The Persona series has always been known for its style, great characters, well-written stories, and quality music. While Persona 4: Dancing All Night is no exception, it falls short of being a great rhythm game. It’s sad to finally say goodbye to the P4 cast, and it’s even worse to send them off with such a disappointingly mediocre entry.
Shortly after the Epilogue of Persona 4 Golden, Rise Kujikawa prepares for the “Love Meets Bonds” Festival, the stage where she will debut her comeback alongside her friends from Inaba as her backup dancers. The time away from the idol business has certainly hurt her; to top it all off, her rival, Kanami Mashita, will also be performing with her group ”Kanamin Kitchen”. Around the same time, rumors have begun to spread of a video being played on the LMB website at midnight, wherein a deceased idol dances on-screen. Should you watch the video from beginning to end, you’ll supposedly be taken to the “other side”.
Days before the festival, members of Kanamin Kitchen go missing. Like moths to a flame, Yu and his friends are quick to investigate, soon to find out that the rumor of the cursed video is indeed true. Transported to the Midnight Stage, they learn the missing idols have been abducted by an unidentified voice, shadows strangely manifest and the voice taunts the cast to give in to its “bonds”. Unable to summon their personas or fight, how will our heroes combat the shadows and reunite Kanamin Kitchen? By expressing their thoughts and feelings through dance.
The concept for the story may be a tad ridiculous, but that doesn’t make it bad. The story draws heavy parallels from the original RPG and takes a new spin on the concepts and themes from P4. With this, the story distinguishes itself from the other 3 spin-off titles. Being held back by the conflicting styles of P3 and P4 didn’t help the Arena games or Persona Q, but Dancing All Night is centered on the Investigation Team and Kanamin Kitchen, and the story is the best of the spin-offs because of it.
While rescuing the idols does take on the repetitious form of saving the victims from their “other selves”, it’s essentially more Persona 4. At times, it’ll feel like the characters are repeating dialogue and the game will regurgitate the same CG art. It all begins to mesh together, especially since the story is only about 8-10 hours long and events take place one after another. Whether or not you’ll enjoy the story is heavily dependent on how much you liked the story of P4 (but that goes without saying). The repetition is eventually broken by chapters focused on characters outside of the Midnight Stage and this leads to some rather lighthearted moments with a few familiar faces. These moments don’t make up for the story as they are few and far between in relation to the chapters following the P4 cast, but the conclusion to DAN is a satisfying way to end the Investigation Team’s tale.
Where DAN truly suffers is in its gameplay. During songs, you will have to hit the corresponding buttons on the left and right sides of the screen and the Vita as notes fly over them from the middle of the screen. Typical of rhythm games, you will even find yourself hitting two buttons at the same time or holding down one or two for an extended note. Then, there’s the poorly implemented scratch notes. Alongside the star notes, rings will appear and you will have to flick one of the analog sticks as they fly outside the outer circle (or L/R if you so choose through the Options menu). Occasionally, there will be special scratch notes called “Fever rings” that, when hit, will fill your Fever meter. When filled and the designated point of the song is met, Fever Time begins and a random character may come in for a quick cameo and for a special dance routine. These aren’t necessary for passing the song but they are nice additions, especially for characters with strong dynamics (a la Chie and Yukiko).
Hitting notes will fill up your Hype Guage, representative of the mood of your crowd and the deciding factor in whether or not you’ll pass the song. There are five states, each indicated by a certain color. What you’ll be focusing on achieving though, are the green and rainbow states, as those indicate success.
The screen is cluttered with various things at once. You have your current score and Fever meter at the top right, the Hype Gauge at the top, your current high score at the upper left, the overlaying circle taking up the two sides of the screen, the bar showing the progress of the song at the bottom, and the characters dancing on-stage in the middle, alongside appearing notes. When hitting notes or scratches, a quick message displaying how well you hit the note will pop-up. Either in the form of Miss, Good, Great or Perfect while scratch notes flash a ring outside the circle. This all is incredibly distracting, especially when special effects take place during a song, outside of the notes. It’s jarring and having to micromanage the two sides of the screen in preparation for incoming notes makes it easy to miss notes and possibly fail a track. There’s too much going on and it certainly hurts the game.
