On November 21st, 4Gamer published a developer interview discussing the motivation behind taking on a new genre with the strategy game spin-off Persona 5 Tactica. Those interviewed were business producer Atsushi Nomura, director Naoya Maeda, and composer Toshiki Konishi.
Gameplay Experimentation in P5T
4Gamer: Thank you for having us today. First, could you tell us about your roles in the development of P5T?
Atsushi Nomura: I was in charge of planning P5T, launching the project, and managing the budget during development. Towards the end of the development, I collaborated with the promotion team, contributing ideas and strategies to deliver P5T to our customers.
Naoya Maeda: As the director, I mainly managed the production and steered the game in the right direction.
Toshiki Konishi: I handled all aspects of BGM. I left sound effects and voice-related tasks to other staff, focusing solely on music composition.
4Gamer: The release date is approaching soon (as of the recording date, November 13th). How do you feel at this moment?
Maeda: I’m very happy that we were able to safely reach the release date. Being the first strategy RPG in the Persona series posed some challenges, so it wasn’t a simple task. The development period was about four years, and there were many trial and error phases, especially in deciding on new specifications. It was very moving to see it all come together to be ready for release.
Konishi: It’s not just the fact that it’s the first strategy RPG in the Persona series, but there are many firsts, like the worldwide simultaneous release on multiple platforms. So it’s very moving to be able to successfully launch the game, and it feels different from past releases.
Nomura: As I mentioned earlier, my current role is to deliver P5T to everyone, so my state of mind at this point is quite calm. I’m rather calm, thinking, “I’ve done what I can, and now it’s just waiting for the reactions of everyone who plays it.”
4Gamer: With it being a strategy RPG, the reactions are likely to be different from previous series titles.
Nomura: Yes, that’s exactly what makes it exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing how players will tackle certain stages, thinking about things like “How will everyone strategize through that stage?” or “Will they discuss strategies with friends and fellow gamers?” Additionally, I’m excited about gameplay videos. We’ve also released guidelines, so I hope players check those and showcase various styles of gameplay.
4Gamer: P5T seems to lend itself well to each player’s individual playstyle.
Nomura: That’s right. For example, some players might challenge themselves by clearing the game with a specific set of characters, known as a “character restriction,” while others may focus on a character completely focused on movement skills.
Even on the same stage, the approach to battles can vary based on the party members and tactics, and I find the differences alone to be interesting. Some stages have challenge elements like “clear within X turns,” and I’d be happy to see players aiming to clear it in even shorter times, overcoming the challenge set by us and tackling high difficulty levels—it’s quite entertaining (laughs).
Maeda: Just observing other people’s gameplay is quite enjoyable. There are moments like, “Wait, they’re charging ahead alone?” And then, it surprisingly works well, leading to discoveries and surprises like, “Oh, so that’s a viable strategy!” Since the game is designed for experimentation and enjoyment through trial and error, you can interject with comments like, “No, that’s not it!” or get excited, saying, “Clearing it with that approach is amazing!” I’m looking forward to gameplay videos for this reason.
Konishi: I’m also excited to see let’s plays where you go, “I didn’t know you could do it like that!” The main Persona series features turn-based battles, making it less likely for such moments, but in P5T, where how you move the units is key, the players’ individuality is likely to be visually apparent.
Nomura: Actually, during development, we already had that kind of vibe. During test plays, staff from the development team would post in the chat, saying, “You can clear this stage in about this time.” However, the QA team staff would then post even more incredible plays (laughs). The joy of discovering, “Oh, there’s a way to do that!” is something I think is unique to strategy RPGs.
Development and Promotion Based on “Persona 5”
4Gamer: It seems there were many opportunities to try out a demo of P5T before its release, such as at events like Gamescom 2023 and TGS 2023, as well as preview events. What was the reason for these?
Nomura: There are two main reasons for that. One is that it’s a genre we haven’t explored before, but we wanted players to feel the essence of Persona 5 in the game. Since it carries the Persona 5 name, it had to deliver a genuine experience of Persona 5 to the players. We wanted fans to see firsthand that this aspect was well-crafted. That’s the most important reason.
4Gamer: I see. While the genre and game’s systems are important, the Persona series is also known for its world, characters, and visuals.
