Publisher: Atlus USA
Release Date: September 29, 2015
ESRB: T for Teen
Persona 4 used to be a relatively easy concept to understand. As bizarre as its inherent setting was, it won the hearts of many back in 2008 on PS2 and is heralded by many as one of the best RPGs ever -- myself included. It did a great job at resolving most of its character and story arcs, so a direct sequel honestly seemed far fetched for those that played it.
But, warranted or not, Persona 4 saw multiple canonical spin-offs in the last few years and each one couldn't be more different from one another. Such spin-offs included Arc System Work's fighting game take with Persona 4 Arena, the Etrian Odyssey influenced dungeon-crawler Persona Q, and -- perhaps the strangest of them all -- a rhythm game called Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
Knowing where to even begin to describe Persona 4: Dancing All Night's concept is an ordeal, but like learning any new dance it comes from getting the first steps and going from there. In P4: DAN's case it feels like it was designed with rhythm newcomers in mind. Probably the biggest incentive for RPG fans that are likely not well-versed with rhythm games to even check it out is because of its surprisingly in-depth story mode. Yes, an actual story mode for a rhythm game... and around ten hours of it at that.
Like Persona 4 Arena before it, Persona 4: Dancing All Night has a visual novel-esque story mode taking place after the events of Persona 4. Unlike P4A, however, it may actually contribute more to the series as a sequel story. It starts off six months after the end of the original Persona 4 and has the pop idol 'Rise' asking the main P4 cast to help with her return debut at the "Love Meets Bonds Festival" as backup dancers. After a month of rigorous dance training, and days before the LMB Festival, eerie rumors start surfacing from the new idol group "Kanamin Kitchen"'s random disappearance and a mysterious video clip at midnight causing people to fall unconscious. Seemingly similar to the Midnight Channel case before it, the P4 Investigation Team decides to uncover the truth behind these rumors.
I give Persona 4 spin-offs a lot of flak for their storytelling. Persona Q felt completely inconsequential with its shallow narrative tie-ins, and Persona 4 Arena had the glaring issues of disregarding character development and using redundant story devices -- but both basically forgot what made P4 good in the first place. It is for this reason that Persona 4: Dancing All Night's story is in a weird place. The story mode itself is probably the most sincere spin-off sequel of the series, by treating the original cast with actual respect towards their development, but the conflict they are wrapped up in is quite heavy-handed and predictable.
Also similar to P4A, the story is more so centered around the newcomer, Kanamin, but unlike Labrys of P4A whom had a solid character arc, Kanamin still seems rather vapid by the end of it all and does not really earn her narrative place. Ultimately, the story mode is inoffensive fanservice. There are some cool callbacks to P4, but unless you are an established fan you probably won't get much out of it -- like most of Persona 4: Dancing All Night.
More than anything else, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is an outright spectacle on the Vita's screen. You can certainly feel the influence of Atlus's brimming amount of style from the seemingly cel-shaded look, incredibly slick menu interface, and frankly, the Persona 4 cast has honestly never looked better in a 3D space when they are showing off their sweet dance moves. It also oozes with P4 fanservice, from the casual quips made by the characters throughout (voice actor change for Rise disappointment aside) to even using Tanaka's shopping center to get new outfits/accessories. Whether you want to use give Teddie an Igor outfit, giant nose and all, or picking one of the seasonal outfits for everybody else it is very clear this was made with strong fandom in mind. Heck, it even goes as far as having players being able to use character voices for "scratch" notes during gameplay -- it goes all the way with fanservice.
All of this is there which is why P4:DAN is disappointing as an actual rhythm game. Don't get me wrong, it is generally polished and the core rhythm gameplay is fun, if hardly original. The way notes are presented also makes it easy to commit inputs to muscle memory or using knowing when to flick the analog for scratch notes. Still, it also has minor annoyances to the gameplay.
One annoyance is that it can be difficult to tell when you actually miss a note. The game uses audio quips to indicate many its mechanics, like fever time, but the characters won't usually make a remark about you missing a note if you doing fairly good overall, so your combo chain may break and you are not when it happened. Scratch inputs can also cause visual overload on higher difficulties, which is a similar issue to the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva releases (Both games have the common developer Dingo) but nonetheless is still a problem. I mean, the game itself is easy, and I managed to get all the trophies and unlocks without much difficulty even on hard mode, but a lack of finesse can be a serious issue for those hardcore enough to try the highest Dancing All Night difficulty.
The biggest issue is that Persona 4: Dancing All Night is simply lacking in content compared to most rhythm titles nowadays. The song selection is sparse with just over 20 tracks, and this is made more glaring by some songs getting multiple so-so remixes and overpriced DLC in addition ($5 for one Hatsune Miku song). And, honestly, for as much as I enjoy the original renditions a lot of the song remixes aren't particularly great by themselves despite borrowing heavily from the Persona 4: Reincarnation album from a few years ago. You can certainly feel the production values have been pushed to the limit for the system but it should not have been at the cost of actual songs to play. Ultimately, a lack of content is the game's most apparent issue and I probably completed/unlocked everything in about the same amount of time it took to simply read through the story.
As complicated as it is to even understand why Persona 4: Dancing All Night came to fruition, it is just too complicated to describe its place for fans. As a spin-off sequel it is probably the most sincere of any Persona 4 spin-off to date with its sizable story mode alone, even with its narrative qualms. Also, if looks could kill, Persona: Dancing All Night would have it in spades with its overwhelming visual charm and fanfare. However, amongst fellow rhythm releases P4: DAN is simply lacking in content to play through, especially with its lukewarm and sparse song library. For as much heart as it may convey through its dance, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is best left to the most devout Persona 4 fans and not for those seeking greatness in either its storytelling or gameplay.
+Gorgeous presentation and incredibly slick interface
+ Somehow has an in-depth story mode for a rhythm game
+ Oozes with Persona 4 fanservice
+ Comprehensive, fun rhythm gameplay
-Many P4 remix tracks don“t stand out very much
- Quite limp on the amount of playable songs
-Story is really heavy-handed and predictable
- Somewhat off when it comes missing note feedback
Overall Score: 6.5 (out of 10)
For a title that was clearly made to have P4 fans rejoice with its gorgeous aesthetic and style it is disappointing that as an actual rhythm game Persona 4: Dancing All Night simply does not have enough to tide over most of its potential audience with its sparse performance of songs.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.