It’s now been about five years since I was introduced to the Shin Megami Tensei world via Persona 4 and, while the core SMT experience is fantastic at inspiring metaphysical and moral quandaries for me to mull over, Persona will always be my preferred series. It creates interesting characters and has them undergo relatable and powerful changes, which is what connects Persona fans to the cast of each game, and why we keep coming back for each spin-off. While Persona 4: Dancing All Night failed to meet my standards for Rhythm gaming, I was still excited to see how the P-Studio team would do with Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight.
Where P4D attempted to build up an earnest plot around a new character, P3D and P5D adopt a silly yet straightforward premise to drive the entire plot: the cast of each game are in a dance competition against the other, held within a modified Velvet Room explicitly designed to accommodate a non-stop dancefest. Absolutely absurd, but much to the benefit of the overall game: most of the dialogue feels like the writers just revelling in the personalities available and having fun with it, rather than shoehorning in a serious story-line.
This is, of course, very appropriate for a Persona game as character focus is a long-running hallmark of the series. The cast of each game has been implemented in a way that gives them full opportunity to show off their personalities. The conversations that mark advancement through the game all feel genuine to their character development, and their dance moves reflect their unique style from Haru’s ballet to Akihiko’s boxing. Even brief interludes where you need to search their respective rooms are dripping with elements of their character and references to the games.
Moving onto the nuts and bolts, the gameplay system is conventional for a rhythm game wherein you simply need to hit the matching notes in time to the music. What P3D and P5D do right with this idea is nailing the difficulty: where P4D and many other games of the genre will introduce you to the game with a simplistic Normal difficulty, these two are a challenge right off the bat. This lets the ultimate trial, called “All Night” mode, really push the limits; the songs I’ve managed to beat on that difficulty have been very satisfying victories.
It’s worth noting that the original P4D was designed specifically for the Vita. The six potential notes are presented on the edges and corners of the screen, which wasn’t an issue with the small Vita screen, but many assumed would be an issue to port over to a home TV. In practice, I didn’t find this to be an issue with these two new releases, thanks mainly to a tendency towards circular movement. Moving either clockwise or counter-clockwise, the next note always tends to be within one or two ‘steps’ around the circle, meaning you know roughly where to be looking for the following note. This helps to build up the instinctive reactions needed for the higher difficulties, as well as maintaining a general sense of flow.
To lock in the quality of the gameplay experience, this solid foundation is enhanced by a stellar soundtrack. Fans of the series would be well familiar with the history of catchy and stylised music, so this wasn’t hard to achieve by simply taking the best songs from the respective games. The other half of the soundtrack is made up of remixes, which I mostly enjoyed even if some didn’t appeal to my taste in music. The only “poor” choice was the inclusion of credit sequences, which are substantially longer than any other tracks and feel so much more exhausting for it.
This is all tied together with the colourful and energetic presentation that epitomises Persona games. Menus are quick to navigate and styled to match each one’s core game, which is a small touch I appreciated. There’s plenty of costumes to unlock, many of which are quite unique and a bit of a laugh. Even the load times keep up the energy, with short load times not just allowing but also encouraging quick retries of tricky songs or jumping around a couple of tracks in a play session.
If there’s any fault I could direct at these two games, it would be the relatively short track-list and the respective amount of unlockables. I’d managed to access all of each game’s content in under 10 hours, which included multiple replays of some of the songs. I’m convinced there’s intent to add some additional songs via DLC later (give me an original and remix version of “Layer Cake”!), but I feel each base collection could have used a couple more songs in the mix.
An extra note to discuss: if you purchase the Endless Night collection, you receive a download code for a PS4 version of P4D and, at the point of writing this article, this is the only known way to obtain a console version of the game. Whether or not they ever intend to release it separately, it’s a direct port of the original. In practice, this means you’ll absolutely notice the dip in quality compared to the new releases, especially regarding difficulty as the original didn’t have much to offer in the way of challenge.
P-Studio have managed to put together an excellent package that will appeal to both Persona fans and rhythm game enthusiasts for different reasons. For one group, it’s our beloved Persona characters enjoying themselves in a silly context that’s a delight to experience. For the other, an earnest rhythm challenge in a well-presented package. As a result, this may well bridge a path between the two groups, hopefully spreading the fun of the series and genre on display to more people.