The latest issue of Weekly Famitsu magazine #1817 (the October 12, 2023 issue) includes a Persona 3 Reload developer interview with director Takuya Yamaguchi and producer Ryota Niitsuma. Character designer Azusa Shimada also appears, marking her first appearance in Famitsu.
The interview discusses P3R’s latest announcements, including Theurgy and Link episodes, along with thoughts on the various artwork, including the box art.
More Depth in Combat and Characters
First, I’d like to ask about the new element in battle: Theurgy. This is a mechanic that was not present in the original version of Persona 3. What was the idea behind implementing it?
Yamaguchi: The motivation behind it was that we felt that the “1MORE” system introduced in the series from Persona 3 onwards wasn’t fully utilized in boss battles. When players face regular enemies, it’s often easy to exploit their weaknesses and knock them down for an All-Out Attack. However, during boss battles, it can be challenging to hit weaknesses and, even when you do, they might not be knocked down. We wanted to introduce more dynamic in these situations.
So it’s used as a new type of trump card.
Yamaguchi: Yes, that’s correct. We introduced “SHOWTIME” (the special combination moves between allies) in Persona 5 Royal, which was well received not just for gameplay reasons, but also for its presentation. So we wanted to add something new in that vein this time. Theurgy always hits its target when activated, so it doesn’t only have to be used against bosses but it can reliably take down rare shadows too.
If used effectively against ordinary enemies, it could also let you save SP.
It’s also unique that the gauge required to activate Theurgy increases differently for each character.
Yamaguchi: In the past, the basic approach in combat was to target the enemy’s weaknesses first and, if that wasn’t possible, resort to regular attacks as a safe option. In this game, for example, if you’re using Mitsuru and can’t exploit a weakness, you might instead consider trying to inflict status ailments to build up the Theurgy gauge. This could lead to different actions than what players were used to, and each characters’ individuality comes out more in combat, so please take advantage of it.
Also, fans should pay attention to the “Link Episodes” that delve into the interactions between characters, previously referred to officially as “Side Stories.”
Niitsuma: While you can deepen your bonds with female party members through regular Social Links, the idea behind adding Link Episodes was to provide episodes for the male party members as well. You can engage in Social Links at any time, but Link Episodes occur as the main story progresses. If you spend time with a character during a specific time, the next episode will follow.
If you miss the first episode, you won’t be able to see subsequent episodes, so it’s recommended that you meet the character as soon as possible after he or she contacts you.
Yamaguchi: Since they are time-limited, you’ll be able to enjoy episodes that have a strong connection to the main story. In Persona 3 especially, the characters’ emotions change significantly as the main story progresses, so the Link Episodes will allow you to interact with them during different periods. So please don’t miss out on this aspect as well.
I’m currently in the process of playing the preview build, and it seems like there are new opportunities to spend time not only with male characters, but also with female party members?
Yamaguchi: Yes, that’s right, this is a separate element that delves into life in the student dormitory. There are many opportunities to study together, cook together, and more. I hope players will also enjoy this.
I was surprised to hear that there are episodes that delve deeper not only into the allies, but also into the members of Strega.
Niitsuma: In the original game, most of their scenes depicted conflict because they’re not allies. In this game, we’ve added episodes that reveal the struggles unique to persona users who have awakened to their abilities in a different way than the S.E.E.S. members. You can catch a glimpse of Strega’s side and their inner turmoil.
Personally, I’ve resonated with their unique charm since I played the original game, and as a development team, we’ve been conscious when it comes to depicting them carefully.
Thoughts on the Artwork
In a previous interview, I heard that a lot of effort went into creating the artwork for the cover art. As the main character designer for this game, Shimada, can you tell us specifically what thoughts and emotions you put into it?
Shimada: Firstly, when it came to deciding the composition, I was torn between creating an ensemble of characters, similar to recent entries in the Persona series, or go for a composition where the protagonist takes the main focus, like in the original version of Persona 3. So I collected various game and movie cover arts from previous entries and other sources, and I contemplated what direction would be appropriate for this game.
