- Format: Vita
- Unleashed: November 6th (EU), Out Now (NA)
- Publisher: NIS America/Reef Entertainment
- Developer: Atlus
- Players: 1
- Site: http://www.atlus.com/p4dan/
- Game code provided by the publisher
Persona 5 is finally visible on the horizon, but we’re not quite past the Persona 4 spin-offs yet. We’ve had an (awesome) enhanced Vita remake, the Arena beat ’em ups, a dungeon crawler… and now a rhythm action game. This one actually makes perfect sense, given that one of the central characters in P4 is a pop idol, and the original game has a fantastic soundtrack. Nonetheless, the question remains: can this avoid looking like nothing more than a last-gasp cash grab?
Most people will buy this for the story mode. That’s a weird thing to say about a rhythm game, but that doesn’t make it any less true. The original (Vita) cast have been brought together too, which is always good. Playing through the story feels like being in the company of friends you haven’t seen for a long time. It’s a good place to be.
Let’s make one thing clear: the story is pure, 100% fan service. If you’re not familiar with the story and characters of P4, then be warned Dancing All Night has no interest in enlightening you. From a fan perspective, though, that’s ideal. The very concept of dancing at enemies to defeat them is supremely silly of course (especially in a game spun off from an RPG), but DAN just about gets away with the explanation it offers. In more general terms, the DAN story exists in isolation from the Arena storylines, so follows on from P4 without acknowledging any other weird goings-on.
The investigation team return with a few other supporting characters, but new people are introduced in and around ‘Kanamin Kitchen’ – the idol group performing in the same festival as Rise which forms part of her comeback tour. There’s a creepy rumour doing the rounds of Japanese high school classrooms (isn’t there always?) which again involves watching a screen at midnight – but this time, it’s an internet video. This video is said to show an idol dancing, but the idol in question committed suicide years before. Dun-dun-duuuun! Needless to say there’s something to this rumour and it isn’t good, trapping people in a world that becomes known as the ‘Midnight Stage’. It turns out that the only way to protect yourself and others in this world is by dancing and, wouldn’t you know it, Rise has been helping all her pals learn some groovy moves so that they can join her on stage for the festival. What a happy coincidence!
Fans are so hungry for more Persona storylines, gameplay here is almost a secondary consideration. We must confess to being somewhat confused regarding its Vita exclusivity. Only three action buttons, three directional buttons, and one stick are needed for gameplay. That could be achieved via any controller on the market, surely? But, we digress.
If you’re familiar with rhythm games, you’ll pretty much know what to expect. Icons emanate from the centre of the screen to the outer border, their speed and complexity of delivery depending on the song and, especially, your chosen difficulty. Icons come in four flavours here: stars (tap the relevant button), stretchy green things (hold and release as appropriate), stretchy pink things (tap two opposing buttons at once), and screen-wide circles (tap the right stick for a scratch and, incidentally, this is the only one where it doesn’t matter if you mess up). All the while, a Persona 4 character or two will be dancing in the middle of the screen, a motion captured and doubtless painstakingly choreographed dance that you’ll pay precisely no attention to as you concentrate on the icons.
There’s zero latency and the game responds perfectly when you hit a button, so absolutely no complaints there. One problem we find with rhythm games in general is that you’re often not prompted to press buttons in precise time with the music; which is, surely, the whole point of such a game. This is a problem present at times in DAN too, but we did find that it’s less guilty than other examples we can think of.
As for the songs you’ll actually be spending all night dancing to, there are a few original pieces (a natty jazz number for Teddie sticks in our hive mind), but generally they’re remixes of P4 tracks; including, somewhat bizarrely, an extended remix of the Junes theme. There are no bad songs – indeed, the track list is superior to the cheese paste that you might usually find – but the majority of remixes simply aren’t as good as the originals. Given the outstanding and memorable source material, that was always going to be a possibility; but with such a high bar set, even misses can impress.
Frustratingly, perhaps, completing the ten-hour-odd story doesn’t automatically unlock all tracks and characters for ‘Free Dance’. Outside of the story you can also buy and equip new outfits and accessories, and both modes allow you to change difficulty at will. Easy is best for those only interested in the new plotline, offering the minimum of challenge while still being fun to play. Normal is a great balance, testing your reflexes and co-ordination more without straying into frustration. Hard… Hard, we have to admit overwhelmed us completely. We glumly admitted defeat and stuck to Easy or Normal; and there’s one more difficulty to unlock, too. This is certainly a good purchase for anybody who tends to find the genre too easy.
If you’re just in it for the music, man, then you’ll find a better soundtrack than you’re used to here supporting a nice solid, user-friendly interface. If you’re in it for the Persona 4 content – and of course you are – then you’ll also find a brand new story where everybody acts in character, facing a new villain perfectly in keeping with existing lore. If nothing else, it’s a great reason to blow the dust off your Vita and see if the battery still works.