Nomura: That’s correct. Another reason is that we wanted players to experience how to play a strategy RPG. We wanted them to feel the satisfaction of winning through their own strategic thinking.
The appeal of strategy RPGs lies in the joy of moving units, placing characters strategically, and activating skills in a way that aligns with one’s own ideas. That sensation of success when your strategy falls into place is a significant aspect, and it’s challenging to fully convey that through videos alone.
4Gamer: Initially, when P5T was announced, what was the reaction from fans of Atlus games? Strategy RPGs are a relatively uncommon genre for Atlus. Even though the company has worked on some in the past, many Persona series fans might not have experienced them before.
Nomura: The most common reaction was, “What kind of game is it?” As you mentioned, being the first of its kind in the series was a significant factor. There were also inquiries like, “Is this a sequel? A spin-off?” I can’t tell you more about the story because we want players to experience it by playing the game, so we can’t provide too many details.
4Gamer: I see. Regarding the game system, it seems you intentionally held back information at first. Was this because you wanted players to first know that it’s a game related to Persona 5?
Nomura: Exactly. When we initially presented the game to fans, the main focus was on conveying that the Phantom Thieves were back in action. We wanted to establish the atmosphere and visuals to make it unmistakably recognized as a Persona 5 game. We planned to gradually showcase the details of the strategy RPG genre and gameplay in subsequent information releases.
4Gamer: Why did you choose the strategy RPG genre in the first place? While it has been gaining popularity again, especially influenced by indie games overseas, some people still perceive it as a “challenging genre.” Why did you decide to give it a try?
Nomura: When we started the project, our plan was “wanting to showcase the Phantom Thieves’ team activities.” We envisioned scenarios where the comrades, who had deepened their bonds, tackled missions as a team. In depicting that, we logically concluded that a strategy RPG would be the most suitable genre.
4Gamer: Rather than initially wanting to create a strategy RPG for the Persona series, it seems the choice was made based on the idea that it was the most fitting genre to express facets of Persona 5 that hadn’t been shown yet.
Nomura: Yes. So it wasn’t the case that the entire development team were strategy RPG enthusiasts. Maeda was asked to be director because he enjoyed strategy RPGs, however there were staff members who found them too challenging or hadn’t played them before. Having both strategy RPG enthusiasts and those who weren’t turned out to be crucial in the game’s development. The fact that people who had been put off by he game’s difficulty were able to play it all the way through was an important indicator for us during development.
Maeda: Strategy RPGs are often perceived as “difficult,” and there’s also an image of “tedious unit management.” Indeed, some people found it challenging, so we took their opinions into account. While streamlining the unit management and nurturing elements that may be perceived as cumbersome, we aimed to create a game where customizing units could be thoroughly enjoyed.
4Gamer: By the way, Maeda-san, what kind of strategy RPGs do you like?
Maeda: While they are old classics, I enjoy “Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen” and “Final Fantasy Tactics.” Quite different from P5T, right? (laughs).
4Gamer: In terms of atmosphere, P5T does lean more towards Western strategy games like “XCOM,” doesn’t it? As a result, for those who don’t play overseas games or haven’t played this genre for a while, they might expect something like “Ogre Battle” and think “Oh, it’s not like that at all.”
Maeda: Indeed. There was some pressure in terms of expectations for classic strategy RPGs when people heard about it. That’s why it was crucial to design a system to help players understand the gameplay. It was also important to gather feedback from staff members who don’t usually play strategy RPGs. Getting impressions from staff members who initially said, “I don’t like strategy RPGs; they’re difficult,” and later heard them say, “It’s interesting,” was a win for us when implementing new features.
4Gamer: Please tell us about the character designs. When we think of deformed characters, the “Persona Q” series comes to mind, but the style in P5T is different. What led to this particular style?
Maeda: The direction for the deformed characters is indeed different from the Persona Q series. We aimed for a toon-style deformity, where the motions and poses look vibrant, especially when viewed from an overhead perspective, and the extremities of the body are enlarged.
In fact, when we initially created the mockup for P5T, we used character models from Persona Q, but it didn’t quite fit. As units in a strategy RPG, there’s more movement involved compared to the characters in Persona Q, and the way they appear on the screen is different. The character models in P5T resulted from numerous iterations and experimentation based on these considerations.
