There were many things I expected from Persona 4: Dancing All Night: Persona 4 music, the cast dressed up in various costumes. But what I didn't expect? A plot that fits right in with its acclaimed RPG predecessor.
While a music game, Dancing All Night comes with a meaty plot of at least a dozen hours. Taking place at the end of the summer (about a month after the epilogue of Persona 4 Golden), the Investigation Team has been invited by Rise to be her backup dancers at a music festival concert. However, it's not just Rise headlining the concert but also the popular girl band Kanamin Kitchen, whose lead singer, Kanami, largely replaced Rise after her retirement from show business.
However, when all the members of Kanamin Kitchen (sans Kanami herself) are dragged into a world full of shadows, it's up to the Investigation Team to head into a world similar to the one inside the TV and save the girls. There's just one problem: Fighting is not allowed in this world. Instead, the Shadows can only be pacified through the power of dance. Luckily, our heroes have been practicing.
Persona 4 is thematically about accepting that the things you hate about yourself are still part of who you are. When you fully reject the shadow of yourself, it becomes a monster. But when you fully accept it, it becomes your persona. Thus as each character faces his or her shadow and then accepts it, each becomes a stronger, more balanced person.
Dancing All Night builds on and twists this theme by focusing on the idols of Kanamin Kitchen. Kanamin Kitchen is a manufactured idol group. As such, each has been given a "role" to fulfil: The smallest girl is the "cute" one; the most beautiful is the "sexy" one; the girl with short hair is the "tomboy," etc. Of course, this is all for show. None of them are actually like their stage roles when not performing.
Yet, their fans, producers, and the other people they work with all treat the girls' fake personalities as their real ones. The fans especially become upset when the girls do not act according to their roles. This gives each member of Kanamin Kitchen an understandable identity crisis. In the shadow world where they are all trapped, a villainous disembodied voice mocks the girls into rejecting not the part of themselves they don't like, but rather into rejecting their true personalities. This turns the girls themselves into monsters -- grotesque parodies of what they feel people want them to be.
While Yu, the Investigation Team, and the Kanamin Kitchen crew are of course main players in the plot, the story is really about two people: Rise and Kanami.
By the end of Persona 4, Rise decides to return to the idol life she had previously given up. But it is clear she doesn't want to go and simply leave her friends behind. Instead, she wants them to experience the other world she is a part of -- the world of being an idol. She comes up with the plan of having them be her backup dancers for a concert all about love and personal bonds -- hoping that this will make their friendship even stronger. She also hopes that by showing her true friends to her fans, everyone will get to know the real Rise even better.
Yet, when they head into the shadow world to rescue Kanamin Kitchen, she finds herself in an entirely new role. After electing to split up, Rise takes charge of half of the Investigation Team. It's great to see her take up this responsibility and watch how the others defer to her expertise in a world where dance is a weapon.
Though we never meet her in person in Persona 4, Kanami is introduced almost as a villain in Rise's backstory -- the young up-and-comer who steals Rise's spotlight. In Dancing All Night we see that Kanami is about as innocent and hardworking as a person can be -- a malicious thought has likely never crossed her mind.
As the story goes on, Kanami must deal with the fact that all her band members, her manager, and Rise (along with her backup dancers) have all mysteriously disappeared. It doesn't help that when she tries to tell people that a glowing portal opened in front of her and tried to pull her in, they all just ignore her.
Luckily, she makes a friend in the form of Nanako Dojima and the two work to salvage the (suddenly devoid of talent) music festival while also helping Nanako's father, Detective Dojima, solve the case behind the disappearances.
Her story is one of learning to accept the worst events of our lives and the power that friendship can have to help you overcome any hardship.
It's also about watching Nanako dance to the Junes theme song.
Dancing All Night is a music game similar to Sega's MaiMai arcade game. Stars appear in the center of the screen and fly outward. When they line up with a ring near the outer edge of the screen, you press the corresponding button.
There are 30 songs (including the DLC) that are made up of remixes and originals from Persona 4 and its various spinoff games. When playing the plot, the songs are in easy mode. However, at any time you can play free mode and unlock the songs there, you play on the harder difficulties.
One of the cool things about the game is how naturally the game introduces new elements into the gameplay. First are the horizontal double stars -- where two buttons must be hit at the same time. Then come the hold stars -- where you press the button for a specific length of time. After that are half beats after double stars; and the final difficulty, Up All Night mode, adds diagonal versions of double holds and double presses, making everything as complicated as it can possibly be.
All in all, it plays as expected and makes for a solid music game. However, the game does have a few issues. The first is the colour of the stars -- i.e., yellow. Yellow is perhaps the most used colour in both Persona 4 and Dancing All Night, and this yellow has a tendency to blend in with many of the game's backgrounds. The worst of these comes in Yosuke's "Backside of the TV (Lotus Juice Remix)" stage. It's both distracting and seizure inducing!
Also of note, I found playing on a small Vita far easier than playing on the PlayStation TV. Because the notes often fly to opposing corners of your screen at roughly the same time, it's actually quite difficult to take in the whole play area on a big screen TV. I actually had to move back when playing on one to be able to see what was going on in the harder difficulties.
The final nagging problem is the sound effects that happen whenever you press a button. They distract from the songs rather than add to them. And while you can turn them off completely, doing so can often make it harder to find the correct beat in any given song.
With Persona 4: Dancing All Night, I got more than I expected. Instead of just a simple music game based on the Persona 4 soundtrack, I got that plus many new remixes -- not to mention a lengthy story that fits perfectly with the themes of Persona 4 and serves to further flesh out several characters.
Sure, a game where the power of dance is the only way to beat monsters may seem a bit weird at first, but then you remember this is part of a series where some children regularly go into a magical world inside of a TV and others shoot themselves in the head to summon monsters. In context, it's practically normal.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night was released in Japan for the PlayStation Vita on June 25, 2015. It will be released in the West in September 2015.