A review of Persona 4: Dancing All Night

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.”

p4dancing

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.

Is it a commentary on how pop idols are treated like meat by their fans, as mere eye candy? Is Persona 4 Dancing All Night really a deep and philosophical game?

Is it a commentary on how pop idols are treated like meat by their fans, as mere eye candy? Is Persona 4: Dancing All Night really a deep and philosophical game?

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.

Even in Persona dancing games you have to battle supernatural monsters that are expressions of your dark inner self

Even in Persona dancing games you have to enter an evil shadow world to battle supernatural monsters that are expressions of your dark inner self

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.

But did you expect any less?

But did you expect any less?

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.

Four portable games not to play on the plane (because they’re perverted)

I’m taking a long plane trip tomorrow, about as long as a plane trip can be while still staying inside the 48 states of the contiguous Union. The plane sucks ass and is horrible, mostly because I’m not a rich man and cannot afford even business class.

One of the things that makes a 7-hour plane ride more bearable is the fact that I can bring along my Vita or 3DS. The stupidly difficult Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl alone should take up a lot of my time and attention while shoved like an anchovy in my godawful coach seat. However, the plane being an incredibly public place, there are certain games that I feel I simply would not be able to play on it for reasons of embarrassment and public decency. The following Gamespot/Target/Walmart-sold, legitimate triple-A video game designer-made portable titles are unsuitable for travel-play for all but the most shameless and fedora-wearing-est of gamers:

1) Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed

Akiba's_Trip

This one’s really not as bizarrely fanservicey as the cover or title suggest. Akiba’s Trip is really more of a nerd’s fantasy sort of game, involving an anime/game/figure-obsessed young man who meets a cute vampire girl (but she’s a good vampire, kind of like Twilight) who must strip the clothes off of secret evil vampires pretending to be normal people to protect the nerd-paradise Tokyo neighborhood of Akihabara from… something.

The thing that makes Akiba’s Trip not so bad in the embarrassment department is the people you’re fighting and stripping are of both genders. This still isn’t much of an argument for playing the game on the plane. Especially not when you play dress-up with your several female companions, one of whom is a Finnish weeaboo fangirl who always wears a maid’s dress but can also wear this apparently (warning: not really safe for work.)

2) The entire Senran Kagura series

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You might think the above image doesn’t really suggest much of anything, and you might be right. But Senran Kagura is a game series that entirely involves schoolgirls beating each other up with ninja punches so hard that their clothes get torn off. This process is lovingly displayed in mid-fight cutscenes. There’s not much more to say than that. The games themselves look like decent enough Dynasty Warriors-style massive beatdown games, and from the bit I’ve played of Shinovi Versus that’s what they pretty much are, but without the thick layer of fanservice it’s questionable whether anyone would care about them.

3) Criminal Girls: Invite Only

criminal girls 3

This bizarre title involves a young male protagonist sent to Hell and forced, for some reason, to take charge of an assortment of cute animal-eared girls who also live in Hell and lead them in battle, or something.

I haven’t actually played Criminal Girls, but I don’t think I have to play it to get the basic idea of the game, because the gimmick of this one is that you have to “punish” the girls to motivate them, and you do that by simulating a BDSM session by rubbing a lewd picture of said girls on your Vita’s screen.

I would say the purpose of Criminal Girls is obvious – from watching a short gameplay video on Youtube, the actual gameplay parts kind of looked simplistic, rushed and tacked on (though maybe it gets better as you go on, I don’t really know.) However, NIS America decided that the best way to avoid controversy with the NA and EU releases was to keep those BDSM scenes but cover them with a translucent pink fog (note: censored, but still incredibly not safe for work.) At this point, you may ask yourself whether it’s even worth the effort to try to play this game with one hand, as it was obviously intended to be played. I can’t answer that question, but I can say that you sure as hell shouldn’t play it on the plane. Especially considering how, let’s say, not mature some of the animal-eared girls in the game look. You might actually get your name on a list if you play Criminal Girls while anywhere even remotely near a public place.

4) Monster Monpiece

beginrubbing

I’ll be honest with you. And not just because this is an anonymous blog. I did buy Monster Monpiece. I bought it for a bargain price and mostly for the sake of journalistic curiosity, but that does not erase the fact that I bought a game in which you must rub a monster girl’s naughty bits through her clothes until somehow parts of her clothes are removed.

