The release of Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight and Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight is a niche within a niche.
If you’re a fan of the Persona series, cool – you’ll know the general gist of the story. If you know Persona and you’re a fan of rhythm games, then buckle up your dancing shoes, because these games are here to party.
Personally, I loved Persona 5. It was a massive, sweeping experience that perfectly scratched a JRPG itch that I was wrestling with.
If you haven’t played it I’d highly recommend it, and you can also read what Leo thought of it over here.
Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight Review
Coming into Dancing in Starlight / Moonlight it’s a good thing then that Persona 5 boasts one of my favourite soundtracks of recent years. And Persona 3 was a personal favourite of a bygone era, so these remasters are absolutely awesome.
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The music hums and bounces along with the action, the careful mix of synth, guitar and percussion has more the feeling of an orchestra than a garage band. At the very best times, the music will have you pumped up and jiving along to every one of the 25 tracks in each game.
There are actually two games here, Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight. The playstyles and premise are much the same, so we’ll talk about them side-by-side in this review and call out any differences.
The focus here is on the music. Your setup is pretty simple, depending on whether you’re playing Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight or Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight.
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You’ll pick up after the credits roll with the Phantom Thieves or the members of SEES being reassembled in The Velvet Room by Caroline and Justine (or Elizabeth in P3), however – this Velvet Room is decked out like a neon disco lounge, complete with giant disco balls, fluoro strip lighting a plush sofas.
The premise is relatively simple, having mastered their abilities in the main game, our heroes need to nurture a hidden ability that each of them holds; the power of dance. The following day, they’ll all wake up as if nothing happened, with no memory of their night on the town.
However, overnight they’ll be dancing to their soundtracks of funky rock and jazz in a variety of locations that you’ll know from each game.
The Billy Elliot of Persona
The controls are mapped to the face buttons so right-hand notes are around the right-hand side of the screen and correlate to X, Circle and Triangle. Left-hand is on your D-Pad with down, left and up. I quite like the layout here and it does more than just copy Guitar Hero’s layout of notes flowing up the screen.
This has been done specifically so that the centre of the screen is mostly free to show off the characters jumping and jiving along to the music, and even though I spent more time furrowing my brow and watching the upcoming notes than watching the dancers, I thought the layout was pretty genius.
On top of standard notes, you’ll also see the usual modified notes that ask you to hold, double-tap and press two buttons together on opposite sides. There are also ‘scratches’ that are worth bonus points if you flick either stick as the scratch reaches the outside of the screen.
Every Night Fever
The difficulty does ramp up considerably as you step through Easy, Medium and Hard versions of each level. I started on Easy, but found I breezed through the early levels and stepped up to Normal for the rest.
I then retried my favourite songs on Hard, and damn if they don’t get complicated! If you aren’t ambidextrous already, you will be by the time you finish on Hard mode.
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The animations deserve a special callout here. In Persona 5, the neo-noir graffiti style exploded out of the screen and the same is very true in Dancing in Starlight.
The Phantom Thieves feel like they’re dripping with style and confidence as they spin, jump and bounce around the screen. Each of the key players has their own style that fits their character to a tee.
Morgana is bouncy and full of character, Ryuji is a more heavy-metal rocker, while Haru is graceful and slides around the screen mixing modern dance with ballet. Their partner dances are great, and tie the different styles together really well.
Each character feels like their style fits them like its own character trait, someone at Atlus who knew these characters clearly sat down and asked “alright, how would they dance” and they nailed it.
Getting down, to story town
Between dances, you’ll have the opportunity to chat with each of the characters in the Velvet room and hear some new dialogue; complete with the full original cast of voice actors.
So yes, Morgana is still (not so) secretly in love with Ann and Ryuji is still desperate to appear tough and capable. It’s a whole lot of fun to see them all back together again and this part of the game will be a real treat for fans who loved the Persona 5 story.
But of course, since none of them will remember it at the end of the night, there aren’t any huge story revelations that are going to happen here.
There are also custom rooms to explore built especially for each character by Caroline and Justine. These first-person sections give you a great reprieve from the main levels, and let you a little further into the mind of your favourite character.
For fans of Persona 3, Dancing in Moonlight does a great job of recreating the feeling of that story. It’s pretty awesome to see the members of SEES recreated in the far more modern Persona 5 art style.
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It gives a whole new life to the characters and gave me some pretty huge deja vu when travelling back to Tartarus or Gekkoukan High School. Even the music here has been reworked to fit in with the new aesthetic, it’s awesome to hear tracks from the PS2 era revitalised two generations later.
You’ll find tracks here that span the breadth of Persona 3, from Persona 3 FES, Persona Q and Persona Portable and hearing them all remastered is like picking up an album from your teenage years; full of excitement and nostalgia.
Admittedly fans of Persona 3 might feel that the bright and fun dancing vibe doesn’t gel with the more serious tone of that story, but the suspension of disbelief might be worth the ride.
It isn’t all disco balls and flairs
So I’ve enjoyed my experiences dancing the night away, but that isn’t where this ends. Because there are a few notes where this party-pair fell flat.
From a gameplay perspective, I would have loved to see a co-op mode, especially since there are partner dances that are so specifically highlighted as a part of the experience. Some of my favourite moments of other rhythm games like Guitar Hero were teaming up with friends to rock out.
Even though I love the songs, sitting on my couch playing them by myself made it feel like I was missing something. For games so focused on friendship, the game itself did very little to bring real-world people together, I feel like it could have.
The only other qualm I have here is the price, for two full-priced PS4 games, I feel like this is one for superfans. I would have been happier to see the two games bundled together for full price.
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Sure, if you’re a fan of Persona 5 and just want to see Joker, Morgana, Ann and all their friends back for another ride, then this might be your ticket in. If like me, you’ve had the Persona 5 soundtrack on your work playlist since 2017; this is a good way to re-live some of the experience.
If you’re a fan of Persona 3, the reworked soundtrack is awesome, and the modernised visuals make each of the characters pop in a way they couldn’t when first released. Just don’t expect the same gravitas to the story that Persona 3 hung its hat on.
However, if you’re fresh, and coming in having never played Persona before, maybe give Persona 5 a crack and then come back here. Because otherwise a lot of this is going to sail right over your head.
Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight / Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight were reviewed on PS4 using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight & Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight
Great Control Scheme - 8/10
A bit bland without co-op - 5/10
Awesome visuals - 9/10
Amazing soundtrack - 9.2/10