Persona 5 Royal Developer Interview on Decisions Behind New Elements and Themes


The latest issue iof Persona Official Magazine, titled #2019 ROYAL, was released alongside the Japanese launch of Persona 5 Royal on October 31, 2019. It includes three separate, in-depth developer interviews with the following creators:

Below is a translation of the developer interview with the producer and director via @shininyan.

Left: Daiki Ito (Director) / Right: Kazuhisa Wada (Producer)

Noble and extravagant—a deep look into the charms of P5R

How was Persona 5 Royal developed? An interview with key development members: Producer Kazuhisa Wada and Director Daiki Ito.

The challenge to make a majestic, perfect game fitting of the name “Royal”

Q: The concept behind Persona 5 Royal (P5R) is “deepening.” Why was this concept chosen?

Ito: When we went from Persona 4 (P4) to Persona 4 Golden (P4G), there was still room to expand the gameplay, so we were able to release a brilliant product by filling that in. However, since P5R was developed after P4G, the content density was already high from the start. So, we deepened each of those elements instead; for example, by making them more comfortable to play or by improving the links between them.

Wada: P5 was a game created by many developers working together as one. However, while it had a lot of content, it also had many issues that we reflected on afterwards. So, this time, we exchanged opinions with the staff several times with player feedback in mind. As a result, the new P5 was redesigned for optimization rather than simply adding new mechanics. We aimed to add new elements on top of that optimization and deliver a new game experience to the players.

Q: What was the reasoning behind naming it “Royal”?

Ito: P4 had TVs as a story element, so we named its expanded version “Golden” after “golden programs” that air on prime time. So, when we were coming up with titles for P5, which was going to become more extravagant with new mechanics, one staff member suggested “Royal”, which seemed fitting for P5.

Wada: We also wanted to make it a majestic, gorgeous title with a sense of aesthetic and pride. P4G was a remake from the PS2 to the PS Vita, so in addition to the new features, it also had the impact of being on a different platform. This time, the game is only on PS4, so we knew the game content by itself wouldn’t make as much of an impact as it did for P4G.

Q: How long did development take?

Ito: Including planning, I believe it was around three years. But out of that, I think around two years were spent in full-on development.

Q: Did you face any struggles?

Wada: I didn’t fully join until after the development of Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight and Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight. The team at the time was concerned that it might not have enough content, or that they might not be able to surpass P4G. From a customer point of view, there was plenty of new content—in fact, certain areas were overcrowded with new content. It was like being told “Eat whatever you want” when faced with a buffet of different dishes. We had to improve those dishes, taste test them all as a team, and rearrange them in an appropriate order.

Ito: P5 was already an incredibly dense game, so we struggled to select what to adjust and how, and decide which new elements would be satisfying. Even after deciding, we still had to actually play the game and fine-tune it based on trial and error. We ran into many problems as the game was coming together, and we spent a lot of time determining how the players would play the game and what guides we should provide to allow them to play freely. This went on until the end of development.

P5R’s story brings in new themes, building on the ones from P5

Q: What was the intention behind adding the new characters Kasumi Yoshizawa, Takuto Maruki, and Jose?

Ito: It wasn’t a simple matter of “more is better.” For the new characters, we wanted to improve on what P4G did and attract more players. Maruki is a counsellor who starts interacting with the main characters early on in the story. The Confidant abilities you gain through him are very powerful, so please keep an eye out for them.

Wada: The general idea of “adults vs youth” is established at the start of P5, but Maruki has the trust of the students, and he also establishes a partnership with the protagonist. He’s an adult that’s close to the youth from the beginning. Meanwhile, Kasumi is the focal point of the new story in P5R. Jose helps you out in Mementos, but beyond that is something very difficult for me to explain right now… Please play the game and take care of him. *laughs*

Q: What is the number written on Maruki’s arcana, The Councillor?

Ito: It’s the number 1, written with the Arabic numeral.

