Persona 3 Reload Developer Interview, Discusses Production Process and Gameplay Improvements

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The latest issue of Persona Magazine, #2024 Spring includes several new interviews for Persona 3 Reload. One of them features general producer Kazuhisa Wada and director Takuya Yamaguchi discussing various aspects concerning the production process, such as gameplay improvements and voice acting.

Another interview concerning Episode Aigis from Persona Magazine #2024 Spring can be read here.

Takuya Yamaguchi (left) and Kazuhisa Wada (right)

As a pivotal title, it needs to be remade well

First of all, could you tell us when you started working on the P3R project?

Wada: Personally, I had been considering it since we were developing P4U2 (Persona 4 Arena Ultimax, released in 2014). We seriously started considering the systems surrounding its production around 2018. The planning began around the end of 2019.

So, did the production begin alongside the development of Persona 5 Strikers (P5S)?

Wada: Since P5S was released in 2020, yes, that’s correct. Personally, I felt that a full remake of P3 was something we had to do for future generations. There was also the HD Remaster release of P3P, but I didn’t want to consider it complete with just that. However, it was difficult to proceed with the planning due to various reasons. Firstly, we didn’t have a director who could take charge.

[Editor’s Note: This checks out with development dates given in previous interviews. See our ‘Persona game active development timeline‘ for more information.]

Was it because there were already multiple production lines running?

Wada: That was part of it, and the main reason was also the difficulty of production and not finding a suitable person for the role. It was at that time that Yamaguchi raised his hand.

Yamaguchi: At the time of P3’s release, I was one of the players, and it was a title that left a deep impression on me. So when I learned that Wada wanted to do a remake, I raised my hand and said, “Please let me do it!” In terms of my previous work experience, becoming a director was a bit of a leap, but I was given the opportunity.

At the time you raised your hand, what kind of work did you envision creating?

Yamaguchi: At that time, I didn’t have a clear vision yet. However, since it was a remake, I wanted to create a work that cherished the feelings of the original fans above all else, so that they wouldn’t think, “This isn’t P3.” I wanted to faithfully reproduce the memories that remained in the memories of those who played the original version and make them feel, “Yes, that’s how it was, that’s how P3 felt.”

Wada-san, you were also involved in the production of the original P3. Considering the feelings you had during the development at that time, what kind of work did you want P3R to be?

Wada: P3 was a turning point for both the Persona series and for myself as a developer. However, since its release was back in 2006, quite a while ago, it was generally not playable after the release of next-generation consoles. On the other hand, now we have an environment where we can play without being tied to specific hardware, such as PC. So I wanted to provide P3, which could be with the same feeling as the latest installment P5, on PC and multiple platforms, so that players can enjoy it indefinitely.

This full remake seems to be a first for the Persona series. What aspects did you consider introducing anew, and conversely, what aspects did you believe should remain unchanged?

Wada: The most emphasized aspect of the new features was undoubtedly the ability for PC users and users of the latest hardware to play with the same feeling as P5. Improvements in graphics and UI were particularly essential. Additionally, we aimed to preserve the game’s basic framework and convey the charm of the original without changing too much.

Yamaguchi: Even though P3 itself has elements that feel outdated in terms of its systems, it still holds an enduring charm. Therefore, we absolutely avoided making changes that would compromise that charm. So although P3R includes various additions and modifications, not a single decision was made lightly… For example, this time, we added the S.E.E.S. official battle outfit as new costumes, but even this decision was made after a much deliberation over whether the new outfits would be accepted or not. There were extensive discussions among the development staff.

Wada: We had a lot of difficulties with such decisions in P3R.

Yamaguchi: It’s easy if you choose to “not change anything,” but that might be uninteresting for fans of the original version, as they might feel, “Nothing has changed.”

In P3R, the characters’ lines have also been newly recorded. Was there anything specific you asked the voice actors who have been playing the main characters for so long?

Yamaguchi: The voice actors for the main characters have been playing their respective roles since P3, and across various spin-offs such as P3FES, P3P, P4U, and the theatrical anime. So, when it came to recording, we really had no worries and left it all to them.

If I had to say something, it would be that we asked them to perform their roles from scratch, taking into account their involvement in spin-off works. In fact, when we recorded the original version, it started without the actors knowing the story’s ending. However, this time, having played their roles from the original version to the theatrical adaptations multiple times, they brought various emotions even to the early scenes.

How was the reaction when you informed them about the re-recording?

Wada: It’s rare for a character to be played for such a long period of time, so everyone was very pleased. By the way, Shigenori Soejima, who was in charge of character design for P3, also said something similar: “It’s truly a blessing that the characters have been around for so long and are still active.”