It’s really no help that the game itself is actually a pretty good tactical card/board game that involves some serious thinking. If you play this on the plane, the only thing your neighbor will notice is you furiously rubbing a picture of a large-breasted spider-girl on your Vita’s screen. This does have the effect of changing the monster girl’s stats in battle, but it doesn’t matter. Saying you’re playing Monster Monpiece for the card battle parts is like saying you read Playboy for the articles: it could certainly be true, because both Monster Monpiece and Playboy have legitimate non-fap purposes. But no one is going to believe you.

Sometimes good things really do happen: Zero Escape 3 announced

Occasionally, life isn’t total shit. One of those occasions was a few days ago, when Zero Escape 3 was announced for release next summer on the 3DS and Vita.

Anyone who’s wondering what the hell that crowd is screaming about should play 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward. These two games (the first two in a planned trilogy) start to tell a story that is way to complicated to even give a hint about here. Both of them, and presumably the still to be titled Zero Escape 3, are essentially visual novels with strong puzzle elements. The characters are interesting, the twists are insane, and some of the puzzles are pretty damn challenging, generally involving or taking place during life-or-death situations. Kotaro Uchikoshi, the creator of the Zero Escape series, also wrote the cult-fan Infinity series, and those visual novels have a lot of the same elements (though they’re kind of long-winded and don’t feature much in the way of gameplay, being more traditional VNs.)

gfs_252011_2_3

999 and Virtue’s Last Reward are both must-plays for anyone who enjoys puzzles, drama, and intrigue. I enjoy all of those, and I played through both after being encouraged by a friend. One week later, I read an announcement that the third game in the series had been canceled, and I nearly cried. Well, not really, but I felt like crying. (This was all the more unbearable because VLR ends on a serious cliffhanger.)

So imagine my happiness today. I’m excited about this game. In fact, it is definitely the release I’m most looking forward to. To put this into perspective, I like Star Wars pretty well and I’m excited about the J.J. Abrams-directed Star Wars VII coming out in December, but I’m about 20 to 30 times more excited about Zero Escape 3. It might even beat out The Winds of Winter for anticipation value, though not by much.

Are you ready for crazy nine-way prisoner's dilemma backstabbing antics.  I hope you are.

Are you ready for crazy nine-way prisoner’s dilemma backstabbing antics. I hope you are.

Okay, enough talk. I don’t normally write posts like this, but I was too happy about this news to let it pass by without comment.

A review of Atelier Rorona Plus

Since the following year at school is going to be rough going, I decided to cram one more game into my summer schedule, one that was recommended to me specially. Atelier Rorona Plus is the latest in the long-running Atelier JRPG series by developer Gust. This title is a Vita download-only game, meaning you won’t find it on the shelves. As the “Plus” suggests, it’s also an extended remake (and judging from a video I’ve seen of the original, a vastly improved remake) of the original on the PS3. A better title for this game, though, might have been Cute Girls Doing Science, or maybe Deadline Simulator, because those together describe everything about Rorona.

When you own a game with a cover like this, you know you've entered the true depths

When you own a game with a cover like this, you know you’ve entered the true depths

The plot of Atelier Rorona is tied into a much larger web of stories and characters that I don’t understand because I haven’t played any of the other 15+ Atelier games out. The basic gist, though, is that you are Rorona, a girl who is forced to study alchemy under her master to pay off debt or something. Luckily, Rorona seems to enjoy alchemy, although her master, who owns the local alchemy workshop, is a real pain to work for. She’s such a pain to everyone she meets, in fact, that her laziness and bitchiness has caused the government to declare that they will shut down her workshop unless she can fulfill twelve government orders over a period of three years in three-month increments. Naturally, the very same day your boss hands over ownership of the workshop to you and palms the whole task off on you. Despite all this, she’s still your boss somehow and still hangs around the workshop.

Atelier Rorona Plus is a fantasy game, but even in this world your boss is an asshole.

Atelier Rorona Plus is a fantasy game, but even in this world your boss is an asshole.

So despite the flowers and cuteness and everything, this game is not exactly for little girls (I imagine a kid would get bored of this game within one minute, in fact.) It is all about gathering ingredients and cooking them up into new things that you can learn how to make by reading alchemy books, and a lot of those things can be combined to make even more things. To keep the workshop from closing, you’ll have to fulfill government orders before each deadline by gathering and crafting certain required items and bringing them to the government office for evaluation and collection. Are you excited yet?

You'll be looking at screens like this one a lot.

You’ll be looking at screens like this one a lot.

