Persona 4: Dancing All Night
The Persona series has found significant success with spin-offs, delving into the fighting genre and crossing over with the dungeon-crawling Etrian Odyssey series. Atlus has adapted its characters and their stories to these formats in interesting ways. With Persona 4: Dancing All Night, the company takes a stab at the rhythm genre, hoping that the memorable music and a new storyline about pop stardom can keep players invested. While Dancing All Night certainly has its fun moments and cool surprises, it's far from Atlus' best effort, falling flat with its music selection and frustrating interface.
Dancing All Night doesn't stray far from traditional rhythm games: You use the face buttons and directional pad to match your timing with the flying notes. Sometimes multiple notes must be struck, or a single note must be held and released. Extra features like hitting rings to increase your combo count or activating Fever Time help you win over the crowd add some depth, giving you more ways to improve your score. The setup, while not difficult to grasp, takes time getting use to due to the interface. The Vita screen is large and your eyes have a wide area to cover with notes going in complete opposite directions. I got better as I progressed, but it felt like my eyes needed to be in two places at once; I often had to depend on my peripheral vision or flat-out guess when to hit or let go of a note.
Catchy music has been part of the series' lifeblood, and a wide range of popular Persona 4 songs are available in Dancing All Night. You unlock songs gradually by playing story mode and free mode. This isn't a bad thing, as it gives you a reason to keep playing, but don't expect to boot up with an extensive library. My favorites to play are "Heartbreak, Heartbreak" and "Pursuing My True Self," since both songs have infectious beats that are fun to match. While anyone who played Persona 4 will likely recognize most of the tracks, a good portion are remixes. Unfortunately, some of these reimagined version don't lend themselves well to a rhythm game, making it hard to track the beat. To add insult to injury, you often must play the same song more than once, just with a different remix, and this lack of variety hurts the experience.
Where Dancing All Night gets it right and crafts its own identity is in its story mode. Yes, the shining star of a rhythm game is actually its story. It took me around eight hours to clear, combining dancing sequences and visual novel storytelling. The narrative occurs after the events of Persona 4 Golden and centers on Rise as she reenters the pop-star scene, but the characters are all brought together by a new threat: A mysterious video on a website starts transporting people to a strange world.
Story mode doesn't take itself too seriously, and incorporates dance and Persona 4's larger themes in a fun way. Dancing is a form of expressing your true self, after all. While the sequences to get the characters dancing get repetitive (every character you rescue has a set of three songs), the story has some interesting twists and fun callbacks to Persona 4 for longtime fans. I also enjoyed how Nanako and Dojima had a substantial role in the narrative, and Nanako busting a move to the Junes theme song is my favorite moment in the game. That being said, you're not missing out on any big plot points or character reveals if you don't play Dancing All Night.
After story mode, you can keep playing on free mode to unlock silly outfits and accessories for your characters, along with more songs and a new difficulty level. You can also buy items that increase your success. Even with those additional options, I had my fill after completing story mode. I continued to unlock more songs, but Dancing All Night doesn't have that much lasting appeal beyond that. Seeing my improvement on songs was satisfying, but little else felt rewarding enough to keep me tapping to the beat. In fact, I was more engrossed in the story than the gameplay.
Dancing All Night doesn't offer much outside of the delight of reliving some of your favorite songs and seeing characters like Kanji and Teddie go all-out. It's fun and lighthearted and sure to make fans smile, but Dancing All Night isn't anything special; it's just an average rhythm game that's begging for a better interface and more song variety.
While Dancing All Night certainly has its fun moments and cool surprises, it's far from Atlus' best effort, falling flat with its music selection and frustrating interface.