I’ve played Persona 4 four times. I beat it once on my own, because when the game was first released. The second time was a group effort, as my game night crew decided to go through the game. The third and fourth times were with Persona 4 Golden, to see both new endings. The songs burrowed into my brain. I may not know the exact words, but it isn’t uncommon for me to hum or sing renditions with misheard lyrics when going through either of those games again. People such as me are Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s target audience, and as such are the ones who will prove more successful in this rhythm game.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night is relying on such nostalgia and muscle memory. After all, the layout is rather unconventional for a music game. Notes begin in the center of the screen, perhaps to keep players focused on the iconic characters, then drift outward to up, left, down, triangle circle, and cross indicators on an outer circle. Focusing attention on where the icons are supposed to go is a good way to fail, especially on Hard or All Night difficulty levels. The game wants you to already know where everything is and rely on familiarity with the songs to get the timing right.
Which can prove a little problematic. While these are Shoji Meguro songs performed by Shihoko Hirata, they aren’t always the exact songs we remember. Many are remixes and renditions designed to be more suitable for a music game. The result is something people will have a certain level of familiarity with, but not enough to likely jump immediately into any difficulty beyond Normal. Persona 4: Dancing All Night is too taxing otherwise. Someone can be a master of Hatsune Miku: Project Diva, but still need to start slow here to acclimate to the presentation shift.
It also can be a game of distractions. With some music games, generic animations play in the background during songs, as not to pull focus away from the icons passing on screen. The Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series has central figures, but also positions the indicators around the screen to keep someone’s eyes from settling in one place and instead locked onto what matters – the beat of the song. With Persona 4: Dancing All Night, it seems as though the game expects you to know the music well enough where your attention can be split. Because things should be so familiar and nostalgic, watching the characters and notes in the center while things are happening at the outer edges should be no trouble, right? (Not quite.)
The Fever rings can pull one away as well. These are optional notes, hit by flicking either analog stick when they align with the outer ring. I found they were more often than not my undoing. Sometimes they seemed to go with the beat, but there were a few times when they didn’t. It seemed as though they could pull my focus away from the all-important directional or action buttons. As a result, I reached a point where I would ignore them. I’d trigger them often enough to make the Fever Time indicator appear on the progress gauge at the bottom of the screen, ignore them until the event, where hopefully a partner would come in, was over, then go ahead and pay attention to them until I’d earned enough for a second Fever Time. I suspect others may do the same, especially when starting out or playing a song on a higher difficulty.
But it isn’t about the game expecting people to know enough about the music and universe to be some sort of savant. Sometimes, Persona 4: Dancing All Night also feels like a music game designed for the level grind. The configuration menu allows someone to use items that will make the songs easier or more difficult. Note speed can be adjusted, and is in fact the only way to unlock certain books in Tanaka’s shop that will can offer increased or decreased note speed that also provides score and monetary boosts for successful completion. I’m not sure how anyone could ever manage to play the game using the Mystic’s Way book, which removes all notes entirely, but it is there for people who want such an option.
All of this works toward unlocking additional content. More songs can be earned. Money for costumes and items can be acquired. Play through a song enough times, and you’ll be able to earn more partner characters. It’s almost as though Persona 4: Dancing All Night is filled with unspoken side-quests to conquer.
Not that any of these are bad things. It’s more a glimpse at the nature of the game. Persona 4: Dancing All Night is for the fans. People who are familiar with this world and music are going the to be the ones who succeed and get the most out of this title. Those coming in because they enjoy rhythm games will struggle more and not appreciate the offerings as much. It’s an expected consequence of a Persona 4 spin-off.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night will be released on the PlayStation Vita on September 29.