Persona 4: Dancing All Night Review

Persona 4 was easily the most successful and most popular of Atlus’ Persona series. So much so that it’s starting to get accusations of being a cash cow. Fair go though; two anime adaptations. A revised and rereleased version. Two fighting game spin offs, and a dungeon crawler that also featured characters from their last “cash cow” Persona 3. And now, their strangest and most random idea yet. Persona 4: Dancing All Night. A rhythm and dancing game. But if you look past how utterly bizarre the idea is, and if you can look past the vague sense of shame in playing a dancing game like this – I’m not sure I want to be caught playing this in public with its motley assemblage of dancing anime characters on screen… – there’s quite a bit going for it. Firstly, Persona features some incredibly catchy tunes. Reach out to the Truth. Time to Make History. Heaven. Your Affection. Secondly, it’s a solid music title, requiring some serious dexterity as you play through great songs. Thirdly, it features a deep, emotion filled, psychological story that gets surprisingly dark despite the bright and cheery visuals, which is par for the course for Persona.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night is set after the events of Persona 4 and the Persona 4: Arena fighting game series and features a deep and dark look at the world of celebrity. Idols, attractive young starlets in Japan who sing, dance, model, and just generally entertain the public, are a major part of Japanese culture. They’re manufactured, their personalities are crafted, and their image is shaped by their managers and talent agencies to make them more appealing, to make them more marketable. Dancing All Night takes a rather fascinating and often brutal look into the darker side of that. Part of that was explored back in Persona 4, with your party member Rise Kujikawa being an idol that was burnt out from her role, and part of her character development was reconciling both her “real” self and her idol self together. Dancing All Night takes it even further. With Rise having decided to stage a comeback and resume being an idol, her friends and a group of fellow idols: Kanamin Kitchen, are soon swept up in another supernatural mystery. Trapped in the hellish shadow world, which has a tendency to distort and reflect negative emotions, the game looks at the fake nature of celebrity, the fickleness of public support, and how destructive emotionally and mentally it can be. I mean goddamn, the game starts with the apparent suicide of an idol. It gets pretty dark at times. Each of the idols of Kanamin Kitchen portray a character that they market to the world, and they absolutely hate it. They fit into character archetypes in their group, and that’s not who they are underneath. They’re treated as comic relief. They’re sexualised. They’re expected to be something they’re not. It’s some interesting psychological stuff, and typical to the Persona series, being a mature and thoughtful look at emotional problems and social expectations. It’s somewhat mitigated by the fun and often humorous character interactions, and the fact that to thwart the supernatural threats and escape from the shadows that pursue them they need to dance. Yes dance. Dancing is the weapon they use to defeat the enemies. I told you, it’s some crazy stuff.

To dance in game, the controls are focussed on six buttons. Three directions on the D-Pad, and 3 buttons on the pad; Up, left, down, and triangle, circle, and cross. The outer edges of the screen are a circle, and the notes fly from the centre of the screen towards the circle. When they line up, hit the corresponding button. Aside from regular notes. There’s ones where you have to hold down the note and ones where you have to hit notes simultaneously. There’s also optional “fever” notes that grant you better scores which you can trigger using the thumbsticks or the shoulder buttons. The better you perform and the better your timing, the higher your score. It’s more or less what you’d expect from a rhythm game. Admittedly, the display is rather congested. Having the notes fly out from the centre towards the outer edges of the screen can be a little disorientating at times, particularly if there’s a lot going on. There’s also a range of modifiers you can apply in game to make things either very easy or nightmarishly difficult. As well as a ton of costumes to deck the characters out in. All of this is backed up by an excellent soundtrack collected from Persona 4 and its various spin off titles. However, if there’s any issue with the soundtrack it’s that they could have had more songs, and less remixes of the same song. Hopefully they’ll address this in DLC though.

Presentation wise Dancing All Night looks and sounds great. Crisp and colourful anime style visuals, an excellent soundtrack, and quality voice acting. Atlus do excellent work when it comes to localisation, and they assemble a talented team of veteran voice actors for their roles. Some of the voices can grate a bit though, such as Kanamin, although considering that she’s actually a bit of dork who pretends to be a super cutesy and lovable ditz as an idol, perhaps that’s to be expected.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night is something that came completely out of left field. It was strange enough to make a fighting game spin off of a JRPG, but a rhythm game? And yet, why not? Persona has excellent, highly memorable, and catchy tunes. And rather than just phoning it, they’ve got an emotionally deep and complex storyline that explores the dark aspects of celebrity. If there are any problems with the game, it’s that the track list isn’t large or varied enough, and the display can be cluttered and overwhelming until you get used to it. While it’s likely to appeal only to the most die-hard of Persona 4 fans, it’s still a good rhythm game on its own merits, and one that fans should check out.

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