Of the many Persona spinoffs, the Dancing All Night series is, inarguably, the strangest. Persona is a lengthy role-playing game series with a heavy focus on dungeon crawling and social simulation. Its dancing games chuck all that aside in favor of rhythm-based gameplay. Why let your favorite characters save the world when you can instead watch them breakdance in a wizard hat?
Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight, released simultaneously, are two halves of the same brief story. Each is told from the side of their respective cast, but both parties have been pulled into a dance contest by their otherworldly Velvet Room attendants. There may not be any direct crossover, but they’ve been brought to compete against each other. In practice, this means tapping out commands to both games’ excellent soundtracks. Unlike their predecessor, Persona 4: Dancing All Night, neither has a story mode; players hoping for a visual novel with the series’ cast are out of luck. The games are instead split into dancing and social modes you can access at your leisure.
For players who just want to tap out to their favorite jams, that’s a definite plus. The game’s dance mode is delightfully straightforward. You pick a song, you dress up your characters, and you dance. Which is not to say it’s easy — the game’s moment-to-moment action is all about timing and learning rhythm. That means tapping out on-screen notes in perfect time, whether you’re hitting one-offs, pressing buttons in unison, or double tapping on a beat.
As you progress through the game, you open both higher difficulty levels and additional options to modify your experience. Players struggling with the game’s faster-paced levels, for example, may want to boost their bonuses or decrease the note speed. Anyone looking for a challenge might consider vanishing or wavering notes. Successful runs will unlock new items and levels to play through.
Likewise, the game’s social element is key to accessing everything the dancing games have to offer. As you achieve specific bonuses, like using a set number of accessories or building combos, short cutscenes will unlock with each character. Though wholly fluffy affairs, they’re a perfect way to spend a little more time with characters you already love. Bonus: cutscenes also unlock more items to use.
Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight aren’t meant to be the deep, lengthy adventures the series has become known for. They’re bonus material. While Persona 4: Dancing All Night’s long cutscenes and additional story was a slog for me, I found Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight impossible to put down. I spent a dozen hours obsessively trying to top my own scores and unlock every accessory; I replayed old levels I’d absolutely destroyed just to drum along to my favorite songs. While both games offer excellent earworms from their original soundtracks, there are also some real gems in the form of recorded performances and remixes that slap.
Even if you’ve never played up a Persona game, there is no barrier to entry. Don’t let the wordy names fool you. All you need is an appreciation for their music... and maybe a desire to craft the perfectly accessorized costume.
Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is available for PlayStation Vita and PlayStation 4.