Eventually, I decided that for P3, I wanted to emphasize the protagonist at the forefront, and then I thought about how to differentiate it from the original.
The main character summoning the persona Thanatos evokes a sense of “returning to the roots” for longtime fans but, upon closer inspection, you can see that the pose and other details are different, giving this game a unique feel.
Shimada: I’m glad you see it that way. When I thought about what kind of impression players should have of this game through the box art, I realized that going too far towards the aesthetic and ethereal side, or being overly flashy, wouldn’t quite capture it. What I really wanted to convey was the image of the protagonist, enveloped by his persona, standing resolutely against an inevitable destiny.
The scene of summoning a persona, especially with the protagonist and Thanatos, symbolizes this game. And as I tried to determine a composition that would look good, we ended up with a form that’s like an homage to the original version.
Additionally, I feel that the brushwork and the lighting are more refined.
Shimada: I wanted to convey a clear impression of this new game in those aspects too. So I explored various ideas in creating rich textures using the latest techniques, leading to the current finish. In this game, we’ve also consciously incorporated realistic lighting effects. An example is in close-up illustrations during conversations, where color tones can change slightly depending on the environment.
Rim lighting (highlighting the outline with light from behind) is bluish outdoors and turns orangish indoors with warm-colored light. If you look at it, you’ll go “That’s true…” but it may be a tad subtle as an effect (laughs).
The new battle outfits and arm accessories in this game were designed by you, Shimada, right?
Shimada: Yes, that’s right. When approaching this remake of P3, I wanted to incorporate accents in the design that would visually enhance the players’ experience. I collaborated with Shigenori Soejima (the original character designer) and refined the designs. In the original version, the characters were equipped with lightweight attire, with holsters and arm accessories for the Evokers. This time, however, with the increased proportions of the CG models and the aim to create a more immersive experienced, we enhanced the equipment to achieve a greater sense of realism.
The new battle outfits vary slightly for each character, don’t they?
Shimada: Initially, I considered having all the main characters wear the same new design for their battle attire. However, you can already see their individual styles in their everyday school uniforms. So I thought it’d be more fitting for the battle outfits to be customized for each companion. I worked with Soejima and the development team to finalize these designs.
Yamaguchi: Remaking a beloved game like this one and introducing entirely new designs required a lot of determination, so we had numerous exchanges. Shimada responded with her full effort, and I believe we created designs that we can present with confidents.
I also felt your enthusiasm in the new animated cutscene where you go into battle for the first time in the new battle uniform (laughs).
Yamaguchi: Thank you (laughs). Since changing the battle attire represents a fresh start and can be considered a pivotal scene, I thought it would be best to depict it through animation. We’ve also prepared a song specifically for this scene, with Atsushi Kitajoh (sound composer).
Everyone seems to be very enthusiastic! Playing with the preview build, it almost feels like the game could be released tomorrow, doesn’t it?
Yamaguchi: The game’s content is nearly complete, but because of various platforms and languages, as well as the global simultaneous release, there’s still a significant amount of tuning required. Of course, we have a clear vision on successfully overcoming that, and we’ve also been reinvigorated by the reactions of those who tried the game at events like Gamescom in August and the Tokyo Game Show in September. Please look forward to its release in the near future.
Shimada: I’m relieved to see all the reactions and anticipation for the artwork both in-game and out of it when they’re revealed. As we continue to work towards the release date, we’ll be creating promotional illustrations and more, so we hope you’ll look forward to those as well.
Niitsuma: With less than half a year left until the release, we’re gearing up to deliver a variety of information at an accelerated pace. We’re also focusing on promotional and collaboration efforts. Please look forward to them!
Persona 3 Reload is releasing on February 2, 2024 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Steam, Windows, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. It will also be available on Game Pass.