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Persona 4: Dancing All Night review — Written by Hideo Kojima?

by Ron Duwell | October 15, 2015October 15, 2015 12:20 pm PST

Well, at least we know that Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima has already found employment outside of Konami. He has brought his knack for extended conversations between talking heads to the halls of Atlus where he obviously penned the latest Persona 4 spinoff, the rhythm game Dancing All Night.

Oh wait, you mean he had nothing to do with it? Then how else do you explain the 45 minutes it takes to even complete a tutorial and get to the first stage in this horribly overly written rhythm game?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Persona 4: Dancing All Night is probably the last we’ll be seeing of our Inaba high school friends now that Persona 5 seems poised to replace them. Atlus has chosen to make their grand exit from the gaming scene a rhythm game from the development studio who made Hatsune Miku a video game sensation in Japan.

Okay, not exactly the route I would have taken, but at least the series has never been short of excellent music to tap your feet to while battling otherworldly demons. How do these songs hold up in a rhythm game context?

Well, not so bad … if you are patient enough to get to them that is.

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Fundamentally fit

Unlike Persona 4, a massive 70+ hours video game that I could rabble on about for hours, there really isn’t that much to say about Persona 4: Dancing All Night. It’s a music game with simple mechanics, and when you score high enough points on levels, you can pay in-game currency to unlock new costumes and accessories for your favorite characters.

… in my case, Chie. Don’t you judge me! She’s popular!

If you’ve played a rhythm game, you should know what to expect. Icons appear on the screen, and a corresponding button must be pushed in time with the beat. It’s about as basic as they come. Persona 4: Dancing All Night features a hexagonal chart lining up with the Up, Left, Down, Triangle, Circle, Cross buttons on the Vita face pad. Push, hold, release, repeat.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night throws a little twist in there with Fever Mode, which brings an Ally to the stage and your main character dances a duet with him or her. Fever Mode is activated when you hit enough optional notes in time with a large circle which says “Fever” on it. Just a flip of the analog stick is all you need.

You would think that Persona 4’s excellent soundtrack would make for a great rhythm game too, but it only half succeeds at the idea. All of the songs which appear in the main game are great. If you’ve blasted through the main RPG, each of these swingin’ tunes should be implanted on your mind, making them much easier to play through. A few original tunes, plus the intro theme to Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, help shake up the selection a bit …

… and then there are the remixes. The first few are nice, but then it becomes very obvious that Atlus was unable to score the rights to more music. Over the course of the game, our friends dance to slightly modified versions of these tunes, and the more remixes they stumble across, the more apparent this becomes and the less apparent the differences become.

True, Atlus needs to fill out an entire game to justify a $50 price tag, meaning lots of levels, but there has to be a better option than simple padding with slightly different versions of the songs you love. Songs from other Persona games maybe?

All in all, it’s a painfully average rhythm game with a decent selection of songs that tends to go a little heavy on the remixes. The gameplay itself is bare minimum of what is required and doesn’t shake itself in any obvious ways the similarly styled games do. The costumes are fun cosmetic reward, but overall, Persona 4: Dancing All Night it banks a bit too much on its style and connection to its parent game to set itself apart from other, better games in the genre.

I did have a lot of fun seeing the cast of characters from Persona 4 again, and I did get a few solid hours out of unlocking all the stages on different difficulty levels in Free Mode, never failing a level once mind you. However, I am pretty sure most potential buyers will be looking forward to the story mode to once again experience that Persona touch. Sadly, this didn’t really do much for me either.

Jack, I’ve been thinking for a long time. You’ve got a “No Trespassing” sign pasted on your heart.

Without question, the main problem with this game is Atlus simply overestimating how much people want to see more of their mystery plot mechanisms again when it is really just the characters that should be shining in a silly storyline like this. Persona 4: Dancing All Night beams with this sense of obligation to tell a full length story rationalizing the bizarre gameplay, and it does so it the most clumsy way possible.

I’m not kidding when I say that the cutscenes in this game could make Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty blush in shame, hence my earlier Kojima comparisons. From the moment you start Story Mode, it takes a solid 30 minutes if you read really fast, maybe closer to 45 if you fully listen to the voice acting, to actually hit the first song. And that song, is just a tutorial! Naoto, Rise, and the obnoxiously bland Yu talk about dancing, the upcoming gig, the new girl band who are also hot at the time, talk, talk talk, talk talk talk!