Additionally, in P3R, new voices have been prepared for characters who previously only had text lines, and some of the cast of characters in Social Links have been changed. What criteria were used for these?

Yamaguchi: For the supporting characters, the situation varied. Some characters had already been voiced in drama CDs or theatrical adaptations, while others had never been voiced before. So, we considered the casting from scratch for P3R. In particular, we wanted to balance nostalgia and freshness, so we kept the same voice actors for the main characters to evoke nostalgia. Conversely, for the supporting characters, we aimed for a fresh breeze and rethought the casting from scratch without being bound by past roles.

Advice was received from the staff for some of the characters like, “Wouldn’t this person be suitable for that character?” One example is Fukushi Ochiai, who played the Gourmet King. During the recording, as soon as we heard his first line, we thought, “This is it!” (laughs).

Certainly, the Gourmet King was a perfect fit (laughs). On the other hand, I was glad that Shimada-san was able to continue playing the role of President Tanaka.

Yamaguchi: President Tanaka first appeared in P3, but now he’s no longer just a character from P3, so we asked Shimada-san to continue the role this time as well.

Shimada-san has taken over Igor after the late Tanonaka-san, hasn’t he?

Wada: Igor was a character we definitely wanted to re-record, considering the future. We started looking for a legitimate successor, but when we asked Shimada-san to do a test, he said, “I can do it!”

Yamaguchi: I was on edge right after the video announcing Igor’s new voice actor was released. Igor is an important character not limited to P3, so we were checking social media and such to see how people would react after the announcement.

Wada: The reaction was good, wasn’t it?

Yamaguchi: Thanks to everyone’s positive reception, we felt relieved.

Speaking of new recordings, Koromaru’s voice is also new, isn’t it?

Yamaguchi: Actually, in the original version of P3, we used about three types of real dog barks from a library. However, with the improvement in graphics and expanded expressions, managing with just three types became challenging. So, this time, we had Shinya Takahashi, who played Koromaru in the theatrical anime, voice him. In fact, all the barks were recorded individually to match the lines.

Wada: Although Takahashi-san’s name wasn’t credited in the theatrical version, this is the first time we’ve publicly announced his name. He seems to love dogs and put a lot of effort into his performance.

Koromaru’s reactions when the protagonist pets him were also irresistible, weren’t they?

Yamaguchi: So originally, there were actually no plans to include petting Koromaru at all. But I asked the staff, “Could you please make it so you can pet him a little?” and they ended up adding it. At that time, they replied, “If you pet him, there might be a reward,” (laughs).

I was also touched with the expression when he’s happy being brushed.

Yamaguchi: Since I had a dog at home, I reflected on my memories and thought, “This is probably how a dog would react in such a situation,” while incorporating gestures. I think dog lovers will also enjoy it.

Reasons for adding dorm life events and friend routes in Social Links

In P3R, the addition of dorm life and link episodes has significantly increased each character’s development. Please tell us about the intent behind implementing these.

Yamaguchi: I think it’s quite a unique situation for seniors and juniors to live under the same roof in a student dormitory. However, I felt that the interactions between characters in this unique situation were surprisingly limited in the original version. So, I thought that by fleshing out this aspect a bit more, we could delve deeper into the characters, which led to the start of the dorm life events. After that, for each character, we imagined various scenarios like “It would be fun to watch TV with this person” or “It would be nice to cook together,” and narrowed down the elements to fit each character.

As a result, the sense of closeness with the comrades has increased.

Yamaguchi: However, I think P3 is a title where each character establishes a strong individual presence rather than having a “warm and friendly” atmosphere among the comrades. So, what we consciously did was to increase the depiction of friendly interactions in the student dorm while focusing on one-on-one scenes, such as those between the protagonist and Yukari, and occasionally having everyone study together. Otherwise, there was a concern that it might deviate from the atmosphere that P3 originally had.

On the other hand, regarding the link episodes, is it safe to say that they primarily serve as a means to delve into characters who didn’t have Social Links?

Yamaguchi: Communication with male characters was quite scarce compared to the female characters, so we wanted to compensate for that somehow. Although they can only be seen during specific periods, they’re deeply ingrained in the main scenario, showing interactions that can only occur during that period due to the characters’ feelings.

In terms of digging deeper into events, this time, there were significantly more events related to Strega.

Yamaguchi: Strega is a fascinating group, including their position as enemy Persona users. However, I felt that they weren’t delved into much in P3, so it was simply a matter of “we have to do this” from the early stages of planning for P3R. Therefore, in the additional scenarios, we dug quite deep into their backgrounds and their feelings towards the protagonist and S.E.E.S., which significantly increased their development.