Not only is the UI distracting, there are a few disturbances in sound as well. By default, Dance Voices is turned on, making it so characters will do call-outs and your dancer will talk to themselves. While this is optional, it seems somewhat integral for the brief moments you’ll play a song in the story mode as characters outside and among the available dancers will comment on the dance stage. Not only that, sound effects for notes and scratches are turned on as well.
Songs don’t always flow well with rhythm mapping, either. It seems as if the game fabricates its own rhythm by using the hit sounds, rather than using the actual song as its reference. This is apparent in the songs closer to their original counterparts, as they generally flow better than the remixes. At times, you may notice you hit a note that didn’t sound out in the actual song, and it seems as if the executive behind rhythm mapping didn’t know how to handle certain songs and placed notes in wherever he thought they fit, rather than where they actually fit.
With every rhythm game, there needs to be good track list. DAN excels in this form as the tracks chosen and the remixes are fantastic. Some remixes greatly change the tone of the original song and some of the artists make the song their own (see “Backside of the TV” (Lotus Juice Remix)). There are a few of the original versions of the songs mixed in and that aids in keeping the track list refreshing, but there really should’ve been more as the ratio of original songs to remixes is overwhelmingly tipping in the remixes’ favor. It is worth mentioning that there isn’t much variety. While it’s fine playing along to a lot of the mellow tunes from P4, there’s a severe lack of the battle themes. The Genesis (or any of the battle themes, really) would’ve been a welcome addition, even if the song is so obscure it would have to be remixed. Not only that, but a few songs and characters that should’ve been in the core game are relegated to DLC. Being unable to play the fantastic remix of The Fog without having to pay $4.99 doesn’t bode well.
There are 4 difficulty levels in DAN (one of them hidden behind a series of inane requirements): Easy, Normal, Hard, and All Night. When you’re playing through the story mode, you’ll notice that you can only play the rhythm game sections on Normal and Easy. It’s obvious that these difficulty levels were designed so that people wouldn’t be frustrated by the Hype Gauge and so progression in the story mode wouldn’t be halted, as it’s much easier to build up in these modes than on Hard and All Night.
Scoring in this game is not dependent on performance or high score, rather on accuracy. You could play through a song on Hard, hitting every note perfectly, miss 3 notes, and fail the song with ease. Even if you enter the neutral state in the middle of a song, it takes more than 100 notes to reenter the green and it’s hard to determine what the threshold is for each level on Hard and onwards. This scoring system is some of the worst I’ve seen and is a great reason in why this game is so lackluster. It makes having a score redundant and me hesitant to ever play a song on of the harder difficulty levels. All Night mode saves the game from is its awful rhythm mapping and it’s a shame it’s buried so deep into the game. By the time most will have unlocked it, they’ll have gone through most of the content or gotten bored. The mapping is consistent and fitting throughout all of the songs, making it the best difficulty level for anybody who’s tired of the “hitting notes to the rhythm of a metronome” that is Hard and below. I want to say it’s enough to save the game from mediocrity, but it isn’t.
Like any other Persona game, DAN is oozing with style. I would even argue that it’s the most stylized in its presentation of all the Persona games and spin-offs. From the menus to the characters’ outfits, it all stands out and the visuals are beautiful. Even the character models and choreography scream “Persona” and really show the cast’s personality.
Should anyone be interested in replicating the dance moves done by the characters in any of the songs, P Studio was kind enough to include a Choreography mode where the characters will dance in place amongst a white background. It’s a nice addition that most developers would have omitted or never even thought of.
It’s worth mentioning that Laura Bailey has left the cast of voice actors and the quality suffers because of it. Ashley Burch tries her hardest to imitate Bailey but she comes off as too enthusiastic. Same goes for the voice of the Kanami. It’s especially jarring to hear so much of the cast’s VAs change over time, especially when we’ve grown so familiar with them with past entries. All the VAs keep improving, but they also keep leaving.
It pains me to give such a negative review to a game from one of my favorite franchises, but because I hold it so dear, I find the need to be extremely critical in my review. All Night mode embodies what the other difficulty levels should have been and being based on the Project Diva games, Persona 4: Dancing All Night should amount to more. It’s gameplay is marred by the scoring system, the off-key notes, lack of song variety, and the amount of distractions. Being a rhythm game, that’s too great a toll.
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