Publisher: Atlus (NA) / NIS America (EU)
Release Date: 09.29.2015 (NA) / 11.06.2015 (EU)
"Both a fitting final outing for the Persona 4 cast and a great gateway for fans of the series to try out rhythm games."
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While the wait for Persona 5 has been lengthy — finally set to end in 2016 — Atlus has made great use of its much-loved previous two entries to keep the series fresh in everyone's mind. The handheld versions of the prior two main entries were almost enough by themselves, adding substantial new content to games that worked brilliantly in their new portable homes. On top of this, however, the games' brilliant casts also combined strongly in a set of spin-offs featuring two fighting games and a crossover with Etrian Odyssey. These titles allowed the very strong characters to imprint themselves into the new genres with Atlus' trademark hugely enjoyable narrative. What we assume is the final such spin-off comes in the form of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, and although Persona 3 characters do not appear this time out, it offers an excellent way to round off the adventures of this batch of heroes.
Dancing All Night takes place around a month after the epilogue to Persona 4 Golden, with Rise Kujikawa preparing for her big comeback to take place at the Love Meets Bonds Festival. Rise has somehow roped in her friends from high school to act as her backup dancers. Naoto Shirogane and Yu Narukami (aka "P4 Hero") conveniently now live in the same city as Rise, letting them easily get practice in and keep in touch, with the rest of the Inaba group arriving shortly after the game starts, having been practicing themselves back home. The story is very much along the lines one would expect from a recent Persona title with equal share of humour, seriousness, and heartwarming, and good callbacks are made with Persona 3 to help link the things together despite its cast not being present.
The format of the story shares that of the Arc System Works-developed Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, taking the form of visual novel style chapters each following a particular subset of the cast and interspersed with the title's particular brand of gameplay, in this case a rhythm game. We are also introduced to the idol group Kanamin Kitchen, headed up by Kanami Mashita, which for some reason takes the theme of "edible meats" and whose members play a pivotal role in proceedings.
Dancing All Night's story focuses quite heavily on Japan's idol scene and some of the pressures put on its idols and what is expected from them in terms of pleasing the fanbase. This contrasts very well with Persona 4's theme of accepting and being true to oneself, putting the cast up against the mysterious entity that is the cause of the game's events. All in all, the story serves as a fitting epilogue for this batch of Persona characters, ready for the next set to take over.
Being a rhythm game, the music is of paramount importance and Dancing All Night does not disappoint. The game offers an assortment of tracks taken from the Persona 4 game family, but a large number remixed by various artists, each of whom put their own take of things. Already a strong selection tracks beforehand, for the most part this remixing works as a treat, though there are one or two tracks that don't quite work within the generally energetic theme of the dancing. The vast majority of the English voice cast is unchanged from other titles and as superb as expected. Rise's forced change to Ashly Burch from Laura Bailey does mean that her voice is slightly but noticeably different, but is still very well performed throughout.
The visual design is also great, and the choreography works well with each character having their own particular and appropriate style of dancing. For example, Chie's dance moves clearly come from excerise and martial arts, while Yosuke's are inspired by hip-hop. Most players will be too focused on watching the button prompts to be able to notice all of the dancing going on during gameplay, but there's always enough to watch in the periphery to get a good sense of things and the option to watch a replay of the entire dance is almost always worthwhile.
The controls are nice and simple, so it's pretty straightforward for those who aren't rhythm game fans and getting into this for its Persona connection. There are six buttons to press (up, left, and down on the control pad side and triangle, circle, and cross on the face button side), with presses signified by icons that move from the center to the target area. Sometimes players will need to hold down a button or press two buttons simultaneously but it's easy to get the hang of. There is also a circular signal that indicates when players can do a scratch (pressing a trigger or flicking one of the two analogues in any direction) as a bonus press but which doesn't count if missed.
Scratching also gets used to determine if a Fever bonus is activated at predetermined points in the dance. This usually results in a special section where another dancer joins the main one up on stage while providing a score bonus. There is a gauge at the top showing how much the audience appreciates the dance so far and must be above a certain level for a success. The game will offer good challenge for those who want it on its hard difficulty setting, but is also more than happy to let players who just want to enjoy the story without worrying about failing tone down things to their level. For those that are done with the story and want more, the game's Free Dance mode is where it's at, giving players much freer reign with unlockable costumes and accessories, and adding extra characters and songs as DLC, a lot of which is free of charge.
In offering one final bit of Persona-style storytelling for its prior cast and avoiding any possibility of repeating its gameplay ahead of a new entry, Persona 4: Dancing All Night works as a great precursor for Persona 5. The cast is every bit as fun as before and the music and its remixes work excellently with the rhythm genre, making it an easy recommendation to fans of the series.