Returning to lengthy RPGs can be daunting, but just listening to the soundtrack can often bring back our favorite memories. Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight offers a more efficient way to relive those memories by dancing to the beat of remixes of composer Shoji Meguro’s great score. The nostalgia trip mostly works, even as it’s bogged down by a clunky interface and short setlist.
Dancing in Moonlight rewinds the clock on Persona 3, summoning the SEES team to the Velvet Room (remade into Club Velvet) on a random night before the end of the original storyline. Elizabeth, jealous that Margaret’s guest (the player character in Persona 4) managed to solve a mystery by dancing, engages with Caroline and Justine (the Velvet Room attendants from Persona 5), in a dance competition to see which cast comes out on top when it comes to busting out moves.
The dancing itself is straightforward as you tap or hold buttons in time with the music, though the interface can be too stylish for its own good. It prizes the J-Pop dance routines the Persona 3 cast performs in the background as much as the music itself, which means notes originate near the center and move toward the edges of the screen. The layout works well enough on lower difficulties, but as tougher songs introduce more intricate note patterns, it can be hard to discern what note to play as they drift apart. Notes that require you to tap multiple buttons at the same time are connected by a giant pink bar and clutter up the screen, and I even failed to notice a note completely in the chaos a few times. I got used to the interface and was able to have fun with it after a few hours, but it’s a case of form over function that emphasizes something I wasn’t paying much attention to most of the time.
You never have to play too seriously to progress, and a number of fun modifiers alleviate that frustration. Want to play any note using any button? Go for it. Think getting a “Good” rating on a note shouldn’t break your streak? Done. Unlocking and using these modifiers makes for some neat twists on the normally pass-or-fail rhythm genre, and some even increase the challenge by making notes disappear as they near the edge of the screen or having them randomly speed up or slow down. The helpful ones ding your score, but I still enjoyed how much I could tune the gameplay to my liking.
Some fans may be disappointed by the emphasis on remixes over originals, but there are plenty of standouts on the soundtrack; the new renditions of “Wiping All Out,” and “Want To Be Close,” in particular are fantastic, and the good songs more than make up for some of the more boring covers. The overall setlist suffers from being a little short (just over two dozen songs) and focusing on the same songs a little too much (including three versions of “Burn My Dread,” and two versions of “Mass Destruction”), which is a shame when songs like “Master of Tartarus” and “Iwatodai Dorm” are ripe for remixing.
Replaying songs unlocks new social-link conversations with the SEES team, which comprise most of the narrative in lieu of a proper story mode. As you finish more songs and wear different outfits, you get to have lighthearted chats about dancing, life goals, and more. Elizabeth frequently butts her way in throughout, and her naiveté about the real world (and its turns of phrases) make her the standout character. The plot is fairly bland and pointless, but the little moments along the way make up for it.
Dancing in Moonlight mostly does right by Persona 3’s soundtrack, eliciting fond memories of the entry that started this series on its path to mainstream stardom. Being able to tailor the rhythm-based gameplay to your liking makes it easy to dive in and nod along to your favorite songs, even if the setlist is short and lacks a bit of variety. If you’re eager to catch up with the cast or music of Persona 3, Dancing in Moonlight is worth a few excursions into the Dark Hour.