No, actually, this is a pretty fun game. It incorporates a lot of typical RPG elements – you have friends in town that you’ll be able to bring with you to look for elements and ingredients in the various field areas. There’s also a pretty basic turn-based RPG combat system that activates when you meet enemies while on your ingredient hunts. The nice thing about combat in this game is that you can use items you create in your workshop to kill enemies in the field.

Rorona, dressed properly for the battlefield

Rorona, dressed properly for the battlefield

Atelier Rorona Plus has enough optional content to hold your interest, and there are plenty of jobs to take alongside your required tasks. There are apparently also lots of different endings that depend upon how well you do in filling your orders and increasing the popularity of your shop around town.

So my verdict is this: it’s a good game. You have to have a high tolerance for cute ditzy anime girls and stuff like that, and it helps if you’re an obsessive-compulsive of the sort who has to collect everything and unlock every secret in every game you ever play, but Atelier Rorona Plus stands well on its own merits.

Persona 4 Golden: a pretty good reason to buy a PS Vita

p4g-2

If you have money to burn and feel like buying a system for just one game, consider getting a Vita for Persona 4 Golden.

That’s not really an accurate statement, to be honest. There are quite a few good titles on the Vita right now. Last year, though, there weren’t. One of the few that I was at all interested in was this port of the popular 2008 JRPG title Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4. I’m a massive SMT fan and loved Persona 4, but that wouldn’t have been enough to get me to buy a Vita.

But Golden isn’t just a port – it actually adds content and hours of gameplay to the PS2 original. There’s a whole new dungeon. There are more Personas to fuse. There are new Arcana that Persona 4 Golden makes up to shove these Personas into. There are a bunch of new costumes your characters can wear in battle (including a few slightly creepy ultra-fanservice outfits for the girls in your party.) There’s a new battle theme, meaning now there are two of them instead of just one (thanks Atlus!) There are several new story events and some new activities for your character to experience. There are two new social links.

One of the two is kind of irritating.  Thanks, Atlus.

One of the two is kind of irritating. Thanks, Atlus.

P4G includes a bunch of extras outside of the game itself. You can now replay cutscenes, watch Persona-related videos like a live concert by whoever brought you those Persona battle themes and background music and a quiz show starring the MC, Yosuke, Chie and Yukiko, naturally hosted by Teddie. What fun!

Another extra: philosophy lectures!

Another extra: philosophy lectures!

Newcomers to Persona 4 aren’t going to understand what the hell any of this is about, so here’s a primer: Persona 4 is a half-dungeon crawler half-social sim. Your player character has to fight shadows in a magical world with his high school friends through their Personas, magical manifestations of their inner beings that can beat up monsters. At the same time, he still has to attend school, establish relationships with his non-Persona-using classmates and townspeople and hide everything he’s doing from his detective uncle. It makes more sense when you play the game, believe me.

Don’t worry about picking up the original if you’re planning on getting P4G. If you have a choice between P4 and P4G, this is the one to get. The original game is all here and then some – it doesn’t take away anything from the old Persona 4. The gameplay is the same, albeit with a few tweaks to the all-important Persona fusion system that make it easier to use. Unfortunately, this means it also retains the few genuinely annoying parts of the game.

Seriously, Teddie.  Fuck you and your bear puns.

Seriously, Teddie. Fuck you and your bear puns.

If you want to know why Persona 4 is a 10 out of 10 game and one of the best JRPGs to come out in the past ten years, go look for a P4 review. The game is simply well-made and a lot of fun. Moreover, it brings together “hardcore” Shin Megami Tensei fans and gamers who can’t stomach the harsh and sometimes cheap difficulty of main line SMT games. It pretty much made SMT’s reputation in the West, and for an American fan of slightly obscure/weird JRPGs (meaning ones that aren’t Final Fantasy) this is enough reason to love it.

The only sticking point is whether P4G is worth buying a Vita for if you don’t have one already. I know a few people who would say yes, but I’m not so sure. If money is no object, or if you’re big on mobile gaming and don’t want to or can’t sit in front of a TV screen for hours on end, then I’d say go for it. If it is and you’ve already got a PS2, though, I’d go with the original P4. You’ll get essentially the same experience, only without the extras that P4G adds.

All in all, though, I don’t regret my decision to buy a Vita. P4G adds a lot to the original Persona 4, and it allows you to play it on the bus/train (I never did this, but if you don’t mind people wondering what the hell you’re doing this should be a benefit for you.) And anyway, the Vita’s got plenty of other good games out. Really it has.