Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers Developer Interview on Art Direction, Character Design

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Dengeki PlayStation magazine Vol. 685 (released on February 28, 2020) includes a 10-page feature on Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers. Part of this feature is a developer interview with the art team for the game from Atlus and Koei Tecmo Games’ Omega Force:

  • Mumon Usuda (Atlus director): The Persona Team director and chief designer who was also responsible for supervising the whole project.
  • Shigenori Soejima (Atlus character designer): Atlus character designer responsible for designing Sophia and Zenkichi in P5S.
  • Hanako Oribe (Atlus Artwork Team): Persona Team designer responsible for P5S illustrations such as the box art, promotional art, and full-body character portraits for use in production.
  • Toshiharu Suzuki (Koei Tecmo Games CG director): CG director responsible for 2D and 3D visuals for P5S at Koei Tecmo Games. Also served as a contact with Atlus.

This follows the developer interview in Dengeki PlayStation Vol. 684 in January with the games’ directors, which gave insight on certain creative decisions behind Persona 5 Scramble.

The Box Art

  • Oribe: When illustrating, the difference between P5 and P5S is that action is very important for P5S. Asking herself what defines action, she determined that combat is key so, talking with Soejima, she found that it would be no good if they weren’t fighting. Oribe took the concept of battle into the illustration and ended up with what it is, but she felt something was missing, so she decided to break the protagonist’s mask.
  • After the box art was finished, Oribe was told to update it to include Zenkichi Hasegawa alongside his public reveal as a Phantom Thief, which took her by surprise.

Sophia’s Character Design

  • Suzuki: The character concepts were prepared by Koei Tecmo.
  • Soejima: He illustrated the concept art guided by those plans by Koei Tecmo, but at first he was at a loss because, when he thinks of an AI girl, the first thing that comes to mind is a charater who wears electronic, techno-like costumes, which is a very common design.
  • Soejima: Preoccupied by what kind of design was the correct one, producer Kanada told him that even though it’s an AI girl, it’s more of an “OK Google” type of thing rather than an electronic being. She’s an AI represented in a modern way. When Soejima heard this, he wanted to create a design that would be appealing to humans and had a gentle touch.
  • Soejima: At that time, Soejima remembered the concept model of a “people-friendly car” whose body was covered in silicon, with a more “people-friendly” image which was closer to people than a more electronic design which has more distance between people. That’s why Sophia’s costume is represented by flexible silicon.

Zenkichi’s Character Design

  • Soejima: Zenkichi was a character handled carefully in a different way compared to Sophia. He’s a member of the police force and a person who keeps a certain distance from the protagonists, but despite this, he eventually befriends the protagonists. So he’s not an inflexible/stiff agent, but he still somewhat acts like an agent.
  • Soejima: He needed to find the proper balance between how kind and how professional Zenkichi looked. As a result, there were more exchanges between Soejima and director Usuda than with Sophia. In the end, he settled on the current design with a suit, long hair, and a beard. Soejima doesn’t think normal agents would grow their hair out like that since it would be inappropriate, but it’s a representation of his rebellious nature.
  • Usuda: The initial design proposal had him with black clothing and a close-to-balding hairstyle, which felt like the look of a public safety officer (laughs). There were several other design proposals, all of which had the property of “men also fall in love with.” It didn’t have the feeling of a “rebel.” They talked with Soejima about how to develop that feeling, and they were pleasantly surprised with the current design.

Wolf’s Phantom Thief Outfit

  • Oribe: “That’s a gunslinger (laughs).”
  • Soejima: The concept of Wolf is a gunslinger that appears in Western drama. Soejima wanted it to evoke the feeling of a lone wolf.
  • Soejima: Every Phantom Thief costume is made with the image of an outlaw. For Joker, it’s the mysterious person from the “Phantom of the Opera.” For Futaba, it’s a sci-fi spy from the movie “Mission Impossible.” Zenkichi is a member of the police, but he fights on his own. Thinking about what kind of outlaw he should be, he uses a gun as a police officer, and if you’re an outlaw who uses a gun, it has to be a gunslinger.

