Persona 4: Dancing All Night
Developer: Dingo Inc.
Release Date: 09/29/15
So, just shy of three months ago, I took a look at an import version of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, and now, by the kindness of Atlus, here we are taking a look at the US release of the game. At the time, I noted that, the good news with the game was that it mostly works as a rhythm game, and fans will absolutely love how much attention it pays to its source material, as it’s very much a port that acts as a rhythm-based love letter to its fanbase. Conversely, the bad news is that it’s got a few significant hiccups to it, some of which are notably more problematic than others. I noted then that I was hopeful that a combination of the game being fully localized (and thus having an understandable plot) combined with some review by Atlus US would fix up many of the issues I had with the Japanese release, and fortunately, this is partially the case. The minor technical issues the game originally had have been ironed out, and the majority of the issues with the DLC and how it was handled in Japan have been taken care of for the US release of the game. On the other hand, however, not all of the issues have been fixed, and having the title localized also means the plot is localized, which actually doesn’t help the game nearly as much as you’d expect it to, which is not something I ever thought I’d say about a Persona 4 title.
Let’s Dancing! (Radio Edit)
When I reviewed the Japanese version of the game, I made some basic assumptions about the plot, and for the most part, they seem to have been correct. As things pick up, Rise drafts the group into helping her perform a dance number for a big idol showcase, only to find there’s another Shadow-oriented mystery that requires them to dance. Kanamin, meanwhile, deals with the loss of her bandmates and friends, having to deal with her own insecurities as she adjusts to the rapid changes around her. Now that we have a translated version of the story, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot here to like, mostly in the interplay between cast members, be they the regular cast or the newcomers. Little things, like Kanamin’s interactions with the team and Nanako, or how the team interacts with the Kanamin’s Kitchen members, really humanize the plot, and these interactions are the best part of this story. There’s also some really wonderful post-game story moments that flesh out the characters a bit more, and act as a wonderful epilogue to the series as a whole in a lot of respects. Unfortunately, for all of its good, the plot is easily the weakest of the Persona 4 plotlines. The plot still, in a lot of respects, feels like it’s about how rad Yu Narukami is, which is kind of frustrating given that Rise and Kanamin were given top-billing in the lead-up to release. Rise gets a little time to shine here, but Kanamin is more of a catalyst than an important character, essentially taking the Labrys role in the plot, while Yu basically plays Superman again, which is… fine, but it’s wearing thin. Also, the plot is just weird. About half of the plot feels like it’s a not-so-subtle condemnation of the idol industry as a whole, between how miserable everyone is and how much of the story basically amounts to “Being an idol sucks a whole lot,” which is just really strange as a plot driver. The other half is full of moments where the plot either handwaves strange plot points, like “Why did everyone revert to their old looks?” or never addresses them at all, like, “So… why did Nanako cut her hair then?” or “How does the cast spend three days in a Shadow Realm without anyone noticing?” or “Wait, so you’re worried about doing group improve to a song you don’t know when you just did group improve to a song you don’t know?” You get the feeling that the writers have done all they can with Persona 4 at this point, and that’s fine, but this wasn’t the strongest story to go out on, and that’s honestly a really big shame.
