There are two primary modes in Persona 4: Dancing All Night. The first is the Story Mode, which we went over last time. It’s a visual novel following a mysterious kidnapping of Kanamin Kitchen, a girl group, a Shadow world called the Mayonaka stage, and musical festival called Love Meets Bonds. You read for about 15-45 minutes, play through a song, then read again. But that’s only one side. The other is Free Mode.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s Free Mode is what would pretty much be the primary game mode in other music games. Here a person selects a song, chooses a difficulty level, determines what the lead dancer will be wearing, decides on a partner and his or her outfit, and has the chance to use various items to make it easier to go through a song.
Once Persona 4: Dancing All Night begins, it performs rather similarly to other games of its ilk. The outer ring is where the six indicators lie, with three on the left representing up, left, and down, and three on the right for triangle, circle, and cross. Occasionally, optional rings will extend out. Flicking an analog stick when it reaches the outer circle builds up a Fever gauge, which will boost points and bring in the partner character to dance with the performer if the audience is fired up enough. Speaking of the watching Shadows, the goal is to perform well enough to keep the them engaged, represented by 8-bit enemy icons flashing and “dancing” at the top of the screen. Completing a song earns you money, with a bonus applied for doing well.
The indicator placement is rather odd, to be sure. It takes time to grow accustomed to notes flying to the outer edges of the screen, and means someone has to rely more on rhythm than obsessively observing every beat. Fortunately, the songs from Persona 4 are likely so ingrained in the head of anyone playing that keeping time isn’t a problem. I didn’t realize how far these earworms had burrowed into my brain until “Your Affection” started playing and I noticed I wasn’t even keeping track of where the notes went. I was simply remembering which button they’d need and let instincts take over. It also helped that Perfect, Great, and Good notes all keep a combo going, while other games tend to only have the two most accurate presses maintaining runs.
Which was helpful, as this mode with a lot of unlocking. This, in turn, means lots of replaying. I completed the Story mode of Persona 4: Dancing All Night first, because it’s Persona and that’s something that happens when you love the characters. (Plus, it’s necessary to unlock specific outfits in Tanaka’s Commodities shop.) When I came to the Free Mode after, I assumed all of the songs played through the course of the story would have unlocked there as well.
In practice, it wasn’t so simple. The two modes are separate from one another, so only a handful of songs were immediately available in Free Mode. These then had to be played again to unlock additional songs. Players are unable to determine the order, so if there’s one particular tune you’re waiting for, you may need to power through one to five others to get at it.
The same can be said for partner characters. All songs have one lead character permanently tied to it and typically one default partner. As an example, “Like a Dream Come True” is a Teddie song, with Kanji as the default partner. Clearing it once unlocks Yukiko as a possible backup dancer. It may seem limiting, but made sense in practice since the main character has a specific dance for each song and unique partner dances with each available one. Teddie and Kanji have more of a joking rivalry in their “Like a Dream Come True” performance, while Teddie flirts with Yukiko when she shows up.
There is motivation to replay, however. Easy mode is incredibly forgiving in Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Anyone will be able to beat it, regardless of rhythm. Normal also feels a bit easy, and a beginning going to it from Easy will have no trouble picking up the pace. Hard is ridiculously difficult. I began on that difficulty in Free Mode, thinking I could handle it due to years spent with Hatsune Miku: Project Mirai and Taiko no Tatsujin. I couldn’t. I didn’t. “Like a Dream Come True” broke me after less than 15 notes. Let’s stop there.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night will come to the Vita on September 29.