Zenkichi’s Persona “Valjean”

  • Soejima also designed Zenkichi Hasegawa’s persona, after Jean Valjean, the main character in the French epic novel “Les Misérables.” He steals bread because of poverty—for which he is imprisoned for a long time—and develops a hatred for society, but his perspective changes after meeing a bishop named Myriel.
  • Soejima: As it’s a French novel, Valjean was initially colored in red, blue, and white to represent the France flag (laughs). This felt forced, so Soejima settled on a design that maintained a sense of the time, like fighting for justice with guilt in your heart. Usuda says that Soejima decided on the design right away, so he didn’t interact with him much about it.
  • Soejima: Not only for Valjean, but when it comes to persona design directions, all he’s given are the names. Like, “I’d like you to make Valjean,” (laughs).
  • Soejima: Just like the protagonist’s Arsene in P5, Valjean basically represents the motif of the story, so when designing it, he first considers the personality of the source material’s individual and then the personality of the persona user. The idea is that the personality of the person who becomes the persona’s motif will be imparted onto the character, with the combination of the user and the persona decided by the staff. The concept of the design is to draw the parts that they want to push onto the user, matching the user’s personality and the person from the source material.

Designing the King Characters Governing Jails

  • Suzuki: The kings were designed by Koei Tecmo as well. The designs needed to fit within the world of P5, so they thought about how to represent a P5 character while drawing. When they checked with Atlus, they were struck with the keyword “a certain feeling.”
  • Usuda: Because Persona is a modern drama, they thought that characters who seemed like they would be from the real world would make the story more immersive. Atlus suggested several times to keep that certain feeling in mind from the beginning.
  • Soejima: Atlus couldn’t give the best direction because sometimes they themselves will create the kind of character that wouldn’t exist in reality (laughs). Their definition was broad and vague, and it’s understood within Atlus. He says that this collaboration was meaningful, as the things they do unconsciously with the implicit knowledge that others would know what they mean isn’t done much outside of the company. He also learned how Koei Tecmo Games make their games, and says that the King designs are not limited to P5 fans, and is grateful for their appeal.
  • Suzuki: Overseeing the King designs, it was impressive that the designers were paying attention to the differences between the normal and shadow versions. For example, Alice in the Shibuya Jail usually has a flashy appearance both for her normal and shadow versions, but one emphasizes pop and the other emphasizes sexiness. The normal versions were designed to appear more normal, widening the gap between the shadows, and creating an atmosphere that is more realistic. The appearance of Mariko Hyodo’s shadow in the Sapporo Jail is also to emphasize this gap.
  • Usuda: The motif behind the shadows’ appearances is the seven deadly sins of Christinaity. For Mariko, she is a character who moves forward even if she has to eat someone else in order to achieve her goals, so her shadow was designed as a huge figure with the concept of having eaten too much.

Designing the Jails

  • Suzuki: After setting up the King’s story and look, an image board would be made reflecting each distortion for the Jail, and it would gradually be completed.
  • Usuda: The characteristics of each Jail were decided with the guideline of being more fun if their atmosphere was different, and the prevailing motif was the seven deadly sins. In Shibuya, the pop which makes up Alice’s personality is used and mixed with the essence of “lust.”
  • Usuda: Sendai is represented by the world of the “Prince of Nightmare” novel written by the King, Natsume. As a result, banners such as “Recipient of XX Award” on buildings are shown, as a sign of Natsume’s “vanity.”
  • Suzuki: Western-style castles are found around the Sendai Jail, however if you look closely, the exterior of the buildings can be seen to be made out of papier mache, highlighting Natsume’s ostentatiousness.
  • Suzuki: The primary colors for the Jails are quite dark up to Sendai, but Sapporo was consciously designed to be a change, with a snowy world of silver.
  • Usuda: The mechanic of snowboarding for the Sapporo Jail was thought about from the beginning, while the mechanic of pushing ice blocks into place was made after the stage was completed, with the creators saying that they’d want to play that kind of thing.

Adapting the Graphics to a New Engine

  • Suzuki: From the outset, it felt that adding a lot of Koei Tecmo Games twists to graphical elements would give a different impression than what a narrative continuation to P5 should be, so they took care to match the style of P5.
  • Usuda: At the beginning of development, the producer Kanada wanted players to play as if it was normal P5, and then suddently appear at the scramble crossing where the Phantom Thieves fight in the new action context. With this in mind, Usuda checked over every detail so that it would not feel out of place.
  • Usuda: An example for elements to transfer from P5 to P5S was the feeling of “atmosphere.” In P5, things like wind chill and dust are emphasized, along with lighting. At first, Suzuki said that it would be difficult to express this in P5S. Usuda insisted on doing it, and work continued on making the game look more like P5.
  • Suzuki: For Leblanc and Yongen-Jaya, Koei Tecmo received assets from Atlus and rebuilt them in their own game engine. At that time, he was told about the feeling of atmosphere, and he didn’t like it because he thought it wouldn’t go well.
  • Suzuki: At first, depicting the city crowds didn’t go well, and Koei Tecmo had to receive a lot of advice before finally settling on how the final area looks. They didn’t want the players to think “Yongen-Jaya seems different now,” so they prioritized discussion around that.

