The recently released issue of Weekly Famitsu magazine #1473 on February 23, 2017 includes a feature exploring the creative decisions behind the designs of main characters in certain Japanese video games, interviewing the creators.
Shigenori Soejima, the character designer behind the Persona series, is one of those who was interviewed, and he discusses the main characters of the Persona series and Catherine.
The Importance of Background Information
- Through his experience designing various protagonists such as teenagers for the Persona series and adults in Catherine, Soejima emphasizes the background information of his characters first.
- In a game with an involved story like an RPG, he thinks of the aspects of growth that play a principal role to the characters. Their circumstances and the events prior to the beginning of the story form the profile of the character, and their design is derived from that. Soejima designs with the awareness of what the character’s personality is, so that this is conveyed to the player and they can understand who they are when he/she becomes the hero as they start playing the game.
Vincent from “Catherine”
- Vincent from Catherine was a character full of problems, being a 30-year-old adult who cheats on his significant other of five years with a magical, beautiful woman, forced to make the decision of his life while considering that he could become a father. To make it enjoyable, it was best to draw him as a comical character who could be laughed at because of his absurdity.
- In order to match the direction with other staff members including the director, they often negotiate design illustrations based on the character’s profile. An example is that the motion of Vincent running originally evoked strength, but they felt it was too serious and it made Soejima feel uncomfortable with it. So, in the end, it was changed to show off big back and forth movements with his limbs, giving the sense that he was trying to escape the tower with all he had.
The “Persona” Series
- Unlike the type of game where the main character has their own unique personality, the Persona series features titles with the concept of the “hero = player.” At the beginning of the story in Catherine, the main character has an ongoing problem that players can look at objectively but, in the case of the Persona series, Soejima designs a hero where what awaits in their future is initially more important.
- For Persona, the design of the hero is more like a taste of the entire title rather than as a single character, so it’s closer to the feeling of thinking about the design of the game. So he is happy when he hears people who enjoy the designs of the Persona hero, as it is proof that they enjoy the title itself.
The “Persona 5” Hero
- Recently, a hero who was difficult to design was Persona 5‘s. The impetus for the story is a voluntary act from the hero. Since the hero is meant to be an alter ego of the player’s, Soejima had to consider what kind of circumstances and atmosphere there would be that would evoke the feeling of “becoming a thief” without the audience feeling a sense of disagreement with it.
- Because the existence of “Phantom Thieves” is stereotypical in fiction, in a sense, Soejima originally tried to draw the hero with a light mood like in Shōnen manga. But he felt like it would not mesh well with the image of a realistic looking group of youths that is standard in the Persona series.
- Depending on whether the Phantom Thief starts off being badmouthed, or has gone through unavoidable circumstances, or has a sense of justice fundamental to his behaviour, the design of the main character and the design of the entire game will change. So Soejima created various designs in a “trial and error” approach, to fit these different concepts.
- Because the protagonists in the Persona series do not speak, the Persona 3 character was designed to be the introverted type, the Persona 4 character to be the type who talks with his expressions, and so on. For Persona 5, Soejima imagined the type who plans things but does not talk about them. Soejima thinks of a new type of reticent hero character every time.
Notable Works to Soejima
- For main characters that stand out outside of games for Soejima, the first thing he thinks of is “Gantz,” (a manga by Hiroya Oku). The sense of whether the main character will or won’t help others is felt, with real, grounded problems where the character behaves like a normal human being, although skillful. Another work that stands out is “Ushijima the Loan Shark” by Shohei Manabe, with a unique hero who is surrounded with useless human beings who feel realistic. Soejima enjoys the realistic, but deformed depictions of people in entertainment work, and he extracts elements he would like to express from them.
RPGs and Main Characters
- To Soejima, what makes a main character unique differs based on genre, such as an action game or a fighting game but, for an RPG, the main character is “incomplete.” He means that there is a part of them where the player themselves fill in the blanks. In the case of manga , anime, etc., the lines are clearly defined for the hero’s circumstances and reasons behind their actions. In games, on the other hand, the main character is manipulated by the player, and sympathizing with them can’t be forced. So the status of the hero is left incomplete, so the player can interpret and enjoy it as they like. Soejima would like to keep making those kinds of games.
Persona 5 was released for the PS3 and PS4 in Japan on September 15, 2016. It will release in North America and Europe on April 4th, 2017, in Traditional Chinese on March 23, 2017, and in Korean in 2017.