Platforms: PlayStation Vita
Dancing All Night brings together the same cast of characters as in Persona 4, in a new adventure that’s all about dancing and being true to yourself. Despite a somewhat overbearing plot, this game brings charm and touchingly positive messages to a story about teenagers trying to save the world.
Dancing All Night is divided into scenes and dance sequences. The plot is moved forward through the scenes, where you’ll play as either Yu Narukami (your voiceless protag from Persona 4), Rise Kujikawa, or a new character named Kanami Mashita.
By “play,” I mean the first-person thoughts you’ll read are from that character. If you’re looking for more of the roleplaying found in Persona 4, you won’t find it here. The few dialogue options you get don’t affect your relationships with the other characters or have any meaningful bearing on the plot.
But let’s admit it, we’re all here for the dancing. Every chapter is sprinkled with life-threatening dance sequences. In the dances, no matter who the “lead” of the chapter is, you’ll be playing as whoever is dancing to the song.
If you’ve played Persona 4, these dances will give you the surreal delight of watching Yosuke Hanamura getting down to sprightly J-pop beats and then summon a Persona that inexplicably now plays guitar. It’s ridiculous, and it’s awesome.
Notes fly from the center of the screen towards the edges of a ring. Depending on where the note is going, you press a button or flip the joysticks. It’s the tried-and-true form of rhythm games everywhere, and I always looked forward to dance sequences in the Story Mode of the game. Doing well on a song launches you into Fever Mode, where one of the other characters will join yours as a dance partner.
Dancing All Night also has a Freeplay Mode where you dance to the game’s songs and unlock more tracks as you go. There are three difficulty settings: easy, normal, and hard. Clearing dances in Story Mode and Freeplay Mode gets you in-game currency, which you can use to buy outfits and accessories for the characters. If you complete the story and buy the Spiral Brooch accessory, you’ll unlock another difficulty mode, called “All Night.” This mode…will kick your butt.
The big draw of Dancing All Night is dolling your beloved characters up and making them dance for your amusement. Unfortunately, each song has a main dancer attached to it, so you can’t mix-and-match songs and characters. However, you can choose who their dance partner in Fever Mode will be, once you beat the song. You can also choose the note speed, and after beating a dance you can view what a perfect run looks like, watch “choreography mode” (a video of the character dancing the choreo without all the notes), and look at your own high score for the song.
Buying certain accessories will also allow you to modify the song settings, making it easier or harder.
There’s a lot to delve into in Dancing All Night’s Freeplay Mode, and Atlus will be releasing DLC tracks as well. These cost anywhere from $0.99 to $4.99, and feature new songs, animations, and even characters from the original game. A full list of planned DLC can be found here.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night takes place six months after the events of Persona 4, the game that brought together our gang of high school detectives. Now, Rise Kujikawa is preparing to go back into show business. Her big comeback will happen at the Love Meets Bonds Festival, and she has enlisted her old school friends to be her backup dancers.
The premise of why exactly the Investigation Team is now a dance crew sounds like setup for someone’s fanfiction. Let’s be honest with ourselves: this is an excuse to make a dancing game and nothing more. But Dancing All Night commits, jumping headlong into the whacky world of idols and showbiz politics, and raises the stakes to world-threatening heights.
The Love Meets Bonds Festival website is supposedly the source of a cursed video, which makes its victims fall into comas. Then, a new idol group that is supposed to perform at the festival disappears, and the Investigation Team signs on to rescue them from the Midnight Stage—a Shadow world similar to the Midnight Channel from Persona 4. They’re faced with a series of mysteries: what is this world and why does it exist? Why are people falling into comas when they watch the video? And who is behind it all, anyway?
Unlike Persona 4 and Persona 4: Arena (where the characters use their Personas to fight against Shadows), in the Midnight Stage no one can be hurt. To defeat the Shadows, the characters have to dance their way out.
Despite the silly premise, Dancing All Night confronts some pretty heavy content, similar to the themes of Persona 4. Each of the people you rescue from the Midnight Stage is conflicted, denying who they really are and trying to be who everyone wants them to be instead. By putting all their heart and soul into the dance, the protagonists can communicate that your true self is always more valuable, and that true friends will accept you for who you are.
It’s cheesy, overdramatic, and often heavy-handed. But at the same time I can’t discount the value of a game that is literally brimming with positive messages of self-love and acceptance. And those messages get stuck in your head! After finishing it I feel like I’m possessed by the spirit of Rise Kujikawa, telling me to believe in myself.
The most interesting parts of the story mode for me were the parts where characters had to reveal the true personalities underneath their public image. They’re forced to listen to what people think of them and tortured with all the reasons that everyone would hate them if they were true to themselves. This is a theme of the original Persona 4 as well, and it’s just as compelling here.
The Story Mode wasn’t perfect. Some of the conversations really dragged on, and I found myself mashing X to get through them. The chapters where I played as Kanami Mashita, one of the new idol characters, really dragged before picking up just before the end of the game. Not even dance sequences could stop me from sighing with relief when we got back to Yu, Rise, and the rest of the gang in the Shadow world.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is rated T for language, mild blood, mild violence, partial nudity, and suggestive themes. Considering how much fanservice could have been dredged out of putting the idol characters in skimpy costumes, I was actually surprised at how little of that was present in the story mode.
Of course you can also buy swimsuits for them to dance in during Freeplay Mode. And don’t think I didn’t buy one for Yosuke.
Swearing is definitely a frequent occurrence, but usually in the context of “believe in yourself, dammit!” which, in my opinion, rather tempers the bad language.
Themes of suicide also thread through the plot, as the curse revolves around an idol who killed herself. Nothing graphic is shown, but the struggles of dealing with depression come up frequently. The recurring message is, of course, that friendship will carry you through the hard times.
I think the positive themes of Dancing All Night are what shines through, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone 13 and up from playing this game. Really, when you’re hearing “true friends will be with you no matter what!” ad nauseum for six hours, a few swears are nothing.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is a fun and thematically similar followup to Persona 4. If you enjoy dancing games I heartily recommend it, but don’t come here for deep roleplaying. That’s not what it’s about.
It was nice to spend a few more hours in the world of the Investigation Team, and I hope Atlus considers more games for this set of characters.
Dancing All Night costs $49.99 and is available for the PlayStation Vita.