4Gamer: I personally experienced a pre-release demo, and indeed, the characters move exceptionally well. The detailed movements of the limbs make it enjoyable to watch them move around the stage. Just watching and moving the characters around was fun.
Maeda: We put a lot of emphasis on the movements. This was something I realized during Persona Q2. When representing characters with reduced proportions, it’s crucial to make them appealing through dynamic movements. Whether it’s during movement or combat, or even when the player hasn’t interacted for a while, expressions like looking bored or stretching the body are essential to keep players engaged.
Having subtle movements is also important. As you mentioned, if players find it enjoyable to simply interact with the characters, it makes the strategy RPG, which might be perceived as a complex game genre, more accessible and enjoyable.
4Gamer: That makes sense. Considering that Persona 5 itself is known for the distinctive movements and gestures of its characters, it seems crucial to maintain that Persona-like feel.
Nomura: Exactly. Without that, it wouldn’t feel like the Persona series. I really love the cutscenes in P5T, and at this point, I don’t feel like they are deformed versions. Regardless of deformation or proportions, what shines through is simply how cool the characters look.
Maeda: While the character proportions are different, the presentation of the story and the behavior of the characters aren’t tailored to fit deformed characters. We created them with the same image as the original. When we asked the voice actors to perform the voices, we conveyed that they shouldn’t consciously adapt to the reduced proportions, and we requested them to act as they usually would.
Nevertheless, we indeed created a lot of character animations (laughs). I believe there are enough patterns to rival the original.
Triple Threat and Expressing Persona 5 Characters in Combat
4Gamer: What were some of the challenges in creating a strategy RPG?
Maeda: It was decided early on that “positioning would be crucial,” but translating unique elements of the Persona series into the gameplay proved to be quite challenging. We struggled because no matter what we did, it ended up resembling existing games. While we explored ideas to break away from the conventional, it was challenging to find those innovative concepts. There were even suggestions from the staff to return to a more typical Persona-style game that exploits weaknesses.
Nonetheless, we wanted to express the Persona essence in a different way than before. That’s how “Triple Threat” came into being in the “final alpha version.” When we played it, we found it interesting, and we thought, “This has potential.” From there, we started designing each stage.
4Gamer: From the start of development to reaching that point, how much time did it take?
Maeda: It took exactly one year. Another turning point was changing the mechanic from selecting squares for units to move to allowing players to freely move the characters. I love strategic games like chess or shogi, but it wasn’t visually appealing. Additionally, staff members who weren’t fond of strategy RPGs suggested, “Can’t we do something about these controls?”
Allowing players to control characters and have units move accordingly was a significant shift. As mentioned earlier, it’s the aspect of enjoying the game just by moving around. Realizing this led to a major change in our approach, and the aesthetics and feel of the game changed, significantly lowering the hurdle.
4Gamer: Now, please tell us about how you successfully expressed the Persona series’ essence.
Maeda: Again, it was Triple Threat. When the specifications were finalized, that was truly the first step. From the prototype stage, the focus was on the experimentation of how many enemies could be included in the triangle. The fun lies in the trial and error of figuring out how the gameplay changes based on the stage’s structure and enemy placement, making it a very versatile system.
Nomura: To capture the essence of Persona 5, we wanted to somehow incorporate the battle elements of Persona 5. When considering this, elements like “1MORE” or “Baton Touch” were relatively easy to include, but expressing an All-Out Attack posed a challenge due to the altered nature of attacking weaknesses. In this game, we changed the way weaknesses are exploited, so when Triple Threat was completed, it felt like we had created a “new All-Out Attack,” and we were very excited.
Maeda: The presentation of Triple Threat was also established quite early in the process. We asked the team responsible for creating cutscenes to make a movie where enemies enclosed in triangles are relentlessly beaten, and we shared the video with other staff members, discussing if we could implement a system like that.
4Gamer: The flow of enclosing enemies with Triple Threat feels like a puzzle, making it easy to understand. Because it’s a puzzle, there’s a sense of enjoyment in retrying even if you fail. Are there any other elements that you have considered for people who think strategy RPGs are too hard?
Nomura: We paid attention to the gradual progression of the tutorial and stages as they moved forward. We made a significant adjustment at one point.
