We need to kill Persona 4 forever.
I don't say that out of hatred mind you, I say it out of love, particularly for Persona 4 Dancing All Night, the newest game to feature the dutiful servitude of my favorite cast of Anime Scooby Doo teens. In case you're somehow unfamiliar with Persona, it's an incredible niche series of Japanese RPGs about teenagers who summon manifestations of their innermost fears to represent them in battles against the sins of mankind. I say somehow, because despite also being a spinoff of an even more obscure series of Japanese RPGs, there have been nine different Persona 4 Capital-T-Things across three different mediums in the last six years. There's been the original game, a remake, two anime series, two fighting games, a crossover with the Etrian Odyssey series of RPGs, a light novel, a movie, and now: a dancing-themed rhythm game.
Admittedly, it's a weird fit for a game that featured a subplot about a girl coming to terms with what being a divorcee who remarried in Japanese society means in relation to social status and womanhood, but hey, it's an excuse to see your favorite (they are contractually obligated to be your favorites, I'm sorry) anime teens dress up in crazy costumes and dance to kind of incredible dance remixes of your favorite Persona 4 tunes.
On the other hand though, it's a pretty perfect fit. Persona is a series renowned for its unique and exciting presentation style, and Persona 4 in particular is known for its dynamic visual style, if not its actual graphical quality. Seeing the characters done up in flashy outfits, dancing in front of occasionally psychedelic backdrops isn't really a long distance from, say, that time they fought their way through a warped, psycho-sexual horror-house version of a strip club. It was meant to represent a young woman being uncomfortable with her sexuality being owned and consumed by the masses, but it mostly came off as an excuse to have moaning women in the background track.
But it's precisely that level of bizarre psychoanalytical gibberish that feels absent from P4D. The game is all flash, no substance. The plot is about as bare bones as it gets, with the cast being sucked into yet another mysterious shadow realm where dreams create reality and Personas are the key to rescuing an impressionable youth from the dark, teen-dramatic fate of denying their true self. This time however, they're helping out Rise, who has decided to make her superstar idol comeback concert all the more awkward by inviting her entirely untrained high school friends to be her backup dancers. It's all wonderfully anime and goofy and cliche, and it's all fun and games until someone releases an ancient Japanese god to unleash chaos upon our communication-lacking world.
Spoilers for anime, I guess.
And while the plot is why you usually come to a Persona game, it's not really the meat of P4D. The real main dish (and boy, do I mean dish) is the meticulous presentation given to the fanservice elements of the game. Each character has a gorgeous HD model, with dance moves that were choreographed by professionals to match their personalities and rotoscoped to ensure maximum accuracy. On top of that, each character has costumes and accessories that they can wear into each dance, either as the main dancer (which is fixed due to the choreography) or as a backup dancer. Do you want to see Kanji get down with Naoto and complete your OTP canonically? Do you love it when the main character and Yosuke flirt with each other totally under the wire? If any of those sentences made sense to you, you'll probably love this game.
Not to say you won't enjoy it if you didn't. The gameplay is pretty simple. There are six (sometimes seven) buttons, and you hit them in time to the music. It's easy, fun, and gets deviously difficult as the game goes on. Interestingly, it reminds me a lot of class DS rhythm game Elite Beat Agents, in that the motions you input almost always have something to do with the dance moves, making some of the invisible note challenges much more manageable. The flow and inputs feel right, which is a really significant step for a rhythm game, considering most feel like abstract nonsense in terms of relating your inputs to actual music. It's very good, especially considering it wouldn't need to be a decent rhythm game to appease the Persona fans it's pretty clearly targeting.
Which brings us back around to the game's biggest issue. When Persona 4 came out, these characters were special and exciting. They were well-developed and contained in this small world, just for them. Seeing them was a refreshing trip into that world, a place where those characters could be people we didn't get to see often. Now, I can't turn my head without seeing some kind of Persona 4 media, and it's getting exhausting, The characters feel like they're just repeating the lines we expect of them, and without the stronger narrative structure of a more traditional RPG to form the backbone of the game, the myriad spinoffs just have the characters come off as flanderizations. Disney World automatons creepily spouting off one-liners until they break down from poor upkeep. That seems to be the dangerous fate ahead for these characters we, and this game, love so much. They've been through so much, and with Persona 5 right on the horizon, I really do hope that P4D, as fun as it was, really is their last dance.