Have you ever got to the end of a game and wished you were still inside it? Of course, you have. We’ve all wanted to grab a drink with Cloud and Tifa at Seventh Heaven; you’ve no doubt wanted to stroll the streets of Hyrule with your favourite Zelda character. It’s only natural to want to stay in the worlds you’ve grown to love.
Fortunately for Persona fans, this is fairly easy to do. Persona 3 Dancing in Moonlight (P3D) and Persona 5 Dancing in Starlight (P5D) are the two latest sequels that will keep you anchored to the franchise by your heartstrings. However, they are very much the same game — their premise and release dates are identical and they lack an overarching plot — so for the sake of ease, their reviews are going to be rolled into one, with the major differences pointed out along the way.
The Persona games, for those who have not had the pleasure, all follow the same vague idea: you’re a Japanese high schooler who, through one twist or another, winds up in the Velvet Room. Igor, your mentor, binds you in a special contract and offers support throughout your time in the game. Something supernatural invariably happens — in Persona 3 (P3), a horrible experiment creates the Dark Hour: a period of time between one day and the next when Shadows (monsters) prey on the minds of those who are awake. In Persona 5 (P5), you become a Phantom Thief and are granted access to the hearts of evil people: you fight through the Shadows and work your way towards the person’s Treasure (a manifestation of their warped desires) , which you steal in order to reform them. Your party members in each game are a rag-tag group of people who have access to these special worlds. You’ve all faced your own problems and accepted the masks you wear to face the outside world — that is your Persona, and you are a stronger, better person for having one. However, unlike your party members, you alone can wield multiple Personas. It is this strength of heart that gains your unique access to the Velvet Room — a space between mind and matter, dream and reality. This is where Igor helps you prepare for the calamity that is about to befall the world. This is your safe place.
So it is with great delight that you wake up in P3D/P5D in the Velvet Room with your party members in tow. You are greeted by your hostess(es), Elle-P or The Twins, depending on the game, and your party has a mini-freakout as they wonder what the hell is going on. The conversations here are the same but different — Club Velvet, as the room has become, exists for one night only, letting you dance to your heart’s content as some much-deserved R&R. Fortunately, when you wake up in the main game, all of your memories of Club Velvet will be erased, and you will have just had an excellent night’s sleep. Interestingly, the Velvet Room’s decor differs from game to game, as it is a metaphysical manifestation of the main character’s heart. In P3D/P5D you all share the same Club Velvet, irrespective of the game, which makes sense given how many people you’ve brought with you.
This excellent premise is a departure from Persona 4 Dancing All Night (P4D), the spin-off of Persona 4 (P4) which had a unique plot explaining why your characters were suddenly dancing all night. Although P4D was warmly received, the weak plot was not; Atlus has simply doubled down on what people liked, cutting the wheat from the chaff.
Back in Club Velvet, you’re told that your innate lack of dancing skills and/or shyness isn’t an issue, as here you simply think and your body will make the dancing happen — basically the same reason that Neo looks different in The Matrix to how he looks aboard The Nebuchadnezzar. Your hostess(es) then basically just leave you to it. Go, dance, have fun and chat to your friends. As far as spin-off rhythm games go, what more do you need?
These social interactions form all of the exposition you need, and they are entirely optional, unlocking when you hit certain gameplay milestones, like hitting a certain score or completing a given number of levels. This, in turn, unlocks more costumes and interactions, and given that you’re only going to play this if you’re already invested, chatting with your friends is incredibly rewarding.
This brings us to the crux of the review — what is P3D/P5D, exactly? Like P4D, they’re rhythm games that, like Guitar Hero, require you to hit a given button when a given icon appears at the right part of the screen. However, unlike Guitar Hero, there are 6 buttons and either your analogue sticks/R1/R2 as your inputs and, instead of there being a guitar nut at the bottom of the screen, you have a circle around the screen that the inputs fly towards. Input variations include normal beats, double beats, beats you hit together, holds and scratches. Coupled with the screen layout, which includes your party members dancing around Shinjuku/the metaverse/wherever, this makes P3D/P5D surprisingly difficult. To put this difficulty in context, I can play Guitar Hero drunk and semi-respectably or sober and well with my eyes closed (full disclosure: this only works for some songs); my first attempt at Hard mode on P5D was laughably short, and I was singing along as I played the level. There’s also no real rhyme or reason as to why it’s a left input versus a square input. It’s just a much harder style of rhythm game.
Given that there’s no real plot here, you may be wondering how deep these games are. They both feature 25 tracks for you to work your way through, comprised of both the original soundtracks and some dance-version remixes that are better suited to the game. This is particularly important in P5D: P5 has a slow, jazzy soundtrack for the most part, so the remixing is a great addition. P3D, which follows P3’s darker, heavier soundtrack doesn’t need the remixing quite as much, but it still does a wonderful job. The music in these games is sublime — your choice of game is really over which characters you want to hang out with more. Each character has their own particular dance style and feel: P3D is more acrobatic than P5D, which is more realistic in terms of routines. Sadly, you rarely get to appreciate this for all its glory as looking at the dancing will throw you off and cause you to miss notes. You can replay the level in spectator mode if you want to watch it back but in practice this a rare occurrence as you just want to play (not watch) the next song. There are a tonne of customisability options and score modifiers here that you can mess around with, opening up vast replay potential for anyone who seeks it.
P3D offers a chance to jump back into the world of P3, 12 years after the main game’s release. Since it’s a pretty old game that came out before the runaway success that was P4 and P4 Golden. Think of it like Final Fantasy 6 — a wonderful game, but are you dying to hang out with the roster of that game, or are you more invested in Cloud from Final Fantasy 7? It’s this line of thinking that makes me think P3D will come out as P5D’s poorer cousin. This shouldn’t be the case if you loved the game back in the day; just channel your inner Swayze and remind yourself that nobody puts P3 in the corner.
P5D, however, is likely to be the success here. P5 was, for many people, the 2017 game of the year. As a more recent title, the memories of Shinjuku are still fresh for many people, and the chance to jump in and dance the night away is going to hold a lot of appeal. The question here is going to be one of price.
Yes, I strongly recommend that you pick up one of these games if you can; no I do not recommend you pay RRP for it. The games are released separately for around £45 each or £100-ish for the bundle. The bundle includes P4D, which brings down the cost per game, but empirically speaking, that’s still £66 for two games with no central plot. This won’t be an issue for everyone — especially those who love rhythm games and the Persona franchise, but it is something you should bear in mind before you fork over your hard-earned cash.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with destiny, and we’re going to be dancing all night in the starry moonlight.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*
Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight / Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight£44.99
- There is no plot, you just dance
- You can relive your memories of some truly phenomenal games and rekindle your social links with party members you genuinely care about
- The music is incredible and the visuals offer the first chance to see P3's roster in actual human proportions; it looks exactly as you hope it would — like an Atlus game
- The opening of each of the Persona games shows off the roster of characters having a little dance; now, at last, you can join in
- There is no plot, you just dance
- These games are very difficult for the uninitiated
- The price point is very high, even for somewhere as exclusive as Club Velvet
- Playing P3D/P5D before P3/P5 will obviously involve some spoilers; in P5D there is one in the opening conversation
- There is PSVR compatibility, but it adds nothing whatsoever