Much like Nintendo's eponymous Pokemon franchise, it seems you can slap the Persona 4 cast onto pretty much anything and have it work. Having made their debut in story-driven role-playing game Persona 4, a game that mixed exploration with battles and lots (and lots) of dialogue, it wasn't too big a stretch to cross over into more hardcore dungeon crawling territory, as per the 3DS' Persona Q. Then there was fighting game spin-off, Persona 4 Arena, which saw the cast putting their turn based battling skills on one side, in favour of a Street Fighter-esque beat 'em up. But perhaps the biggest departure from its roots is its newest foray, Persona 4: Dancing All Night - a music game staring all your favourite Persona 4 characters.
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Persona 4: Dancing All Night puts a decidedly musical spin on the Persona 4 series, swapping turn-based battles for a spot of beat-matching button pressing dancing instead. Like most games of its ilk, coloured notes move from the centre of the screen towards various markers on the outside, and it's up to you to press the right button in time with the music - the more accurate you are, the more points you'll earn. Variations of button press types help keep things interesting, ranging from simple presses, to longer held notes and some which require you to press two together - but arguably the most challenging are the 'scratch' notes. To hit these blue rings, you need to either wiggle your finger on the Touch Screen or jiggle the analogue stick, both of which involve taking your hands off the all-important face buttons, running the risk of missing the next set of button presses. Fortunately though, missing out these 'scratch' notes doesn't affect your performance, and merely nets you some bonus points - so you can totally ignore them if you're struggling.
Initially, Dancing All Night can seem a bit daunting at first, with notes of all different kinds coming out the screen at an overwhelming rate, and you'll likely find yourself tying your fingers in knots and failing out of your first few songs. But before long, like so many music games, it all come together, and you'll wonder how on earth you messed up the songs to begin with. And it's this that's Persona's real charm. Fairly easy to get to grips with, but harder to master, you'll find yourself coming back for 'just one more go' way too often, chasing that elusive high score.
Anyone who's played a Persona game will know the sound track is usually full of catchy, vocal songs, and Persona 4 is no exception - potentially making it pretty good fodder for a music game. And for the most part, Dancing All Night delivers, with it's thirty or so songs packed with way more hits than misses. It is slightly disappointing however, quite how many tracks are doubled up with remixes - of the 27 included tracks, there's technically only 18 unique songs, which sadly makes things start to feel a touch repetitive. For the most part though, Persona is fun enough that it doesn't really matter, but those used to the 40+ song lists of the Project Diva games may find it a bit limited.
Speaking of which - taking a leaf out of rival PS Vita rhythm action game Project Diva's book, Dancing All Night also includes a whole range of unlockable items, costumes and accessories, which can be bought from the store using the money you earn from playing songs. From butler costumes to summer dresses to a giant pumpkin suit for Teddie (and our personal favourite, the never-play-a-song-without-them gag glasses), there's plenty of fun to be had for budding fashionistas. Items, meanwhile, let you alter how Dancing All Night plays, whether it's turning on a temporary "no fail" mode; letting you hit any button to play any note; or vastly increasing the note speed, or making the notes move in random directions - some of which make your games easier, while others make it harder in exchange for greater monetary rewards when you finish. Likewise, playing on higher difficulties nets you more cash for completing songs, letting you go on even wilder shopping sprees.
A nice touch, and one not often seen with rhythm games, is that Persona 4: Dancing All Night is more than just a collection of songs - it actually has a pretty solid story mode too, which attempts to weave it's killer soundtrack and addictive music gameplay into a coherent tale. Heavy with references to the previous game on the PS Vita, Persona 4: Golden (although with no major spoilers), Dancing All Night's story picks up sometime after, as the colourful group of school friends, fresh from solving the case of Inaba's serial killer, are due to appear as backing dancers in a concert alongside their idol friend, a girl named Rise, in her comeback show. But as is always the case with the Persona gang, things never go quite as planned, and before long they find themselves drawn into another case of mysterious disappearances.
An internet video that plays at midnight shows an apparently dead idol superstar dancing in a mysterious world, and its appearance ties in with the disappearance of the members of the newest idol super group, Kanamin Kitchen. A tongue-in-cheek ridiculous group of supposedly 'edible idols' based on foodstuffs, it appears they've been sucked inside the internet video itself, and find themselves trapped in a world known as the Midnight Stage, tormented by their deepest insecurities at the hands of the Shadows (the Persona series' enemies). And as the guys with the most experience tackling the Shadows, our lovable Persona 4 investigation team take it upon themselves to rescue the pop group in the only way they can - with the power of dance, of course.
On paper, it sounds like a truly ludicrous story, and in many respects it is. However, the tale is woven over several hours of visual novel-esque story telling, jazzed up by frequent banter, in jokes and silliness from the Persona characters we've come to know and love - from Chie's upbeat nature, insatiable appetite and fear of ghosts to Teddie's wannabe womanising ways and Kanji's tough guy facade, everyone's personalities come through much as you'd expect. But that's not to say you have to be familiar with every man, woman and bear either - we confess that we've not actually got to far through Persona 4 ourselves, and recognise barely half the investigation team, yet the way the characters bounce off each other is as fun to listen to whether you know their backstories or not - although Persona fans will undoubtedly pick up on more references along the way.
While its track list may be a bit on the small side, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is still a great little music game, likely to keep you coming back for 'just one more go' for quite a while. Tied in with another page turning story, linking the songs together into a surprisingly solid tale staring all your favourite Persona 4 personalities, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is as different as it is impressive, and is well worth picking up.
Format Reviewed: PS Vita