We rarely see what happens after the credits roll on our favorite JRPG heroes. For many series, the story is over once that game comes to a close. Final Fantasy VIII doesn’t bring Cloud back for one last ride, and every subsequent Dragon Quest leaves the prior party to their retirement.
The Persona franchise, however, has quite the opposite problem. Thanks to a horde of spinoff media, we get to see our favorite angsty teens duke it out in fighting games or scramble around in chibi-fied dungeon crawlers. We even got to see the cast of Persona 4 dance themselves silly in a vibrant Vita rhythm-game a few years ago, and now the crews of Persona 3 and Persona 5 get a similar treatment in this double-feature music game mashup.
At their core, Persona 3 Dancing Moon Night and Persona 5 Dancing Star Night are the same game. Like your favorite Pokemon or Mega Man Battle Network release, though, you have 2 different versions to pick from that will dictate the style of content that gets sprinkled on top. Persona 3 Dancing brings back the classic PS2 party, along with a suite of bumpin’ remixes of the best tracks from Persona 3. Likewise, Persona 5 Dancing is all about the party members and iconic music from the hit PS4 RPG.
No matter which of the two you pick, the setup for why these boys and girls are dancing is the same. You’re all in a dream-world version of the iconic Velvet Room, and you’re instructed by your respective Velvet Room Attendant (the bizarre and delightful Elizabeth from 3 or the spunky jail-warden duo from 5) to dance your asses off in a competition to see which Persona protagonist has the best moves.
It’s a silly and simple set-up, and it’s really all you need. Beyond that brief intro cutscene, the only other bits of story in the game are extra Social Link conversations you unlock for achievements like playing a certain number of songs or getting a certain amount of Perfect note hits. Having these unlockable scenes gated behind various little challenges is a perfect incentive to keep playing and revisiting tracks, and puts you on a wonderful loop of dipping between playing fun songs and watching even more fun cutscenes.
The previous game, Persona 4 Dancing All Night, had a lengthy, drawn-out visual novel story that tried oh so hard to tie the dancing experience together with an emotional and thought-provoking story. It completely missed the mark, and failed to capitalize on the fun and quirky nature of these rhythm game spinoffs. The brief and far less dramatic scenes in these new games are the perfect amount of story, and help give your favorite characters some extra development and memorable moments without being wrapped up in a tone-deaf narrative about death and drama.
Aside from the change in story structure, not much is different here from the previous rhythm game spinoff. Gameplay consists of you keeping your eyes glued to a circular note-highway that has Up, Left and Down notes spilling into the left side of your screen, while Triangle, Circle, And Cross notes glide into the right. On top of those, large circular Scratch notes will envelop the entire note-ring and can be hit by flicking the left stick or swiping your touchpad for bonus points.
It takes a while to get used to the way notes fly out at you in every corner of the screen, especially if you’re playing on console and have to dart your eyes across a huge TV as you play. The benefit of this style of play, though, is that it leaves way more room for the visuals happening in the background. In almost every song, you’ll see specific Persona character doing choreographed dance in a full 3D environment to the beat of the track, along with camera cuts and even guest dancers. Like any rhythm game, you might have trouble finding the moment to let your eyes soak the dancing in, but the circular nature of the note highway does a good job of drawing your eyes to the action at all times.
It’s a lot of fun seeing these characters dance their hearts out, but it’s even more fun to hear the incredible, brand-new remixes of classic Persona songs that make up the tracklists for these games. Persona 3 already had a suite of block rockin’ beats in the original game, but the remixes they produced for Dancing Moon Night, especially one track by Jet Set Radio composer Hideki Naganuma, are jaw-dropping tunes that I can never get out of my head.
Persona 5 Dancing has a similar suite of original remixes, but unfortunately, the overall tracklist isn’t on the same level of Persona 3 Dancing. The original music of Persona 3 was already energetic and groovy in a way that was perfect for rhythm games. While the soundtrack of Persona 5 was incredible, it’s made up of a lot of slow, somber and jazzy tracks that just don’t translate to a rhythm game as effectively.
The developers definitely knew this, because the two songs from Persona 5 that break that mold – Rivers In The Desert and Life Will Change – appear three times each on the final tracklist. Those repeats, along with one of the playable tracks simply being the entire end credits video of Persona 5 – with zero dancing characters – show just how much they had to scrape the bottom of the barrel to put together a tracklist for Persona 5 Dancing.
Despite the differing quality of their tracklists, both of these games share a couple of common issues. For one thing, both games only have about 23 songs each. Compared to some other Japanese rhythm games and almost every Western rhythm game, this is just such a small, sad amount. I would have been happy to see these tracklists doubled by including the un-remixed originals or even additional remixes, especially because of the other issue these games have; you can only play songs as their specific, pre-determined character. So, if you love a certain character and give them a fun customised outfit, you can only ever see them in the small handful of songs they’re tied to. It’s a bizarre design decision that was carried over from the first game, and really ruins the replayability of both titles.
It’s also worth talking about the visuals of these games, and the differences there. Each game features menus and UI sounds that perfectly mirror the style and design of their original games, which is a wonderful touch that makes both releases stand out from each other. On PS4, everything is crisp and beautiful, and maintains a smooth unfaltering framerate.
You can tell how much love was put into the dancing animations of each character, as they perfectly reflect their individual personalities. There are also a handful of music-video style scenes for some songs, but while the Persona 3 ones feature breath-taking visuals and overwhelming neon colors, the Persona 5 ones consist of a somewhat basic rock-band riff and a terribly uncomfortable all-girls burlesque sequence.
Persona 3 Dancing and Persona 5 Dancing are fun and silly love-letters to a pair of iconic JRPGs. For Persona 3, it’s touching to see these characters, the wonderful music, and their original voice actors return after so long for one more group outing. For Persona 5, the love and polish is there in equal amounts, but the somber jazzy style of the original game just doesn’t translate as successfully to a loud and groovy rhythm game experience. Both games suffer from the same issues of small track-lists and bizarre character-locking, but if you’re a fan of Persona, you’ll still end up having a hell of a lot of fun.
Version tested: PS4 – Also available for PS Vita