A Roundtable Persona 4 Interview With Atlus USA

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At last Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 is shipping to stores tomorrow. The wait may have felt like forever, but only five months passed since Persona 4 launched in Japan. This is quite an accomplishment considering Persona 4 has around one and a half times more text than Persona 3 which Atlus USA had over a year to work on. Despite the tight production schedule we were able to squeeze out an interview with the localization team to discuss topics like Teddie’s puns, the tough trivia questions, and the possibility of seeing digital releases of the PSOne Persona games.


How long have you been working on Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4?


Nich Maragos, Editor: Yu was probably involved longest of anyone, since he had a lot of preproduction work to do. I came on to the project in early June ’08.


Scott Strichart, Editor: I came on about the same time Nich did, tasked with editing some of the Social Links, lectures, and NPC dialog.


Yu Namba, Project Lead: About eight months for me.


Mike Meeker, Editor: I was added a little after Scott, as I had a different game to finish up at the time. I dealt mostly with NPC dialogue, Social Links, and system messages, along with lots of the little random events like the restaurant and things to do at home.


Clayton S. Chan, Editor: I was added after Mike. I describe my role on Persona 4 as “coming off the bench in garbage time”. I did the Social Links, NPC dialogue and system messages that Scott and Mike couldn’t get to in a timely fashion.


James Kuroki, Translator: I jumped on early in the year, so I’d say 7 months.  For its mammoth size, P4’s schedule was very compact, but I made each day count… at the cost of some sleep.


Persona 4 feels more story driven than Persona 3. How much text was there to localize?


Nich: It has the most text I personally have ever seen in a game. All the story-driven things you’re thinking of are only the tip of the iceberg; there’s also all the NPC dialogue which all changes regularly, all the Social Link dialogue including tons of one-off events and random happenstance, all the in-dungeon dialogue (each party member has 10 or 11 different things to say in each different dungeon as you go through the game)… it went on and on. There were four translators and four editors, and we were all kept busy right up to the deadline with the immense volume of text.


Yu: Both the text and the voice were roughly 1.5 times that of Persona 3.


Mike: Several of the Social Links branch off whether or not you decide to pursue a romantic relationship or a platonic friendship. From that point on in the Social Link, there’s twice as much text to do, since you have to write each event from both perspectives. For some of them, there’s not much to double, but a couple of them involve a lot more text than you would expect because of this, and more than you would ever see in a single playthrough because of the different decisions you make.


James: A whole freakin’ lot.




Tells us about the theme of Persona 4. Do you think it is darker than its predecessor?


Aram Jabbari, PR Manager: I think the contrast in terms of aesthetic versus the actual darkness of the story is a perfect parallel to the dichotomy of the gameplay, of developing relationships during the day and fighting to uncover the murder mystery at night.  The game is colorful, more so than Persona 3, and yet it seems to counter that brighter motif with a more emotional, impactful story. 


Clayton: They’re both on optical media. I think they reflect light equally well. Honestly, though, I don’t really think the “darkness” of the game is really a concern. A darker atmosphere doesn’t automatically make a game better, and a less dark game doesn’t mean it’s a “kiddie” game, either. It’s a very enjoyable game, and to me that’s more important that anything else.


James: I can’t tell you if it’s darker or lighter, but I think P4 is a lot warmer.  I felt closer to the P4 characters than the P3 ones. They had a lot more interaction with each other, making them feel more like “friends”.


I like how you can build Social Links with all of the main characters in Persona 4. You get to know them better and they get stronger as the Social Link rank increases. What kind of abilities can Chie and company get? 


Yu: As their Social Links progress, their relationships with the protagonist and the rest of the party deepen.  They will perform follow-up attacks, help a fallen party member get back on their feet, take a blow for the protagonist that would otherwise render him unconscious, etc.  You will be rewarded for maxing out their Social Links, but I think the players should find that out themselves.




This time the culture club and sports team choices have different stories to follow can you tell us a bit about them?


Scott: Depending on which club or team you decide to join, you’ll meet a completely different character to develop a Social Link with. With the sports teams, you’ll meet Kou if you join basketball or Daisuke if you join soccer, but the two of them are already best friends. They really give you the feeling that you’re stepping into a place where the characters are living their lives; they’re not just waiting on a bench for you to come up and initiate a conversation. It’s rewarding to find yourself growing tighter with them as they accept you further into their little circle each time you progress the Social Link.


James: Unlike the sports team characters, the culture club characters are completely separate.  Both of them, like all the characters in the game, have a little crisis of their own.  The players should find out for themselves, but it always pains me to know you can never do both clubs at once.


Did you ever feel like players are steered towards empathetic choices in Persona 4? You’re rewarded with Social Link boosts and understanding points. There isn’t a reward system in place if you’re a jerk all the time.


Nich: I suppose not, but there’s a reason it’s not called the Antisocial Link system.


Clayton: Who would be there to give you the rewards if you were being a jerk to everyone?


Scott: Keep in mind that sometimes the most empathetic answer isn’t always the one the character wants to hear, either. You have to consider who you’re talking to and decide if maybe in this case, being a jerk is just what you need to do.


Mike: Define “if you’re a jerk.” Sometimes being a good friend isn’t about telling people what they want to hear… and sometimes being a good friend is knowing when to soften what would otherwise be a hard emotional blow. People are complex, and what you’d think is outwardly the best way to approach a situation isn’t necessarily what gets you well-liked by other people. 


There are five stats to build in Persona, two more than Persona 3. Can you give us some tips on how to maximize time?


Yu: In Persona 4, many activities give you bonus stat points.  For example, spending an afternoon at the Drama Club raises your Expression as you interact with the other club members.  Working part-time at a hospital, cleaning the rooms and the hallway alone in the middle of the night, raises your Courage.  There are certain activities that award you points for multiple stats, too.