The visuals in P4D are interesting and pretty high quality for a Vita title, and since this is basically the first time we’re seeing high quality renders of the Persona 4 cast in 3D, that in and of itself is pretty cool. The character models are well-animated and look exactly how you’d expect them to, and while some of their costumes might have minor clipping issues, on the whole they move and animate really well. The dancing animations themselves can be a bit odd at first, though it bears noting that the dancing seems to mix standard Western dance style with Para Para dancing, and each character has their own “style,” which has the end result of making some dancers look weird at first. Once you get used to them and understand the thematic reason for the dance styles (IE, Kanji is a roughneck so he has a violent dance style, Yukiko incorporates traditional fan-dancing movements, and so on) it all really works. The environments are also equal parts believable and surreal, featuring a good mix between normal stages and studios alongside Shadow World stages featuring Shadows and such in the background who bop along to the music. Aurally, the soundtrack is mostly composed of music from the franchise with a couple of brand-new, exclusive tracks thrown in, totaling twenty seven tracks in the core game (along with a bunch of planned DLC), making for a decent mix of tunes, and having played around with the Japanese DLC a bit, the DLC tracks are generally pretty good as well. The voice work is mostly top notch, as usual, and most of the voice cast from the past couple games (Persona Q and Ultimax) reprise their roles here, which they do quite well, so fans of JYB, Matthew Mercer, Yuri Lowenthal, Erin Fitzgerald, Amanda Winn Lee and Valerie Arem, among others, will have a lot to be happy about. Also, our new Rise, Ashly Burch, generally does a solid job in her first go-round with the character, and while you can feel a bit too much Rei in there at times, it’s a good effort that most fans should be fine with. Rena Strober’s take on Kanami can be a bit… hyperactive at times though, and while it’s mostly fine, it’s off in comparison, and it’ll take some getting used to.
Let’s Dancing! (Shadow Swing Remix)
P4D uses something of a unique rhythm game setup, mixing familiar concepts from other games into a formula that’s fairly interesting, at least in theory. Mechanically, the game follows the DDR formula of setting up a goal line and having inputs soar toward those set goals. You’re given a circular input goal line along the left and right sides of the screen, along with input markers for the Up, Left and Down D-pad (on the left) and the Triangle, Circle and X buttons (on the right). Starred notes will sail from the center of the screen toward one of these six inputs, and you’ll have to press the button at the right time to get a good score; press it too early or late and you’ll get a reduced score, or even miss it entirely, so timing is of the essence. The game also uses specialty notes, such as dual notes that are linked with a purple line and must be pressed in sync, held notes, and a semi-unique “record scratch” circle that requires analog stick input (so it’ll work with the Playstation TV) to trigger. The game is really good about giving you tutorials that explain all of this, fortunately; the default tutorial explains most of the basics, and if you play through the story mode it’ll give you even more in-depth explanations to help you get the basics down. Honestly, everything but the record scratch function is visually intuitive on its own, though, so you’ll find that the game makes perfect sense in minutes and you’ll be able to jump in and play in no time.
Of course, if this were all the game had to offer, it’d be pretty shallow, so there’s a good bit more to really latch onto, which you get through repeated play. For one thing, there’s Fever Time. Essentially, some of the scratch rings that pass by will say “FEVER!” in rainbow colors instead of appearing in their normal blue color, and if you can trigger three of them, it’ll fill up the Fever meter at the top of the screen. Fever Time will be triggered at set points during the song you’re playing if you’ve filled the bar, which accomplish two things: first, they give you a chance to earn a whole lot of extra points for good performances, and second, they’ll bring in your backup dancer if your score is high enough for a duet dance. Songs are also graded via a scoring system that appears at the top of the screen to indicate how well you’re doing, based on your performance and the difficulty level. In essence, it appears as five colorful sprites, and if they’re green or rainbow colored, you’re doing well, but if they’re any other color, you won’t pass that particular song. If you mess up several notes in a row they’ll turn from white to yellow to red before failing you out entirely, with the amount you have to fail varying based on difficulty level. You can raise the success rank by successfully nailing down note timing and combos; only PERFECT or GREAT (nearly perfect) hits will continue a combo, but GOOD (fairly off) hits will at least count for SOMETHING, while MISS means you failed outright and docks points. This is a fairly forgiving system, so for those who find the Hatsune Miku games way too hard, this might be a better choice to ease into rhythm games if nothing else, and fans should find it to be a bit more merciful all in all.
