Update (2023-03-27): Added an additional question shared by the Sega SEA Facebook page.
Following the remastered releases of Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal for modern platforms, Sega Asia have conducted an interview with Persona series creative director and producer Kazuhisa Wada.
The interview covers a range of topics, including the development of the ports, the development of the original games, and also touches on future plans for the series.
Q: With some time having passed since the release of the remasters, I’d like to ask you some questions about their development process, and what it was like when creating the original games. To start things off, why did the company decide to create remasters of the games?
Wada: Our biggest reason for releasing the remasters was that we wanted to bring the Persona series to gamers all over the world. Our goal is to establish Persona even more as a franchise, so creating the remasters was one of our projects to accomplish that.
In particular, there weren’t many ways to play P3P until the beginning of this year. We wanted to make it available on current-gen platforms and PC through the remaster. P4G and P5R were also remastered with that same mindset.
Q: With how different the hardware is for each platform, I imagine that porting P5R to the Nintendo Switch was quite a difficult process.
Wada: Yes, SEGA really saved us there. [laughs] Thanks to their help on the technical side and in other ways, we were able to fully optimize P5R for all platforms. [As previously reported, Sega assumed the lead on the development of Persona 5 Royal‘s ports.]
Q: What else was difficult about preparing for a multi-platform release?
Wada: Unlike consoles, Steam is used on an endless variety of hardware and specs, so taking care of the framerate was our first task. Also, a surprisingly large portion of users prefer to play RPGs with a mouse and implementing mouse and keyboard support with the UI was quite difficult.
Another challenging aspect was managing version control for multiple platforms all at the same time.
Quality of Life Improvements in P3P
Q: When I replayed P3P on Steam, I noticed that the load times that bugged me on the PSP were basically gone, and it felt like the game itself had a much better tempo.
Wada: Yes, we didn’t just port the game as-is. A lot of optimizations were made in order to ensure a smooth and comfortable performance.
Q: One notable change was the addition of a quick saving function. Also, if your party is wiped out in Tartarus when playing on Normal difficulty, you can try again from the beginning of that floor.
Wada: Yes. We had a lot of opinions like, “Since we’re modernizing the game, how about adding do-overs [to Tartarus]?” amongst the dev team. The quick save function allows players to stop and restart the game in a casual way.
Q: Any memorable feedback after the release?
Wada: For P3P, one player was recommending the game and said something along the lines of, “Everybody on the planet should play this!” I felt really grateful when I read that comment.
Q: Something that stood out to me, personally–and I don’t know if this is part of releasing a game in the social media era–was seeing so many people reading into the English lyrics in the opening song.
Wada: Yeah, that was really surprising. I received a proposal for the song during development for the original game, so I understood its meaning. But to think that people would investigate the lyrics so deeply. [laughs] I’m glad that the team in charge of that took their time to really connect the song to the game.
Q: Speaking about P3P, I’d imagine that having two protagonists heavily increased the amount of work involved. I wouldn’t say that it doubled the amount of work, but it’d have to be a pretty significant amount, surely?
Wada: Yes, absolutely. I think P5R still has the longest individual storyline, but accommodating for two protagonists was quite the undertaking. I wouldn’t say it was two games’ worth of work, but 1.5x sounds about right.
Q: One would think that the Chariot and Hermit Social Links could have been represented by the same characters regardless of which protagonist you choose, but the characters change depending on who you pick. Why did the team go that far to make those choices?
Wada: I think the director at the time was adamant about changing the Social Links if a female protagonist was going to be added to the game. But I think this element is part of why a lot of people are particularly fond of P3P.
Q: If you play as both protagonists in P3P, it might be even longer than P5R in terms of playtime. 100 hours played twice, so 200 hours. [laughs]
Wada: That’s right. Though it’s an older title, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the playtime is shorter. You can play the game in the same fashion as P5R or P4G. However, maxing out the Social Links on one playthrough is really difficult.