James: Maximize time?  That’s something I want to know.




Some of the trivia questions in Persona 4 are hard! I remember one of them asked what time are houses most likely to be robbed in Japan. Did you have to rewrite or make any new ones for the English version?


Scott: In general, the questions being posed in Persona 4 are more general trivia, but that doesn’t mean “common knowledge,” either. That being said, there were only a few places where things had to be rewritten. In some cases, there would be questions about what an English phrase meant, something far too obvious to an English speaker. In those cases, I worked the questions around so they would focus more on the etymology of the phrase. But that robbing houses question? Still in there. Study up!


Clayton: I had to rewrite a couple of the trivia questions for the funky riddle master. If those are trivia questions you’re having a hard time figuring out, all I have to say is, “MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”


He was especially tough because in Japanese he didn’t always state why the correct answer was correct, so if the translator responsible for that file didn’t know the answer to the question, I’d basically be on my own. If it was something that ended up revolving around something extremely foreign, like strokes in kanji, then I just made up a new question and ran it through Yu. I’d tell you which ones I wrote, but that would kill a little bit of the experience.




Teddie has a lot of puns, specifically “bear” puns. Was he a fun character to write lines for?


Yu: For me, it was really difficult.  I only made a couple of those lines, but they took me a decent amount of time…


Nich: They were hard for all of us. The best of them were collaborative, where one person would come up with a tentative suggestion and then a couple of us would bat around ways to improve it. My favorite one is “Bear-sona!” which Mai Namba and I came up with together.


James: If only I was “writing” them.  There were plenty of puns and parodies Teddy had in the Japanese version that made my translating brain cringe.  Heck, I didn’t know the name was being changed to Teddie until late in the project!


Who was your favorite character to write for?


Nich: For me, it was Kanji. I really enjoyed his very blunt, no-BS way of speaking and his short-tempered outbursts.


Yu: Overall, Yosuke.  He showed many different emotions in the game, and while it was a challenge to work on his lines, the experience was very enjoyable.  Yukiko was a very close second.


Scott: I liked Ai Ebihara, the Social Link character for the Moon Arcana. I don’t care where you went to high school, you knew an Ai. The way her Social Link unfolds is so true to life, it struck a chord with me even to edit it.


Mike: Sayoko, the Devil Arcana Link. Once you find her, you’ll see why. It’s not especially resonant with my life, unfortunately, but she exemplifies the Persona 4 experience by appearing a lot more light-hearted than she really is.


Clayton: In terms of characters you’re likely to see, I’d say I liked Naoki the most. I enjoy writing characters that have complexity to their emotions, just because they end up getting botched in lot of games/movies. As far as favorite overall, I have to say that Funky Student was my favorite.


James: That’s a hard choice.  It’s rare in a game or show for me to like all the main characters; they all were really likable.  But story-wise, I really liked Rise.  She was mentally much stronger than I expected, and it made me want to cheer for her.  Couldn’t hurt that the Japanese voice was Rie Kugimiya, either.




What was your favorite scene to write?


Nich: Well, it’s not really that we “wrote” any scenes, mind you. That all came from the scenario writers at Atlus Japan. But my favorite scenes to work on were Rise’s Social Link events, since I felt those really got right to the heart of what the Persona games are all about.


Yu: There is a series of events toward the end of the game that I particularly liked working on, especially when we did the voice recording.  Unfortunately, it’s a huge spoiler so I can’t say much, but I was moved by each actor’s performance in those scenes.


Scott: If for some reason you choose to go to the Culture Festival with Kou and Daisuke instead of one of the fine ladies of P4, I hope you’ll find that scene as funny as I found it.


Mike: Almost every day at home, you have the option of raiding the fridge for a snack, and there’s something different inside. The descriptions for those, and the resulting descriptions of what happens when you choose to eat them, were a nice break from the rest of the story.


Clayton: There are a couple sequences with NPCs that build throughout the game. I don’t know that anyone else will be as fond of this NPC dialogue as I am, but I’m one of those guys that like to explore everything in an RPG, so I enjoy editing the little “hidden” gems.


James: I only translate, so I can’t tell you my favorites, but there are plenty of hell stories locked away in my desk.


So far the Persona series has had male leads. What do you think about a Persona game that gave players a choice of either a male or female protagonist?


Aram Jabbari: Ah, how quickly you forget Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, with its female protagonist Maya Amano.  For shame, Spencer, for even your next question makes mention of said title.


Nich: I already mentioned before how P4 had the most text I’ve ever seen in a game, right? If you added in a selectable sex for the main character, that all by itself would nearly double it. I agree that it would be pretty neat, especially with the number of female fans the series has, but it would be a real challenge for both the scenario writers and us localizers at Atlus USA. 


James: Maybe in the future, but right now, any chance of more text is a taboo in front of me.


Persona 2: Eternal Punishment has seen a number of reprints. Are there any plans to reprint Revelations: Persona or release it as a downloadable PsOne game on the PlayStation Store?


Aram Jabbari: No, I don’t think either of those avenues are going to happen, but of course, we’d love for folks who’ve yet to try the earlier games in the series to be able to experience how it all began. 


Is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 going to be Atlus’ final PS2 game or are you planning to continue publishing PS2 games next year?


Aram Jabbari: *glances at the clock* Oh gosh, look at the time, we’ve really gotta skiddoo. *pushes the production staff toward the door* Thanks again, Spencer, always fun gabbin’ with you! Take care now. All the best!


Don’t forget to check out our previous coverage of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 where we go in-depth with character building, dungeons, and oddly enough South Park.


Images courtesy of Atlus.

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