Update (2012-03-07): The Gematsu article has been updated with a segment of the Hashino and Soejima interview which was previously missed, in which Soejima confirms that there will be more Persona 5 party members to reveal in the future.
P-Studio is Atlus’ internal development team focused on the Persona series, and the #2015 February issue of Persona Official Magazine has interviews from members of that team talking about their upcoming titles. Thomas James has translated the interviews, which are on Gematsu:
The first P-Studio interview concerns Atlus staff members Katsura Hashino (director) and Shigenori Soejima (character designer) discussing Persona 5’s production, reception and themes:
Persona Magazine: So you finally brought out the first big, proper trailer for Persona 5 recently at the Persona Super Live 2015 concert. How’s the reception to it been?
Hashino: It’s been a massive outpouring and we’re really happy to see people are into it as much as they are. It’s a huge relief to all of us on the team to have things turn out that way. Still, it’s also indicative that the anticipation is running really high among people who have enjoyed our work up until now, so it’s not without some pressure coming our way, too.
Soejima: I’d say that we managed to show off quite a bit of good stuff in that footage, too.
Hashino: For sure. The main reason we went for that is to reassure people that production on this thing is still going forward, that it’s doing just fine. I mean we went a long time without showing much of the game after we initially announced it, so it’s only fair. And we also just wanted people to see how excited we are to be working on it by showing off all of these different parts of it.
You’ve definitely made it abundantly clear that the art style is going for a poppy aesthetic with the color red sitting at its foundation. What are your impressions of people’s opinion on that direction?
Soejima: We’ve gotten a lot of kind people saying that the game’s even more stylish than what we’ve done before. That was kind of unintentional on our end, though; we weren’t trying to go out of our way to make people explicitly feel our game is stylish so much as just show that aesthetically, it’s picking up where Persona 4 left off, in a sense. A lot of time has passed since that game originally came out and the hurdles we’ve had to clear have only gotten higher since then, so this style is ultimately a reflection of those efforts on our end.
Hashino: I’d say the same is true with our character modelling, too. With Catherine, we made characters that were more realistically proportioned, but applying that philosophy back into Persona doesn’t necessarily work; it just gives off an altogether different vibe going that route. So there was some reshaping on that end that we had to do to make it work the way we wanted. Even the UI design got a similar treatment, too. It took a lot of trial-and-error to get right, but we’ve ended up with a style that we feel works well within the confines of the Persona series. The “gaya gaya” [Japanese onomatopoeia] you see during that trailer is also an extension of that.
The game’s themes have been described to be “picaresque” in nature. Could you elaborate on that a little more?
Hashino: If there’s one thing that lies at the center of our themes in the game, it’s the notion people have that there are things that they want to do with their lives but can’t actually realize for one reason or another. They’ve got something circumstantial holding them back or maybe it’s even just the rational half of their brain. Something along those lines. I feel as though people like that often tend to take well to thief and heist stories because they get a certain thrill from them that resonates with them in ways they can’t necessarily get out of other stuff. One of the goals in making Persona 5, then, is to give those people an outlet to explore those thrills and experience that sense of freedom that the protagonists themselves have within the context of a game. Although that being said, I won’t deny that a lot of us were also just way into stories about good-natured thieves like Lupin III growing up, too. (Laughs.)
Soejima: To that end, it’s why you see the protagonist smiling wryly and whatnot in that main promotional image we’ve put out, to emphasize that tonal undercurrent running through our game.
Hashino: We wanted people to look at that imagery and get the impression he runs with an intriguing crowd, one with enough gall to potentially pull off some daringly intriguing stuff. He’s a trickster at heart; he and his crew stir things up and along they way, maybe they bring a little change to the world around them, too. It’s not the most stable of lives a person can have, but it’s also a life of limitless possibility. The world really is his oyster. If people get that impression from looking at him, then we can rest easy knowing we’ve done our job.
Soejima: In the trailer we showed at the concert, there are a handful of other friendly characters you can see as well and they’re all also very much so people who aren’t afraid to express themselves on their own terms. How well they can actually lead such a life, that’s a question that has deep ties to both the picaresque and thieving aspects of the games.
Hashino: You even get hints of that freedom they have here and there just seeing the opening cinematic. That’s why you see them hurtling around the screen so much, for instance.
