Even if you're new, you probably know I'm a huge Persona fan. Heck, if you met me just today, I probably wore my Investigation Team tee to break the ice.
The more and more I think about it, Persona 4: Golden, specifically, may be my favorite game of all time. I get extreme drives to play and beat it again pretty often, despite being fully aware that a playthrough can easily take anywhere from 70-120+ hours. I have many many other games to play, that I want to play, but, sometimes, it's hard to think of any better way to spend my free time.
I start to feel real bubbly whenever I think of the game's many awesome characters. While the game's story was certainly not perfect, it's writing and voice performances were, generally, excellent. Throughout my Persona 4: Golden venture, I became surprisingly close to even characters I didn't care for in the end as "written" characters. But, as people, I respected them.
One such character was RIsette. The ditzy idol gal with a creepy infatuation with the player character. She always forced herself into being the center of attention, making wild assertions that didn't just throw me, a 4th-wall perspective, off, but Chie as well (which was not only fitting to her character, but consistently hilarious).
Crafting a new canon story around Rise didn't seem like it would work for me. To that end, introducing a heap of new idol characters sounded like just about the worst thing imaginable.
And have I mentioned that this is now a rhythm game?
Let's not talk about the story for a second and just take that last bit in: this is a rhythm game. A 2D fighter spin-off may seem like much for what was previously a 3D turn-based RPG to some, but we have reached new heights of insanity with Dancing All Night.
We've got some 'splainin to do. You start up a track, you see some colored discs moving towards the edges of the screen, you start to panic, WHAT DO I DO?! Are these shortbread cookies? Are these the answer to everything? Will it hurt? Don't worry! All you have to do is press the corresponding button of a whopping six to, eventually, succeed.
Sometimes, though, there will be a unison note. Which is two notes at once. Imagine that. There are also hold notes. Which means you hold the notes. Can you even wrap your head around unison hold notes? Whoa! What?!
Scratch notes are a thing too, and I know what you're thinking: I'm going to have to scratch at my Vita in order to pull these off. Well, firstly, they're optional and only necessary if you're a perfectionist. Secondly, you actually just flick either of the control sticks to pull them off. Did I scare you? It's not my fault you take things so literally.
BUT WAIT! Play on All Night difficultly and you'll also receive hold notes with scratch notes to be played while still holding, triplet scratch notes, unison hold notes that require breaking off one hold to continue playing single notes and/or other holds, and so much more!
The game does a pretty good amount with these four note types, working your thumbs into some very satisfying motions in-time with the music. Typically, by way of the scratch notes. So, not only are those fun to pull off for various reasons, but they are worth it for the KING CRAZY ratings and highest scores possible.
The choreographed dances that match much of the music tracks are also very lovely, with each character totally in-tune with their unique personalities. Chie's dances are powerful yet cute, Yukiko's are graceful, Kanji's are awkward though masculine, Nanako's ooze adorableness, Yosuke's are... actually pretty slick. He may be a clutz, but the dude can fucking dance. Who knew?
My favorite's are Chie's, Naoto's, and Margeret's. Margeret has the whole Vogue thing goin' on, sans the pretention, and I dig that a lot.
One small criticism is that sometimes the arm motions sometimes seem very unnatural. Not necessarily because of their movements, but because of how their static clothing curves and stretches with the motion capture. Not that you'll notice much while playing.
To that, the rotoscoping in the anime intro looks really freaking weird. Take On Me, it ain't.
The setlist fares even better. Consisting of 27 tracks on-cart, it's both amazing on and off the stage.
There isn't much else to say that hasn't already been said about the marvelous vanilla tracks (all of which are their Reincarnation album versions, minus the theme tracks), but most of the remixes are splendid. Some even outdoing their originals!
Backside of the TV was far from a favorite of mine back with Persona 4 proper. It suited the game more than it suited itself, better heard as background music than to be heard without any sort of context. But, with Dancing All Night, it's easily one of the best remixes. It's also one of the more natural transitions. Rather than switching up the song's genre entirely like most of the other remixes, it mixes the familiar with a much-needed dose of freshness and what results is something incredible.
Now a fully fleshed-out hip-hop track hip-hopped by Persona mainstay Lotus Juice (whom is also responsible for the narration during the game's dozen+ loading screens, which is super cool), I am consistently enthralled by it each time I play it. The outro always brings it together so well. I had goosebumps the first time I heard it. There is an energy to this track that not many songs, in general, match.
