REVIEW: Two new “Persona” games hit the dance floor

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  • reviewed on PlayStation 4 / rated T / released December 2018
  • FINAL: You should TRY these games. 3 out of 5 stars

A matched set of rhythm games has landed on PlayStation 4, right at the intersection of cult hit RPGs and fast action rhythm games. Following up on original entries in the “Persona” series, “Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight” and “Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight” both focus on tapping to the beat while a squad of anime avatars boogie in the background. The games are fun, but the overall package is light on content.

The games are functionally identical, with the cast of their associated “Persona” games being unexpectedly hijacked into a dreamworld where they must… dance all night. The hosts of this marathon suggest there’s a competition at the end of it, but the main purpose is that the characters are supposed to have fun dancing to music pulled from the “Persona” line.

You do not need to worry about the actual dancing, however. Your role is to tap buttons on your controller in synchronization with icons flying across your screen. Think about “Rock Band” and you’re mostly there. In the “Dancing” games, rather than using a plastic instrument, you’re using six or seven buttons on your regular controller.

Icons fly out from the center of the screen, and you match their timing with various taps and holds. Naturally, things can get wonderfully hectic as speed and complexity increases. Like “Tetris,” you enter a kind of trance when you’re in the zone and really nailing it.

Behind the symbol salad, the “Persona” kids take the stage in extremely competent-looking performances. The art and animation here is top-notch (although you’ll want to immediately turn off the audio option that allows the characters to repeat intrusive dialogue snippets while the songs are playing.)

Each character can earn different costumes to wear while dancing, from a wardrobe of elegant gowns, hip streetwear and goofy costumes. For whatever reason, there’s also an unnecessarily large number of headphones. Since the routines are the same per song, the outfits provide a nice visual change-up. Plus, collecting all of the pieces gives you something to do on repeat playthroughs.

Between songs, the characters mingle with each other in little interludes tucked under a “Social” menu header. These scenes unlock new gear to wear and, eventually, award you with the ability to explore each character’s dreamworld room to unlock even more items.

It’s all very light and cute, but neither “Persona 3: Dancing” or “Persona 5: Dancing” feel like they have done enough. Each game has a track list of only twenty five songs, including way too many remixes. If you pick up both games, the similarities in structure and unlockables are so blatant that you have to wonder why these were released as separate games on the same day. The $60 price tag for each is simply too high for what’s available here, especially considering there’s an incoming heap of add-on content (More songs! More costumes! More colored contact lenses!) that’s asking for another couple dozen dollars on top of that.

If you pick up the bundle of both games, you’ll save some money – the two-game set is priced at $100 – plus you get a complete third game for free: the PlayStation 4 remaster of 2015’s “Persona 4: Dancing All Night.” This is the “Dancing” release that got the ball rolling, and it’s basically the same thing as the two newer games, just with a much longer and obnoxious “visual novel” story mode.

If you still have Sony’s abandoned handheld video game system, both “Persona 3: Dancing” and “Persona 5: Dancing” are available for PlayStation Vita for $40 each. There’s a Vita bundle priced at $70 that includes a set of special costumes, but not “Persona 4: Dancing.” It’s all very confusing, so make sure you know what you’re buying.

All three games are engineered to pull money out of the wallets of existing “Persona” fans, which is a shame since the rhythm action gameplay is fun enough that everybody should check it out. But that steep price tag and cookie-cutter development feeling means you pretty much have to be pre-sold on the “Persona” series to convince yourself that it’s worth the money.

“Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight” and “Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight” are available for PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Images courtesy Atlus.

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