Following part 1 of the Atlus tour by singer and dancer Ayano Omoto (aka Nocchi) from the Japanese electropop group “Perfume,” she interviewed Persona series character designer Shigenori Soejima and composer Shoji Meguro.
Nocchi was surprised when she met Soejima and Meguro because they both give the impression that they’re artists, rather than employees. Soejima laughed, saying he’s not usually treated like an artist at all.
Voice Actor Recognition
- Nocchi likes voice actors, and was curious to play P5 when she learned that Mamoru Miyano and Nana Mizuki were part of it. Soejima states that he feels the number of people who became interested in Persona due to the voice actors started increasing from P4 and P5.
- Nocchi notes that she started playing the Persona series with P5. What struck her was that, while you can sympathize with the villains in recent games, it’s not often that there are games where you can fight against the enemy with 100% disgust, which is what P5 evoked and which gave her a great sense of justice. Soejima states that it’s true that P5 had a strong sense of justice as its character image, so he thought about how upsetting the enemies could be. The team discussed how they wanted the player to feel like, “This is unforgivable!”
- P1 and P2 had more heavy-handed, occult atmospheres, as a reflection of the social atmosphere in the late 1990s. The approach to setting is consciously changed for each project, mainly by Hashino for the recent Persona games.
- For the music, P3 followed a more stylish style, but P4 was set in the countryside and has a bright atmosphere, so they went with a pop-rock style. The characters in the game had deformed designs with large heads, so the music was also slightly deformed.
- When it comes to the meaning of “stylish music,” Meguro says that while there are some things that change to suit the game, the music for the Persona series is basically designed to be in a genre where high school students like the main character are branching out and listening to adult music.
- For P5, the music genre was acid jazz, which was popular about 30 years ago, so it wasn’t something you heard much about when the game was first being developed. But when P5 was released in 2016, it coincided with the time Suchmos was becoming a hit, so acid jazz was getting a lot of attention.
- Soejima states that the character designs for P3 were dark and serious, so for P4 they changed the atmosphere a bit and went for a fun vibe. Because it had been eight years until P5 released, they didn’t think it would be right to create a more relaxed atmosphere, so the illustrations were more aggressive as a sort of “reboot.” As the title “Persona” implies, each character has a face they show on the forefront as well as a hidden face. If it’s deformed too much, it will end up being too generic, so both sides are always drawn so that the two can be distinguished.
- The story in P5 is about a group of high school students who become thieves and rebel against corrupt adults. So, based on that image, Soejima then starts drawing characters like Ryuji Sakamoto and Ann Takamaki. The details of the setting are worked out little by little afterwards. The main character is a little special, as he represents the player, and Soejima doesn’t have much of a setting for him, so he tries to create a design that embodies the image of the game itself.
- The first concept for the Phantom Thief outfits was to make them look like they were in a street gang. Soejima wanted to give it a real youthful feel. But then they decided that it would be better if it was a little more catchy, and after thinking about various outlaw-like costumes, they came up with the final result.
- There was a bear character in P4, so having a mascot like that was a must in P5. Complicated designs can be hard to remember, and they wanted it to be an iconic character that could be instantly recognizable from the game, so Morgana was born, incorporated into P5 from the beginning.
- Soejima decides the primary colors for the modern Persona games. All the illustrations for P3 turned out to be blue, which left an unexpected impression on people, calling it a “blue game,” so he thought he’d try bright yellow for P4, since it had a fun feel to it. Being set in the idyllic countryside, it had the image like “The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness.” Also, the cordon at murder scenes is yellow.
- Soejima had to think about how “Persona” always has this distinct color, and had to ask himself, “What color is next?” He laughs and says that he picked red because that was all that was left. He wanted to give it a passionate feel, so red was the natural choice. But red and yellow are strong colors, so the development staff often told Soejima that using them on the screen while playing the game was straining. Atlus prioritizes playability so they can’t always prioritize aesthetics, but he did ask them to do something about that.
- To prevent the players from getting bored of the battle music they will hear over and over again throughout the game, Meguro adjusts the battle music so that, if played without any mistakes, it will be over in 4 to 50 seconds, with the chorus of the song starting right before that. So when it’s an easy battle, there’s the feeling that the player’s missing something. On the other hand, when the players are struggling, they can listen to the exciting part of the chorus. They’ve tried to make the music so that people can play the same kind of battle repeatedly. Meguro has always used this process throughout the series.
- The time-to-chorus is a little different for each game, and it’s rather short in P5. Meguro states that things were going according to plan up until the middle of development, when the difficulty level started being adjusted and the battle time got shorter and shorter, and sometimes he’d say, “The timing of the music isn’t what I envisioned!” (laughs)
- The music up to now has basically been loops of short phrases, but for “P5”, Meguro made almost all songs 4-minutes long with bridges and big choruses. He thought that it would be interesting to have the players have an experience like when one goes to get a drink, and then notices for the first time the lyrics of a song’s third verse—which has been playing for hours—but they never paid attention to it before.
- Meguro cares about the tone when it comes to the transition of music, such as from the field, to battle, to the result screen, and going back to the field. So he decided that the key of the other songs should be based on the battle music’s. He tends to use D major, because the brightness of the D major and the darkness of the B minor make their contrast stand out, creating a distinctly different impression. Persona 4 also uses a lot of D major.
- While traditionally, it was unusual to have battle music with vocals in it, Meguro originally wanted something different, so he added them in. He wanted them to be different, so he implemented English lyrics, so that they wouldn’t clash and drown out the characters’ voices. In-game, he lowers the volume of the vocals a bit, so it’s a different mix balance compared to the soundtrack release.
Meguro and Soejima’s Personal Lives
- Soejima used to stay alone in his room and play FPS games on his PC, but after he had kids, he would get angry if he did that, so these days he plays Mario Kart together with his children.
- It is the same for Meguro. He plays Nintendo Switch as a family. Recently, he was into VR games and played them a lot. Meguro would wait until everyone was asleep, and then stay in his room playing in VR. He got so into it that he started modifying his own games. He would connect the Oculus Quest to his PC, and do various things with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine. An example, was his second-grader studying multiplication tables, so one day Meguro made a “Multiplication Table Entrance Examination Game” using Unreal Engine. After creating it, Meguro printed out an entrance certificate and gave it to him.
- When Soejima needs a breather from work, he goes outside by car or motorcycle (though he says not during work). He likes vehicles. Recently, he’s been trying to avoid the coronavirus, so he’s been getting in his car and avoiding the train. He says it’s nice to be able to sit in the car and just think.
- Meguro also likes cars, saying he can’t help it, laughing that he’s from an old man generation. Both him and Soejima have miniature cars in their work spaces.
Part 3 of the tour, with fan questions asked and answered by Soejima and Meguro, will be published in the near future.