Shut up and dance
I didn’t really plan on buying or reviewing Persona 4: Dancing All Night. “A rhythm game?” I said to myself, dismissively, when I heard about this game. “I shall not stoop to buy such an obvious cash-in. I loved Persona 4 and Persona 4 Golden, and Atlus knows that and they’re just trying to get into my wallet. But I have more integrity than they think. Just fucking release Persona 5 already, please.”
Then I saw a friend playing the game on his own Vita and decided I wanted it. Because really, Dancing All Night isn’t just a toss-off – it’s really a good rhythm game. It even tries to have a plot, and the plot almost isn’t totally stupid! Almost.
Protagonist (now officially named Yu Narukami, though I can’t get used to it because I never called him that in my P4 playthroughs) and his Investigation Team friends are roped into joining their fellow Investigator and former pop idol Rise Kujikawa for her big comeback as her backup dancers.* She’s re-debuting at a big concert alongside Kanamin Kitchen, a newly popular girl group with a bizarre and slightly creepy animal/meat theme.
As you could guess from the instant you meet them, every member of Kanamin Kitchen gets dragged into a shadow-filled world and the Investigation Team has to save them. Protagonist’s uncle Dojima, a grizzled detective, is also on the case, and he discovers that a bunch of fans of the group are going into comas after watching a creepy video on the internet, and these people are naturally being dragged into the shadow world too. (As a nice reference for players of Persona 3, this condition is referred to as Apathy Syndrome. Though we already got a P3 cameo in Persona 4 Golden and a P4 cameo in Persona 3 Portable, so this isn’t really a big deal.)
The big twist about this shadow world is that, until the TV world of P4, the characters can’t fight or summon their personas through the usual methods. Instead – no joke – they have to dance to defeat the shadows and save each pop star. Somehow, dancing well makes the shadows happy, then they dissipate into the air and blow away. Or something. The game tried to explain this, but it still doesn’t make any sense.
So the story really isn’t much of anything. Story Mode is pretty short and is just kind of there as a placeholder – as far as visual novels go it’s about as light as you can get. But the point of this game isn’t its deep and engaging plot. The point is getting to see your favorite P4 characters bust moves to the great Persona music that you’ve come to both love and completely get sick of after hearing it five thousand times in battle and while running around town. Every member of the Investigation Team takes the stage at some point, and all of them can be played in Free Mode. A new character is also thrown into the mix, and as a special treat for fans Nanako is also a playable character. Though the whole subplot involving Nanako, a little girl, performing pop idol songs on stage in front of millions of fans is kind of weird in itself.
All that aside, the gameplay is a lot of fun. The game makes use of three of the four button on each side of the Vita (only the -> and ◻ go unused) and players can also tap the screen to use the scratch function. Most of the songs also allow the main dancer to pick a partner to jump in at some point if the player’s hitting the notes well enough. Mercifully, the game offers easy, normal and hard mode versions of each song, so even if you’re total crap at rhythm games you should be able to get through it. And the music itself is obviously great. My favorite battle theme “Time to Make History” is thankfully in there, and there are plenty of other plain unadorned tracks from P4 together with remixes, most of which are good (though I could easily leave a few of them.)
The developers obviously put a lot of attention into the details. Each character’s dance style really matches their character (ex: Chie does a lot of kicks/kung fu stuff, Kanji headbangs) and the other characters cheer their friends on while they dance. (My favorite: Nanako commenting on Protagonist and Yosuke’s “bromance” when they’re paired up.) Atlus also thoughtfully included a lot of unlockable costumes and DLC for each character, some of which are extremely fanservicey. So if you enjoy hearing Chie complain about you making her wear a bikini while she dances, this is the game for you. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.
All in all, I have to say I’m pretty happy that I got this game. It’s a fun diversion from my bullshit law student life. I also really like the fact that both this somewhat fluffy, fanservicey rhythm game sits in the same Shin Megami Tensei franchise as the hardcore dark Lucifer-worshipping face-breakingly-difficult Nocturne. Though Nanako dancing to the Junes theme is pretty fucking hardcore too.
* For those who didn’t play P4, the story behind this is that Rise retired from show business to settle down back in her hometown at the ripe old age of 15, where she gets tangled up in the events of the game. Apparently Japan retires pop stars before they even reach their majority.