Persona 3 Reload In-Depth Development Interview About Gameplay Changes, Keeping P3’s Uniqueness

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4Gamer has published an interview with Persona 3 Reload development staff, director Takuya Yamaguchi, P Studio general producer Kazuhisa Wada and producer Ryota Niitsuma.

This follows a similar interview published in Weekly Famitsu, however with some new tidbits of information.

From left: Director Takuya Yamaguchi, General Producer Kazuhisa Wada, Producer Ryota Niitsuma

Thank you for your time today. Firstly, please tell us about the history of Persona 3 Reload. (P3R)

Wada: Firstly, we know that many people have wanted a remake. This reached us in many ways, including the survey that Atlus conducts each year. It’s always been one of the top titles that people would like to see remade.

It was also an important project for us on the development side, and something that we couldn’t start half-heartedly. The idea has been around for quite some time, however development did not progress until the latter half of 2019.

Was that after the release of Persona 5 Royal (P5R) on PS4?

Wada: Yes. Quite a few people started working on it from around the end of P5R’s development, then after P5R was completed, almost all of them transitioned to development on P3R. P Studio is working with a new game engine, and it will also be the first project on this scale to be released worldwide simultaneously.

In that sense, it was both a remake of an important work which made the Persona series what it is today, and a new challenge for the development of the Persona series in the future.

Please tell us what kind of work P3R is.

Yamaguchi: This is a full remake of the original Persona 3, released in 2006 for the PS2. Elements such as the world view, story and characters are unchanged from the original version, however the game will be remade taking into account modern design and functionality so that it can be enjoyed to the standards of a current Persona game.

Niitsuma: Putting it simply, this is a remake that aims to allow players to experience P3 in a similar way to P5. Persona 5 is the title that has become standard for how the games play for current Persona fans. We know this from surveys and other sources, but also because P5 is a title which has expanded the popularity of the Persona series worldwide, so both for domestic and overseas fans..

I think that players who have been with the series from the start are also used to P5 gameplay as the standard. When they go back to play P3 for the first time in a while, they might feel it’s more difficult to play. So I wonder if the players wanting for a remake are coming from this position too.

Niitsuma: Yes, that’s true. The original game was released around 17 years ago, and looking at the series, we went from P3 to P5, and many spin-off games were released, with the systems and playability being refined. Those who have played the series as it progressed will also feel that difficulty when returning to past works. Of course, the same is true for those fans who started with P5.

There are a lot of Persona fans who have been around for a long time, and of course we have to respect the experiences that they remember. However as Yamaguchi said earlier, I thought that we could attain this by not changing the world view, story and character elements.

For the aspects that have been remade, what exactly has changed?

Yamaguchi: Firstly, the easiest to understand part is the physical health system. It was part of what made the original P3 unique, but it was also removed in subsequent titles. Additionally, it doesn’t mesh well with the calendar system which has become a staple of the modern Persona series.

It’s the system that restricts your actions when tired or  sick, right? It was a core part of the game’s progression, but the randomness of this element sometimes made it difficult to progress as you wanted.

Yamaguchi: Yes, In the current Persona titles, I think the basic way to enjoy the game is to schedule and plan what to do each day and time. But the physical health system creates additional stress for that play style. Due to its randomness, it is harder for the player to manage their time, and when they get fatigued or get sick, they can’t take the actions they originally wanted to take.

Even during battles, the randomness affected the choices the player could make, such as having negative effects on status or having allies leave on their own in the middle of dungeon exploration. The random nature of that system removed the joy from a player’s decision-making.

Wada: The way we thought about dungeon exploration was different in P3 compared to now. At that time, it wasn’t like today where you complete as much of the dungeon as possible in one day, but it was designed with the assumption that you would climb slowly over several days, so the fatigue system was one of the elements that made you go home.

I see. As the series has progressed, and the modern way of playing is to complete the dungeon in as few days as possible, and then spend the rest of the time on Social Links and other activities. It’s like aiming to max out all Social Links on a first playthrough.

Yamaguchi: Maxing all Social Links in one playthough is not as hard as it was in the original version. It is about the same as doing so in P5. It’s not easy, but it’s achievable with good time management.