Q: The other arcana use Roman numerals, so there seems to be something meaningful here. There’s also Kasumi’s Faith card, which doesn’t have a number and unlike the other cards, has a black border. Her confidant rank also stops at 5. Just from the information that’s already been publicized, there’s already a lot to speculate from.

Wada: Sorry, it would be spoilers to continue from here, so… please play the game and see for yourself. *laughs*

Q: I understand *laughs* Next, please tell us about the intention behind changing Goro Akechi’s confidant rank-ups from automatic to optional.

Ito: Akechi is extremely popular, but due to forced story events being the only way to increase his rank, we couldn’t delve deep into his character. We wanted to make his events optional, so that players could go to various places with him and see various sides of him. Also, in P5R, Confidants with optional events will call you afterwards, and that’s another way to learn more about them and become fonder of them.

Wada: Akechi himself is an extremely popular character overall, but that doesn’t mean that every player had a good impression of him from his actions in the story. I think each individual player has their own opinion of him. In P5R it’ll still depend on the person, but you may find that your impression of him will change.

Q: In the currently publicized footage, we can see the silhouette of someone resembling him in his “black outfit” in the new palace…

Wada: We’d love for players to come up with theories about that *laughs*

Q: A scene shown from the third semester has piqued P5 veterans’ interest. Is there anything you can say about it right now?

Wada: We’re very glad to see that many players are speculating about that scene. Please play the game for yourself and see if your theory was right. I wish I could say more, but PR won’t let me…!

Q: Is it safe to assume that the story before the third semester has been “deepened” as well?

Ito: I think story interpretations will vary depending on the player, but P5R is coming after P5, so its new themes are built on top, and so the story based on those themes is mostly in the third semester.

Q: Since new game elements are being added with P5R, does that mean the expected play time will be longer too?

Ito: If you include all of the minor additions and challenges, then I think it’ll take longer than P5. But in general, we expect it to be the same as P5. Various optimizations have been made to reduce time spent in loading screens, battles, and preexisting palaces, to balance out the time spent with the new additions.

Q: I also get the impression that it’ll be easier to gain money and experience from battles. For example, the change to Ryuji’s “Insta-kill” Confidant skill.

Ito: Yes. “Fewer restrictions” was a key phrase during development, and values have been adjusted higher, including faster persona growth. The change to Insta-kill is an example of listening to player feedback and getting the staff’s opinions. Insta-kill now gives money and experience, and is activated voluntarily.

Q: Why did you choose Kichijoji for the new explorable area?

Ito: Kichijoji is a commercial shopping district with fashionable shops and narrow alleys lined with bar shopfronts. It has various types of places condensed in a small area, making it an ideal location for a game. We scouted it out and decided to use it.

Wada: If we’re going to add a new area to the game, then it has to be one with a lot of attractions, that players would go to many times. It was easy to turn Kichijoji into an area like that.

Q: With the new Confidants and the new area, there’ll be more daily choices to pick from. Compared to P5, will you be able to enjoy everything without worrying too much about the schedule?

Ito: We’ve made various adjustments, so the typical player will be fine without trying to min-max everything. Generally, I’d recommend not thinking too hard and just trying the new features with a “do whatever you want” playstyle. However, if you’re going to min-max personas, then you’ll have to plan your schedule carefully, just as you do now.

Q: What if you want to play the third semester as soon as possible? If you rush through the game, will you miss anything crucial?

Wada: As it was with P4G, if you prioritize the new characters and the major changes in P5R, you should be fine.

Q: What was the reasoning behind adding a new Challenge Battle, and what are its highlights?

Ito: P5R has an incredible amount of freedom in how you develop your personas, and that’s where players’ individual personalities show through. Challenge Battles are where you demonstrate the results of that work. We also wanted players to use the PS4’s Share function to make things more exciting with each other. It’s more fun to have a video that shows “I got this high score with this composition” rather than one that simply defeats a boss with powerful personas.

Q: Regarding the DLC fights where you can battle the P3 and P4 protagonists, are those end-game content?

