In a rare audio interview at Japanese games site, Biglobe Games, Persona 4 director, Katsura Hashino, along with character designer Shigenori Soejima, chatted at length about the creation of Atlus’s PlayStation 2 swan song. The questions the two were asked were by fans on Twitter.
Asked what he thought was the biggest change between Persona 3 and 4, Hashino replied that it was that 4 took place in the rural Inaba, which was significantly different from the grand urban setting of Iwatodai. Part of the reason behind this decision was to create a different atmosphere. Hashino felt that a murder mystery in a rural setting would feel creepier because, as he put it, it would be kind like “those local legends” that towns sometimes have.
This move to the fields of Japan also factored into the decision to use a Japanese theme for the main cast’s Personae. For example, Yukiko’s Persona is based off Amaterasu, the sun goddess. Initially, this theme originated because the team was more familiar with Japanese lore, but as they continued work, they predicted that it would compliment the setting of Inaba, away from an entirely urban lifestyle and modernization, as well.
As for the Personae’s appearances, they were mostly based off of the character’s personalities. This was especially possible because, while most people in Japan were familiar with mythical figures (Izanagi, Susanoo, etc.), they had only a vague idea as to their appearances. In Hashino’s words, the team concentrated on achieving a “Hmm, so Tomoe had this kind of a vibe to her…” feel while matching her to Chie’s personality.
The Shadow-personae, on the other hand, were created by Hashino singlehandedly without much outside discussion. They were specifically created with the feeling of “reality” in mind, and Hashino decided on their appearance and names on his own. However, in the case of the girls (Yukiko and Chie for the most part), he had to enlist the help of some of the female staff. Most of the personal problems that lay behind the Shadows’ creation were based off of the team’s personal experiences that they had felt during high school, or experiences that they had witnessed friends go through.
One of the most difficult problems while creating Persona 4, to the director, was trying to recall his high school experiences while making sure they worked in a modern high school setting. After all, a long time had passed since Hashino’s time in school.
The point that Hashino felt that he had to focus on the most in Persona 4 was fitting everything into the game as one whole, cohesive product. The game was huge, with many different aspects, including but not limited to the setup of the calendar, the school, and exploring the dungeons. The calendar was designed such that it would coincide with the pressure the protagonists were feeling. For example, towards the end of the game, after a certain event, the calendar is shown a month at a time instead of just a few days ahead of time.
This was done to convey the sense that the characters need to look ahead and plan their days far in advance because these would be the last days during which they could freely enjoy their time. The locations of the game as well as the game system were all designed with the story in mind.
With all of this data, plus the extensive dialogue from the Social Links and an increase in the number of events since Persona 3, it meant that the game barely fit onto a DVD. Ultimately, the team had to shave off bits of text, word by word, just to try to get the game to fit.
Conversely, the more random aspects of the game required the least effort to complete, such as choosing the food and drink types. When asked why he had chosen to use “meat gum” of all things, Hashino replied that he couldn’t remember. “I was probably eating meat with the staff at the time.”
Most such names were all decided in less than a week. The glasses, too, were a last-minute decision because he had wanted the characters to appear stronger.
The Persona team, according to Hashino, was a very relaxed group of people. While he had only been a part of it since Persona 3, he had worked with most of the main players before while they were still working on the Dreamcast.
The team were an easy-going lot, Hashino revealed. For example, when they usually created a game, the team would compile a document with all the information about the game contained within. However, in the case of P4, they chose not to. When they idea was considered, the team figured that they had a vague sense of what was going into the game already, so they didn’t require one.
Not that it was smooth sailing all along, however. Hashino also jokingly revealed that they would never make that mistake again, considering how much trouble the lack of such a document had caused them.
The last questions Hashino was asked dealt with the future of Persona 4. Currently, he has no intention to create a sequel, although he did mention that there was much material he wanted to explore. He reiterated that there still weren’t any plans for a FES version either, since Persona 4 was created based off Persona 3 FES. Plus, there weren’t too many fans saying they wanted more material, since the game was already jam-packed with events.
In response to the inevitable, “Will there be a PSP version of Persona 4? […] I’m really interested in seeing the female main character!” Hashino responded that there weren’t any plans, but if enough fans asked for it, it was a possibility, and followed up with, “Doesn’t the female version of the protagonist already appear in the game?”
Yes, he was just joking.
Food for thought:
1. In the case of Persona games, usually, the scenario and scenes are created first, and the music is then matched to them. For Persona 4’s opening, though, the opposite was true.
2. The most unexpectedly popular character was Adachi. Perhaps it was because he was a character who knew how to enjoy life?
3. The aim that the director had for fans was to enjoy themselves. Everything from the music to the scenarios was designed with the purpose of “having fun.”