The Popularity of the Persona Series
Q: Earlier, you mentioned a fan that said something like, “Everybody on the planet should play this!” What do you think it is about the Persona series that attracts fans in such a way?
Wada: Unlike the fantasy genre, most people have experienced the student lifestyle and adolescence, so I think that’s why they can relate strongly to Persona titles. Also, reaching the conclusion after such a long journey with your allies, and the freedom to progress in different ways… I think these elements make our games memorable.
Q: I feel like a lot of RPGs nowadays make the main stories short and focus on fleshing out the sub quests. However, the Persona series is not like that. Players won’t understand until they finish their year at school. [laughs]
Wada: Yes, but we don’t want to forcibly make this game as long as possible. [laughs]. In Persona, the important thing is living each day to the fullest.
Q: One of the strengths of the Persona series is its cast of unique and interesting characters. Do you have any favorites?
Wada: I have a ton, but if I had to pick… I really like Kanji Tatsumi and Teddie from P4. Also, I was involved in the development of Persona 4 Arena (P4A), and I became a fan of Labrys, Aigis’ little sister.
Q: There is more and more room for interpretation of the characters thanks to the spinoffs, wouldn’t you agree?
Wada: There were a lot of Persona fans at Arc System Works, the developer of P4A, so they brought tons of ideas to the table and were able to create some really cool action combat that wasn’t in the original game. Also, the story mode provided opportunities to dive deeper into the characters, and I think we were able to portray them in a larger variety of ways because of that.
Future of the Persona Franchise
Q: I’m sure there are a lot of things that you can’t divulge yet, but how will the Persona series continue to grow in the future?
Wada: We are working on various ways to bring the Persona series to a wider audience. I can’t say any specifics at this time, but please look forward to it.
Q: Are there any game genres you want to experiment with while using the world and characters of Persona?
Wada: We’ve already done the genres that I wanted to, like fighting games and rhythm games. We also tried out the action genre with Persona 5 Strikers. The action genre is quite popular worldwide, we’d like to try making another game in that genre later on.
Closing Comments for Asia Fans
Q: Thank you very much for this interview. To end things, would you like to say anything to the Persona fans in Asia?
Wada: In Asia, Persona 5 is really popular among teenagers and people in their twenties. We hope the next generation enjoys our games too, so please recommend the Persona series to them.
We believe that the popularity of the Persona series was bolstered by die-hard JRPG fans who spread their love for our games through word-of-mouth. The anime and action game spinoffs like P5S also drew in a broader audience of gamers.
Additionally, with the release of the Persona 5 Royal remaster, we held our first P5R Character Popularity Poll in Asia.
The protagonist was very popular as expected, but what I found interesting was the huge amount of support shown for the female characters, Makoto Niijima and Kasumi Yoshizawa in particular.
I could feel how passionate our fans were when I read their comments, and seeing their love for the games made me very happy as a developer.
I’ve been thrilled and extremely grateful to witness our growing number of fans in Asia.
I hope to keep making interesting projects and games that our fans can be excited about.
Q: For Persona 3, why did the team decide to have a dog, Koromaru, be a Persona user?
Wada: When we were developing Persona 3, we wanted to shake things up from the beginning of production. So before the story was even finalized, we were already brainstorming about fun stuff to implement in the game, and one of the ideas we settled on was adding animals and robots to the cast. Even the human party members are pretty interesting. There’s even an elementary school student in the group, Ken Amada, and they have the biggest variety of hair colors in the series.
With Persona 3, we wanted to completely change the image of ATLUS, so we had an active mentality of “Let’s make a game that will sell!” during development.
Recently, the mobile game Persona 5: The Phantom X was revealed for an upcoming release in China, which is in line with Wada’s promise at the beginning of the year to bring more Persona series content to Asian markets in 2023. P5X has not been announced for release in Japan or Western markets as of yet.
Persona 5 Royal was released worldwide for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC and Steam on October 21, 2022. Persona 3 Portable and Persona 4 Golden were released for Game Pass, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch Windows PC and Steam (for P3P) on January 19, 2023.