Persona 4: Dancing All Night on PS Vita
I was first exposed to Japanese pop idol culture when I watched the horrifyingly sickening animated movie Perfect Blue at the tender age of 10. It painted such an unnerving picture of rising stardom in Japan, and the message that fame and popularity came with such a high price stuck with me for a long time to come. Perfect Blue is a fantastic movie but I don’t recommend watching it, especially if you get squeamish at the sight of gore, rape, and other appalling moral injustices.
So you’re probably wondering how Persona 4: Dancing All Night comes into the picture. Interestingly enough, this game hits almost all of the same beats as Perfect Blue and delivers that very same message of fame coming at a price, albeit in a much happier and family-friendly manner. The story is simple: Persona 4 veteran Rise Kujikawa is getting ready to make her big comeback as a pop idol, and she wants the Inaba Investigation Team to support her onstage as her backup dancers.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fun if we didn’t have a few new characters joining the fray. Kanami Mashita, affectionately referred to as ‘Kanamin’ by her fans, was mentioned only in passing in the original Persona 4, but she takes on a central role here in Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Along with her fellow group members of Kanamin Kitchen (the gimmick here is that they refer to themselves as food items) and her austere manager, Kanami is well established as a character that truly adds to the overall theme of pursuing your true self. Heh.
Things start to get dicey when our heroes find out that the webpage for their upcoming Love Meets Bonds Festival plays an eerie video of a dead idol at midnight, and causes anyone who watches it to fall into a deep coma. In order to beat the shadowy forces at work behind the dead idol video, the Investigation Team has to step onto the Midnight Stage and defeat evil with, you guessed it, the power of song and dance.
While my experience with rhythm games is limited to the DJ Max titles on the PSP and the true final boss of Drakengard 3 (oh dear god), I had an easy enough time with this title. It’s clear that the rhythm gameplay in Persona 4: Dancing All Night is both solid and intuitive. Making use of the outer face buttons on the Vita, the game does a spectacular job of not making the player feel overwhelmed with having to keep an eye on 6 buttons at the same time. If things get a little too hard to handle, though, there’s even the option to reduce the speed of the notes so you have more time to register the buttons you need to hit. And for those skilled at rhythm games, Persona 4: Dancing All Night also gives you the option of buying items and modifiers from Tanaka’s Amazing Commodity Shop to add a little challenge to your experience in the game’s Free Dance Mode.
Outside of the game’s main campaign, you can earn money through the completion of songs in Free Dance Mode, and use it to purchase costumes and accessories for your characters. Aside from the members of the Investigation Team, there are also a few secret characters you can unlock as you progress through the game. It’ll take awhile before you finally unlock every character, costume, accessory, and item in the game, but the music and the gameplay are so wonderfully addictive it barely feels like a slog at all.
When you’re not busy getting your hands cramped up trying to beat every single track on ‘All Night’ difficulty, you’ll probably want to dive into Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s stellar story mode. I’m sure many fans expected this to be a pure fanservice game when it was first announced and sure enough, the fanservice comes in droves with this title, but the 10 hour-long campaign – yes, 10 hours – brings so much more to the table than just that.
While Dancing All Night does retain its sense of humor and occasional slapstick silliness, it isn’t afraid to dive headfirst into the serious issues either. While Persona 4 focused on the core idea of accepting your innermost self and not being afraid of showing that to others, Dancing All Night follows a slightly different path and instead deals with issues like meeting the expectations of others, and putting on a façade or adopting an entirely different personality so as to be accepted by the majority. Suddenly, the very notion of bringing pop idols into the silly mix of jumping into different dimensions and ‘dancing’ Shadows to death seems completely rational and not out of place at all.
Dancing All Night stands out from all the other Persona 4 spinoffs not just because of its focused and spectacularly well-written story, but also because of the social commentary it provides and how frighteningly close it hits home. While the other spinoffs, Persona 4 Arena in particular, seemed too preoccupied with delivering the fanservice, Dancing All Night brings back the personal connection we all felt when we played the original Persona 4 for the first time back on the PS2. How many times have we felt unappreciated or unloved for being ourselves? And how often have we tried to change who we are just to fit societal expectations? Persona 4: Dancing All Night tackles these questions with finesse and, just like Persona 4, proves to be a very human game that we can latch onto easily.
As happy and cheery as the game’s box art looks, Dancing All Night doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exploring the lives of Japanese pop idols either. There are a few narrative sequences in the game where we get to witness the emotional turmoil of the four Kanamin Kitchen girls, and the struggles they face within the industry. These sequences are all incredibly stylized within the game, of course, but just like in Perfect Blue, it’s shockingly easy to draw parallels between the in-game events and real life itself.
One gripe that players might have with Dancing All Night is the pacing of the game’s narrative. The story mode progresses the same way as Arena: the game throws you a wall of text, and you click through mountains and mountains of dialogue until you finally get to play a song. While it can get rather laborious just advancing through text in between songs, it’s an issue that is easily overlooked because of the quality voice acting we’ve all come to expect from the Persona games.
There’s no Japanese audio track here, but that doesn’t really matter, considering the fantastic deliveries from the game’s English cast. It’s worth noting that Laura Bailey does not reprise her role as Rise Kujikawa in this entry. But fear not, Rise fans; Ashly Burch delivers her lines convincingly, and even gives Rise a more mature spin on her character – apt, considering how much she’s developed through the story.
While I’d hesitate to recommend Perfect Blue to anyone looking for a good time, Persona 4: Dancing All Night is an easy recommendation from me. It’s not just because of its addictive gameplay and catchy tunes, but also because of how unafraid it is to jump into the serious stuff, and how it ultimately keeps us in touch with our innermost selves.
Dancing All Night looks like it’s set to be the final game before we have to say goodbye to our favorite cast of characters in Persona 4, and I’m perfectly fine with that. The Investigation Team solves one more mystery, and they’ve once again reminded us never to lose sight of our ‘true selves’. I’d say that’s a job well done.