With as many sequels, spin offs and re-releases as Persona 4 has had now you would think ATLUS would have worn out the title’s welcome. However something about the Inaba Investigation Squad, our recurring ensemble stars of Persona 4, makes it so there’s never quite enough. Perhaps it’s their endearing personalities and fun loving nature, or that Persona 4 titles so far have come with a standard of quality that typically makes them stand up to and stand out from whichever genre it tackles. Dancing All Night definitely delivers a slick rhythm game experience, albeit a bit of a lacking one.
By no exaggeration one of the greatest things about the Persona franchise are the music tracks that come out of it. Dancing All Night comes with a series of remixes from already pretty great Persona tracks that will have you moving to the beat in an instant. These tracks are composed by some heavy hitter musicians and video game composers as well, and I don’t think I could name a single “bad” track in the bunch.
The Inaba Investigation Squad has come back to tear up the dance floor with some incredible style. Each of the familiar Persona 4 kids (not so much kids anymore) brings their own mix of dance styles to the game. It’s actually a nice treat and a bit of a relief, as I’m typically used to seeing other rhythm games utilize some silly para-para style of dance. The different dance styles also accents their personalities really well, from Kanji’s aggressive street moves, to Naoto’s mature jazz and swing inspired motions and Yukiko’s classical ballet… And sure, Rise dances Para Para, but she makes it look good.
A problem the entire Persona franchise seems to have is top loading you with story before it allows you to do anything, be it a JRPG where it might be far more appropriate or a fighting game where you just want to get to a match. Dancing All Night is no exception, however the game is gracious enough to give you a “free dance” mode out the gate (albeit many Free Dance unlocks are hidden in the story mode), while once you get past the Story Mode’s intro things tend to progress at a slightly faster clip.
It’s kind of weird to talk about the story mode in a rhythm game. Dancing All Night’s story is canon, in case you were wondering, and while it doesn’t make many references to the Arena games, it does continue roughly a half year after Persona 4 Golden leaves off. Persona 4 was about facing your true self, while Arena had the Inaba gang squash their self doubts, Dancing All Night is about societal expectations and how others see us. Through out the game you’re rescuing more victims from a new type of ‘shadow world’ looking to erase their existence, solving yet another Scooby-Doo mystery and preparing for the big dance concert looming around the corner. It’s not a ‘must see’ story for Persona fans, but it’s quirky and engaging for what it is.
It plays pretty true to rhythm game form, though you have to get used to Dancing All Night’s unique HUD. You get a yellow circle with button indicators for Up/Triangle, Left/Circle and Down/X. You need to keep time with the flying stars, linked “unity” bars and green hold buttons flying towards the outer reaches of said circle. It helps if you keep the Vita at a distance and the eyes on your dance, trusting your hand eye coordination to find time to the music. There are also rings that will sometimes emanate from the character, blue rings build your score while multicolored “Fever’ rings will do something magical if you hit enough of them.
For all the murder and mayhem that seems to go on around the Inaba kids a big theme is always “look at how much fun we’re having!” and this is no exception. Sure their souls are about to be gobbled up into nothingness but damn son, they get to dance the night away. While a track plays and your pre-assigned character dances, they’ll comment on how much they’re digging the moment, their allies will yell words of encouragement, and you can activate a special “Fever Time” where a partner will join you for an impromptu dance duet. While it was good for getting you into the mood, and having a partner jump in made for some “AWW YIS” moments, it was a bit unfortunate there were so few pre-recorded lines of dialogue. A “You’re really making a comeback, Rise!” was only great to hear so many times in the same song.
You can customize your dancers in Free Dance mode, though options seem limited. The costumes will be familiar to anyone that played Persona 4 as the majority of their outfits are ripped directly from the casual clothing the kids wore in the RPG title. There are maybe a couple of “unique” costumes to each character in this game, though you won’t find a ton in fun alternatives. Compared to other rhythm games such as Rock Band and Project Diva the customization in this title was fairly lacking, which is a shame because it could have been a simple means with which to extend the lifespan of this title.
In fact this game just kind of lacks. It has a very small track list, and it’s possible you’ll clear both Free Dance and Story Mode in little more than a day. With just over 25 tracks it’s painfully short for a rhythm game, Project DIVA f was kind of a cash in and came with 49 tracks, while your typical rhythm game can offer anywhere between 60 and 100 so Dancing All Night. The tracklist seems paltry especially when you consider several of those 26 tracks are remixes off the same song, however if there is one concession to be made it’s that most of the tracks are original compositions for this title versus most rhythm games that are just music anthologies.
On that note the music is pretty fantastic and I can’t say I really encountered a track I hate. With remixes by artists such as Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill), Norihiko Hibino (Zone of Enders, Metal Gear), NARASAKI (Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei), Shinichi Osawa and several other powerhouses ATLUS really did a great job of culling some great musicians for this project. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that I craved much, much more from Persona’s track selection.
Now there are a few more songs and costume options planned as DLC and I’m not entirely sure how that sits with me based on their pricing plan for said content. I freely supported Project Diva’s DLC yet at the same time, I had a core package that felt like I got plenty bang for my buck. I’m also usually willing to part with my dollars for tracks I like in other rhythm games, but this is more out the attitude “because I want that track” and not “there were so few tracks to begin with.”
I suppose caution be advised when considering this one. I thought Dancing All Night did a great job with Vita graphics, dancing animations and musical offerings. The title however is just so bare. By the time you really get into the groove of things the game is just about over, and only so many replays of the same handful of songs will keep it relevant. While it could take ages to complete Persona 4 Golden and the fighting game nature of Arena makes it an easy title to return again and again, Dancing All Night feels more like a ‘sideshow,’ a distraction in the Persona universe before 5 is released later next year. Sure it has that Persona 4 standard of quality, and I’d rather quality over quantity, but at the same time the rhythm game market is a healthy one and with titles such as Rock Band 4 and Project Mirai DX just around the corner non Persona fans wouldn’t be blamed for holding off for an alternative choice.