A Bare-Bones Love Letter To A Wonderful JRPG
I absolutely loved Persona 5. Not only was it one of the best games I’ve had the pleasure of playing, it also had a beautifully composed 3 hour score that did a wonderful job enhancing the emotional weight of each scene. Step foward Dancing In Starlight, a game that takes the core concept of rhythm games and blends it with the aesthetic and visual flair of Persona 5. It feels like a match made in heaven and for the first few hours it absolutely is. Unfortunately a lack of features and longevity with the game hold this back from being a better title.
The game opens with a loose story tying everything together. The twins from Persona 5 have gathered the Phantom Thieves together to compete in a dancing competition. After an optional tutorial mode it’s off to the dancefloor and from here the core mechanics of the game come into play. It’s a relatively straight forward formula too and anyone who’s ever played these games – from Parappa The Rapper through to Guitar Hero – will be familiar with the controls and general concept.
Nailing the correct timing of each button press grants big score bonuses
The screen splits between six core buttons while your player dances their heart out in the background. X, Triangle and Circle lay adjacent to up, left and down on each side of the screen. Spilling out from the centre point of the screen are gold notes that fly toward the corresponding button. The closest you get to pressing the button when it aligns to the crosshair, the better the score. This continues for around 3-5 minutes depending on the song chosen with three different difficulty levels to begin with. A fourth is unlocked once you complete all the songs in one difficulty field and gaining big combos allows you to enter “fever time”, a mode that sees a flurry of colour and score multipliers rack up.
While Easy Mode starts you off with simple button presses, the higher difficulties increase the challenge with the inclusion of double notes, long button presses and a combination of two buttons at once. Coupled with a flick of the analog stick to pull off scratches, things can get hectic very quickly on the harder difficulties. Thankfully, if you enjoyed the music of the game then you’ll absolutely love the song choices here although the bare-bones approach to this is a little disappointing.
Despite there being 15-20 different songs to complete in each difficulty, in reality there’s only around 8 different songs showcased. Most of the tracks are remixes of the game’s main themes including Last Surprise, Rivers In The Desert and Life Will Change. Given the wealth of different instrumental and vocal tracks on the soundtrack, it feels a little disappointing that more of it isn’t available to play through.
The aesthetic of the game does a wonderful job mirroring the visuals of Persona 5
To pad out the gameplay, a “Social” mode allows you to dive into each character’s story, viewing admittedly lacklustre conversations with some of the game’s beloved heroes. A lot of this is stock written dialogue revolving around each of them training for dances. It’s worth slogging it out through these though as they do garner some good rewards that improve the longevity of the game. From unlockable accessories to custom challenge modifiers, there’s a whole range of different items to unlock. In order to get to the stage of viewing each character’s story though, each layer is locked behind a progression wall.
Most of these will come with natural progress in-game but thankfully aren’t too grindy so don’t expect to be playing for 20+ hours to unlock everything. Getting large combo chains, switching costumes each song and getting a high score labelled as Brilliant are the general layers of challenge and do help give some incentive to attempting these on harder difficulties or with different challenges attached to them.
It’s actually the challenge modifiers that really increase the longevity of the game. Expect to blitz through the main dances in around 5 hours or so – 4 if you’re adept at these sort of games and 6 if you’re not. Once you complete these, a fourth difficulty is unlocked called “All Night” and this really does up the challenge quite considerably. Coupled with the challenges, Dancing In Starlight can be modified to be as hard or as easy as you’d like.
Holding two notes at once adds an extra element of challenge to the game
The different challenges include fading or varying speed of notes, an unforgiving hype meter or even sporadic note paths. On the other side of the spectrum are support modifiers which include auto-scratching, hitting notes with any button and a constantly rising hype gauge. These do have their consequences though, with a penalty or bonus percentage added or subtracted from your total score at the end of the song. It’s a nice touch too and one that’s perfectly balanced throughout the game.
How much play time you get out of Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight really comes down to how much you like the game’s main themes and how tolerant you are with hearing them repeatedly throughout your play time. With a simple control scheme and varying levels of customisation, Dancing In Starlight is a perfect love letter to a fantastic JRPG but a little too barren for its own good. With more tracks and a well written story to boot, the game could easily be one of last year’s surprises but as it stands, there’s not enough beneath the mask to give it the longevity this one so desperately deserves.