Persona 4 Dancing All Night Review (PS Vita)
If you thought taking the characters of a fan-favorite role-playing game and throwing them into a fighting game was as drastic a departure for the Persona series as was humanly possible, Persona 4 Dancing All Night proves otherwise. Combining the beloved grind-fest RPG with a rhythm game takes Atlus' outside-the-box thinking to a whole new level. All the characters you've spent hundreds of hours with over the course of the past few years return again, only this time they've set their sights on saving the world through the universal language of dance. It shouldn't work. Persona 4 Dancing All Night is probably the largest deviation from the core concept a franchise has ever received, yet somehow, it manages to be everything fans could possibly have hoped for.
Set after the events of Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, Persona 4 Dancing All Night sees the Investigation Team reuniting to help friend and pop idol Rise during her performance at a major music festival. Of course, when these guys get together, mysterious things always seem to happen. It would appear if you watch a video promoting the festival at midnight, the spirit of a deceased idol appears, and you fall prey to a version of Apathy Syndrome. However, it isn't until some of the other idols at the festival start disappearing that the Investigation Team gets wrangled into the mess.
If you were concerned that this rhythm game wouldn't have the narrative chops of its predecessors, fret not; Persona 4 Dancing All Night has a surprisingly engaging story. Even if some of it sounds familiar, that's okay. Though the base of the narrative is very similar to previous Persona events, the rest of the adventure proves to be anything but. While it's not quite as lengthy and intricate as a more standard Persona game (the story is about six hours long), there are a lot of strong character moments for everyone in the cast. The story-to-dancing ratio might be off a bit, as there's a lot of exposition between dancing segments. It throws the pacing during the earlier chapters, but once things start rolling, those elements even out.
The meat of P4DAN lies in the dancing, which you'll do plenty of once you get about an hour into the story. If you're eager to just get to it, you could always hit up the Free Dance mode, but new tracks open from time spent in the story itself, so it's more than worth it to invest the few hours it takes to complete your first time through. The controls make use of the d-pad and face buttons, and thankfully don't task you with tapping on the screen or touchpad in order to keep up with the beat. Even with the tinier buttons, you have a better tactile sense of what you're doing pressing on a physical queue versus a touch screen.
Three buttons are used from each grouping (up, left and down on the d-pad; triangle, circle and X on the buttons), with the corresponding buttons matched up with their mirrored counterpart for double moves. In addition to having to tap out single beats, there are multiple dance triggers that require you to hit two matching buttons, like up and triangle, at the same time. The spacing of the Vita's controls works well for this, and it's easy to keep things together on the lower difficulty levels. Once you ramp up to Hard or the All Night difficulties, things escalate rather quickly. Not only do you have fewer misses to work with, but you've got a seemingly endless stream of button combinations flying at you faster than your hands and eyes can coordinate. Additionally, the Vita is a little cramped for bigger hands, so extended play sessions can lead to major thumb soreness if you're working your digits too hard.
The only real downside to making a rhythm game under the Persona banner is something that's typical of most rhythm games. Your attention is so focused on hitting all the notes, particularly if playing on any difficulty above Easy, that you miss out on much of the dancing action on screen. That includes the solo moves and the team-up Fever Mode moves. Fever Mode is earned by flicking the right analog stick in time with the on-screen notification to fill up the meter. Once queued up, a special tag-team dance with a partner will happen on screen. You don't have much different to do with your input, but you'll get more points for performing well during these segments. It's just a shame you'll miss out on seeing them in action while you play.
However, Dancing All Night does include a replay feature, which alleviates some of that trouble. After you've finished a song, you can watch the video replay of your performance and take in all the sights and sounds without having to worry about the pressure of success. It's a smart inclusion, and one that makes sense given how much time and effort was put into giving every single character a unique dance, and specialized moves for when they're teamed with another dancer. Its value is limited though, as watching your replays is far less enjoyable than actually playing P4DAN. Still, that Atlus included such a feature is a nice touch.
Free Dance does offer more replayability outside the story mode, and is the one place where you can customize your characters. A whole mess of outfits and accessories are available to purchase with the money you earn from dancing. You can then apply these new clothing sets, glasses and headphones to characters while you dance. Some will actually increase the challenge beyond the base difficulty you selected, thus allowing you to earn more money. It's a nice cycle to get stuck in, particularly when experimenting with different looks, partners and tracks over and over again. It helps that the Persona soundtrack has always been catchy as hell, and these familiar songs and remixed versions never seem to grow tiresome. The only thing that is a bit of a detriment is how slowly new songs unlock, but with tunes as strong as these, even replaying the same half-dozen a few times over isn't enough to make you grow weary. In fact, the tracks might even get better the more you hear them.
Even if like us you were left scratching your head when Persona 4 Dancing All Night was announced, the end result will make a believer out of you. That the franchise is strong enough to evolve through these different genres, and how the creative team is able to make even the most outrageous mash-up not only plausible, but enjoyable as well, serves a testament to the Persona team. Persona 4 Dancing All Night is a delightful departure from the series norm, and even fans that only have a passing knowledge of the franchise will get a kick out of how fun P4DAN really is to play.
This review was completed with a download of Persona 4 Dancing All Night provided by the publisher for PS Vita.