Into the Spine of: Persona Dancing Games

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Are you ready to have your favorite character from the Persona series dance to your favorite songs? Well, the characters from Personas 3-5, at least (sorry, Persona veterans)? Atlus is ready for you to dance the night away with the new releases Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, along with the PS4 release of Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Are these spin-off titles worth adding to your collection?

The trilogy of Persona Dancing games all use the same gameplay concepts. Notes come from the middle to the screen to the edges, and you have to hit the correct buttons that correspond to the notes as they overlap on the outer rim. There is also a ‘scratch’ note to keep in mind, that you need to use either the joystick or L1/R1 button to hit. These notes won’t break a combo if you miss, but they add a lot to your score, so it’s important to hit them regardless.

The gameplay isn’t particularly groundbreaking, but it’s a simple system that allows even those that don’t play rhythm games often to quickly grasp and play, which is arguably more important for fanservice games like these. With that short introduction in mind, let’s get into the titles themselves.

Persona 4: Dancing All Night

It might seem weird that I’m talking about these games out of order. However, Dancing All Night is the first of the three titles to be released, coming out on the Vita in 2015. Being first, there are a few things different here over the other, newer titles, and lessons learned from this title that goes into the Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight, so it seems unfair to not review this first.

First and foremost, Dancing All Night has a completely canonical story in the Persona universe. It involves, as one might expect, dancing, Shadows, and saving people from a dark version of themselves. Additionally, it’s about eight hours of slogging through line after line of a watered down subplot of Persona 4, and by far the weakest part of the game.

Originally, when I played Dancing All Night on the Vita three years ago, I was just sick of Persona 4. With all its spin-offs, it just felt time to move on, and I felt that heavily when working through the story. Coming into it on the PS4 three years removed, with Persona 5 released and all, and… well, I still feel largely the same.

The thing is, the actual rhythm part of the game is pretty fun. The tracklist for Dancing All Night is overall solid, offering songs that are both nice to listen to and note maps that are fun and challenging to complete. The characters’ dance moves are energetic and fun to watch, and the Shadows reacting to how well you’re doing in the background adds a lot to the overall atmosphere. I wouldn’t say as a rhythm game, Dancing All Night is one of the top hitters of the genre, but it’s a decent game for the Persona fanbase. The problem is that you have to get through so much talking to just get to the better bits.

There is a Free Dance Mode, but you cannot unlock everything without completing the entirety of the Story Mode. That, and the less than fantastic use of DLC by Atlus, really bog down a game that could just be some fun for Persona 4 fans.

Now, for the two new Dancing titles. Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight are practically identical mechanically, so let’s do an overview before delving into each game separately.

Unlike Dancing All Night, these two titles don’t actually have a Story Mode to work through–a huge boon for me. After a short intro, you’re able to just start playing the songs, and any sort of conversation is relegated instead to the Social menu, where you raise your friendship with the other members by meeting certain goals. You do need to unlock enough events in order to see the credits and unlock the final two songs for each title, but generally, it’s a lot less talkative and restrictive than Dancing All Night’s Story Mode.

Things like social link and challenge unlock requirements, trophies, and even the outfits and accessories unlocked are mostly the same between the two games. So what makes one preferable over the other will mainly depend on what tracklist and characters you like more.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight

Finally, we see the entire Persona 3 cast again! Granted they’re all being forced to dance in this strange dream world, but when it comes to Persona 4’s under-loved predecessor you’ll take what you can get.

The tracklist to Dancing in Moonlight is overall a bit stronger than Dancing in Starlight’s offerings, which I’ll get into more below. Like Persona 4, Persona 3’s tracks seem easier to remix into more upbeat tracks that are easier to map notes to. I wouldn’t say every remix is a hit, though… although these remixes were created especially for Dancing in Moonlight, it may have been prudent for Atlus to attempt to use some of the already, perfectly good remixes for the Persona 3 tracks instead.

Also, quite honestly, a lot of the game lacks a certain energy that Dancing All Night, and even Dancing in Starlight have. Due to the game’s setting characters are just supposed to ‘imagine how they’d like to dance and they can do it’, offering the ability for each character’s personality to shine. But the dance choreography fails to show off the personalities of the Persona 3 cast, and for certain character just feels lazy. Junpei mainly flails around with his bat, Akihiko punches the air and moves his feet from time to time, Fuuka generally just acts like a chaste Christian schoolgirl who has never even considered dancing in her life… you get the picture.

It’s almost as if Atlus forgot what made these characters special, instead of regulating most of the Persona 3 cast’s personality to the Social scenes you’ll eventually unlock. But without a clear grasp on when Dancing in Moonlight takes place, it seems none of the party members have gotten through their key character developments yet. I wouldn’t really say everyone in the P3 cast is immediately likable when you first meet them, and the Social events feel overly lengthy to boot, as if we need to be reminded who exactly these people even are in the first place.

In the end, more than anything Dancing in Moonlight just makes me want a remake of Persona 3. The plot and cast have not been relevant in RPG communities for quite a while, and it’d be nice to see the game updated with some of the features from Persona 5. On the flip side, though, I come away with a tinge of disappointment from Dancing in Moonlight–for being a tease for a remake that is probably not meant to be, and for making the cast of my favorite Persona game feel so bland and lifeless.

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight

I’m going to come out swinging with this one–I am honestly shocked by the tracklist for Dancing in Starlight, and not in a good way. Persona 5’s dancing spin-off shows off, more than anything, how uneven the soundtrack for the actual game was. There are some tracks in Persona 5 that are amazing, but surprisingly beyond that, not much is memorable.

It seems Atlus knew this, and Dancing in Starlight features more remixes of singular tracks than the other Dancing titles. There are three versions of the main battle theme and Rivers in the Desert. We got two remixes of the boss battle track, as well. With twenty-five tracks total, having eight tracks dedicated to only three songs more than it may seem at first glance.

However, despite what I think is the worst tracklist of the trilogy, Dancing in Starlight is the first of the three titles I kept coming back to and eventually reaching the credits on. The reason? The game just has more soul than Dancing in Moonlight. I’d attribute a lot of this to Persona 5 being a much more recent release than Persona 3–without feeling the need to re-introduce the characters to the audience, Atlus was able to focus more on giving the P5 cast actual personality in their dances, and it shows.

It’s still not quite as energetic as Dancing All Night (the lack of an audience in the background really ruins that), each character has a unique flair to their routines, and it’s fun to see them dance together and separately… even if I’m listening to Rivers in the Desert for the umpteenth time.

Social events also feel a lot snappier, and since Dancing in Starlight is placed firmly after the events of Persona 5, we aren’t reminded much of the various characters’ goals and ambitions. We’re mainly treated to fun interactions about dancing, and occasionally a more serious scene about how someone may have grown during their time as a Phantom Thief. It’s more enjoyable than Dancing in Moonlight’s scenes.

But it’s trading a tracklist for better a characterization. It’s nice to have one or the other, but especially considering Dancing in Starlight and Dancing in Moonlight don’t have Story Modes, it’s strange that the developers couldn’t manage both.

Coming away from the Persona Dancing games, I can’t help but feel disappointed. There’s a solid enough rhythm game base in these titles, but none of them seem to get everything right. Dancing All Night has a slog of a Story Mode, and while the two new games nix that, they lose more in the process. For rhythm game fans, there’s plenty other out there to enjoy, but for Persona fans… while there’s enough to enjoy, don’t expect any of these titles to make a lasting impression.

By Elizabeth Henges

I'm actually an accountant, but I like being a multifaceted nerd. I enjoy writing about nearly anything, but I'm partial to video games, cats, and trying to find neat little doodads.

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