Maeda: After finalizing the specifications for Triple Threat, we designed each stage with the awareness that everyone already knew what Triple Threat was. At a certain point, we asked staff from other titles to playtest it, and at that time, they said, “It’s too complicated; I can’t play it at all.” Indeed, starting abruptly can be challenging, and learning a strategy RPG involves many aspects.
To avoid making it seem difficult, we carefully redesigned each stage so that players could gradually learn each element. We didn’t just explain it in text; we used object positions to guide players, making it feel like they came up with the solutions themselves. We put a lot of thought into it.
4Gamer: At events like Gamescom 2023 and TGS 2023, you had tutorial videos playing for those waiting in line, which I found interesting.
Nomura: Thank you. Since the playtime for trial sessions at game shows is limited, starting from the tutorial might mean that players won’t get to experience the parts we wanted to showcase before their playtime ends. So, we wanted to be creative and, while people were waiting in line, convey the basic gameplay in an easily understandable way.
4Gamer: Handing out laminated A4-sized instruction sheets might be a bit challenging, right?
Maeda: That’s right. We didn’t want people to feel it was too troublesome with a tutorial that’s all explanations, making them think, “I’m not interested anymore.” We wanted them to experience the exhilaration of the new Triple Threat mechanic. It seems like these attempts leading up to the trial sessions worked well, as participants were able to smoothly encircle enemies with triangles, playing the game smoothly.
Nomura: We observed participants playing from behind during the trial session, and when we saw them progressing to certain stages, we thought, “Oh, they’re already reaching that part.” It was really reassuring to see that everyone was able to play the game well.
The Non-Distracting Persona 5 Style Music
4Gamer: Now, let’s talk about the game’s sound. When did you receive the offer, Konishi-san?
Konishi: It was when I was still working on “Shin Megami Tensei V.” They presented me with a proposal saying, “This is the kind of game we’re making,” along with a playable version of the project. I received this before any detailed explanations, so I thought, “Oh, they’re making a strategy game.” The sound team usually gets involved after the development has progressed to a certain extent, so my reaction wasn’t much different from the general public’s at that point (laughs).
4Gamer: As a game player yourself, Konishi-san, had you played strategy RPGs before?
Konishi: I’ve pretty much stuck with the “Majin Tensei” series. That’s my stopping point for strategy RPGs. I don’t have any memories of playing them beyond that.
4Gamer: Oh, Majin Tensei. That’s a characteristic response from you, Konishi-san, as a core fan of Atlus games, isn’t it? (Laughs) So, when it came to creating music for a strategy RPG, what were you mindful of?
Konishi: I had an idea in my mind of how it might be, but more than anything, because it’s a Persona series game, I knew I couldn’t skip vocal songs. So, when I asked the planner about the playtime for one stage, they said, “It’s about 15 minutes.” That led to discussions like, “If we’re going to have vocal songs for 15 minutes, we probably need lyrics for up to the fourth verse,” and so on. (Laughs)
4Gamer: The progression of RPGs and strategy RPGs is different, but in terms of the use of music, what’s different about the Persona series RPGs?
Konishi: In an easy-to-understand way, I composed with the image that one song completes a kingdom. The world of P5T is composed of several areas called “Kingdoms,” and I composed with the image that the music changes depending on the stage. I aimed for unity in each Kingdom by unifying tones, having phrases from one stage’s song appear in other stages, and such.
4Gamer: I was curious about one thing. Strategy games, where thinking is the core of gameplay, can, to put it bluntly, have music that might hinder one’s thinking, depending on the player. Was that something you were mindful of when composing, and was it an opportunity to showcase your skills?
Konishi: In strategy games, the timing when each player’s emotions are at their peak varies. Some players are always deep in thought, while others progress swiftly. So, I tried to avoid creating music that aggressively stirs up emotions or excites players. Instead, I took a step back and focused on ensuring the strong presence of vocals.
4Gamer: Certainly, the music for dungeons in RPGs and the music for battlefields in strategy RPGs must have quite different approaches.
Konishi: Yes, they are fundamentally different. I added variations to the BGM for each stage based on considerations like, “This stage has a somewhat calm atmosphere, so let’s make the music more dungeon-like, similar to an RPG,” or “There’s a bit of a battle atmosphere here because of the progressing story.” The goal was to switch based on the player’s emotions influenced by the game’s progression.
