Note: Due to their similarities and simultaneous release, this review covers both Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight.
We all saw this coming. After Persona 4 got its own rhythm game (and two fighting games), we knew that Persona 5 would likely receive the same treatment. Just over a year after Persona 5’s release, we have received Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight (P5D). However, we didn’t just get P5D. Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight was announced alongside it. This was a welcome surprise, I’m sure, for fans of Persona 3. Both games release on the same day: December 4th. As both games are in a similar vein with no story, we decided to combine the reviews of both games into one.
Both games start out in a similar fashion. The casts of both games wake up in their respective Velvet Rooms, where their attendants instruct them to dance for their amusement/rehabilitation (Persona 3/Persona 5). After the cast gets over their bewildering situation, they decide to go forward with dancing on stage. The respective protagonists lead their casts onto the stage.
Not having a story mode reduces P3D/P5D to a simple rhythm game, which may not be a bad thing for some. For me personally, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a story to go along with either game. The Persona cast is a blast to hang out with over the course of many hours, so it’s a bit of a shame that there isn’t more to their story. There are “Social” events where you can have conversations with the main party members along with your Velvet Room attendant(s). This is the only “story” element in these games. These are, more or less, watered down versions of the social links from Persona 3/5. Social events are unlocked through in-game achievements like playing tracks, playing a song with accessories on your characters, getting “Brilliant” scores, and so on. Unlocking the social events are likely to be your real incentive to continue playing the game once you unlock all of the songs and make your way through these games.
Now admittedly, I haven’t played a rhythm game in over a year, but I found the mechanics in these games extremely frustrating. Instead of having notes come in from off-screen and move toward the middle of the screen, P3D/P5D have the notes come from the middle of the screen and move towards the edges of the screen. I understand it’s so you can watch the characters dance in the middle of the screen, which is great, but it does not help the gameplay at all. It wouldn’t be too bad if it was simply hitting notes on the screen, but P3D/P5D have a variety of actions to perform. There are the regular notes, hold notes, double tap notes, unison notes, and my least favourite, scratches. Scratches require you to use the analog stick to hit them. Although you can skip them without dropping your combo, there is a slim margin of error for scratches, and the fact that they’re defaulted on the analog stick annoys me. When you have to keep a constant eye on the notes and need both thumbs to hit other notes, moving your thumb to the analog stick can really throw you off. Thankfully, there is the option to move scratches onto the shoulder buttons, which I highly recommend. After I changed the controls, it made a big change in the difficulty of the songs.
The music, of course, is at the core of these games. Both games feature a combination of the original themes as well as remixed versions. Now, there are a ton of themes that could have made it in, yet the playlists for these games are exceedingly small. There are only about 25 songs total in each game, which is a paltry amount, especially considering that same song might have both an original and a remixed version. The songs themselves are pretty good, though hearing some of the remixes threw me off a little when I was playing the song. Shoji Meguro’s music is truly incredible, and this is a good way to experience it.
The music videos for these games are quite charming. If you can somehow watch the video between trying to hit notes, it’s a joy to behold. I would recommend putting the tracks on a mode where you can’t fail just to watch it sometimes. The games use the Persona 5 engine, which really focused a lot on vibrant colours that pop off the screen. In addition to having good graphics, these games do give you accessories and costumes to put on your chosen cast of characters. Normally I don’t comment on costumes in games, but in music videos, it can help the atmosphere.
If you love the music of Persona 3 and Persona 5 or particularly enjoy the characters from these games, consider these titles for your collection. It’s charming to watch this group dance around in front of the famous backdrops of Persona 3/5 and hear a few of your favourite tunes from these games. Unfortunately, with no story to speak of, the relatively small playlist, and the overall mediocre gameplay, it’s a hard recommendation otherwise. When Atlus decides to make Persona 1/2 Dancing or the future Persona 6 Dancing, they might want to consider changing the gameplay and adding a story mode like they had the first time around.