The masks that you also see in that footage during the plundering segments also seem to have close ties to all of those themes you’ve mentioned, too.
Soejima: Definitely. Of course, the word “persona” inherently has the connotation of things being masked. In a broad sense, it’s true in how the cast leads a double-life. They go to school during the day and then at night, they’re out on the prowl to steal. But it’s also true that the plotline more overtly plays up the mask motif in a very literal sense compared to the previous games, so I wanted to ensure that such visual elements of the game were similarly straightforward, too.
I take it the urban setting also plays into the picaresque aspects of the game, too?
Hashino: Oh yeah, without a doubt. In big cities all throughout Japan, every day, people get on their trains, pack in tight, and the masses all flow this way and that during their ride as they make their way over to school or work. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about that sort of mass ritual on the face of things, but these characters who are in the center of all that as well are still different; they’re out doing stuff that nobody else can hope to imitate. That dichotomy between what’s ostensibly real and surreal, what’s divergent from reality as what people often know it, that’s something that belongs right at home in a Persona game, I’d argue. Really, I’d say it’s true for a lot of the games we make at Atlus and that continues to be how we’re approaching this game from as we make it.
Lastly, do you have anything you’d like to share with people who are anxiously awaiting the release of Persona 5?
Soejima: We still have a lot left to show, so hopefully people keep an eye on us and wait to see what’s coming up. Chief among those, in fact, are more allied characters that we have yet to show, but I’d say that we won’t be running out of new stuff to reveal anytime soon. So stay hyped and sit tight until we finally get this game out in your hands!
Hashino: We’ve been very fortunate to have created a series of games where people feel so attached to each of the protagonists, so we hope that with Persona 5, we’ll be able to make a game where the events of it really hit home and make for really impactful experiences. There are people in this industry who feel that feel traditional console and handheld games are losing their edge and I think it goes without saying that the very definition of games and the potential that they hold has started to really broaden. But we’re still of the opinion that there are some things that can only be experienced on a console, especially when it comes to RPGs. We’ve heard from people that games like Persona are the reason they’ve started playing RPGs again and we’re working really hard to make this new one another such game that can reach out to people and grab them. I know it’s been a long wait, but I hope you’ll give us just a little more time. Hopefully once it’s out, it’ll all be worth it in the end.
The second interview is of Persona 4: Dancing All Night director and producer Kazuhisa Wada talking about that game’s development, as well as the designs of the characters and the dancing itself:
Persona Magazine: Persona 4: Dancing All Night is the first rhythm game the series has ever seen. What have you been most careful about handling in terms of making sure it feels like a proper extension of the original Persona 4?
Wada: Definitely how we maintain each of the main characters’ individual charms in their dance routines. The cast of Persona 4 has attracted a lot of really passionate fans, so it’s important that their support be respected in this new game by maintaining that recognizability. One of the ways we ensure that is by having a different dancer assigned to each character for motion capturing and then having the team look over the choreography to ensure every character’s personality remains intact in the moves that they make.
Is that to say that every character has their own personal flourishes as part of their dance routines?
Wada: Yep, that’s exactly right. So Yosuke, for instance, he takes after male idols with some hip-hop flare to his moves, whereas Chie’s got her usual kung fu mixed with some street dancing sensibilities. And then Yukiko, her movies are derived from ballet while still retaining aspects of her ditziness.
And then there’s Teddie, whose outfit really makes him stand out.
Wada: Most all of the other characters have their outfits rooted in their school uniforms, but we wanted someone that could wear something more gaudy to provide a contrast to that. It’s also important just as a matter of helping to establish Dancing All Night as its own distinct thing separate from other Persona games. Teddie ended up filling that role for us, though his dance moves come from gymnastics, which I feel makes for an interesting combination in tandem with the costume.
As for other characters, Naoto’s dances come from house music, placing a big emphasis on deliberate step routines and all wrapped up in a certain layer of sex appeal. And then Kanji’s style is fundamentally rooted in a type of dance known as “Locking,” but with some modifications to it, as real Locking has some moves that just don’t really jive with his character. The development staff is really fussy about getting those little details right for each character.
I saw in the trailer you put out at Persona Super Live 2015 that the protagonist will smile during his dances, too. What kind of moves do he and Rise employ?