Wada: Social Links are one of the things that has changed from the original to the present. At the time, the game wasn’t designed for you to complete all Social Links in one playthrough. I was really surprised when players achieved this through their tireless efforts.

It seems that there are none of the additional elements from Persona 3 FES (P3 FES) or Persona 3 Portable (P3P), because it is standard P3. However, new episodes are being added to the main story and Social Links?

Yamaguchi: The scenarios which were in the original, such as the main story and Social Links are basically the same. There is no P3 FES post-story content or P3P female protagonist, however that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any elements from those two titles.

In addition, there are new scenarios which delve deeper into the world and characters in other ways. For example, there were no social links for the male party members in the original game, so unlike male party members in P4 and P5, they weren’t able to build as much of a relationship or interact as much with the main character.

Since Social Links remain the same as in the original, we can’t give them new ones, however we will prepare content which shows their character and their relationships with the main character in a different way. I can’t talk about specifics yet, however I hope you look forward to it.

Niitsuma: I also want you to pay attention to the voice acting. I think voice acting is one of the high expectations of fans for the modern Persona series. Everything has been newly recorded, and the volume has been increased considerably within the story and event scenes.

Yamaguchi: For example, in the Social :inks in the series so far, there are many cases where they are only partially voiced. However in P3R, all rank-up events are fully voiced. Even though I had seen these events many times prior to development, when they are voiced I feel they resonate more deeply, emotionally. I think that even those who have played the game before will be able to experience the scenario in a new way.

It seems then that the text and voice work must have significantly increased, then.

Yamaguchi: Yes, it has the largest amount of voice work in the series. The Persona series already has a high play time, but if you listen to the voices throughout the game, I think that you will be able to enjoy it to the fullest.

I would like to know about dungeon exploration and battles, but first, what has changed with Tartarus? 

It’s a dungeon with over 250 floors, each randomly generated every time you enter, and it is directly connected to the game’s world and story… However the scenery doesn’t change much, and progression tends to be monotonous. I wonder how this was tackled when creating the remake. 

Yamaguchi: It was the first thing that came up as a point for improvement when starting work on the remake, and it was something which was had a lot of discussions about. Of course, we were aware of what the fans felt. As you said, however, Tartarus is closely tied to the world and story, so we couldn’t change the structure of the dungeon.

That’s right. While it can become monotonous, part of the appeal of P3 is the sense of emptiness as you gradually ascend Tartarus during the gloomy Dark Hour. Was it hard to reconstruct it while preserving this atmosphere?

Yamaguchi: Yes, for example, we couldn’t create a fixed dungeon like in P5 with its various gimmick by reducing the number of floors. So, while staying faithful to the original, we created a dungeon which can be enjoyed without getting bored by adding numerous small elements.

One example is conversations between allies. At regular intervals, there’s unique dialogue that can only be heard in the dungeon. Additionally, objects which can be destroyed and background movement have been added. These minor interactive elements and visual changes may seem insignificant, but they greatly make the gameplay feel more engaging and prevent it from becoming tedious.

Wada: Tartarus has been improved thanks to the expressive power of the Unreal Engine. We were able to faithfully adapt Tartarus into a three-dimensional, wide screen format while capturing the essence of the original, but with a lot of variety. It is quite hard to convey with screenshots, but with the use of various lighting effects, the visuals create an immersive experience preventing it from being monotonous.

The character models and animations have also changed quite a bit from the original.

Yamaguchi: There has been a change in expression and direction due to the change in head and body proportions. When compared to the original, the balance between stylish and comical will feel closer to the former. Because of this change away from the deformed models, it is harder to express the characters performing certain actions like falling on their butts during battle. But as the cool and comical aspect is important to P3, we made sure to keep that aspect of it.

Another element I’m curious about, just like Tartarus, is the battle system. Firstly, the player can give direct commands to party members right? Also, has the AI been able to be improved in this day and age?

Yamaguchi: The player can give direct commands, which has been the standard since P4. There is also the option where players can set a general direction and let party members fight automatically. So please think of it as part of the gameplay style the Persona series is known for today.

I would also like to ask about skills during battle. For example, will the light and darkness elements have skills added as in P5 which deal damage in addition to instant death?

