One of the most important pieces of the Persona series, and a major reason why we remember each game so fondly, is the music. Each mainline game and spin-off has its own memorable songs that encapsulate its defining moments. And with Persona 5: Dancing In Starlight, the evocative soundtrack that wonderfully captured the journey of Persona 5 is brought to the forefront for a fun, exhilarating rhythm game with its charming personalities taking center stage.
Here, the rhythm gameplay system used in Persona 4: Dancing All Night makes a comeback. As songs play, you’re tasked with hitting the corresponding notes that align with the six button inputs that border the screen. Notes come from the center and move outward to the corresponding input, with unison notes, double notes, holds, and DJ scratches (using the analog stick or L1/R1) keeping you on your toes. It’s a system that’s beginner friendly with lower difficulties and assist modifiers, but wildly challenging on the highest difficulty. There’s an incredible satisfaction to nailing perfect combos as note patterns flow seamlessly with the tracklist. The audible claps, tambourine shakes, and scratches that come from these notes mesh impeccably with beat of the song. It’s not far off to say that you feel the rhythm when note patterns start to come naturally as you grow familiar with each track.
The style and swagger of the Phantom Thieves bursts at the seams in Dancing In Starlight; it’s seen in a wink, nod, or smile as they move in ways that fit their personalities. They’ll be getting down in familiar locations like Mementos, Shibuya Crossing, and Shujin Academy. Even deep within hostile palaces, they express themselves by going all out on the dance floor with an impressive fluidity. Tandem dances in Fever Time and group dances are choreographed with a natural imperfection, supported by the eclectic soundtrack.
The theme song “Groovy” is so beautifully drawn and animated that the unapologetic confidence of the Phantom Thieves comes through vividly–it’s an inspiring microcosm of the original game’s attitude. A number of hard-hitting songs like “Rivers In The Desert”, “Blooming Villain”, and “Yaldabaoth” are featured here alongside the more calming tones of “Life Goes On” and “Tokyo Daylight”. And, of course, the best palace theme “Price” features Makoto throwing it down in front of Kaneshiro’s bank in the Metaverse sky. The masterful fusion of jazz, pop, metal, and rock make for a great playlist that feels like a trip through the struggles and triumphs of Persona 5 all over again. There some decent remixes, like the house-style version of “Whims Of Fate”, but many are a little underwhelming, such as the “Beneath The Mask” remix that doesn’t quite make the same impact for a rhythm game. That’s not to say they’re bad songs, but with the bar set so high, you wish they had a bit more punch for the gameplay to thrive on.
There are also a few shortcomings in Dancing In Starlight when it comes to presentation. “Life Will Change”, an empowering song with infectious conviction is paired to a fairly cheesy music video. But what’s much worse is that the female cast members (who are also high school students) get oversexualized in the Last Surprise music video, which is some sort of bizarre burlesque show that’s out of touch and wholly unnecessary.
Dancing In Starlight doesn’t feature a traditional story mode, unlike its predecessor Persona 4: Dancing All Night. However, there are Social Events, which are scenes of dialogue where characters banter–these play out similar to a visual novel-style of Confidants in the original game. The overarching premise is that you and your crew are stuck in a dream state dictated by Caroline and Justine of the Velvet Room, and they’re enforcing the one rule of Club Velvet: dance. Admittedly, it sounds silly, but it works to pave the way for some joyous moments in Social Events. You shouldn’t expect much when it comes to further character development, although they embrace their newfound passion for dance. Conversations and references play off of what you already know about the cast; Ann’s striving to be the next top model, Yusuke’s enraptured by his artistic side, and Ryuji’s as brash as ever. While these don’t play into the high stakes and striking themes of the RPG, it’s great to be with these characters again and watch the silly banter unfold, especially since the original English and Japanese voice casts return.
You’re also incentivized to play in different ways since each character has specific conditions for unlocking their Social Events, like passing several songs using modifiers or customizing characters during your time playing. Viewing scenes grants you these cosmetics, too, so the game naturally guides you to seeing most of its features. And the conclusion to Social Events rewards you with room visits; even if its just the attic of the Leblanc coffee shop or a crew member’s room, working towards them is worthwhile as you get to see familiar places in first-person and take a closer look at a world you thought you already knew.
It might take some adjusting to the overall premise, but it’s fitting to see this cast getting footloose across Tokyo and the Metaverse. Dancing In Starlight shines the spotlight on the original RPG’s rich, wide-ranging soundtrack and highlights some of the best work from series composer Shoji Meguro. Although many of Persona 5’s tracks struck a chord because of their evocative attachments to the events of that game, these songs come back around to remind you just how special that journey was. And the fact that these amazing tracks are tied to a great rhythm gameplay system make this game a fantastic new way to enjoy Persona 5’s tremendous music and revisit the Phantom Thieves.