What a versatile bunch the Persona 4 gang are! Having already appeared in an RPG, a dungeon crawler, and a couple of fighting games, it's clear that they're willing to give anything a go. In their latest outing – Persona 4 Dancing All Night – they're probably furthest from their shadow bashing wheelhouse, but as luck would have it, busting a groove in this PlayStation Vita rhythm game is just as deadly to shadows as being smacked with a sword.
The story picks up after the events of the other Persona 4 games, and has the investigation team helping one of their number – Rise Kujikawa – in her return to showbiz. After taking a break from being a teen idol in the first Persona 4 game, she's corralled her friends into being backing dancers ahead of a big performance at the Love Meets Bonds Festival, and has been giving dancing lessons to everyone – Teddie included – in preparation for the show.
This wouldn't be a Persona game, though, if there weren't supernatural shenanigans going on, and rumours of a video on the festival's website that only appears at midnight and puts you in a coma when watched piques the interest of Rise and her friends. Shortly after, the disappearance of four members of idol group Kanamin Kitchen – who are also performing at the show – has the crew investigating the case, and in no time at all they're whisked away to the Midnight Stage where dancing their socks off is the only way to take on the force holding them prisoner.
Even though the explanation for why you're dancing is a little contrived, the rest of the story and presentation is just as you'd expect from a Persona 4 game. All of the dialogue is fully voiced, and if you're one of those people who has spent many hours with these characters in the previous games, being in their company yet again is like reuniting with old friends. The story also taps into the usual Persona 4 theme of being true to yourself, and builds enough of a mystery around the Midnight Stage that it'll keep you wearing your dancing shoes until the case is solved.
This is good thing, as if the story failed to be interesting enough the structure of the game's narrative would make the whole experience horribly tedious. This is due to it being essentially a visual novel with upwards of ten minutes of exposition and dialogue in between actually doing anything on the dancing front. While this will sound quite appealing to the Persona 4 faithful, if you're just here for the rhythm game aspects you'll be better off steering clear of the story in favour of the Free Dance mode that lets you skip it completely.
When you do actually get your groove on, Persona 4 Dancing All Night plays as you'd expect from a rhythm game. Notes move from the centre of the screen towards the left and right edges, and when they pass over certain target areas you press the required button to break them, scoring more points – and building a note combo – the better you are at timing your button presses. Sometimes you'll need to press multiple buttons at once, hold your button presses for a few seconds, or do a DJ scratch on the touch screen of the Vita, but none of this breaks away from what you might have already seen in this sort of title in the past.
If you don't manage to keep the audience appropriately excited by missing too many notes it'll bring your performance to a premature end, however triggering Fever Time can help you to avoid this by letting you boost the audience hype gauge at a faster rate with each note hit. This is done by successfully hitting three Fever Rings, which in turn makes a certain part of the dance a Fever Zone. Should you manage to reach this section of the song with the audience hype gauge firmly in the green, then you'll also get the added bonus of being joined by another member of the team to bust out even more moves on the dance floor.
When you first start playing, the decision to locate the target areas on both sides of the screen seems like a bad one, and you'll feel like you need eyes that move independently of one another to track the notes. Fortunately It only take a few songs for you to get used to this layout and how the notes tend to be sequenced, so while you'll still have to uncomfortably dart your eyes backwards and forwards at times – especially on the tougher difficulty levels – it never feels unmanageable.
So, what about the actual songs? Well, outside of a couple of original tracks, the soundtrack is made up of songs from the previous Persona 4 games. As a result, in order to get a decent number of tracks into the game, the set list has been bolstered with a number of remixes of the more recognisable numbers. While this may sound a little disappointing, they're actually all really good, changing songs up enough so you don't feel cheated, with even a few cases where they're better than the originals.
Once you've finished the story – or if you decided to skip it entirely – you can dive into the Free Dance mode where you can play through any of the songs, with the added bonus of being able to tweak certain customisable options. Using the P$ you earn by completing songs, you can buy new costumes, accessories, and items, so if you've always wanted to dress Teddie up as a reindeer, or have Kanji dance around in his underwear, today's your lucky day. While some costumes stray a bit too deep into scantily clad fanservice territory, the more interesting items can be used to make the gameplay easier or harder, which in turn reduces or increases the score and P$ rewards from a song.
While disappointingly only a few tracks are initially unlocked in Free Dance – even if you've completed the story – you'll find yourself more than happy to experience them again, and test your skills on the increasingly challenging Hard and Dancing All Night difficulty levels. There are also online leaderboards you can use to compare your scores with other players, but these are oddly unintuitive, requiring you to manually upload each score yourself in such a way that unless you've read the manual could quite easily be missed.
Packed full of the charm and character that you'd expect from the series, Persona 4 Dancing All Night is a thoroughly entertaining rhythm game that could warm even the coldest heart. With an understandably focused choice of music, a large part of the enjoyment you'll get from this title will rest on how much you like its particular brand of upbeat audio, which admittedly won't be to everyone's taste. If, however, you're a Persona 4 fan – who also owns a Vita – then this is undoubtedly for you, and while it may not be the best example of the rhythm genre out there, it certainly has the most personality.