Developer: P Studio
Platform: PS4 (version tested), Vita
Release: 24/05/2018 (Japan only)
The Persona series may still be considered a niche in the West – even with the latest selling 2 million worldwide, Atlus’s most successful game to date – but in Japan, it’s a cultural phenomenon. Not limited to the games, it has spawned countless merchandise and appearances in other media, from manga to live concerts to anime, the latter for Persona 5 which is currently airing in Japan and streaming around the world.
Even the games have their own spin-offs, which have been far from cynical cash-ins, as the excellent ArcSys-developed fighting game Persona 4 Arena and the Etrian Odyssey-inspired Persona Q have demonstrated. But aside from the wonderful stories, characters and striking art styles, every game is absolutely defined by composer Shoji Meguro’s hip and brilliant soundtracks, so much so his name comes up pretty high up amongst other developer credits. So what better way than to appreciate those tunes than by tapping along to a genre known for old-school hardcore arcade skills?
This had of course already been done with Persona 4: Dancing All Night, which came out on the Vita a few years ago, so if you’re coming to its new iterations based on that, you should know what to expect. Your favourite characters are artfully rendered (the P3 cast taking the biggest graphical leap) with the ability to make moves like nobody’s business to the game’s tunes as notes appear from the centre of the screen to different points on the edge, corresponding with the face button you need to tap or hold in time with the beat – in this case it’s using the top, left, bottom of the d-pad and the triangle, circle and cross in a kind of hexagonal pattern.
It’s the kind of thing that initially looks confusing, but the flurry of notes begin to make sense as you familiarise yourself with the song’s rhythm, beat and melody, and if you’re a Persona fan, most of that will already come instantly. Scratch notes also appear as optional notes which you can ‘scratch’ using either the DualShock’s touchpad, or a flick of either analogue stick (though you can also set it to use the should buttons instead). It’s worth mentioning that the scratch motion actually highlights that the game was originally designed for the Vita, which of course lets you scratch the touchscreen, and it’s here that the smaller screen also makes it easier to keep an eye out on all the notes as they shoot out to different parts of the screen. The visuals might look sharper and bigger on PS4 but it also means your eyes will be darting or spinning around keeping an eye for notes you can easily miss. The upshot is that at least you won’t be caught out by another note appearing simultaneously with another as these are shown clearly as pink ‘U’ notes (for unison).
Another point of departure is the game structure. Story is always at the heart of Persona games, something that even featured in fighter Persona 4 Arena with a substantial visual novel sprinkled with fights that expanded on the game’s universe. The attempt to do the same in Persona 4 Dancing All Night was a sign of trying to fit a canonical story into a rhythm game a stretch too far, which Moon Night and Star Night wisely avoid. Instead, the conceit remains non-canonical, taking place in the protagonists’ dream in a version of the Velvet Room (or should we say Velvet Club) where their friends also show up. There’s no bad guy or case to solve, simply an excuse for the Velvet Room attendants (that’s either Elizabeth or Justine and Caroline) to get everyone to have a dance party.
With that out of the way, you’re free to just play through different songs, more unlocking as you beat each one. The ‘story’ elements are instead optional asides called ‘Commu’, or what we in the West know as Social Links, which allow you to talk to each character in a few different conversations that’s mostly for a bit of fan service and fun banter, though it won’t really mean anything if you don’t understand Japanese. These conversations however unlock based on how well or how much you play through different songs, which is sort of an incentive to keep playing through each song, apart from obviously trying to get better combos and high scores.
The issue however is probably whether this is enough. Much like Persona 4: Dancing All Night, you’ll notice quite a few songs turn up again as remixes as well as a live-performance. These aren’t bad in isolation but even with a wonderful soundtrack, it can’t help but feel like padding (one song that doesn’t even feature any choreography but is blatantly taken from the game’s end credits being the absolute nadir), especially when the grand total of songs comes up at 23 for Moon Night and 22 for Star Night. Had Atlus trimmed the filler and given us one game with say 40 songs featuring the P3 and P5 cast together, that would be a more attractive proposition. As such, you’re talking about two stand-alone games priced at 7,480 yen each (roughly £50, and that’s not factoring in the extra costs involved with importing).
It doesn’t help that any additional content is planned to be released as DLC, including a whole host of impressive costumes, which we don’t know even how much extra you’ll need to cough up, which leaves a bit of a sour taste. Essentially then, for all that there is to love about the sounds and style of these dancing spin-offs, they’re very much for the hardcore Persona fans.
Of course, as far as rhythm games go, you can also do much better. The measure of precision of getting a ‘Good’ note and how you keep your combo is generous to a fault, compared to something like Project Diva, which for my money is the absolute pinnacle of arcade rhythm action. Plus, you can buy both packs for the arcade-perfect Future Tone for a total of £45, featuring well over 200 songs and hundreds of more unlockable outfits and cosmetics.
However, if you are reading this as a Persona fan and prepared to spend big bucks, since there’s currently no plans for Atlus to localise these games, then I’ll heartily recommend splashing out on the Triple Pack, which not only includes a PS4 version of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, some cool themes and avatars, but also a download of the full soundtrack from Persona 3: Dancing Moon Night and Persona 5: Dancing Star Night. If you’re here for the music, then you might as well go all the way.