Playing through the Story Mode essentially presents most of the songs to you, but there’s also a Free Mode that you can jump into for a bit more variety in your dancing. Free Mode allows you to choose from one of four difficulties (three are unlocked by default, the fourth by buying every modifier item in the shop) based on your skill level, and the higher the difficulty, the harder the note arrangement and the better you’ll have to perform to pass. Free Mode also lets you customize your play options a bit, however, so that, depending on how well (or poorly) you play, you can still make progress, and so that you can set up dances with whatever partner you wish. Each song has a set primary dancer that cannot be changed, but you can unlock up to five backup dancers, who will pop up during Fever Time for some additional variety; essentially, it means you can set up your favorite characters together (sometimes) to dance to a song if you want. You can also change their costumes and eyewear from the selection options as well, if you’d like, so you can set your favorite costumes (and there are a whole lot, honestly) however you want. Most of this content is locked up from the start, and you’ll have to devote a bit of time to unlocking it all. Characters are unlocked by beating the song on each difficulty except All Night (the hardest), clearing the story mode, and (in some cases) clearing one specific song. Costumes and eyewear are purchased from Tanaka’s shop with money earned by completing songs, either in the story or Free Mode. You can also buy items from him that either make songs more or less difficult, which can be turned on or off from the customization options before each song. What this means is, if you are incredibly good at the game, you can use the combination of higher difficulties (which pay out more money) and game modifiers (which improve payouts) to unlock everything in record time. However, if you are incredibly bad at the game, you can grind out the easy songs to unlock all of the Power Ups and shop items, then use the Power Ups to unlock all the difficulty based content. This is one of the few cases where I’ve seen a rhythm game basically say, “Here, it’s okay if you’re not very good, we’ve got you covered,” and for Persona 4 fans who are terrible at rhythm games, it’s actually a pretty good inclusion.
Let’s Dancing! (Non-Vocal Remix)
You can clear out the story mode in about an hour and a half if you fast-forward the dialogue, or about ten hours if you watch everything through to the end. Completing everything the game has to offer, however, will probably set you back around forty to fifty hours, give or take. There are a whole lot of costumes available for everyone save Kanamin, Nanako and Margaret that you can unlock with your cash, which will require a good amount of time spent playing through the songs, and completing each song on each difficulty, whether you use Power Ups to do so or not, will take a good amount of time. There are also a pretty decent amount of Trophies to unlock, and while the game doesn’t have any supremely challenging Trophies in it, those that are here will take you a bit of time to unlock at least, so you’ll be working for that Platinum. As noted, there are also four different difficulties to play around with, ranging from Easy (which is super forgiving and perfect for casual fans) to All Night (which is perfect for diehard rhythm game fans), so you’ll have plenty of room to grow with the game if you want. The game also has a month’s worth of DLC lined up, as all of the Japan DLC is being brought stateside, so there will be plenty of content to download and play with, and with some of it being free DLC, even those who don’t want to spend anything extra on the game will find that there’s plenty to keep you interested in P4D if you love the Persona 4 cast or have a major love for rhythm games. In fact, between the condensed DLC schedule in the US and the reduced price points and discounts/free content the US DLC is offering, honestly, most of the DLC complaints I had about the Japanese release are resolved for its US counterpart, which is a big improvement that I’m pleased to see Atlus put into place.
Having said that, the same point I made about the import version of the game still applies to this version, for most of the same reasons: unless you are a fairly big fan of Persona 4 or rhythm games, you are GOING to get tired of this, and quick, before it justifies its cost to you.
