Everybody’s Dancing in the Moonlight
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight ever since I saw their initial Japanese trailers, but, between you and me, P3D is the one that I’ve been the keenest on playing. Between Persona 5 still being relatively new, and Persona 4 already getting tons of spin-offs, I (and I’m sure many others out there) feel like Persona 3 hasn’t gotten any real attention for quite some time – and it’s long overdue for some love.
Fortunately, after all of this time, Persona 3 has finally gotten some of that much-deserved love in the form of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight. And, honestly, it was well worth the wait. P3D is a musical celebration of much of what ultimately makes P3 itself so great, and, while I won’t say that I agree with every single track that they put into the game, an overwhelming of what made its way into the list is absolutely worth dancing your cares away to.
Lord Help the Mister That Comes Between Me and My Sister
ATLUS confirmed a long time ago that Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight wouldn’t have a story. And, true, to their word, it doesn’t. Not in the normal sense, anyway. Casting aside the usual mysterious flair of the series, P3D begins with the protagonist, now canonically named Makoto Yuki, and the rest of SEES (minus Koromaru and Shinjiro) waking up in what appears to be a dance club-ified version of the Velvet Room. While understandably confused, the crew has little time to gather their bearings before being greeted by Elizabeth who states that their minds are indeed residing within the Velvet Room while their bodies remain asleep. And why might they be here? To strengthen their Personas for the upcoming battle with Nyx? To learn some kind of world-altering truth? No, of course not. They’re here to dance! And why are they here to dance? Because Elizabeth and a “certain younger sister” of hers got in an argument about whose Guest was better and decided to settle things with a dance-off. Duh.
Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight has, without a doubt, one of the silliest stories in the Persona universe thus far – but that doesn’t make it bad. While this game’s “story” won’t offer you much in terms of world-building, it does offer something else; an extended look at the game’s characters. Despite Persona 3 having plenty of character-driven dialogue and plot in place, P3D gives players a chance to see a more casual side of both SEES and Elizabeth. This isn’t a normal, serious Persona story. It’s meant to be lighthearted and fun; something which P3D accomplishes masterfully without running any of the pre-established relationships created within the original P3 over a decade ago (which is no small feat).
Talk to Me
In lieu of a traditional story, P3D has what are known as “Social Events.” Taking place as a simplified version of the normal P3’s Social Links, Social Events are special conversations that can be unlocked between the player (as Makoto) and their fellow teammates and Elizabeth. Each character has specific unlock conditions for their respective Social Events (such as Yukari’s requiring the player to wear different costumes in dances, or Ken’s requiring the player to get Brilliant ratings on levels), with subsequent events stacking in difficulty.
Being this game’s version of Social Links, Social Events carry out exactly how you’d expect them to, with the player merely shooting the breeze with the other members of SEES – and that’s basically it. In this regard, P3D comes off as being somewhat double-edged. On the negative side of things, the fact that P3D doesn’t have a concrete story does make it feel somewhat cheap in comparison to its Persona 4 counterpart. Personally, however, I’m more than okay with the way that this game handled things. We may not a new story, but I appreciate being able to see P3’s characters being fleshed out some more. P3’s story wasn’t as quite as heavy on party banter as its successors were, so it’s great to see them chatting on friendlier terms for once.
Social Events also allow the player to get an up-close-and-personal look at each character’s room. Did you ever find yourself disappointed that you couldn’t waltz into your friends’ rooms in the original Persona 3? Well, friend, wonder no more, because you’ll be getting an eyeful with P3D. While there isn’t actually much to do in these rooms (aside from hunting for cards which can be exchanged for accessories), it’s still neat to be able to finally get to explore each SEES member’s room.
Dance ‘Til You’re Dead
Following in the footsteps of its predecessor Persona 4: Dancing All Night, Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight once again epitomizes the concept of “easy to learn, hard to master”. While its 7-button setup is perhaps a little unorthodox for a rhythm game, P3D manages to smoothly transition its players into the swing of things with its first few songs, especially for those playing on Easy. However, like Persona 3 itself, P3D can’t wait to take its kiddie gloves off. After a few songs, the game becomes a legitimate challenge and begins throwing everything that it can at the player.
I’ll be honest with you; P3D has a pretty brutal learning curve. It quickly throws out levels that simply have players “keeping the beat”, transitioning into levels that demand players not only demonstrate prowess over off-beats, eighth and sixteenth notes and more, but also that they do so with a ridiculous amount of skill. Seven buttons might not seem like a lot at first, but the amount of accuracy and dexterity that the game begins to demand of its players can get pretty intense. Scratches, in my opinion, become especially tricky – with the player needing to flick the joystick instead of hitting an actual button – after the game begins to pick up the pace (although the ability to use the shoulder buttons instead is an absolute godsend). In the end, though, that’s what a game like this is all about.
Despite the unforgiving level of difficulty that P3D has the potential to reach, however, it’s ultimately up to the player to decide how they want to tackle each song. Not only does P3D feature a range of difficulties – from Easy to All Night – but it also allows players to modify their dancing (well, “dancing”) experience with a number of modifiers that can either further raise or lower the difficulty (while adjusting the score accordingly). Perhaps most importantly, though, is how enjoyable the game is overall. The high difficulty level, at least in my case, made me want to improve. I wanted to hit that King Crazy, and to improve my own scores. It’s simple, fun, and addicting – a formula which I seem to be running into less and less these days.
I Know Words Won’t Be Enough
Just as important to a rhythm game as its mechanics is its soundtrack. After all, solid gameplay is never enough to make up for a lackluster soundtrack. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry about that with Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight. Taking the original soundtrack and injecting it with a large number of synth and techno themes, P3’s once hip-hop-centric soundtrack has found itself transformed into something largely electronica-based within P3D, with plenty of pop elements sprinkled about. The end result is something which, although surprising considering how beat-centric hip-hop music itself is, ultimately turns out very nicely. I know that musical taste is one of the most subjective things on this planet, and I, therefore, can’t speak for everyone, I do feel as though P3D’s soundtrack will end up having something that caters to your liking. While pop and electronic music may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they are genres which are generally quite inviting to their listening and therefore easy to get into. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll end up becoming hopelessly addicted to a few of them along the way as well (the Time and Brand New Days remixes were some of my favorites).
That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a few bones to pick with this game, though. For all of the great tunes – both original and remixed – that P3D has packed into it, I did find it to be lacking in a few areas. For starters, the Mass Destruction remix was, as much as I hate being this blunt, terrible. While I respect it for attempting to transpose the song into something more along the lines of heavy metal, the end result was something that could best be described as a cacophony of disconnected drum and guitar noises with the lyrics slapped onto it. It’s, undoubtedly, the most disappointing track in the entire game.
P3D also seems to be entirely missing songs like Master of Shadow and Unavoidable Battle. This might be the bias in me talking, but I was actually pretty let down by the fact that neither song ended up making the cut. They’re some of my favorite songs out of the soundtrack, and I just don’t see a reason why they weren’t included – especially considering that they’re both key boss themes and intense enough on their own that they could have easily been thrown into the mix completely unaltered.
The Beat Goes On
Regardless of any gripes that I had about a few of the game’s tracks (or lack thereof), there’s still no denying that this game is an absolutely wonderful time overall. Featuring plenty of hard-hitting tunes to jam to and the ability to see and interact with Makoto and the gang like never before, Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight offers plenty of reasons as to why you should be dancing the night (or moon, I guess?) away.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Vita ; Publisher: ATLUS ; Developer: P-Studio ; Players: 1 ; Released: December 4, 2018 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.