Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight Review – A Spotlight In The Dark Hour
“Wherever you are, we’ll meet again,” artist Yumi Kawamura sings at the closing of the theme song “Our Moment.” It’s a track that beautifully captures both the joy of seeing old friends again and bittersweet memories left by Persona 3. It’s a sentiment that rings throughout Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight, a wonderful rhythm game that celebrates the great RPG by reuniting its charming cast of characters and putting its incredible, unique soundtrack in the spotlight.
The rhythm gameplay system first established in Persona 4: Dancing All Night returns; six button inputs border the screen and notes flow from the center out to the corresponding input. Double notes, holds, and DJ scratches (with the flick of the analog stick or with L1/R1) keep note patterns varied, and makes things delightfully hectic on the highest difficulty. There are plenty of beginner-friendly options as well with four difficulty settings and several modifiers for assistance. It’s a fun rhythm system that’s supported by note patterns that flow seamlessly with the fantastic tracklist–there’s an undeniable satisfaction to nailing perfect combos as the audible claps, tambourines, and scratches sync with the beat of the song.
I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a thematic dissonance between dancing in flashy outfits and Persona 3’s darker tone, which might be off-putting for some die-hard fans of that game. Still, it’s an absolute delight to be with the SEES crew again, reincarnated in 3D models in the same vein as Persona 5’s art style. It’s a reimagining of Yukari’s cheerful demeanor, Mitsuru’s stern attitude, and Junpei’s goofiness. Everyone goes all out and dances with impressive fluidity, especially with how partner/group dances are choreographed with natural imperfections.
I do wish we had the fearless squad member Shinji from the start, but he’s available in a DLC track. And sadly, the ferocious, adorable Shiba Inu Koromaru and the Persona 3 Portable female protagonist are missing. Regardless, there’s an overwhelming sense of joy in seeing these characters together again. And the fact that old locations are renovated with modern visuals makes them feel new–the Iwatodai Dorms, Port Island Station, Paulownia Mall, Gekkoukan High School, Tartarus, it’s all here.
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Most of all, Dancing In Moonlight stands out with a tracklist that spans the course of Persona 3’s history, which includes songs from Persona 3 FES, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, and Persona 3 Portable. It gives a musical variety that’s attached to so many great memories but that’s also exciting to play. The remixes and remasters evoke not just a sense of nostalgia, but have a striking quality that breathes new life into the series. “Heartful Cry” has an unrelenting melodic-punk twist, and “Memories Of You” gets an electro-pop remix that remains heartfelt. “When The Moon Reaches For The Stars” and “Light the Fire Up In the Night” are have their full-length versions that slap harder than ever.
The ending montage for “Brand New Days” and video for “Burn My Dread: Last Battle”–two songs on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum–capture their vibes perfectly. Even the Persona Super Live 2017 performance of the Persona Q boss theme “Laser Beam” made it into the tracklist. It may not be playable, but the song that fills the background during conversations, which samples the melody of “Our Moment” and the backing vocals of “Want To Be Close”, is a soothing track that beautifully blends the old and new. Dancing In Moonlight carries the lasting impact of Persona 3’s soundtrack.
Unlike Persona 4: Dancing All Night, there is no traditional story mode; outside of dancing, there are Social Events. The overarching premise is that SEES gets stuck in a dream state where Elizabeth from the Velvet Room asks the crew to dance their hearts out. It’s silly, but it’s enough to provide the context necessary for Social Events; a series of jovial scenes where characters simply banter. There isn’t much in terms of new character development, though they do have a newfound determination to dance.
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Social Events play off of what you already know about the cast; Akihiko is still obsessed with getting stronger and counting calories, Aigis is still working her way around typical human mannerisms, and Fuuka continues to embrace her supportive role. It’s wonderful to hang out with them again and watch conversations play out, especially since most of the original voice cast has returned–you also have the option for the original Japanese voice acting.
Unlocking outfits and accessories for your squad is also tied to viewing Social Events, so if you’re into customizing their getups, it’s further incentive to hang out. Outfits range from modest to utterly ridiculous; the Gekkoukan tracksuit and casual winter clothes look great, but putting Junpei into a snowman costume and Ken in a reindeer suit is hilarious.
Social Events also provide motivation for playing in different ways since each character has specific conditions for unlocking their scenes, like passing songs using certain modifiers or wearing several outfits or accessories. It’s well worth it, especially for the room visits. Even if it’s just the team’s dorm rooms, visiting these places in first-person brings to life characters you’ve known for years.
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Persona 3: Dancing In Moonlight puts the spotlight on one of the strongest parts of the entire series: the music. Its fusion of pop, rock, hip-hop, electronica showcases some of the incredible work of series composer Shoji Meguro and company. Dancing In Moonlight is particularly special because of the strong remixes and remasters of familiar songs, recreations of places we’ve been, and reimagination of characters we’ve long known. You may find the overall premise a little strange, but if you let loose–just as the SEES crew has done–you’ll find a brilliant rhythm game weaved into an amazing, evocative soundtrack.