5th March 2009
The Road to Persona 4
play: What is your earliest memory of the Megami Tensei series?
Katsura Hashino: The first title I worked on after I joined Atlus was "Shin Megami Tensei: if..." where I was put in charge of the Guardian system. Now that I think about it, that Guardian system became the basis of the Persona series, so I've been involved with the series since then. Wow, that's a long time.
Tell us a little bit about the Persona brand positioning within the MegaTen universe. It was originally conceived as a light and easy game to introduce players to both the MegaTen series and RPGs themselves. What has changed from that original concept, and what has stayed the same?
When "Shin Megami Tensei: if..." came out, its school setting was well received. So we decided to start a new series that dealt with the inner struggles of young adults, which became Revelations: Persona. Since we actively try to incorporate the latest trends into the Persona series, each title has a distinct feel. However, they all share the fundamental focus of "the human soul."
Can you tell us when Persona 4 development began? Was the decision to develop on PS2 made before or after Persona 3 was released and became so successful?
There were ideas thrown around earlier, but we didn't assemble the team and begin development until after Persona 3's release.
Did you learn any lessons on P3 that made P4 development easier?
Yes. First and foremost, the players' comments and feedback on Persona 3 and FES that we collected was of great help. And the knowledge we gained from the development of Persona 3 allowed us to spend more time in raising the quality of Persona 4. Persona 3 was also the first title in which I was heavily involved with writing the scenario, so that experience helped me a lot when I worked on Persona 4's scenario.
In moving from P3 to P4, what elements did you most want to focus on as far as expanding or improving upon what existed in P3? Did these aspects come from things you wanted to do during the development of P3 but weren't able to, or were these things that you decided you wanted in P4 after you had the chance to look at P3 as a finished product?
We wanted to improve Persona 3's system�speeding up the story progression, and enhancing the gameplay. In addition, we wanted to make sure Persona 4 wasn't seen as a retread of Persona 3. To accomplish that, we tried to give the players of Persona 4 a definite goal and a sense of purpose that would keep motivating them as they played through the game. The murder mystery plot was our way of doing that.
When designing a heavily character-driven game like Persona, which comes first: Characters or story?
The game's theme and scenario come first. No matter what kind of game it is, you can't make it in any other fashion.
P3 took place in a large city, P4 in a small town. How did the new setting influence game design, characters, and story?
I think the setting influenced all aspects of the game deeply. We also chose this setting to have a positive effect on the game's visuals. A group of youths grow as they try to solve an incident that occurs in a small, rural town�that's the basis or the framework, and from there we added Persona 4's theme of "how individuals process information," and built the rest of the game.
In regards to setting, Persona 4 differs from many other RPGs, where you have a huge world to explore and a wide array of towns instead of one. And yet, since we spent more time in Persona 4's town, we come to know it much better and have more attachment to it. How do you feel the difference in scope with Persona 4 helped the game, and were there any ways in which it limited the overall vision?
Since the location was the same throughout the game, the cost of creating the environment was lower than the standard in RPG development, allowing us to expand other portions of the game. And staying in the same location is the perfect way to allow the players to sympathize with the daily life that passes in the game. I'm sure many of these players live their lives peacefully, without any drastic changes happening to them. Having said that, if the environment remained the same, you would need plans and goals, or else the days would become dull quickly. Therefore, we decided that there were a minimum number of events and story progressions we had to exceed to keep the game exciting, and that's where the development cost reached staggering proportions.
What inspired the mystery/detective novel theme?
There were certain things that provided inspiration, but if I told you what they were, that would be a big spoiler. So I should keep my mouth shut. (laughs)