Love it or hate it, it is a fact: Persona 3 and 4 are some of the most-milked JRPG series to ever grace the gaming world.
Art by Ark-iTEK. Check his page out!
However, between the two, it’s clear that Persona 4 is the one that churned out spin-offs a lot more. At least, the way it looks, it’s the fourth game that ended up being pushed a lot more in the marketing department. For the record, Persona 4 has received:
- TWO anime series
- A remastered edition which became a PSV exclusive
- TWO fighting games, featuring some characters from 3
- Participation in a dungeon-crawler along with Persona 3
Why let the ride end there? Let’s take it further! I know, let’s make a rhythm game!
To be fair, Persona 4’s popularity is, in my opinion, mostly well-deserved. Criticisms might abound, but with its popularity and legacy, why wouldn’t Atlus continuously milk the series with quick money-grabs?
For those unfamiliar with Persona 4, please check the game out, especially Golden. Locally, it’s being sold at a really cheap price for Vita games (around 20USD) and it would provide an excellent game that’s gonna last you a good 40 to 50 hours of playtime.
Now where were we? Ah, right. With the way things are going, of course it was only a matter of time before Persona 4 would get its rhythm game. It’s not really a stretch, given the diverse playlist of various songs and background music the Persona series offered ever since. If anything, the Persona series would be one series that really deserves its own rhythm game.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night (which I would shorten to P4D from now on) takes the player back to the rural town of Inaba. Taking place half a year after the start of the story, both the serial murder case (Persona 4) and the fighting tournament (Persona 4 Arena/Ultimax) have been gotten done with, and it looks to be finally time for the Investigation Team to finally get their well-deserved rest after all the hell they went through. Normally, most stories would have ended there, but this Persona 4, so the show must go on!
Months after the events of Ultimax, Rise Kujikawa had decided to end her year-long hiatus from showbiz. With her friends’ help, she hopes to make her big return at the “Love Meets Bonds” Festival (Ai Meets Kizuna in Japanese), a musical extravaganza sponsored by Rise’s agency.
A music event featuring idols, what could possibly go wrong?
Of course, everything goes well until the advent of news about a video that drags people to the other world when watched at midnight. See, it’s just like the original plot, but with a video instead of a TV program! The plot thickens when members of the group Kanamin Kitchen, led by Rise’s friendly rival, Kanami Mashita, start disappearing. Rise turns to Yu and the rest of the Investigation Team to help solve the case.
Sounds familiar? It’s supposed to be! This mystery, featuring disappearances related to media blatantly echoes back to the incident that got everyone together in the first place. This time, instead of lost teenagers with their own personal identity crises, the Investigation Team charges in as a group of changed people, strengthened by overcoming various trials in the past year and a half.
Get into the other world, kick some shadow ass, force out the big shadow, help the victim accept her true self, easy, right? It’s the tried and true formula for the serial murder case, after all.
Ermm…. Not so fast. That would make it too easy.
This time, instead of the Midnight Channel, our heroes find themselves transported into the Midnight Stage. It’s a world so similar yet different. The Midnight Stage is another world teeming with shadows that are ready to drag their victims to their doom, yet prohibits any form of violence. This works both to our heroes’ advantage and disadvantage, preventing the shadows from physically harming them, yet negating their means to fight back. In order to defeat the shadows, our heroes are forced to connect with the shadows’ hearts and eliminate those embodiments of inner human psyche through the most powerful weapon available to them…. Music and dance!
Now, we’re off to the grand finale of the Inaba story!
A quick glance at the in-game interface…
P4D runs on a very familiar rhythm game engine, thanks to the ones who brought us the Project Diva games. Notes appear, player taps the six buttons corresponding to the note, all the while being treated to a glorious CG render of the character dancing to the beat. Let me say it right now that the game’s graphics are top-notch for the Vita, with the models and animation looking even better and smoother than the ones used by Golden…. Although that might not be saying much.
All in all, it’s standard rhythm game fare at first glance. At times, multiple concurrent notes appear to shake things up a bit, requiring the player to hit two buttons at once. Other extras like scratch circles (requiring quick flicks of the analog stick) serve to fill up your “special” meter which enables a “fever mode” at certain parts of the song. Overall, not many things that veteran rhythm game players won’t be familiar with.
If you expected a cheap, easy rhythm game out of this, you’re in for a surprise. The game might seem easy at the lower difficulties. However, the higher difficulties would punish the hell out of overconfident players. Between faster notes and intense combinations requiring muscle memory and good reflexes, the higher difficulties are fast-paced experiences that would quickly overwhelm players that are used to playing at Easy. This is further compounded by the game’s grading system in deciding whether you pass the song or not… Which we’ll get to in a bit.
….And the post-game interface.
Assuming the player does not fail the song outright, he would exit into the post-game screen and be scored for his performance. Points and in-game money (which can be bought for bonuses) will be earned, and so will a title depending on how well the song was played.
