2015 has been an absolutely cracking year for videogames, with some big name releases in long-running established series, and some truly outstanding ‘AAA’ and ‘indie’ videogames; yet one of my *most * anticipated games was a rhythm/dance spin-off of a JRPG from 2008! Persona 4 Dancing All Night is the latest in the canon 'P4' franchise, following hot on the heels of fighting game Persona 4 Ultimax released last year, which I reviewed right at the start of 2015 after finishing the original JRPG last Christmas. A surprise hit for me last year, Persona 4 Golden gained a 10/10 and quickly entered my gaming hall of fame. I consider it to be one of the finest videogames ever created, and I’ve enjoyed pretty much every spin-off game, as each of them is considered a canon sequel and gives me an excuse to spend more time with the fantastic characters and setting of the series. Whilst fighting games aren’t really my thing anymore, rhythm/dance games are still something that I very much enjoy (I also played through Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call this year), and despite the bemused looks and comments from my friends I was really looking forward to playing Persona 4 Dancing All Night.
The story of this latest 'P4' game *really* stretches plausibility and suspension of disbelief, and I can’t stress enough how invested you need to already be in the characters and themes of 'P4' to be able to properly enjoy it. The "investigation team" from the original game are reunited (some time after the ending of Persona 4 Golden) in order to support Rise's comeback as the pop idol "Risette" and are busy training as backup dancers for her performance at a large stadium festival when once again some weird s**t starts to go down. There are obvious echoes back to the original game, as there is another cursed video that plays at midnight, and it is causing people to be pulled out of our world and into the supernatural 'Midnight Stage' where they are trapped by some unknown entity hell-bent on robbing them of their free will and connecting them with other victims in a gigantic hive-mind-type-thing!! I don't want to discuss too much, but basically after a tussle with the entity the team must track down and rescue the new characters in the game, a bunch of pop-idols that make up Kanamin Kitchen, which takes a rather formulaic approach for the first half of the game with constant battles followed by heaps of exposition. This story mode is obviously the meat-and-bones of Persona 4 Dancing All Night and to disregard it and jump straight into the free dance mode would often spoil things like boss fights, as all rhythm/dance sections are pulled from the story mode. Obviously the characters are still fantastic, even newcomers like Kanami (who whenever someone talks about her I always thought they were saying 'Konami'... #fuck... you know the drill!), they're all voiced well too either by original cast or replacements that sound eerily similar. The dialogue is cheezy as f**k, but the story is very enjoyable and has a fantastic ending.
In terms of gameplay, aside from mashing 'X' to get through the 20+ hours of visual novel, you're going to be giving your fingers an extreme workout in the rhythm/dance sections of the game, which makes up the entirety of the free dance mode outside of the main story. Around the outside frame of the screen you have three target zones for musical notes on each side, which match the face buttons of the PSVita or Dualshock 4 if you play on a PSTV like I did: up, left and down on one side and triangle, circle and cross on the other, respectively. Notes travel outward from the centre of the screen and require you to either tap or hold the face buttons in time to the music, sometimes you might need to hold multiple notes and sometimes you will need to 'scratch' by flicking either analogue stick in any direction, although to be honest this is a pain in the arse and luckily there's an option to scratch via a quick press of the shoulder buttons instead. Different difficulty levels determine how many notes, how complex, and how fast the whole experience is although Persona 4 Dancing All Night has a genius item-based system used to tweak the difficulty level up or down in very specific ways to match you playstyle and provide the perfect amount of challenge and enjoyment. You could equip items to make the notes slower or faster, have combo-chains of 'perfect' notes unbroken by 'good' ones, etc. Although I enjoy rhythm games a lot, I'm actually a bit crap at them, and usually I would never play on harder difficulty settings, so I very much appreciated the option to be able to do so with a few tweaks. It's a great system that I wish more games would use.
The soundtrack to Persona 4 Dancing All Night is *ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC* and pulls extended tracks from cross the range of 'P4' games including Arena and even Persona Q, which I haven't even played yet, although now I really want to based purely on the awesome intro music. There are also a ton of remixes and some of these are even better than the original songs, of which many wouldn't have worked in a dance game without the addition of a pulsing beat and crazy synth; this includes some tracks from industry heavyweights like Akira Yamaoka.One of the negative comments raised by other reviewers, aside from the cheezy story which is subjective - I loved it *shrug*, is the small number of songs for this genre of videogame, and this is a valid point. Theatrythym Final Fantasy: Curtain Call has something in the region of 200 songs while this game only has roughly thirty or thereabouts, so it might seem like a massive issue, but to be honest I enjoyed *all* of the songs here and could just listen to them over and over and over, so it wasn't an issue for me. Obviously, your milage may vary though, and as mentioned above I think you will get the most out of this game if you are already a big Persona 4 fan.
The graphics in this game look fantastic, especially when played on the PSTV like I did, and the anime stylisation of the characters and environments during the rhythm/dance sections, reminiscent of games like Freedom Wars, suits up-scaling well; it controls well too using a Dualshock 4. The character models especially make me wish that they would remake the original 'P4' yet again using the new graphics engine, although I think most fans would give up at that point. The visual novel sections of the story mode are also very well done, with detailed and charming character artwork, and the odd anime sequence thrown in here and there, which are very good quality and help to flesh out the drama of some scenes. As probably the final 'P4' spin-off game, I think that Persona 4 Dancing All Night does an excellent job of going out on a high note; I was looking forward to it all year, had high hopes, and it more than lived up to expectation. All all-round *fabulous* experience!!