If there’s one thing about the Persona series from ATLUS that immediately stands out, it’s the soundtrack to each game. Persona 5 was one of my favorite games of 2016, the only game I’ve reviewed and given a perfect score, which had a soundtrack that worked beautifully with the visual style and context of the game’s story. But if you take that same visual style and the cast of characters then place them into a rhythm game centered mostly on the game’s music, you get a fun and interesting experience that compliments a lot of what I loved about Persona 5. This is exactly what Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight does and I really enjoy it. To those that never played Persona 5 it might not appeal as much, but everyone else who did will have a fantastic time vibing to the soundtrack and enjoying all of the goofy fan service throughout.
If you really enjoyed the music that was in Persona 5, then you’re going to really enjoy the track listing of this game. Not every track from Persona 5 is included, but a lot of the recognizable ones are here. There’s a large assortment of remixes from some of the most of the popular themes, including songs done by artists such as ATOLS, Lotus Juice, Taku Takahashi, and Jazztronik. There’s a total of 25 tracks in the game, all of which can be unlocked easily by just playing through each song on any difficulty, so there’s plenty of music to cycle through.
Since this is a rhythm game, playing through Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is more focused on your timing to the beat and looking for visual cues. The goal is to hit the face buttons and directional inputs as notes and rings come from the center towards the edge of the screen, all of which are on the beat and timed to the sound of the music. This can get very tough on harder difficulties, especially for most of the fast-paced and longer tracks. It’s still fun to play through the songs when there are a lot of notes coming at you, but it can get crazy at times and it caused me to fail a few times on some tracks.
On the screen, you can see any one of the Persona 5 characters dancing around or a sizzle reel of anime cutscenes while playing the song and keeping track of incoming notes. The visuals always look great, but there are a few instances when they can obscure your view of the notes coming in. Not all the songs are like this, but the few that are can be a real problem when the difficulty is set higher.
Even though the music and dancing is the primary focus here, this wouldn’t be a Persona game without a little story and a few social events thrown into the mix. The entire game takes place at an unclear point in time during the events of Persona 5, within a dream world that includes the entire cast. The cheeky explanation for how everything happens is a little forced, but a funny attempt at being consistent with the universe set up in the original game. Completing songs allows you to view Social Events that give tidbits of the story for each of the characters, but unlocking some of the events can be a bit tedious.
I had to play through different songs multiple times in order to unlock Social Events for specific characters before I could view ones for others, which can get a little annoying. Some criteria for unlocking these events can borderline become overbearing, especially when you need to open up nearly every social link to get the full plot. The majority of them will still come over time as you play and complete more songs across varying difficulties.
Style has always been a standout characteristic of the Persona series, and this spinoff is no exception. The characters that dance on screen during each song can be given custom outfits to wear as you play. Before I knew it, I had everyone from Morgana and Ann to Yusuke and Makoto wearing outlandish outfits as they danced around. You can unlock new outfits and accessories by opening up the Social Events and completing certain songs. There are a lot of accessories to use, but getting them all can be a tedious job when you need to unlock some of the more restrictive Social Links later in the game. Are they worth getting to put on your characters? Most of the time they are and look great, but not always.
A neat extra feature that appears later in the game is the first-person room exploration. When you get to the 6th social link for a given character, you get to view a short cutscene with them before being able to freely walk around their room and look around. This can be done in either with the controller or through the use of PlayStation VR, but either way will have the same experience. Moving with the controller can be a little stiff, making it tough to look towards certain interactive objects without some finesse, but it’s interesting seeing what each character has in their room.
Getting to this point for every character can take a while, however, specifically for the Social Events that require more time playing. I didn’t get to view many rooms for different characters at first, but after playing songs across multiple difficulties was I able to unlock more social links and see more rooms. It’s a feature that should’ve been more accessible towards the beginning of the game, rather than something you discover much later on.
This is foremost a game for any fan of Persona 5, even though just about anyone can enjoy the great soundtrack. While it has some tedious moments and small hiccups here and there, Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is still a very fun rhythm game with a lot of style. The presentation is great, its gameplay is simple to get into, and the music is a lot of fun to listen to repeatedly; all of which is exactly what a rhythm game needs in order to be very good. You should definitely play through Persona 5 beforehand to appreciate everything going on here, but I’d definitely recommend anyone who loves great music to see what Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight is grooving to. You definitely won’t be disappointed.
This review is based on a digital review code for Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight for the PlayStation 4, provided by ATLUS.