DAN features a wide variety of sounds that get your heart pumping and absolutely murder the dance floor.
When the beat finally stops, Persona 4: Dancing All Night shines like a diamond-studded disco ball atop the crowded rhythm game dance hall. Atlus’ musical mystery offers a staggering wealth of content that’s sure to spin even the most die-hard fans of the genre right round (like a record, baby). The game’s deft two-step combo of an instantly-addicting and challenging Free Dance mode that’s filled with unlockables, and a lengthy and entertaining story mode that feels like a long-awaited reunion with close friends, ensures Persona 4: DAN will keep your Vita’s bass dropping for months to come.
Final Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed) ; Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: Atlus ; Players: 1; Released: September 28, 2015 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s publisher, Atlus.