In order to clear a song successfully, players will have pay close attention to the status icons which kinda represent your life, so to speak (the five white icons at the upper center of the in-game interface). They vary in color: red, yellow, white, green, and flashing. Players would have to end the song with a green or flashing status in order to clear the song, which in practice, is a lot harder in the higher difficulties. Often, you would need a large chain of combos to even increase the status from one color to another, and all it would take is a miss to drop it down another level. Had to go through a 100-note combo in order to raise it from white to green? One miss and there goes your effort. If the particularly bad choke happens near the end of the song, with less than 50 notes to go before the end of the song? GG.
That’s what makes the game so fun yet so frustrating, since it’s all too easy in the higher difficulties to just choke away your 400-note combo with 2 misses at the end of the song, all the way into a failure.
As they say, a rhythm game is only as good as its selection of songs. Of course, P4D includes a whole selection of Persona 4’s most memorable themes, ranging from the calm world map themes to the intense battle themes. Players can immerse themselves in the heavenly tune of the Winter overworld theme or rock on with the adrenaline-pumping battle theme from Golden. Of course, who could forget Reach Out to the Truth?
I just wish there weren’t so many remixes of the same song and that each song would not be limited to just one specific main dancer. It would be a great idea if players can choose the character they want to dance with… But I guess that could lead to most players doing a solo run with just their waifu, so I digress.
The game allows you to customize your characters’ appearances and even choose their partner for Fever Time
Games like this are never complete without a whole slew of customization options. Thanks to in-game credits and money, players would have access to all kinds of costumes and accessories for their favorite characters to wear. Now you can have that Santa Yukiko dancing to Snowflakes or Bellydancer Rise dancing to a funky remix of the Persona Arena ending theme. While we’re at it, why not have Yu in full Velvet Room attire playing partner to Margaret as she dances to the Velvet Room theme?
The customization options are there, the songs are there, and while the gameplay can take a while to get used to, it’s overall a really fun game. As far as being a rhythm game is concerned, P4D earns passing marks on these three major categories.
Yes, the theme of facing your true self returns, only with a slightly different twist
The beautiful thing about P4D is the fact that it’s a great rhythm game that comes with an immersive story that follows up on the original.
You see, what happens with anime and games that receive too much additional content such as spin-offs and movies is that the story from each succeeding installation can sometimes have a tendency slowly trudge towards what I like to call “filler-zone”. More spin-offs and more extra material usually result in stories that slowly stray further and further away from the original, in themes and even continuity. Soon enough, the games become self-contained, carrying nothing in relation to what made the original so great, with the exception of the characters and their signature moves, catchphrases, and so on.
That’s not the case with P4D, a game that directly connects itself to the main continuity. The characters from the original games do return, and the development they went through in those several games are all evident in their dialogue and appearances. The Investigation Team still come into this challenge as a close-knit group of friends with their own colorful and complementing personalities, but now, they come into this game as a stronger group of teens, taking on essentially a repeat performance of their initial trials. This time, they’re armed with experience to use in helping the new victims of psychological warfare employed by the shadows and the selves that they (the victims) try to deny.
“Huhu, I’m embarrassed about my manga fandom…” – Blue’s character arc in a nutshell
Overall, the story might come off as a bit cheesy, but it still carried the elements which made the Persona 4 story such a masterpiece, especially in connecting and providing a relatable piece with its primary audience: teenagers and young adolescents hoping to find their place in this labyrinth called life.
When asked the inevitable question of which of the two mainstream Persona games I prefer, I always found Persona 4 a lot more enjoyable to play through than 3, and in large part due to how relevant the story’s themes are to me, as well as seeing the characters live through their lives in a comparatively easy-going manner with their banters and school trips.
I would like to describe Persona 4 Dancing All Night as that spin-off that’s unnecessary, yet manages to satisfy. It doesn’t add anything major to the Persona 4 timeline in the bigger picture, which is why I called it “unnecessary”, but the story in this game did show the fruits of the player’s labor in completing Persona 4’s main story, in terms of characters.
At least when Atlus milks their franchise to grab some easy cash, they do it the right way and show a semblance of consistency in product quality. P4D managed to retain the charm and essence of what made Persona 4 what it is despite the huge shift in format and genre (Hey, Arena wasn’t that huge of a shift). The combination of a rhythm game and a world full of magical powers and monsters seemed awkward at first. Praise the gaming gods Atlus made it work out nicely.
The story mode took me around a few days to finish, but even now, I haven’t been able to clear everything in the free play mode. The main source of replay value in these kinds of games lie in the various combinations of customization options (for both characters and song modifiers) and scoring trophies provided by the game. Well, they sure were effective hooks in keeping me playing this game.
Whether you enjoyed Persona 4 for its characters, music, or story, and want a rhythm game to be played on the go, give this game a chance. If you’re looking at this game and as someone completely foreign to the series, I would highly advise you to play the main games first, but if you’re in for just the songs, then why not? It’s not as effective of an entry point for me, but I guess it could help, as it doesn’t take much for the player to fall in love with the characters’ banter and quirks for them to get interested in the main game.
Overall, as a rhythm game, it’s fine. It’s not without its flaws, but among the various options one would have for the PSV, this one is surely one purchase you wouldn’t regret.
Final score: 8/10