Also available on PlayStation 4
One of the big surprise games for me was Persona 4: Dancing All Night when I played that a year or two back. It was...beautiful. Definitely one of my favorite rhythm games probably second only to Elite Beat Agents. When ATLUS announced rhythm games for Persona 3 and Persona 5, I was naturally ecstatic, and being a collector and a Vita fanatic, I naturally had to import the Japanese copies for my shelf and dove into the P3 game almost immediately. Unfortunately, it doesn't live up to the high standard that its predecessor set.
Part of the reason why this game impressed me so much less than the Persona 4 dancing game in addition to the fact that it didn't have the excitement of being a "new" thing going for it involves the direction ATLUS took with the game. Dancing in Moonlight (or, as it's called in Japan, Dancing Moon Night) is much more like Hatsune Miku in its design. It have a few little dialogue scenes in the very beginning, but it doesn't have any kind of story mode like Dancing All Night had. Obviously a rhythm game doesn't NEED a story, but with the writing talent at ATLUS, Dancing All Night proved that a rhythm game can definitely benefit from a story, and unfortunately for Dancing in Moonlight, it just doesn't seem to stand out from the crowd as much without that added narrative element.
One thing that the game does have going for it is the soundtrack. As anyone who's played a Persona game can tell you, the soundtracks are always phenomenal. Again, though, following in the footsteps of Dancing All Night is a hindrance for Dancing in Moonlight; Persona 3 had a great soundtrack, but Persona 4's soundtrack was legendary. The tracklist just can't stand up in a comparison. There are a few truly killer remixes in Dancing in Moonlight, but all in all, while it's an terrific tracklist, again it just doesn't really stand out from the crowd for the most part. Visually, however, the game is great. Seeing the characters from P3 return in such a jovial and musical setting is wonderful, and the choreography for the characters' dance moves is great. While I loved playing it on the go with my Vita, this is definitely a game that would also benefit from being played on PlayStation 4 or on a PlayStation TV if you have friends over as the dancing itself is good fun to watch.
The most important make-or-break aspect of a rhythm game is going to be the quality of the input controls, and while I may have had some arguably nit-pick disappointments with other aspects of Dancing in Moonlight, the controls give me absolutely no cause to complain. It's quick and responsive inputs are everything you'd want from a rhythm game. That input factor is also another reason I went with Vita over PS4 for this one; while the DS4 is a great controller, having controls hardwired to a handheld rather than wireless via bluetooth is always my preference when it comes to rhythm games. I'm sure it plays brilliantly on PS4 as well - ATLUS isn't one to release a sub-par product from my experience - but it's hard to beat a good Vita game.
Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight doesn't quite live up to the monolithic Persona 4: Dancing All Night, it is still an excellent rhythm game in its own right. The soundtrack, while the least impressive of the three most recent console Persona games in my opinion, is still terrific with some truly great remixes of those songs thrown in for some variety and genre diversity. It doesn't do a whole lot to stand out from the crowd in any meaningful way aside from being based on Persona 3, but that doesn't mean that it's not a fantastic game. It's just perhaps not the most memorable rhythm game you'll ever play. It is, however, definitely recommended for fans of Persona or just folks looking for a good rhythm game to pass the time.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Xenogears is the one game in the "Xeno" series that I don't have, but with my new attempt to embrace digital games, I decided to buy it on PSN and dust off the ol' PS TV. I was SUPPOSED to be playing this in tandem with Colin, but as usually, he flaked out on me and decided not to play it. -insert sadness-
Xenogears is, in a lot of ways, a perfect example of Square's late 1990s JRPG offerings - it's too long, the story is convoluted to the point of confusion, and it's so much damn fun that you can't just quit. The BASIC story (and this is a bare bones synopsis) is that a colony ship of some sort crashed on this planet 10,000 years ago when some super weapon went haywire and blew it to pieces. Human survivors established an advanced civilization until some major war destroyed a bunch of it 4,000 years ago, and then some other giant war destroyed even more stuff 500 years ago. There are like three specific people whose souls are apparently so important that they get reincarnated infintely, and their memories get passed down as well, and then there's some split personalities, and there are giant robots, and somehow the giant doomsday weapon is god but also god doesn't exist but at the same time god is core to everything and...yeah. It doesn't make any sense. Unfortunately, it's also a perfect example of what ruins a lot of otherwise good games - plot holes, huge leaps of logic, and cut funding that led to a rushed and frankly terrible second half (or, in this case, last third). Imagine if the Democratic Party's 2016 presidential campaign were a JRPG. On paper, it should be amazing and a hole in one. Certain aspects of reality, however, forces it to crash and burn. I love games that incorporate ancient Judeo-Christian mythology into their story. I don't love it when it's done poorly and doesn't many any sense whatsoever.
The tragic story of Xenogears' production is that it was originally intended to be a four disc game as several other Square JRPGs were. The first disc is a long and epic 40-50 hour adventure full of world building and character development, and if the game were judged just on the first disc, it would be a great game. Unfortunately, when they finished the first disc, they were out of money... and only about a third of the way through the story. So the rest of it got slimmed down beyond the max and crammed into one disc with the bulk of the story being either skipped entirely or relegated to boring vignettes between boss fights with the occasional dungeon or two (compared to the dozen solidly fleshed out dungeons in the first disc). There's a ton of potential there, and had the story elements in disc two been given the same treatment that the first disc received, it would probably be remembered as one of the best JRPGs of the era. As it is, however, the second disc totally sucks and ruins the game.
The games visuals are largely so-so in my opinion with a decent 3D world but 2D sprite characters. Character attack animations are cool, but the game overall fails to match Square's Final Fantasy offerings of the era (probably because of the cut funding). The music, however, is quite good. Again, not on the level of the PS1 Final Fantasy games, but it's a solidly second tier soundtrack. The piece of the presentation that really falls apart, though, is the anime cutscenes. There are some full anime cut scenes, but the English dub is like something straight out of a 1950s Godzilla film; you'll see mouths moving a mile a minute with no words whatsoever, and you'll hear talking when no one's mouth is moving. I understand that it's extremely difficult to get English even half synced with Japanese animation especially with a depleted budget, but regardless, the effect is that is just looks sloppy and half-assed.
Xenogears is a Shakespearean tragedy of game development; the first disc is SO exceptional and well done in almost every regard that they blew their whole budget and were left with a second disc that tries to do way too much with way too little to work with and, as a result, ruins the overall product. I really can't overemphasize just how soul-crushingly disappointing that second disc is. It truly does ruin the game for me and leave a bad taste in my mouth for the whole game. I honestly have a hard time recommending this one just because of how much of a let down the last 20 hours or so are, but I'm going to err on the side of a recommendation simply for how excellent the first 40 or 50 hours are. If I were rating each disc on its own, disc one would definitely get a 4/5 with disc two being given a 1/5. Unfortunately, that's not how multi-disc games work. The experiences on each disc may be of RADICALLY different quality, but it's still one single game.
My Rating - 3 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.