The Action Segment

  • Usuda: The battle part is where Koei Tecmo Games showed off their true strengths. He thinks that none of it could have been created with Atlus.
  • Suzuki: They were careful in making the Phantom Thieves’ actions animate sharply and intelligently. P5 was made that way originally, so they tried to conserve that part of it. They were also particular about the motion blur when moving around.

The User Interface

  • Suzuki: When replicating the UI and the characters to be stylish, it was really difficult. On one hand, it couldn’t be too similar to P5, but it was also complicated to have it conform to the Persona series at the same time. Under these circumstances, they would often show Atlus something they managed to come up with, only to be asked to do it over again.
  • Usuda: It was a long period of conversational exchange, and he apologizes for it. For the UI of P5, character movement halts in order to make it attractive with key poses, but he thought that doing the same thing wouldn’t be fresh. P5S is an action game, so he thought that the UI should also represent “action.” There were many twists and turns, but eventually Koei Tecmo suggested that they use a “charming scenario” approach. It took a considerable amount of time to develop even after the direction was settled on, but they managed to bring it to its current form.
  • Suzuki: In P5S, members of the Phantom Thieves other than the main character can be controlled, so they also wanted all of the members of the Phantom Thieves involved in the UI. As the number of characters increased, the work became harder, but they think that the completed menu UI gives a sense of solidarity with the companions that is unique to this game.
  • Usuda: Atlus staff, including himself, visited Koei Tecmo and talked directly to the UI staff. He apologizes for the trouble, but he is grateful for the good work they did on it.

Outfit Design

  • Suzuki: There was not much trouble when it came to working on the Phantom Thief designs for an action game after they were originally designed for an RPG. Their Phantom Thief outfit designs are excellent for an action game, and there were few issues. The one difficulty might have been their summer clothes, which were designed by Koei Tecmo. They got stuck thinking about things like if Futaba’s coat should be larger or not.
  • Soejima: Wolf’s collar was a bit of an issue. When Soejima designed it, the collar was too wide to draw his face with a bust up. When he first designed it, he thought it was a good result, but it later caused trouble for others.
  • Oribe: She was relatively used to drawing characters’ bust-ups, so when she heard that Koei Tecmo was having a hard time, she finished it from there.
  • Suzuki: Including Wolf’s bust-up, Atlus did a considerable amount of brushing up and finalizing work, which was really helpful.

Facial Expressions in Design

  • Oribe: Atlus is particular about many points when designing their characters, which she is wary about at all times when creating.
  • Soejima: It’s often said it’s difficult to transition a picture into animation because all of the scenes are being done with a single model being chosen, but if you do that the expressions and emotions that weren’t selected will be lost, and it won’t work out.
  • Usuda: He hears that the model can change for every scene, which is why Joker can sometimes look so sexy (laughs).
  • Suzuki: Since it’s an action game this time, there are many scenes where the characters are seen up close, so he worked on the facial models so that they could be seen properly in the Koei Tecmo engine.
  • Usuda: The graphics processing technology used is not available at Atlus, so he was very impressed when he saw the sample video for the first time. There are many times where the impression of a 3D model will change depending on the angle and perspective of the model, but with this technology, it was shocking to see how that impression didn’t break down from any angle.

Benefits of Collaboration

  • Soejima: It has always been a longing for him to see Persona characters in an action setting, and he has finally seen it through.
  • Oribe: Atlus alone couldn’t have made the game on their own, and she feels the same way as Soejima.
  • Suzuki: He was able to learn from the collaboration to his heart’s content, especially when it came to character design and UI. He has gained knowledge that he never thought of before. He found it impressive that Usuda and the others would frequently interact with Koei Tecmo in an effort to improve things as much as they could.
  • Usuda: He was surprised at how different the studio culture was at Koei Tecmo Games. For the game development Usuda is involved in, he usually works solidly on the beginning parts of the game, and then builds onto it with other parts. However, in the case of Koei Tecmo Games, they’re a culture that makes everything all at once, which was different. Because of that, Usuda felt uneasy and he couldn’t picture the finished product until a long while later, but at a certain stage, everything was finished all at once, which was a surprise.

Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers was released for the PS4 and Nintendo Switch on February 20, 2020 in Japan. It will be released on June 18, 2020 in Asia and South Korea.