Wada: Well, let’s be honest, with the protagonist, you could make him do most anything and he’d probably still have a dumb grin on his face the whole time. (Laughs.) We actually were a little wary about maintaining that facet of his personality for his dances, but at the end of the day, we agreed that’s ultimately part of his charm and, indeed, it’s worked out really well. His dances are made that much more fun and unique.
With Rise, it’s probably pretty obvious, but her dances are a little mischievous, the sort you often see in the idol world she’s from. Obviously, she’s running around in a pretty revealing outfit while she dances, but what you see underneath in a few places isn’t actual underwear or anything like that; it’s all a part of the getup that’s meant to be seen so as to avoid any potential problems going other routes design-wise. (Laughs.)
It’s interesting how this is the first time the Persona 4 characters have also gotten polygonal models that are proportioned realistically.
Wada: We regard the character models as a major facet of this game. What you’re seeing here is actually our second stab at rendering the cast in this style for Dancing All Night; we did another complete run in this manner previously, but remade them all from scratch. The reason for that is we wanted to make them all more attractive in ways we couldn’t previously achieve with the deformed style we had going with the original Persona 4, so we set out to redo them in such a way as to draw out those new qualities.
Naoto’s a good example of this. She’s not who she used to be during Persona 4 where she was carrying so much weight about her identity, so now she can really start embracing her femininity in how she looks and not have it adversely affect her. But of course you don’t want necessarily everyone in the game to have sex appeal going for them, either. Nanako’s in the game, too, and if she was out being flamboyant and provocative, that’d be completely out of character. Getting her motions down pat was therefore really hard. We had an idol come in for Nanako, rather than an actual child dancer, but no matter what they did, Nanako’s moves still had a certain allure to them that was off, so we had to spend a long time fine-tuning her animation to get it to where we needed it to be.
I have to admit, seeing Nanako in that trailer definitely added a lot to it. It made it an even more fun video to watch.
Wada: Actually, at first, we had people saying that we shouldn’t put Nanako out in our marketing, that it’d be a bad idea, but in the end we said screw it and just got her in anyway. (Laughs.)
What’s your biggest concern gameplay-wise when it comes to making this game, given how different it is in terms of genre compared to everything else Persona has done until now?
Wada: Absolutely how the actual gameplay feels, without question. The biggest task at hand we’ve been focusing on is how to make it feel good and fun to play in time to the music and then tuning things so that players’ reactions to the mechanics are as positive as can be.
On a tangential, but not unrelated note, in Dancing All Night, you can use both of the analog sticks on the Vita to do what’s basically like DJ scratching with the music. There’ll be icons that show up on the screen that suggest good points in time to take advantage of that, but you’ll also be able to do it mid-dance or even when the notes cut out and by moving the analog sticks however you like, you’ll be able to rearrange the music and make it your own style to an extent. We had DJ Waka, who we’ve worked with a lot in the past for Persona concerts, draft up a lot of different scratch sounds for this purpose, so different people will be able to put their own distinct spins on the music.
I think you can’t talk about a rhythm game without also discussing the place of difficulty levels in them, too, though.
Wada: We want a wide swath of players to be able to enjoy themselves, so we’re trying to keep the barrier to entry low. This is especially true with the story mode, which we intend to make so that most anyone can beat it, so hopefully that’ll help some people overcome their apprehensions that as a rhythm game, it’ll be too hard for them. Nevertheless, we haven’t forgotten about advanced players either who are existing genre fans and for them, we plan to include not only a wide swath of difficulty levels to let them engage the game at their skill level, but also additional gameplay elements for them to strive for so they can get the most out of the game. The story mode itself has a lot of content going for it and since it takes place after the events of Persona 4 proper and Persona 4 Arena/Ultimax, we want to ensure people don’t miss out on that narrative content one way or another.
Speaking of the game’s storyline, what’s Kanami’s place in it as a new character?
Wada: Kanami is the main star of an idol unit by the name of “Kanamin Kitchen.” Everyone else but her in the unit has disappeared, though, with the plot as a result revolving around rescue efforts to go out and save them. Kanami herself is key to the proceedings, so on that end, she’ll have her own songs and dances specially made for her. She’s got a lot of interesting quirks going for her, both inside and out, that make her a really charming character in her own right. Truth be told, at first, I wasn’t particularly keen on her, but as time’s gone on while making the game, I’ve come around on her and now she’s one of my personal favorites.
