Katsura Hashino and Shigenori Soejima Interview
Persona Magazine: So you finally brought out the first big, proper trailer for Persona 5 recently at the Persona Super Live 2015 concert. How’s the reception to it been?
Hashino: It’s been a massive outpouring and we’re really happy to see people are into it as much as they are. It’s a huge relief to all of us on the team to have things turn out that way. Still, it’s also indicative that the anticipation is running really high among people who have enjoyed our work up until now, so it’s not without some pressure coming our way, too.
Soejima: I’d say that we managed to show off quite a bit of good stuff in that footage, too.
Hashino: For sure. The main reason we went for that is to reassure people that production on this thing is still going forward, that it’s doing just fine. I mean we went a long time without showing much of the game after we initially announced it, so it’s only fair. And we also just wanted people to see how excited we are to be working on it by showing off all of these different parts of it.
You’ve definitely made it abundantly clear that the art style is going for a poppy aesthetic with the color red sitting at its foundation. What are your impressions of people’s opinion on that direction?
Soejima: We’ve gotten a lot of kind people saying that the game’s even more stylish than what we’ve done before. That was kind of unintentional on our end, though; we weren’t trying to go out of our way to make people explicitly feel our game is stylish so much as just show that aesthetically, it’s picking up where Persona 4 left off, in a sense. A lot of time has passed since that game originally came out and the hurdles we’ve had to clear have only gotten higher since then, so this style is ultimately a reflection of those efforts on our end.
Hashino: I’d say the same is true with our character modelling, too. With Catherine, we made characters that were more realistically proportioned, but applying that philosophy back into Persona doesn’t necessarily work; it just gives off an altogether different vibe going that route. So there was some reshaping on that end that we had to do to make it work the way we wanted. Even the UI design got a similar treatment, too. It took a lot of trial-and-error to get right, but we’ve ended up with a style that we feel works well within the confines of the Persona series. The “gaya gaya” [Japanese onomatopoeia] you see during that trailer is also an extension of that.
The game’s themes have been described to be “picaresque” in nature. Could you elaborate on that a little more?
Hashino: If there’s one thing that lies at the center of our themes in the game, it’s the notion people have that there are things that they want to do with their lives but can’t actually realize for one reason or another. They’ve got something circumstantial holding them back or maybe it’s even just the rational half of their brain. Something along those lines. I feel as though people like that often tend to take well to thief and heist stories because they get a certain thrill from them that resonates with them in ways they can’t necessarily get out of other stuff. One of the goals in making Persona 5, then, is to give those people an outlet to explore those thrills and experience that sense of freedom that the protagonists themselves have within the context of a game. Although that being said, I won’t deny that a lot of us were also just way into stories about good-natured thieves like Lupin III growing up, too. (Laughs.)
Soejima: To that end, it’s why you see the protagonist smiling wryly and whatnot in that main promotional image we’ve put out, to emphasize that tonal undercurrent running through our game.
Hashino: We wanted people to look at that imagery and get the impression he runs with an intriguing crowd, one with enough gall to potentially pull off some daringly intriguing stuff. He’s a trickster at heart; he and his crew stir things up and along they way, maybe they bring a little change to the world around them, too. It’s not the most stable of lives a person can have, but it’s also a life of limitless possibility. The world really is his oyster. If people get that impression from looking at him, then we can rest easy knowing we’ve done our job.
Soejima: In the trailer we showed at the concert, there are a handful of other friendly characters you can see as well and they’re all also very much so people who aren’t afraid to express themselves on their own terms. How well they can actually lead such a life, that’s a question that has deep ties to both the picaresque and thieving aspects of the games.
Hashino: You even get hints of that freedom they have here and there just seeing the opening cinematic. That’s why you see them hurtling around the screen so much, for instance.
The masks that you also see in that footage during the plundering segments also seem to have close ties to all of those themes you’ve mentioned, too.
Soejima: Definitely. Of course, the word “persona” inherently has the connotation of things being masked. In a broad sense, it’s true in how the cast leads a double-life. They go to school during the day and then at night, they’re out on the prowl to steal. But it’s also true that the plotline more overtly plays up the mask motif in a very literal sense compared to the previous games, so I wanted to ensure that such visual elements of the game were similarly straightforward, too.
I take it the urban setting also plays into the picaresque aspects of the game, too?
Hashino: Oh yeah, without a doubt. In big cities all throughout Japan, every day, people get on their trains, pack in tight, and the masses all flow this way and that during their ride as they make their way over to school or work. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about that sort of mass ritual on the face of things, but these characters who are in the center of all that as well are still different; they’re out doing stuff that nobody else can hope to imitate. That dichotomy between what’s ostensibly real and surreal, what’s divergent from reality as what people often know it, that’s something that belongs right at home in a Persona game, I’d argue. Really, I’d say it’s true for a lot of the games we make at Atlus and that continues to be how we’re approaching this game from as we make it.
Lastly, do you have anything you’d like to share with people who are anxiously awaiting the release of Persona 5?
Soejima: We still have a lot left to show, so hopefully people keep an eye on us and wait to see what’s coming up. Chief among those, in fact, are more allied characters that we have yet to show, but I’d say that we won’t be running out of new stuff to reveal anytime soon. So stay hyped and sit tight until we finally get this game out in your hands!
Hashino: We’ve been very fortunate to have created a series of games where people feel so attached to each of the protagonists, so we hope that with Persona 5, we’ll be able to make a game where the events of it really hit home and make for really impactful experiences. There are people in this industry who feel that feel traditional console and handheld games are losing their edge and I think it goes without saying that the very definition of games and the potential that they hold has started to really broaden. But we’re still of the opinion that there are some things that can only be experienced on a console, especially when it comes to RPGs. We’ve heard from people that games like Persona are the reason they’ve started playing RPGs again and we’re working really hard to make this new one another such game that can reach out to people and grab them. I know it’s been a long wait, but I hope you’ll give us just a little more time. Hopefully once it’s out, it’ll all be worth it in the end.