Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight combine the Persona soundtracks and the rhythm game genre – two things I absolutely adore. I loved Persona 4: Dancing All Night to pieces, so you might imagine that new Persona dancing games should be an easy home run for me. Truth be told, I enjoyed both the new dancing centric Persona spin-offs, but couldn’t shake the feeling that both felt a bit barebones in terms of content around their core soundtracks.
Each game tasks you with progressing through 25 musical tracks either from their games’ original soundtrack or remixes based on that soundtrack in order to unlock more songs, new character customisations and short story sequences. The core rhythm gameplay is simple but can be immensely challenging depending on the difficulty you choose. You need to pay attention to icons appearing in the centre of the screen as they travel to a ring on the outer edge – and tap buttons when they cross that ring in time with the backing track. This is complicated slightly with some icons that require you to tap two buttons at once, rings that require a flick of the analog stick and a few other things to keep you on your toes. Hitting notes successfully will build your hype meter, which needs to be full at the end of a track to clear it – and of course you can aim for higher ratings by hitting more notes successfully and maintaining a combo by never missing.
In Persona 4’s dancing game, you progressed through a Story mode which while not incredibly deep, still lended some gravitas to your progression through the game’s tracklist while giving the existing cast a chance to interact with a new character and her story arc. These new Persona dancing games don’t attempt anything like this, instead replacing the story mode with a thin veneer of plot (the introduction makes it clear the entire thing is a dream, and will be forgotten when the characters wake up) and telling this threadbare narrative through ‘Social’ events. These are unlocked by meeting certain requirements in general gameplay (things like a certain number of BRILLIANT ratings in songs or using a variety of different visual customisation options on your characters) and present you with short character dialogue sequences not dissimilar to Social Link or Confidant scenes in mainline Persona games – except that they don’t really have any sort of interesting narrative arc. I found myself wanting to just skip through text after a while because it felt like utter fluff – and I never do that in Persona games. These scenes mostly serve as progress gates through which lie unlockable customisations. Without any sort of story climax to go with your progression through the games’ soundtracks, you lose some impact the songs and dances might have had. In P4D, the final song’s dance felt important – a culmination of the story involving the entire cast. P3 and 5 have a similar dance sequence in their soundtracks, but they lack any weight without a storyline to lead into them.
That’s not to say these games aren’t great fun, however. If the Persona soundtracks bring you as much joy as they do for me, there’s still some good times to be had in tapping along to these songs and overcoming increasingly challenging tracks as you progress through the track list and its various difficulties. Easy isn’t mind numbingly so and would be a reasonable place for someone to start if they didn’t have much experience with rhythm games. Normal for me brought an occasional challenging sequence, but was mostly a cruisy way to play through the tracks. Things ramp up quite a bit in Hard, you’ll probably need to practise to wrangle your fingers around the note patterns in some tracks. There’s also All Night difficulty which is unlocked later in the game which shakes up some of your expectations in a way that boosts challenge considerably. I found it a bit too much, but it’s there if you find Hard isn’t quite hard enough.
While I lament the loss of a standalone story to pull it all together, I can’t deny that Atlus packed these games to the brim with content. Alongside the 25 music tracks per game you gradually unlock a huge amount of supplemental stuff that can either change the way you play or just let you have some fun customising the look of the dancers. Support and Challenge modifiers can do things like automatically hitting scratch rings so you can focus on the main notes, stop a Good rated note from breaking a combo or obscure notes to give you less time to plan or react. Character customisations come in the form of cool, goofy or more fanservice-y costumes, along with various accessories that can be added to characters. There’s a lot here to unlock and play around with if you’re enjoying the soundtrack enough to be playing through anyway.
Your enjoyment of each games’ soundtrack really will be the biggest determining factor as to whether you’ll get much out of either of these games. The Persona dancing games are pure fanservice – something for people who loved the musical styling of the Persona RPGs and would love to spend more time with this music in a different gameplay style – I just wish the package as a whole felt more cohesive.
THE PS4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. A DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
As it stands, Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight are fantastic ways to explore their respective soundtracks from a new perspective. However, they lack the glue that a story mode brought to the previous game in the series that could have made it feel like a cohesive whole rather than a broad but disparate list of songs and customisations.