Other favorites include the Akira Yamaoka remix of Time To Make History (it's now essentially a No More Heroes track), the NARASAKI remix of Snowflakes, the Banvox remix of Best Friends, and the Norihiko Hibino remix of Heaven. Sadly, this blog would go on for way too long if I gave my extended thoughts on every one.
The only one I'm not a huge fan of would be the Daisuke Asakura remix of Your Affection. And while the setlist is pretty ace, I do have my criticisms of the song selection that I will get into towards the end of the review.
Believe it or not, there is actually a Story Mode on top of the Free Dance greatness. More unbelieveable is that it actually kind of works.
Sure. It's pretty hokey when they plot dump, early on, exactly why it is that dancing works as a defense against these (sort of) new Shadows within this "Midnight Stage", but, after a while, I began to roll with it and even really enjoy myself.
All the characters have been faithfully written and performed (yes, even Ashley Burch's portrayal of Rise, who is not a farcry from the switch to the new Naoto that nobody seems to have an issue with), the dialogue is handled well, and if you had little issue with Persona 4 proper's pacing, then you will feel welcome here. There is practically zero gameplay for the first hour and, for a rhythm game, that is both insane and hilarious.
At one or two points, the story even gets surprisingly unsettling. For as early as I caught on to the big "twist", the way it's presented is pretty frightening and visibly traumatic for the person(s) involved.
For a few hours, the story settles into an almost too-comfortable groove. Following a rigorous step-by-step of plot and gameplay. Much like if all Persona 4 consisted of were it's dungeons and boss fights. It made continuing forward actual work, as even the gameplay difficulty only goes up to Normal and, very quickly, that became a tad too mundane for me personally (*flex*).
But, once perspective switches over to Kanami, one of the new characters (unless you count Persona 4's passing mention of her), things become interesting again. I wouldn't call her a saving grace as she isn't perfect, neither as a character or as a voice performance, but she was a welcome change that saved the story from becoming purely a slog for only the most hardcore of Persona fans.
The host of other new characters, though, with the exception of Ochimizu (who resembles SMTIV's Kaga and P4: Golden's Marie's hypothetical lesbian lovechild), are pretty much a means to an end. While they do provide some semi-interesting perspective (DAN's story handles "Shadow selves" in a similar way to Persona 4 proper), they're immediately forgotten until they're once again needed for some tasty plot convenience towards the end.
All in all, the 15-hour story (yes, you heard me) is actually very serviceable as a supplementary to the already existing canon. For me, however, I think it would've worked much better as a visual novel with the gameplay sections being strictly visual showcases. That way, they could've more easily circumvented the monotony that eventually crops up and have lost essentially nothing in the process.
I may have even preferred Story Mode to be ridden of entirely in favor of a Free Dance crossover with all of Persona 3/4's universes, including Q and Arena/Ultimax. More stages, more tracks, more characters, more gag accessories! But, who knows how possibly that would've been.
My one remaining critcism would be the game's DLC practices, which brings into question not just that but the song selection.
On-cart, we have 3 versions of Pursuing My True Self and yet the Persona 4 credits track, Never More, a very important and absolutely beautiful track, has been relegated to a 1-dollar download. The swimsuits and crossdressing outfits, outfits ATLUS surely knows people expect, have also been made DLC while many other Persona 4 outfits remain intact. I should add that these costumes are more expensive than the others.
Why? Because they can do that. Thankfully, at least my gaifu Teddie's Alice costume isn't DLC (though, it is random whenever it pops up). That would've been unforgivable.
There's no way around it. ATLUS is exploiting it's fans and is doing it pretty well. I feel dirty doing it, but even I have given them some leeway. They may wish to keep players invested by trickling out DLC week by week (and there is plenty to come), but, from my perspective, it's pretty slimy. Depending on my mood, it's questionable at best.
I'm sure their intentions aren't as insidious as other publishers', but it's worth mentioning nonetheless. I'm not buying these because I feel I want extra content, but because I feel there are things missing from my experience. Things shouldn't feel missing when I'm already paying the 10 dollar ATLUS premium on top of my 40 dollar purchase. That's a huge load of bull's shat.
The only true "extras" here are the Marie and Adachi DLC's, as well as the launch tracks sans Never More. Everything else would've been better off as part of the core product.
As a story, Dancing All Night is satisfying enough. But, as a rhythm game and high score affair, despite it's DLC woes, it's pretty goddamned addicting.
If you're into chasing leaderboards and tweaking handicaps for some added challenge (and then some), you'll be playing this for a long time.