You brought up Persona 4 Arena earlier, so I wonder: would you say that you’ve gained any special insight into developing games that aren’t RPGs thanks to your work on the fighting games and Dancing All Night?
Wada: Well, I’d say that music games and fighting games don’t particularly share a whole lot in common, much like how they’re both wildly different from RPGs in general, but obviously at their core, both the Arena games and Dancing All Night share that common background of being new and interesting challenges for us. In that respect, my time with the Arena games helped me learn how to be more flexible and accommodating of new ideas when branching out. If nothing else, it’s been fun and refreshing to think and work outside of the usual box for all of these games.
Knowing that, what would say has been the thing you’ve struggled most on while making the game?
Wada: I’d say it’s been striking the right balance between keeping things flashy on the screen while retaining overall playability. There’s a school of thought within rhythm game design that contends that using on-screen flashiness as a means of deliberately obscuring music notes during gameplay is one valid way to ratchet up the difficulty, but personally, I’m of the mind that it’s best to maintain some semblance of balance between those two things, so we’ve really worked hard to ensure the game doesn’t cross the line and become inadvertently obtuse to decipher.
Beyond that, I’d definitely say that we’ve spent a lot of time on the difficulty levels, too. Back when we were making Catherine, we got really good really quickly at playing our own game. That put us down a dark rabbit hole eventually in terms of balancing where parts of the game ended up being really hard to beat, suffice it to say. (Laughs.) This time with Dancing All Night, we’re going out of our way to keep outside players’ first impressions in mind and make it a more fair game to play overall. We’ve got monitoring systems and whatnot in place internally, so rest assured, the game shouldn’t turn out to be quite as brutal as what we’ve made in the past. (Laughs.)
Any parting words for your fans looking forward to playing Dancing All Night?
Wada: I know a lot of time has passed since we initially announced the game and we’ve had to make people wait longer to get the game into their hands, for which I deeply apologize. From here on out, we’re going to be able to release new information on the game at a steady clip, so keep your eyes peeled out for that. Beyond that, at some point, we’re also hoping to get things like demo stations out into [Japanese] stores so people can get a more concrete idea of what the game is about, so if you’re interested, hopefully you’ll take the time to come and check it out! More broadly speaking, all of us on the development team have been paying attention to the feedback we’ve gotten from everyone since the concert and are using that support to fuel the rest of our development, so look forward to the final product soon!
The final P-Studio related interview is also about Persona 4: Dancing All Night, with Atlus composer Ryota Kozuka discussing the music of the game, such as what inspired him to compose the game’s opening theme, “Dance!”:
Persona Magazine: First off, now that you have a release date announced for Dancing All Night and put out that trailer at Persona Super Live 2015, how are you feeling about the game?
Kozuka: I’ve been working on this game for a long time now, so on the one hand, I’m relieved we’ve finally got a real date announced for it at last. But on the other hand, I also feel a real responsibility to help see this project through to the end and that I have to give it everything I’ve got in one last sprint to the finish line.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the place of music in a rhythm game greatly differs from games in a lot of other genres, but from a production standpoint, is there that much that’s different about making music for a game like this versus an RPG?
Kozuka: Obviously in contrast to your ordinary RPG music, music in a rhythm game is what ultimately justifies and makes up their existence to begin with, so that has to be kept in mind during the general compositional process. Still, because of the story mode in Dancing All Night specifically, there are times where I’ve kind of forgotten I’m supposed to be composing music for a rhythm game in the first place when working on background music for that portion. (Laughs.)
Sound design in general is also really important for a game of that genre, as is just overall button responsiveness, too.
Kozuka: Those are probably the biggest differentiators from an RPG, yeah. Unless you get good feedback while controlling the game, the whole thing falls flat on its place and loses any sort of appear it’s supposed to have as a music game, so what we’ve been doing is following along with the sounds in the game really carefully and then tuning things immediately as issues appear until we get it just right.
You’ve got a really solid lineup of Persona 4 songs that are set to be in the soundtrack, too. You might as well call it a greatest hits album, really.
