Persona Dancing Games

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How did we end up in a world where there are three of these games?

Seriously, a rhythm game based on a series of JRPGs that somehow got successful enough to spawn two sequels?  How did that happen?

So, you remember that time, years ago?  The Persona series was great, everybody loved the last two entries, but the series hadn’t seen anything new except for the somewhat related Catherine.  Sure, they had given an opaque announcement for Persona 5, but we didn’t know anything about it except for “You are slave.  Want emancipation?”  Then one day, bam!  A slew of new games incoming.  Not just more details on Persona 5, but there was an announcement for a Persona 4 fighting game!  Really?  And a gameplay crossover between Persona characters and the Etrian Odyssey engine.  Huh.  And a rhythm dancing game with a new story based on Persona 4.  Ooookay.

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Those were some odd expansions.  The Persona series was very much a JRPG, and that genre doesn’t really have any natural overlap with others.  Sure, JRPG fans might well be fans of fighting games and what not, but there’s nothing that inherently makes a JRPG player more likely to get into those genres.  And yet, as time went on, and we got to see those games in action, well, things developed.  The fighting game turned out to be excellent, even by the genre’s standards.  The Etrian Odyssey mix?  Not so much.  So where did the rhythm game end up on that spectrum?

It’s good, but simple largely due to its delivery method.  There.  That’s the review.  Yeah, sorry, I spoiled that for you.  We’re not doing the traditional review here.   To be frank, you already know whether you want the game or not.  We’re just going to have some thoughts here.

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Frankly, the Persona dancing games are about as good of rhythm games as you’re going to get on the controller.  It’s mechanically sounds, your beats are usually well-suited to the songs, and the gameplay is complicated enough to be involved without being so complex as to be overwhelming.  Like all good rhythm games, it’s easy to get into but there’s a high skill ceiling, and it feels so viscerally satisfying to be hitting a good run.

But, on the other hand, this is a genre that has come to be defined by its alternative control methods.  Your dance pads, your plastic instruments, your microphones, or even without the peripherals, your motion controls or your touch screens.  The Persona dancing games are played entirely with six buttons and a stick.  That makes them way more accessible, but also limits the sort of complexity you’ll see in them.

Persona’s music is great.  Really, one of the most distinctive parts of the games, and for really good reason.  And you get that fully delivered to you here.  Along with some remixes of the classic songs of… kind of mixed quality.  Some of them really do improve on the originals, while others, not so much.  You do get to see some Names in video game composition adding their talents into these, and they hit a good place, for me, more often than not.

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The visuals are really interesting, although you’ll probably be paying more attention to the notes you have to hit than the dancers.  Everyone is mo-capped by a dancer in a different genre.  Most of them are rather distinct, and fit the character really well.  The historically prim and proper Haru Okumura does ballet, for example, while the rough and physically oriented Kanji is into a more wild take on locking, and the idol Rise dances just like an idol.  They’ll do all that in settings that either fall into the game’s story in Persona 4 Dancing or call back to distinct locations from the game for 3 and 5.  There have been plenty of times I’ve watched a replay just to see the dancing again.

The characters have always been one of the stronger parts of the Persona games, and one of the big draws with the Dancing games is they give you more time with them.  Persona 4 does so through its original story, while 3 and 5 don’t have a story of their own but have some more social link scenes with them to unlock.  I am impressed by how accurate their characterizations are, given that other side games tended to… let’s say… highlight certain aspects of certain characters to a degree beyond what they used to have in the source material.  It’s something I appreciated, but it really doesn’t go deep into the characters.  You don’t see them facing their personal challenges and growing as a person the way you do in the original games.  You might say that the Persona 3 and 5 Dancing games have a ‘plot’ of their own, but that’s really setting up for disappointment.  They have some animated excuses for why everyone’s found themselves in a dance party, but those are really better off ignored.  The more the game calls back to it, the more it just reminds you that this doesn’t make any sense, and then the game just gives up on it anyways at the end.  Persona 4 Dancing does have an original story, which I do have to give it props for, even if it’s just sorta… there.

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As I said, you know if you want these games or not already.  These are total love letters to the Persona games.  If you’re a fan, and the music is already drawing you in with its siren’s call, then there you go.  If you’re not already into the original, these have nothing for you.  I really enjoyed my time with these games, because I both love Persona and really enjoy rhythm games.  If you’re not into either, this game is probably not for you.  Again, the rhythm gameplay is simple, but really satisfying, and the music and characters call back to the original games in a way that really tugs on that part of my heart that wants to marry Persona.  And the games are basically the same, so if you enjoy one, you’ll enjoy them all.

Well, mostly.  This is totally a meta thing, but the games do have a bit of a different feel on them.  Persona 4 Dancing All Night feels like it’s experimental, it’s trying a lot of new and bizarre things, and it’s made for the fun of it.  It was made in a time when this had to force it’s own way into the market.  Persona 3 and 5 Dancing came out years later.  They don’t try anything significant that’s not already done in Persona 4 Dancing.  And there’s really no reason they should be two seperate, full priced games.  They came out at the same time, and each seem to be lacking in the amount of content and creativity you’d expect in a $60 game that follows in the vein of something earlier in the franchise.  I still really enjoyed the games, but the latter two just came with the feeling that they were made because they wanted my money rather than because they wanted to deliver a good experience to me.  I have a few issues with tone, as well.  In Persona 4, you already had a pop star as a party member, so that was already established there, but Persona 3 had strong themes of death and trauma, and having that imported into a happy fun dance game left feelings a little off.  Persona 5 fared better, but it was still a little weird seeing the agoraphobic and generally scared of people Futaba exuberantly prancing around in a bikini. I still had a fantastic time with them, and fell so far back into my old OMG Persona All the Time fanhood that I’ve been motivated to re-pick up the old 90-hour RPGs yet again.   For a love letter game like this one, driving me to commit to replaying the originals means that it’s probably hitting right where it needs to.

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