Finishing a Japanese role-playing game is always bittersweet. There's a feeling of euphoria, of course, that comes with beating a final boss and watching the credits roll. But it also means saying goodbye to party members that you've spent 30, 60 or potentially hundreds of hours with. The best games in this long-running genre make you truly care for their supporting characters. They flesh them out with interesting backstories and complex personalities that slowly change over time. By the end, they're friends first and damage-dealing lackeys second.
For me, Persona 3 was one of those games. The PS2 (and later, PlayStation Portable) classic deftly blended dungeon crawling with a believable high school simulator set in modern Japan. In 2006, I had never played anything like it. I was instantly swept up in the central mystery, which concerned evil monsters known as 'Shadows', and the lives of those who had teamed up to defeat them during the mysterious 'Dark Hour' at night.
The endearing Persona 3 cast have appeared in a few spin-off titles, including Persona 4 Arena and Persona Q, since that original release. I've largely ignored these, however, for fear they'll spoil the sense of closure that was perfectly delivered in Persona 3 and its excellent epilogue, FES. I was intrigued, though, by Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and its companion title, Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight. Both rhythm games were green-lit after the surprising success of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, a former PlayStation Vita exclusive that was released in June 2015.
Dancing in Moonlight vs. Dancing in Starlight
Atlus is releasing Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight simultaneously on December 4th, 2018. The two games can be bought separately or as a triple-pack bundle, called the Endless Night Collection, which includes Persona 4: Dancing All Night. Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight offers the same basic gameplay as , but with a different set of characters, tracks and graphical flourishes. There's also a small amount of narrative crossover that rewards players for dancing through both games.
I've always loved rhythm games, including Dance Dance Revolution and its unofficial PC equivalent, Stepmania. I was also curious to see how Atlus had developed the core cast over the last 12 years.
I knew the relationships would either click back into place or feel somehow forced and unnatural.
Playing Dancing in Moonlight was like going to a high school reunion. I knew the relationships would either click back into place or feel somehow forced and unnatural. Unfortunately for me, it was the latter. Maybe I'm growing up, or expected too much from a game about pulling off pirouettes and head-spins. But something about the dialog felt off.
Make no mistake: the game looks and sounds amazing. I love the 3D character models, which no longer require static, anime-inspired overlays, and it was wonderful to hear most of the original voice actors again. (I chose the dubbed version, however Japanese voice acting is also available.) The soundtrack is terrific, too, with a mixture of original and remixed tracks produced by a handful of guest artists including Hideki Naganuma, the musical mastermind behind Sonic Rush and Jet Set (Grind) Radio. Every aspect of the presentation, including the menus and unlockable costumes, is bursting with the color and energy that Persona games are known for.