Kozuka: I agree. We’ve pretty much pulled all the stops to make sure we don’t miss any of the popular songs from Persona 4, as well as ones from Persona 4 Arena and Persona Q.
And on top of that, it looks like a lot of them are going to be rearranged, too.
Kozuka: Yep. Some songs will also have their original versions showing up in the game as well, but the big emphasis is on lots and lots of remixes. I’ve personally done three remixes myself for it. And at the risk of sounding a little hauty, I’m really proud of the lineup of other artists we’ve managed to bring on board; there’s a good amount of stylistic variety going into this project and I love that.
Can you talk a little bit about how Atlus was able to get those other artists to join the project?
Kozuka: Well, initially, for a lot of them, we just sort of fantasized internally about who we would love to work with if the stars aligned in our favor. (Laughs.) In more practical terms, we have someone on staff who really knows their way around the music industry here and thanks to them, we were able to make offers to some really outstanding and talented folks. It’s been really humbling to have them all collaborating with us on a project like this. I couldn’t be happier.
When it comes to remixing, does Atlus relay any requests to outside artists in particular when working with them?
Kozuka: Everyone that’s working with us is already more than capable of doing the work that’s been laid out to them, so we more or less let them run wild since we chose them on the basis that their output would mesh well with what we’re wanting to achieve with Dancing All Night in the first place. Basically, the only things we ask that they keep in mind are that the original melodies are still recognizable for whatever song they’re remixing and that they don’t make their remixes too lengthy since they need to be used in-game. Other than that, they can do whatever they like and the results have been fantastic. Everybody’s turned in really unique remixes full of their own personality. Throw in the characters’ dances and all of the other production value-related stuff we have and the whole thing has become something really special to us.
Of course, the songs also work great in isolation, too; they’re made to be perfectly appreciable just as their own things, too. As you probably know, for our special edition versions of the game, we’re compiling those remixes plus the background music from the story mode onto a two-disc soundtrack that people can enjoy. It’s actually a bit of a miracle we managed to cram all of the songs onto two discs, as we were worried about that for a while there, but that’s a story for another day. (Laughs.)
I know you’re the one who worked on the opening theme, “Dance!” What was your thinking process when you were composing it? What themes did you draw upon?
Kozuka: Naturally, if you’re going to make a game about dancing, then the theme song should be one that’s worth dancing to in and of itself, right? So when looked at from that angle, in my mind, the best era for dance music that fits in well for Persona 4 is the 70s. [Atlus staffers such as Soejima have previously discussed how parts of the original game were meant to feel retro to a degree, especially with respect to character design.] And if you’re going to go with the 70s, then it’s pretty natural to arrive at putting in disco influences into the mix, which is how I ultimately arrived at the opening song we have now.
At first, it was suggested that I just try to blend a bunch of Persona 4 songs together, but that turned out to be harder than I thought, so, honestly, I just gave up on that after a while. (Laughs.) I wasn’t inherently against the idea altogether, though, so there is a little bit of “Pursuing My True Self,” Persona 4‘s original opening song, in the final theme. And then once I got help from Shihoko Hirata on the sung vocals and Lotus Juice for the rapping parts, that’s when it finally felt like we arrived at a dance song befitting Persona 4.
If I recall, you’re the one who originally wrote the Junes theme for Persona 4 and even that song is being included in Dancing All Night, it seems.
Kozuka: I did write that, although this time around I actually made a full version of the song, so now it’s actually viable to use as a playable song within the game. There are also new lyrics for it that I had the team include that I’d say are definitely worth listening to. (Laughs.)
To close things out, do you have a few words to share with people looking forward to Dancing All Night?
Kozuka: I guess for starters, the songs that are going to be in the game are all going to be really varied, especially the remixes we collaborated with other artists on. And while they’re perfectly great and enjoyable listens in isolation, they’re meant to be part of a greater picture within the game alongside the visual elements. If we’re making the game right, the sum of everything will hopefully feel greater than its parts and people will find a lot of new things to like about the game in general, not just the music itself. And even the music outside the main rhythm gameplay segments, including the story mode portions and menu songs, that’s all more or less not being recycled from past games; those songs are either brand new or rearrangements, so it’s my greatest hope that there’ll be a lot of awesome things to look forward to once the game is finally out in a few months.