'Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight' and 'Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight' Get Into a Lighthearted Groove

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight are all about energetic boogies and frantic button-tapping. Customizable difficulty and a generous learning curve makes this rhythm-based twofer accessible and enjoyable for fans of all skill levels, and completionists will find loads of snazzy outfits and gameplay modifiers to sate their appetites. However, hardcore Persona series fans expecting a robust, affecting story may be left wanting more.

The dancing action sees your character take the stage as round star icons radiate outward from the center of the screen toward a yellow ring, marked with three trigger buttons on each side. The left is mapped to the D-pad, while the right corresponds to Triangle, Circle and X. Your goal is to tap those buttons once they cross the yellow ring. Nail it and you'll get a Perfect, come close for a Great, and if you're slightly off, you'll get a patronizing Good. At times, you'll have to hold a beat or hit two buttons simultaneously. The more beats you nail, the more your score increases, eventually triggering Fever Mode and bringing in a partner to join you in throwing some sick shapes and sending your score into the stratosphere. On the other hand, if you keep flubbing beats, you'll likely have to try the stage again. (It's worth taking a spin through the game's extensive collection of helpful, brief tutorials if you're a dancing game newbie.)

via Gfycat

If you love the distinctive art style of the Persona games—and really, who doesn't—the tweaked, club-kid character designs and a plethora of customizable accessories are a treat for the eye, and likely to inspire a thousand cosplays. That said, it can be hard to pay much attention to the characters' slick moves and fly styles when you're hawk-eyeing those icons steadily zipping toward the periphery of the screen.

Both Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight operate similarly, with identical UI, menus and unlockables. Each game serves up a total of 25 tracks, though you won't be able to access them all immediately. At first, you'll only be able to select from four songs. Clear each of those on any difficulty level and a new cluster will open up, typically four at a time, and later one by one. Most songs feature characters dancing in recognizable settings, while others are set to anime cutscenes from the original games. (Oddly, one of the P3D stages includes a lengthy credits sequence… nothing against the creators, but a scrolling list of names isn't exactly boogie-inspiring.)

All the songs are remixed tracks from Persona 3 and Persona 5, two all-time legends as far as game soundtracks go, and it's hard to avoid tapping your feet to the banging beats. There's a lot of fast and furious electronica, but there's slower melodies and a fairly broad smattering of genres. (For instance, you'll get the chance to road test the ballet moves of P5's Haru.) However, if you're not that invested in the Persona series and the tunes don't spark any particular nostalgia, you might want to seek out a rhythm game with broader appeal.

p3d mitsuru dancing
Mitsuru from "Persona 3" summons her inner pop idol outside the entrance to Gekkoukan High. Atlus

As you progress through P3D and P5D, you'll hop between clearing song stages and chatting with your pals. You'll sometimes need to meet certain conditions in order to access subsequent interactions, like clearing a specific number of tracks in different outfits, or getting a top-tier score multiple times. Each character begins with five social levels, each with its own cutscene. Once you unlock all of those, you'll get access to three more for a total of eight.

Fans of the series will get a kick out of seeing the Phantom Thieves and the S.E.E.S. gangs back together, so it's a shame the the banter between them tends to be rather thin and repetitive. The social cutscenes a whole lot of chat about one-upping each other's dance moves, and many nods toward each character's hallmark traits. (For instance, P3's Mitsuru takes her role as class president very seriously, P5's Futaba is still an awkward otaku.) The interactions with your high school chums are pleasant enough, but featherweight in comparison to the weighty themes of the mainline stories. This feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, particularly in the case of Dancing in Moonlight, which doesn't do much to explain the backstory and settings of Persona 3 for those introduced to the series with P5. (Persona 3, first released in the West in 2008, is still available to purchase on PSN, but only for PS3 consoles.)

p5d yusuke at madarame's palace
"Persona 5" best boy Yusuke cuts an artful rug outside the entrance to Madarame's museum-inspired palace in "Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight." Atlus

Dancing in Moonlight and Dancing in Starlight prioritize button-mashing action over story, and whether you've got two left thumbs or are a rhythm-game veteran, you'll be able to dive right in to the action. Clearing songs and watching social cutscenes for each characterwill unlock various modifications to make the game easier or more challenging, and can be toggled on or off individually after you've selected a song and a performer in the Custom menu. Modifiers come in two forms: Support and Challenge. Making the game easier will result in a dent in your overall score, while ratcheting up the difficulty will give you the chance to net some serious bonus points. It's possible to use both Support and Challenge modifiers at once if you're better at some aspects of the game than others.

You can play through all 25 songs in each title and see many of the character cutscenes in a handful hours. Seeing and unlocking everything will take considerably longer, but for me the story weren't meaty enough to compel a completionist playthrough. Still, I found myself returning to P3D and P5D for shorter play sessions and to play around with the customizable difficulty settings. (If you're a PS Vita owner, this would make a great game to play on-the-go in fits and bursts.) It's a cheerful, absorbing duo of games to zone out to at the end of a long day, or when you need a Persona fix but don't have several dozen hours to spare. But if you're looking for a can't-miss story, you might be better served by taking one of the older mainline entries in the series for a spin.

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight and Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight come to PS4 and Vita on Dec. 4.