‘Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight’ Is A Brief, Funky Jam
Persona 5 is a game about being wrongly charged with a crime, shunned by society, and having to fight a god. Its spin-off, Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight, is a game about being forced to dance in front of an audience. Both deal in the stuff of nightmares.
I don’t consider myself a great rhythm game aficionado, but when I heard of Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight I knew I had to grab it. Last year’s Persona 5 left a deep impression on me, and I’d spent over 200 hours playing through the story. In that time I’d formed strong emotional attachments to the characters, who became not only close allies but also great friends.
Saying goodbye to the group upon finishing the game was surprisingly difficult, so I jumped at the opportunity to see them again in Dancing In Starlight.
When I left my friends at the end of Persona 5, we were parting ways in-game as well. My character was returning to their hometown, far away from the people with whom I’d bonded over the past year. So when I loaded up Dancing In Starlight on my PlayStation 4, I was surprised that there was no joyous reunion. No “hey, how have you been?”, no “I haven’t seen you in ages!” My friends didn’t even acknowledge that the last time we saw each other in person was when I moved away.
But then, Dancing In Starlight doesn’t have the patience for in-depth worldbuilding and exploration of relationships. All the familiar characters and settings are mere set dressing for the real business: The business of dance.
Finding ourselves in a nightclub, my friends and I are told by twin gaolers Caroline and Justine that we were brought here in order to take the stage and perform. The twins claim that it’s part of my rehabilitation, even though my rehabilitation was finished by the end of Persona 5. One of my companions points this out, to which they bark what should be this game’s tagline: “Just shut up and dance!”
It’s a gross misuse of authority, but as this whole scenario is a magical psychic dream sequence there isn’t much that can be done about it.
Once my friends give in to the idea that their minds have been invaded specifically to force them to dance for supernatural twins, we’re ready to boogie. Dancing In Starlight features 25 original and remixed songs from the soundtrack of Persona 5, including opening theme ‘Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There’, so it’ll be more interesting to people who have played that game. But even if you haven’t, they’re really catchy and well suited to a rhythm game.
Dancing is relatively easy to pick up. It’s simply a matter of pressing buttons and flicking thumbsticks to the beat, building up combos as the characters perform slick moves in the background. I’m always too busy trying to keep track of the prompts to take note of the actual dancing, but once finished you can watch a replay to see the routine your rhythmic button pressing enabled.
However, your diligent work doesn’t actually affect the dancing all that much. The animation continues even if you miss every single prompt, though your friends will yell at you to “get it together”. If you do badly enough they’ll skip out on joining you for a segment of the song. And if you do terribly the song will come to a premature stop. But you will continue dancing to the bitter end, grooving to the music as the darkness begins to close in.
It’s fun to just sit on your couch and get into the rhythm, but the lack of narrative is disappointing to someone who cares so dang much about these characters. Though there are five small Social Events that you can unlock for each character, they’re relatively thin. It doesn’t feel as though they matter at all, just a nod to how integral relationships are in Persona 5.
Dancing In Starlight even resets some of Persona 5‘s narrative progress, hand-waving it away with an “It’s more convenient this way”. Friendship and plot aren’t necessarily pivotal elements of dance, but I had been hoping to find out what everyone’s been doing since I last saw them. How’s Ann’s modelling career going? Is Haru enjoying running her father’s company? Has Ryuji rejoined the track team? Because I really think he should have somewhere to direct his energy now that we’re no longer fighting gods on the regular.
Personally, if I had to choose between Persona 5 and Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight, I’d go for Persona 5 every time. Dancing In Starlight feels a bit dear for what it is, especially considering how light it is on songs. Still, it’s a slick offering if you just want a decent rhythm game. I’ve been enjoying throwing it on and jamming through one or two quick songs after flicking indecisively through Netflix for half an hour.
I just wish I knew how my friends are.
Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight is currently available on PlayStation 4 for $99.95. Persona 5 is also available for $99.95.