This is supposed to be a fun “pick up and play” rhythm game, but I still feel like the context in this story is enough for another 70 hour JRPG on its own. And unlike the main Persona 4 game, which is perfectly paced and dives deep into these characters’ insecurities, Dancing All Night merely glides across the surface of their personalities, ultimately learning that working together, you should just be yourself, and having friends is the best way to solve anything … didn’t we already learn that before?

Cutscenes too are told stiffly through talking portraits, a storytelling lazy trend that all Japanese games seem to have stumbled onto trying to keep that budget down. So scene choreography or anything. Persona 4 didn’t have the best graphics, but its sense of space and atmosphere really made Inaba feel like a real place.

Here, we are treated to just backdrops and character art, making the actions feel cold and me feel helplessly distant from it all, like I am no longer part of the quest but rather, merely watching my friends continue without me. It doesn’t help either that Persona 4’s once nameless avatar now has a voice, meaning your persona into this world of Persona is no longer “you.” Now, he is cheekily named “Yu,” and has been blessed with his own personality … if you can call it that.

Giving this main character a voice is the worst creative choice Atlus has ever done and could have ever with this series, destroying the gateway we have to this universe and making him boring as plain yogurt all in one fell swoop.

After the first tutorial, we get several more extended cutscenes introducing a dump-truck worth of back story, a batch of animé girl band cliches, a mean producer and manager, the whole nine yards. Our heroes must rescue each of these girls because they get trapped in demon realm. Their inability to freely speak their minds because of their image caused their subconscious to take physical demon frm.

For all its shallow attempts at recreating the intimacy of Persona 4, I will give the story a bit of credit here. So many poor celebrity girl band members in real-life Japan are crammed into this life of image and exploited for their outer beauty, unable to freely say what they think or have personal relationships or anything. They sacrifice their free will, and Dancing All Night seems to take issue with that … even though people buying this game in Japan are the same people who support that girl band industry as well.

Plus one point, writers! Now, could you have told the story with about an eighth of the dialogue?

Later into the story mode, these cutscenes do admittedly become slightly briefer, maybe around the 5-15 minute mark, but by that time I was already so disconnected from the story that it became harder to get reinvolved.

Context and story is important in any video game, even in music games. Parappa has to use the porter-potty, so he rap-battles against his teachers to the front of line. U-1 is a helpless boy who travels to the distant planet Gitaroo. Male cheerleaders help a wimpy boy win a dodgeball game to impress the girl he likes. Lammy has to escape from hell.

Thanks! Got it. All of these are marvelous rhythm games thanks to the brevity of their setup leads into wonderful music pieces. Persona 4: Dancing All Night loses itself in taking its story too seriously.

Again, it’s not the characters’ fault. It’s the overly written script they find themselves trapped in that holds back the story mode. Had it cut the dialogue by about 50 percent, and added some fun cutscenes that still managed to keep the general spirit of the story intact, I would have been okay with it. It can be a dark, creepy mystery, just not one where cutscenes rival the length of the actual stages.

As it stands, Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s story mode is 80 percent reading and 20 percent gameplay … not exactly a great ratio no matter how the DJ spins it.

Ugh, high-school reunions can be awkward

It’s a shame. I wanted to like Persona 4: Dancing All Night a lot more than I do because this might be the last we see of these eternally memorable characters for a while. I really wanted to enjoy the time I spent with them like I did in Persona Q, where they were mere caricatures of their personalities, or the Persona 4 Arena games, which kept the cutscenes to a slightly more tolerable level, but the script and its length are just too impenetrable for anyone looking to actually enjoy the gameplay.

If you skip the story mode, the Free Play mode is fine for a while. All of the songs and most of the costumes can be unlocked that way, but again, it’s not that impressive of a rhythm game on its own either. It’s blatantly solid in every aspect of its gameplay. Maybe only on the Vita could it possibly stand out because where is the rhythm game competition? Patapon? More Hatsune Miku games? The subpar Parappa the Rapper PSP port?

And yet, I can’t totally dismiss it either because there is some value here. Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s graphics are fantastic. Its style is unquestionable. It has unfathomable adorable Nanako dancing to the Junes jingle, and yes, despite being overwritten, these are still the same cats you spent a digital year of your life becoming best friends with. That does account for something, just not a full $50 price tag.

Wait for a sale. Atlus throws one on PSN every other week anyway.

Wait

Disclaimer: We purchased Persona 4: Dancing All Night with personal funds for the PlayStation Vita and played the Story Mode and Free Mode before writing this review.

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Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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