Wada: Strega is a character with a somewhat unique position compared to other characters in the “Persona” series. So, we definitely wanted to delve deeper into them in “P3R.”

Speaking of Strega, choices regarding Chidori’s fate are available again this time.

Yamaguchi: Since P3 deals with the theme of death, I honestly had quite a dilemma about bringing Chidori back to life. For P3FES, her revival was added with the notion that “she couldn’t be saved” in the original version. Experiencing Chidori’s death, which is inevitable, once gives weight to that choice, so I wondered if it was okay to skip that and bring her back to life from the beginning… So, I agonized over whether it was better not to revive her at all, or to revive her from the second playthrough. But ultimately, I thought that conforming to P3FES would be a form that many people would enjoy, so we prepared the option for revival.

However, the method is different from P3FES, right?

Yamaguchi: That’s right. So even those who have saved Chidori in past works should approach the event without letting their guard down.

A significant change is that players can choose whether to become lovers or remain friends with female characters in Social Links, and I was happy about that.

Yamaguchi: If the protagonist is forced into a romantic relationship, it might give the impression that the protagonist has a defined color. Since the protagonist should fundamentally be colorless and transparent, serving as the player’s avatar, forcing everyone into a romantic relationship and juggling multiple relationships might give the impression that he’s quite flirtatious. So, I thought it was necessary to give players the choice of whether to become lovers or not, and we added it this time without much hesitation.

Are there any favorite event scenes for both of you?

Yamaguchi: Definitely the event where the protagonist awakens and summons Orpheus in the beginning. In the original version, this was expressed through anime, but this time, we decided to express it using 3D models. It cost quite a bit, but I was determined to convince the staff to create it. I wanted to make this event as impactful as possible to draw players into the world of P3R, so I poured my heart into it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the anime was inferior. But for that scene, we needed to use 3D models to make the best scene possible, leveraging the experience and know-how we gained up to P5. I believe that those who have deeply played P3 will feel the passion we put into it.

Wada: For me, it’s Junpei’s awakening event. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become more prone to tears, and I couldn’t help but be deeply moved when I saw the completed scene. P3 had a small staff, and I was in charge of this event, so I have strong feelings about it.

Yamaguchi: Producing the event for Chidori and Aragaki required a lot of effort.

Regarding Aragaki’s event, the interaction with Koromaru was touching as well…

Yamaguchi: That’s the scene where Aragaki casually pats Koromaru. Before that scene, there’s a gesture where Koromaru willingly moves closer under Aragaki’s arm when he’s lying down. Dogs tend to nuzzle up when they want to be petted. I wanted to include that detail, so during motion capture, I had the actor slightly raise his arm to make space for Koromaru (laughs). I would be really happy if you could notice such small details.

Wada: Megumi Ogata’s performance in that event was amazing.

Yamaguchi: All the voice actors who reprised their roles gave truly wonderful performances, but Ogata-san’s scene was like she was breathing life into the character by  pouring her soul into it. I got choked up while attending the recording session. I hope you pay attention to it.

Inevitable major changes to Tartarus

Various elements such as Major Arcana cards, Arcana Burst, Monad Doors, Monad Passages, and large rare shadows were added to Tartarus. What were the challenges during production?

Yamaguchi: Creating Tartarus was… quite challenging (laughs). We couldn’t avoid overhauling it, considering the feedback we received from players of past games. So, when remaking P3, we naturally thought it was the part that needed the most attention. However, completely changing the direction was quite difficult… As you know, Tartarus is closely tied to the scenario and deeply intertwined with the world setting.

So, for example, we couldn’t replace it with multiple new dungeons like in P5, which involves puzzle-solving. Changing it would also require altering the setting of things like the Dark Hour, so we focused on improving without making major changes to the big settings or structures. As a result, we settled on adding elements like those introduced this time and improving existing systems to enhance the overall gameplay experience.

What aspects did you prioritize the most in terms of improving playability?

Yamaguchi: Our main focus for Tartarus was to encourage players to progress through the floors at a brisk pace. We didn’t intend to make it easier, but we also didn’t want players to get stuck unnecessarily on any particular floor. So, instead of making it easy, we adjusted it to allow for smoother exploration.

Additionally, in P3FES and P3P, there were Monad Depths, which have now been replaced by Monad Doors and Monad Passages. Could you tell us about the concept behind these changes?

