A little girl stumbles into a darkly lit room. “Y-Yuko-san?” she stammers. She takes a few steps forward peering into the darkness. She trips over a diary lying on the floor and lets out a squeal of pain as she falls hard to the ground. Gathering herself, she reaches forward but is distracted by a white rose that suddenly falls right before her. Confused she looks up and a long shadow is cast upon her. Her eyes grow wide with fear as she realizes what she’s looking at; a girl is hanging from the ceiling by a yellow ribbon. Tears start swelling up and streaming down her face as the horror sinks in. She can’t contain herself and lets out a high-pitched scream that sends a chill throughout the night.
Right from the start Persona 4: Dancing All Night had me hooked with it’s setup. It’s a well balanced blend of a visual novel and rhythm game centered around a mix of familiar faces and some new ones. All of the investigative team return along with Dojima-san and Nanako-chan (she’s so beary adorable). Inoue-san and Margaret also return in smaller fashions but contribute to the overall plot nonetheless. Taking place six months after the events of Persona 4 Golden, Rise is about to make her comeback as an idol at the Love Meets Bonds Festival and has invited Yu-senpai and the gang to be her backup dancers. At the rehearsal studio, we’re introduced to Kanamin Kitchen, a group of five idols lead by Kanami, and their producer Ms. Ochimizu.
Eerily similar and strange events begin manifesting around our beloved gang. Rumors are swirling about an unusual video that plays on the festivals website at midnight. Those who watch see an idol known to be dead doing an enchanting dance, and the viewers soul is taken away to the “other side” leaving the body behind, never to awaken. Shortly after Yu, and Naoto are introduced to the group Kanimin Kitchen, four of the members go missing without a trace. This new scenario is reminiscent of the investigative teams last case involving the Midnight Channel. As soon as they begin putting the pieces together Yu, Naoto, and Rise are sucked into a portal that opens up in the dance studio.
When they come out the other side they land on the Midnight Stage and are met by an unsettling voice and an audience of shadows who beckon our heroes to join them. When Yu attempts to fight back the ominous voice informs them that no acts of aggression can be committed in this realm. Unable to fight, an awful song beings playing that affects the will of Yu, Rise and Naoto. At the same time the shadows begin to sway to the music and a feeling of being hypnotized sets in. To counteract the effects of the music, Rise uses her Persona to broadcast her own song and begins to dance for the shadows, showing them her true self.
These are the moments when the game switches from visual novel to rhythm game. In order to defeat the shadows you need to express yourself through dance instead of the usual — in which you beat them senseless with attacks. It’s a much different way of doing things like in most of the Persona games but I found it to be an ingenious way to incorporate a new style of gameplay. They didn’t just toss it into the story without reason, it fits in perfectly with the plot and builds on the idea of being yourself. It’s a brilliant idea that the key to dealing with this new confrontation is being your true self through dancing, something that these characters once tried so hard to deny.
How the rhythm parts work is fairly simple. Yellow stars come flying towards the screen with the music. As the star comes at the screen you press either the Δ, ο or × buttons on the right side or up, left, and down on the d-pad on the left in sync with the beat. There are a few other variations of icons; stretchy connected pink notes have to be pressed at the same time; hold notes are green and you press and hold them in time with the rhythm; and lastly rings of blue and multicolor are activated by flicking either of the trigger buttons. These rings are what help build up your Fever Mode and allow for not only bigger combos and points but activate another character to dance along side whomever the lead for the song is. There is one minor problem with these parts of the game though. While you’re trying to hit the stars that go along to the beat the background can be distracting at times. It’s not even just that you want to watch what’s happening, there are times when the combination of colors and icons on the screen is sensory overload. It’s a small price to pay for having such a well done design but It happened enough to be bothersome.
If you were worried that you’d only be able to dance along with your favorite characters in the story mode then you’re in luck because Atlus has been kind enough to add a Free Dance mode to Dancing All Night. In this mode you can select any of the songs you unlocked through the story and get your boogie on. Three difficulties are available to choose from easy, normal, and hard, with the latter being immensely punishing. I stuck to playing on the normal difficulty for the most part and that’s where I spent my time chasing high scores and trying to earn as much in-game cash as possible in order to unlock items. There are ten characters to choose from in Free Dance mode and each has a multitude of costumes and accessories to decorate them with that can be accessed in the shopping menu.
Speaking of which, I couldn’t help but marvel at how fantastic the menu system is designed in this game. Usual bland backgrounds are instead colorful and sharp with characters layered behind the menu icons. Even switching between menus displays a pink polka dotted screen that’s pops off the screen. The amount of detail and work that was given to this game is on such a high level its hard not to appreciate.
There are around fifty tracks in the game, some familiar and some new, all of which are superb. If you played Persona 4 Golden you’ll recognize every song as each is unique and nearly impossible to forget. Every time I put the game down the songs were on a repeated loop in my head all day long (that’s not a complaint). The remixes that feature in the game are super creative and any new songs are up to par with the rest of the soundtrack. I’m a little upset I didn’t get the Fever Edition of the game which included a CD of the soundtrack.
The voice acting for every character is on such a high level it puts a lot of other games to shame. The whole cast is back again (minus Rise) to deliver stellar performances across the board and the new cast of characters hold their own just as well. Additionally, this time around Yu Narukami, (the main character from Persona 4 Golden) is given dialogue and is no longer a silent protagonist. This could be seen as a negative, but the voice Yu now has surprisingly made him ever cooler than he was before. Teddie is just as lovable (or annoying to some) as before with his comical bear-puns and constant berating of Yosuke. And once Nanako-chan and Dojima-san were introduced I truly felt a feeling of nostalgic joy. Which takes me to my next point.
Without playing Persona 4 Golden, you won’t get the same experience that I did. Dancing All Night is predicated on the basis that you know and are invested in the character from Persona 4 Golden. Sure you can follow along with the story for the most part but it won’t be nearly as fulfilling. The small nuances between character interactions and even some blatant references to the prior game will not have any impact on someone who hasn’t played P4G. So if you want the most out of your experience with the game, go play P4G. It’s worth your while to do so especially since it’s one of if not the best game on the PS Vita.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night story is so wonderfully crafted, it deserves to be placed up there on the list of the best PS Vita games. Coincide that with a new gameplay style for the series that highlights one of the best parts of P4G — the music, and you’ve got a juggernaut of a game. It was a little bitter sweet as this is the last game that these characters will appear in together but I see it as an ode to fans of Persona 4 Golden. I had a constant smile on my face while I played through this game, and if you’re a fan of Persona I’m sure you will too.