First off, the game advertises about twenty seven songs onboard, but it’s more accurate to say that there are nineteen unique songs and eight remixes, not counting the DLC, which is…not great; both of the Vita Hatsune Miku games have notably more content, for example, and they’re older releases. It’s not a question of technical limitations (both being Vita games), developer experience (Dingo made the first three Hatsune Miku games on PSP and had their hands in this game) or size (P4D is a good bit smaller than P4G). It’s also not an issue of song volume, since I have two discs full of Persona 4 songs from Atlus themselves, not counting Golden, Q or anime specific songs, so there’s plenty of content to draw from; “Light the Fire Up in the Night,” “I’ll Face Myself,” “A New World Fool,” or “The Almighty,” probably would’ve fit in just fine, off the top of my head. This becomes a further issue because, with a dearth of songs (twenty seven) and a breadth of characters to incorporate (ten), most characters get to star in two songs, save for Yu (six) and Nanako (three), and with no option to change lead dancer, unless you really love Yu Narukami, you’re almost certainly going to feel like something’s missing. Ditto backup dancers; while everyone gets a turn with everyone else, the pairings are very odd as to who gets priority, and many pairings only pop up twice total, so, again, whatever fan sentiment was gauged here (apparently Japan loves Yu and Kanji together) is unbalanced and weird. On the topic of DLC, the vast majority of it is music video content, not characters dancing, so the core benefit of the game itself is basically gone at that point. Oh, yeah, and the anime songs that are being released are the intro and ending spot versions, so if you’d have been fine with a music video if it meant playing the full version of “Key Plus Words,” nope, you’re getting two minute-and-a-half long sequences for two bucks, which is, admittedly, a much better price, but still. Also, the Japanese costume packs were all 100KB large (AKA “the content’s already there”), and while I’d like to wait and see if that’ll happen with the US releases, assuming it does, well, that’ll also be problematic.
The bottom line is this: I still love Persona 4: Dancing All Night, even after a complete second playthrough, and if you love rhythm games and Persona 4, you will too, but it’s far too limited to appeal to anyone outside of that group, as with a limited setlist and character mix, casual fans will find their attention diverted elsewhere sooner rather than later. Parts of the plot (especially the character interactions) are good, the game looks and sounds quite nice, and the core mechanics that make up the rhythm system are honestly fairly inventive on their own. The game works well enough on both the Vita and Playstation TV, and between the story, Free Mode, unlockables and Trophies there’s easily thirty or forty hours of content here if you’re dedicated, with possibly more if you aim to pick up the DLC. That said, the game rarely focuses on anyone but Yu Narukami after a lot of Rise and Kanamin lead-in, the core plot itself is weird and of questionable quality, there’s a dearth of original songs here for no obvious reason, and given an experienced developer and publisher, the lack of variety in setlist or character swapping hurts the product a good amount for no obvious reason. Also, while the DLC setup cost-wise is much improved, the video heavy releases, many of which are short, will still be iffy for some, and as the costume DLC is either on-disc or part of a patch in Japan, this might still be the case here. If you love Persona 4 or rhythm games, then P4D is absolutely the game for you, and you’ll have a lot of fun with it, make no mistake. For those who are only casual fans of Persona 4 or are expecting another Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f, though, you won’t find enough to keep you busy here, unfortunately, and given the pedigree involved, more’s the pity because of it.
Short Attention Span Summary:
Two months and a full second playthrough later, and Persona 4: Dancing All Night still remains a good, but flawed, rhythm game; it’s cute and well designed in all the ways it should be, but a weird plot, a dearth of content and some less-than-ideal DLC make it hard to recommend to any but the diehard genre or franchise fans. The story mode lets you check in with your favorite characters one last time (presumably) at least, the visual and audio quality is outstanding, and the surprisingly engaging and easy to understand rhythm mechanics generally work once you pick them up. The game works fine whether you’re playing on the Vita or Playstation TV, and there’s a good amount of content between the story, Free Mode, unlockables and Trophies to give you a lengthy experience, whether you’re skilled or poor at rhythm games. However, despite the marketing’s focus on Rise and Kanamin the game is almost entirely the Yu Narukami (and friends) Show, again, there’s a real lack of original songs here for no apparent reason, and the lack of setlist and character variety (or swapping) hurts a lot, especially since both the developer and publisher are skilled enough to do better. The plot is also really weird and full of plot holes, and while the US DLC structure is much improved, the DLC itself still has its weak points. If you’re the sort of fan who loves Persona 4 and rhythm games, like I am, you’ll find plenty of reason to justify picking up P4D, and you probably should; everyone else, though, may want to wait on this one a bit, because as it stands now, it’s got a lot of great ideas, but the execution isn’t what it should be.