4Gamer: So, during the journey from point A to point B, did you create music while considering scenarios like swarms of enemy soldiers attacking or encountering a powerful enemy crucial to the story?
Konishi: Since changing the music frequently within one stage can be distracting, I was conscious of creating music that wouldn’t tire the listener even if played until the end. On the other hand, for boss battles, which are special encounters, I aimed to build excitement similar to the turn-based battles in Persona.
4Gamer: Did the change in character proportions have any impact?
Konishi: Yes, it did. From a sound perspective, it was like, “Really!?” (laughs). The music in Persona 5 has a rich sound that matches the proportions of the characters, so it doesn’t quite fit with cute deformed characters. Having a sweeping sound can make the music stand out, but if it’s too cute, it loses the essence of Persona 5. This time, I aimed for a composition using fewer instruments—mainly guitar, bass, and drums—to keep the density of sound a bit lower but maintain the Persona 5 taste.
4Gamer: I see. We’re looking forward to the guitar and band sounds that are often associated with you, Konishi-san. How do you feel about the final result?
Konishi: Well… I’m not quite sure, honestly (laughs).
4Gamer: (laughs) I imagine it would be hard for you to say yourself.
Nomura: I think it turned out just as intended. Personally, I listen to samples during the process, and it sounds cool and enjoyable. Most importantly, you can listen to it for one or two hours without getting tired. It truly avoids listener fatigue while maintaining the essence of Persona 5, which is impressive.
Maeda: It doesn’t hinder concentration. Yet, it manages to get players excited as expected.
4Gamer: Balancing not hindering concentration while still elevating players’ emotions as part of the Persona series sounds challenging.
Konishi: We need each piece of music to stand on its own. It probably wouldn’t make sense if it just sounded like ambient noise. Although, I did wonder if having stages like that once in a while might be acceptable, but I don’t think they’d allow it (laughs).
4Gamer: Given the Persona 5-esque image of the music, that makes sense. How many tracks are there?
Konishi: Around 100 tracks. We’ve also created separate tracks for DLC. Honestly, recent Atlus games have a lot of music (laughs).
4Gamer: I can feel that. Even for minor scene changes, there are different tracks.
Nomura: It’s like, “How many CDs will it be if we release this as an album?” (laughs).
Konishi: The list of requests is created based on how the game grows, and that’s how the number of tracks keeps increasing (laughs). I think it might reach around 120 tracks next time.
Nomura: This time, there are over 100 tracks, and Konishi manages all of them. Therefore, the overall sense of unity is well maintained.
4Gamer: Finally, could you please share a message for those who are looking forward to P5T?
Maeda: Throughout the development process, we’ve always been conscious of the “Persona” essence. Regarding the battles, although it may appear light and casual, when you actually get your hands on it, I believe you’ll feel the distinctive impact and the engaging system that is characteristic of Atlus.
As for the scenario, while Persona 5 passionately depicted high school students rebelling against corrupt adults, P5T inherits this and portrays a compelling story. Please look forward to it. We aimed to capture the straightforward and highly passionate feelings of the high school students, along with a slightly precarious, fleeting danger inherent in their straightforwardness.
Even among the staff, there are many stories of experiencing a sense of accomplishment and refreshing feelings akin to finishing a movie after clearing the game. So, I hope you’ll enjoy playing it.
Nomura: The “Persona” series, being a contemporary drama, often deals with universal themes. Throughout the game, players might find themselves contemplating various aspects through the characters. The answers can be different for each person, and how it is perceived depends on the player.
What I personally find characteristic of the Persona series is that, before and after playing the game, I feel like my perspective has broadened a bit. After finishing the game, something comes back to you. For some, it might become a source of motivation. Such elements are firmly present in P5T as well.
In this installment, the Phantom Thieves of Hearts, the new character Erina, and Toshiro Kasukabe start a revolutionary drama, and I hope you’ll see it through to the end.
Konishi: While maintaining the overall essence of Persona 5, I would like players to appreciate how well P5T has been crafted as a standalone work. Instead of directly porting from Persona 5, it has taken on a new form in P5T, and I hope everyone enjoys it, including the music.
4Gamer: Thank you very much.