Yamaguchi: These elements serve as sort of endgame content for those players who progress through Tartarus quickly and find themselves with nothing left to do there. Originally, the Monad Depths itself was meant to be endgame content, but I felt that its position was somewhat wasted. Since it was endgame content, only those who progressed to the end could play it, so I wanted something that players could enjoy even during mid-game.

So, we divided it into various endgame content for each floor. It’s like saying, “If you’re climbing Tartarus briskly and still have energy, try challenging the high-difficulty Monad Doors and Monad Passages.” Of course, we also offer rewards like items that are advantageous for further exploration after clearing them.

Clearing Monad Passages and increasing the number of Major Arcana cards is quite a benefit.

Yamaguchi: That’s right. We’ve prepared various benefits that are intertwined with these new elements. Furthermore, we’ve also prepared bosses that offer appropriate challenges.

Among the new elements, the Twilight Fragments have multiple uses such as unlocking treasure chests, restoring SP, and even leveling up party members. Do you have any tips for collecting them?

Yamaguchi: Actively progressing through Social Links in your daily life will get you quite a bit from Elizabeth. The more you progress, the more you’ll receive, so that’s the most recommended method. Additionally, although it’s a one-time acquisition, they are scattered around various places in the school and the city, so in the early stages, try walking around to collect them.

You can also obtain them by destroying the blue-glowing objects within Tartarus, although they aren’t very common.

Yamaguchi: If they were easy to obtain in Tartarus, you could recover SP infinitely within a day, so we aimed for a balanced approach. We’ve adjusted it so that using them for chests and recovery will leave you feeling like you need just a bit more.

Regarding daily life, I felt that there’s relatively more time available during the nighttime compared to daytime. Is this to allow players to have time for Social Links even after repeatedly challenging Tartarus?

Yamaguchi: Yes, in terms of Tartarus exploration, pushing through to the maximum floor limit in a single day is the most efficient due to the system. Therefore, in past games, there might have been instances where players climbed using only basic attacks, even though no one had any SP left… But I felt that this style of gameplay might feel more like a chore rather than enjoyable.

So in P3R, I adjusted it to allow players to freely enjoy without worrying about such constraints. It’s totally okay to return once your SP runs out, and you still have plenty of room to raise everyone’s Social Links to the max. That’s the feeling I want players to have with those nighttime adjustments.

For experienced players, there might be a tendency to want to climb to the limit in a single day, but it’s okay to spread it out over a few days.

Yamaguchi: That’s right. Just return when your SP runs out.

The remake of Persona 3 successfully established a development framework for future titles

Finally, please share your thoughts after completing the development of P3R and your aspirations for the future.

Yamaguchi: First of all, thank you very much for playing P3R. The staff and I worked meticulously while respecting the original version. It’s been 10 years since the last full remake, and I would be very happy if it became a title that continues to be loved by everyone 10 years from now and beyond. We will use this experience to continue creating a very interesting Persona series in the future, so I hope you continue to look forward to it.

Wada: Thank you very much to everyone who always plays our games. And to those who experienced the Persona series for the first time, or returned to P3 after more than a decade, I would be delighted if you could feel P3’s charm in your own way. Once again, P3 was a turning point for me personally as a developer, and for the series as a whole. The remake was created by the current staff who were players back then and who overcame P5R’s development, so it’s quite emotional for me.

Good things never become obsolete over time, and that’s why I think it’s our duty to deliver past masterpieces to you with current specifications. Of course, we are also working together as a team to develop new titles, and we are doing our best with your support, so please continue to support the Persona series in the future.

About the red eyes when activating Theurgy

Yamaguchi: In P3, the summoning of personas involves pointing the evoker at one’s head, consciously facing death, and overcoming it to call forth the persona. When using Theurgy, the process intensifies, focusing even more strongly on the thought of death, and drawing out a persona’s power that is stronger than usual. As part of this portrayal, the eyes were made to glow red.

About the shared PC added to the dorms

Yamaguchi: We added the shared PC to the student dormitory because we wanted to increase the activities available in the dormitory. At the same time, we were conscious of capturing the atmosphere of the slightly underground aspects of the internet during that era. We aimed to evoke the unique internet atmosphere of the time when individuals were creating personal websites and engaging in exchanges through BBS (electronic bulletin boards). Our goal was to recreate that atmosphere as much as possible.

Iwatodai scenes in January

Yamaguchi: Starting in January, the overall saturation of the entire field gradually becomes duller as the end of the world approaches. We wanted to express the idea that “the world is heading towards its demise,” so I asked the staff to do as much as possible, including the Nyx tags and garbage, to reflect this. Particularly after January, the increase in garbage becomes more pronounced, and eventually, we lowered the color saturation of the landscape to a point that resembles monochrome.