Ito: Their strength follows the pattern, so it’s not content that only the hardcore can enjoy. The character models were also newly created, so we hope P3 and P4 fans will try it.

Q: What about the Thieves Den?

Ito: Unlike P4G, P5 didn’t have a feature to watch animated cutscenes or look at illustrations after completing the game, so we wanted to add that. However, we went through many twists and turns deciding on how to implement it.

Wada: The concept is a “customizable royal gallery just for yourself.” It was my idea, but I didn’t expect it to reach this level *laughs* It’s extravagant to a point you’ve never seen before.

Q: The Tycoon game in the Thieves Den has several new voiced lines recorded for it, and the highest difficulty provides quite a challenging match. It felt like quite a lot of effort was put into it.

Wada: I was happy to see so many reactions when we revealed it. The characters’ AI was actually developed using machine learning. The difficulty levels were also tuned so that there would be a clear difference… Come to think of it, why did we put so much effort into it? *laughs*

Ito: I think it was also to learn new programming techniques *laughs* We had the staff play it too to include their results in the deep learning, so there was indeed a lot of effort put in.

Q: It was interesting that you chose Tycoon instead of Poker or Blackjack.

Ito: The Phantom Thieves steal treasure, so the matching aesthetic was a major factor. As an aside, Tycoon is apparently mainly played in Japan. We had staff from overseas who’d never heard of it before.

Making P5R the series’ definitive work that can be recommended to new players and hardcore fans alike

Q: From what you’ve said so far, I can tell that P5R was developed with everyone in mind, whether they’re a hardcore fan or this will be their first Persona game. In that case, do you have any advice for newcomers to the Persona series?

Wada: If you’re not good at picking a single choice out of several options, I recommend using the Assist command. It’ll provide one option for increasing social stats and one for leveling up confidants.

Ito: Hardcore fans of the series will probably have their own goals beyond just clearing the game, such as maxing all confidants in the first playthrough. But for those who just want to get through the game without worrying too much, the Assist command will be useful. Also, this is said a lot, but I recommend using multiple save slots *laughs*

Q: Next, do you have anything to say for people who already played P5?

Ito: There are changes scattered throughout that you’d only notice if you played P5, so please enjoy those and wonder how they fit into the big picture that culminates in the third semester.

Wada: We’ve made the game more comfortable and pleasing to play, but after working on it so long, it’s hard for us to tell how it really is. When we got the players’ feedback from the demo event, many of them praised that aspect of the game, so we felt relieved that we’d accomplished that goal. There are many other new features in the game, so please enjoy them however you like. Personally, I’ll be overjoyed if you get really into building your own powerful personas and achieving high scores in the Challenge Battles.

Q: In your eyes, where does P5R’s charm lie?

Ito: P5R has a lot of new content, which is naturally the highlight. But additionally, we adjusted the game balance across the board, so I think it’ll provide a fresh experience for both first-timers as well as people who already played P5. You’ll get to know the characters deeper and unlock useful game benefits, enjoy a realistic life in Tokyo, engage in flashy battles that require strategy, explore palaces with fun puzzle-solving, and thoroughly enjoy the world of P5R through the Thieves Den. There’s so much that I can’t narrow it down *laughs* I think P5R’s charm lies in the fact that there are so many components that the player can enjoy in their own way.

Wada: This can be said for all of Atlus’ games, but we hope that the players will play the game and gain different perspectives that they bring into the real world with them. For example, ideas that will help them be more positive in today’s harsh society. That’s the mindset that we create games with.

Among our games, the Persona series is unique in that it takes place in modern society. Unlike fantasy or sci-fi works, we can include many modern mindsets and social issues that connect to what everyone is going through today. By doing that, the players can empathize more, and those “ideas they take with them” have a stronger impact.

P5R is a culmination of what we’ve built up in this series, and I consider it a milestone for us. The system has been greatly touched up, and P5R is the result of putting out everything we have to offer. I encourage everyone to play it, whether you’ve already played P5 or you’re new to the series.