Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a game that normally shouldn’t exist. Taking a known RPG franchise and making new games in the series in different genres is a silly concept. It’s not like you could take Persona and make a fighting game or a kart racing game out of it! Oh. Wait a minute. Maybe you can actually pull that off.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night was seen by some as the black sheep of the original four game announcements the Persona team and Atlus made back in the fall of 2013. The fighting game made sense because anyone could see how you would translate a game with battle mechanics into another with slightly different fighting mechanics. A rhythm game made by the Hatsune Miku: Project DIVA team though? That’s where it seemed maybe Atlus was getting a little off the rails. For me personally, I was overjoyed at the thought of a merger between Persona and the music rhythm genre.
It is hard not to mention this game without making note of the fact that this game might not have made it to store shelves. Dancing All Night went dark after the initial announcement to make way for a marketing blitz for Persona Q and Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold. When it finally reemerged at the 2014 Tokyo Game Show, not much was shown. We got to see a few new character models of the Investigation Team, but the trailer was too similar to the original trailer. We also learned that the game was being delayed from its initial Fall 2014 release window to a 2015 release window. The only thing of note from this TGS trailer was that original developer, DINGO had been taken off the project. We may never know why exactly Atlus and DINGO parted ways, but it forced Atlus and the Persona team to bring in numerous development teams to come in and put this game together.
After all of the developmental drama this game went through, is there anything to make note of, or did the game actually turn out good? The answer is absolutely it did. Considering this is from a team that is known for making RPGs and all of the teams getting their hands on it, the fact that this game came out as well as it did is almost a miracle. Even if there are still portions of the game with DINGO’s fingerprints on it, Dancing All Night plays nothing like any of the Project DIVA games. If anything, it plays more like the Love Live School Idol Festival mobile game, but without all of the touchscreen aspects.
This is a six button game in which you use the up, left, and down d-pad buttons along with triangle, circle, and cross button. You will also use the analog sticks to hit circular notes that come in at various times, but these are optional. Some of the note charts aren’t necessarily too complicated, but the difficulty lies more in being consistent. Even on hard difficulty, which is the second highest difficulty, if you miss a note five times you will not clear the song. All of the songs are a mix of the original tracks from the various Persona 4 games and anime, along with new remixes of tracks. These new remixes are top notch and none of them feel like they detract from the original song. This game probably would have been fine with just the original tracks, but these new remixes give a new element to the gameplay and keep players engaged more than if it was just the same songs they’d heard numerous times. For those that stick with it and advance into the higher difficulties, you will find a rich and rewarding gameplay experience that is on par with the best rhythm games out there.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Persona game without the story. If you thought that the story of this game would be lighthearted and cute since it is a dancing game, you will be very mistaken. Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story is dark, especially when you see an idol hang herself in the very first cutscene. In a way, this is the Persona series having a scathing take at the idol industry as a whole. The story shows just how these idols are treated by fans and management alike and can be driven to the brink of suicide by this. It’s not something I was able to zero in on right away while playing the story, but thanks to translations by the persona-dancing-all-night tumblr, I’ve been able to see just how interesting and complex this story is.
Since Dancing All Night takes place after the Persona 4 Golden true ending epilogue, you won’t necessarily see complex development from the Investigation Team. You will instead see it from characters you wouldn’t expect (which I’ll remain spoiler free on). One of my biggest complaints about Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold was the writing of the story just felt like there were too many cooks in the kitchen. This is absolutely true since there was a multitude of writers on that game’s story mode. With Dancing All Night, this problem seems to have been eliminated as the writing has been tightened up and the characters feel more like themselves than in Ultimax. I’m sure that no one thought coming into the three Persona 3 and 4 spin off games that the rhythm game would have the best writing, but here we are.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is going to have its detractors. It won’t be able to please every single Persona fan. Some will say that it’s too goofy, that it’s not an RPG, or that it’s too lighthearted to take seriously. Maybe they’ll discredit it because it’s not more true to the original Shin Megami Tensei games. In that case they’d be correct since the Persona series aren’t Shin Megami Tensei games. That label was just added when they were brought overseas. Even with people saying those sorts of things and possibly being misinformed, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a game I cannot recommend enough to fans of the original Persona 4 or any of its spinoffs, or fans of rhythm games in general. Let’s just all hope that this game sells well enough that Atlus considers making another game like this. I mean, the director, Kazushi Wada did mention this on a livestream, “We are looking into the possibility of a ‘Persona 3 Dancing’ game and, if Persona 4: Dancing All Night sells well, we will consider it.” so I’ll hold you to that, sir.
[Persona 4: Dancing All Night is available now in Japan, September 29, 2015 in North America, and unconfirmed 2015 dates for Europe and Australia.]