Often touted as one of the best Japanese RPGs ever made, Persona 4 found its feet on the Playstation Vita in the form of the excellent remaster, Persona 4 Golden.
Following a group of unlikely highschool friends who get involved in untangling a series of mysterious murders, the story, gameplay and soundtrack are all highly regarded. With the story already fleshed out in two subsequent fighting games, the idea of yet another title adding to the game’s deep narrative – told via the medium of a rhythm game, no less – seemed unlikely, yet that’s exactly what Persona 4: Dancing All Night is. And strangely, it works really well.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night picks up six months after where Persona 4 left off, so the main cast of characters will all be instantly familiar to anyone who has enjoyed the series in the past. Part visual novel, part music rhythm game, it’s a strange combination, rather removed from the game it is picking up after, but that’s not a bad thing.
The story is based around Rise Kujikawa, a wannabe pop sensation, returning to her career after a brief hiatus from the limelight. You and the rest of your group of friends have been signed up to be her backing dancers, and so are training for the Love Meets Bonds Festival. Meeting a rival pop group, Kanamin Kitchen and their lead singer, Kanami, and everything seems fine until the group mysteriously disappear. With your interest piqued, you catch wind of a rumour about a mysterious video that, if watched at midnight, transports the viewer to the “other side”. Naturally, the video is hunted down, watched at midnight, and whaddaya know? You’re suddenly on the “other side”. Oooh. Spooky.
If you dive straight into the story mode (as I assume most people will), you’ll have to sit through around 30 minutes of narrative before you even get to the tutorial for the rhythm elements. Whilst it’s a drag that the dancing elements are spread pretty far apart through the game, it’s not too much of an issue as the graphic novel tells a very interesting story that will undoubtedly have you hooked. Although the story does depend on some elements of Persona 4 and generally assumes you’ll be familiar with it, it’s perfectly accessible for newcomers to the series too. There are undoubtedly a few references that will grant those who have played Persona 4 some extra enjoyment, but as a standalone title it’s perfectly passable.
Visually, the game is stunning. I’d go as far to say that this is one of the best examples of the visual novel genre I’ve seen yet. The animated sequences are sublime and the character models are illustrated perfectly. Unlike many visual novels, you’re not just sitting through a series of still images and blocks of text – everything is fully animated, and gorgeous cutscenes intersperse the developing story. The characters are all fully voiced too, and to an excellent standard, meaning it’s even easier to get absorbed into the intriguing – albeit crazy – events unfolding before your eyes.
Of course, if you don’t feel like taking in the 8-10 hour story, there’s “Free Dance” mode, which lets you select from a list of available songs and dive straight into the action. The rhythm game itself is great fun, if not a little on the difficult side; even on normal difficulty it can be hard to keep track of everything flying around the screen. The Vita’s buttons are used well – the control scheme is simple and effective without being overly complicated. There are too many games on the Vita that incorporate annoying reverse touchpad controls, but luckily there’s none of this here – just the face buttons are used, keeping it nice and simple. The screen layout takes some getting used to though; your button prompts are on the far sides of the screen, with the dancers starring in the middle. It’s hard to focus on everything at once, and this would have been easier if the prompts had been more central. Still, it’s a minor niggle and doesn’t take away from the fun.
There are 30 songs in total that are unlocked as you progress through the story. The soundtrack is absolutely brilliant, with a great mixture of style and rhythm to suit all varied tastes. If you’re a fan of the Persona 4 soundtrack you’ll be glad to know that most of the songs are featured in the playlist, and even if you haven’t heard them before, you’ll undoubtedly be humming them all day as they’re incredibly catchy and infectious.
It’s hard to find anything to dislike about Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Its captivating storyline will likely have you hooked, and the unique gameplay makes it stand out from the crowd. If you’re a fan of the Persona series, it’s a no brainer that you need this in your collection. If you’ve never played a Persona game before but fancy a game with excellent graphics, great story and downright fun gameplay, then this is a great introduction to the franchise that is sure to equally intrigue and entertain.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is available on PlayStation Vita. Buy now from Amazon.