Yamaguchi: I cannot talk about specifics yet, but for P3R we are making adjustments to elements including skills, so that the party members can all play an active role as equally as possible. Battles are tailored to fit each character’s individuality, so please look forward to more information in the future.

I’ve been asking a lot of questions, but what was the process to change and refine aspects from the original game?

Yamaguchi: Firstly, we looked at the design of the original version to highlight elements that might have been overlooked compared to the modern Persona series, or elements that might not work today. We then discussed revising these parts with the development team and meticulously took into account things which bothered players when they played the game in the past.

I’m interested in gathering feedback from players who had played the game before.

Wada: Yamaguchi is one of them, but over half the P3R development team were not game developers at the time, but were exposed to P3 as players, so they offer a different perspective to that of those involved in development at the time. So they can see the strengths, and weak points that dissatisfied them in the original P3.

I see. It must have been difficult since fans often have their own idealized image of each Persona game. I imagine it was difficult to consolidate those differing opinions.

Yamaguchi: Yes, development members who were players at the time of the original release are strongly passionate about the game, just like the fans (laughs). As the director, I looked at the direction of the remake while striking a balance. But every person has their own preferences and focal areas. We had moments of debate like, “If you get rid of that part it won’t be Persona 3 anymore!” or “No, if we tone this down do it this way, it will still capture the essence of Persona 3!”

Niitsuma: I would watch those lively discussions and say, “You can argue all you want, but please come to a conclusion by next week.”

Yamaguchi: (Laughs)

Niitsuma: I said it jokingly, but I think this debate led to the creation of a really high quality remake. Each and every one of us respected the original work, and while cherishing our feelings of playing the game, we gave our opinions as developers working on the game production.

While I wanted P3 to be as easy to play as P5, I was selfishly hoping that it would retain the oppressiveness and daring of the original. Listening to the development team, it feels like there isn’t anything to worry about.

Niitsuma: We definitely considered that. Even after becoming a developer, I felt that P3’s appeal was in its rough edges. While that roughness needs to be polished in order to create a game that people will want to play now, those rough edges are important to the essence of the game, so it’s important that they not become too rounded. I believe that we have had to think hard about that carefully with this remake.

One thing I would like to ask before finishing: How did you come up with the name “Reload”?

Wada: We originally wanted to add an “R” to the title. There was P5R as the definitive version of P5, and we wanted to approach this project with the same enthusiastic mindset. It also evokes the aspect of a remake. But calling it “Persona 3 Remake” wouldn’t feel quite right for a Persona series title.

As a fan of the series, I’d like to be surprised rather than have something straightforward.

Niitsuma: That’s right. Recently “RE” has been used a lot in games, but it’s different when you consider it for Persona. The summoning device, the evokers, is in the shape of a gun, we thought about “reload.”

Using it as a title, it should be “Reloaded” grammatically, but that gives off more of a “gun-action” feeling, so we settled on “Reload.” It took some more time to finally decide on it, but it quickly became the chosen name within the development team.

I’m imagining scenes where the protagonist and his allies reload their evokers to summon their personas.

So finally, please give a message to readers who are anticipating P3R and fans of the Persona series.

Yamaguchi: Firstly I would like to say thank you for waiting. It’s a special project for us, and we have finally been able to realize this remake because of everyone continuing to voice their support. We will continue to deliver information in the lead-up to release, so I hope that original players will be able to see what has changed and what hasn’t, and those who hadn’t heard of P3 before can follow along as if it is a new game made from scratch.

Niitsuma: With this announcement, I think we’ve been able to show what P3 would look like if P Studio made it today. We would like to show that it is a game that can be played today whether you are familiar with the original or not. It has bene made with respect and care for the original version. The release is still some time away, but I hope that you will continue looking forward to it.

Wada: Every time we complete a game, as developers we feel somewhat uneasy. Thinking “Maybe we could have done this better,” or “Will everyone like this?” We often approach release with this sort of atmosphere. With P3R, all the staff have been able to reach the final stages of development with the feeling that a good product has been made, which is rare. I think that this is a title we can release with a lot of confidence.

I want to release it to everyone as soon as possible, however please wait a little longer. We are also looking forward to the day that we can share this excitement not only in Japan, but also around the world as a global release.

I am looking forward to future developments for this release. Thank you very much. 

4Gamer