Persona is arguably one of the most important JRPGs in the market- the series is the flagship of highschool fantasy, seeing you managing complex social situations while also making time to kill God and ace your midterms.
We spoke to Kazuhisa Wada, ATLUS’s Chief Director and Creative Producer of the Persona team about all things Persona- from his reactions to the support for the series to his favorite Shadows.
But what kind of thinking goes into making an RPG like this? More importantly, what kind of insights do you learn after the explosive popularity of titles like Persona 5 hitting the market? Read on and find out
You’ll Never See It Coming
If you’re a newer Persona fan, there’s a very good chance your jumping on point was Persona 5- the entry has seen success in many circles, spawning three spin-offs, an anime adaptation and multiple game collabs.
Despite the flashy visuals and top tier character cards, there’s one more secret to the success of Persona 5- its core message of teenage rebellion. According to Wada, the resentment for “rotten” adults transcends countries- and was a huge driver of the game’s success.
“Actually we really think that’s a really strong appeal point, because Persona 5 basically has the message that the world can be changed with a single thought in the heart of each person, and it kinda has a “picaresque” theme which can be a shared message for the global audience here”, Wada says.
“We really took the theme and message of the game seriously when creating it. Based on the theme and message, we also carefully chose the, for example, the design of the UI, the red and black coloring of the game, so that’s also corresponded with the whole game which we think will leave a really strong impression on all of the players”.
And he’s got a point, too- the UI for Persona 5 is almost as popular as the game itself, spawning many memes and even cosplays of the way menus stylishly pop in and out.
I Am Thou, Thou Art I
That’s not to take away from the stars of the game, the Personas themselves. The Phantom Thieves each sport their own Personas, modeled after famous rebels and thieves across fiction like Arsene Lupin and Zorro, sporting designs fitting a stylish phantom thief of hearts.
Similarly, Wada explained that he himself was particularly fond of Goemon, saying that it struck a very unique image that no one else has. Despite this, though, Goemon is far from Wada’s favorite demon- that honor instead falls to Flauros, the first demon who Wada had personally designed the model for.
“As a 3D model developer, my favorite demon is Flauros basically because all the other models I made were human, but Flauros’ model was the first and the only demon that I designed and produced”.
Wada Reacts To The Waifu War
For some, being beaten up by a bunch of anime girls might seem like heaven. In Persona, it’s simply the outcome for not staying loyal to any one girl
One more thing that really sets the Persona series apart from its contemporaries, though, is its romance elements. Every Persona game from 3 onwards has featured a cast of romanceable characters, as part of the focus on the Social Link (and later Confidant) systems. With Persona 5, who you chose to romance (or if you dared to dream and went for the harem route) was one of the most telling details about your whole playthrough when talking to your friends.
In Wada’s case, he was simply happy that people were enjoying his game this way.
“We’re really surprised at the fans having such strong reactions regarding the romance. I think the romance element is essential to the storytelling setting when you’re at a student’s age so this is actually the one point we’re really focusing on”, Wada says.
“The first introduction of romance to the series was in P3. By that time, the actual romance process in the game was a little bit crazy, you can say? If you got a really bad relationship, the story would get pretty messy”.
“In P5, we really put emphasis on the characters and the relationship to be more reasonable and realistic. To see that players have such strong reactions, we’re really happy to see that”.
Experiencing The Legacy of Persona
Of course, the accessibility of the Persona series is only set to go even further- it was recently announced that Persona 3 Portable, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 5 Royal would be available on PC and consoles, giving people more ways into the Persona series as a whole.
With Persona 5 Royal’s PS5, PC and Switch re-releases right around the corner, Wada says he’s excited to lower the barrier to entry on trying out the Persona series.
“We have carefully arranged the remastered version to fit on all platforms and also customized the functions for different platforms that we believe this will make everyone join the series no matter which platform they’re playing on”, he says.
Not just that, but the aforementioned spinoffs are also a huge part of getting into the series. I’d personally taken more interest in Persona 4 and 3 following playing the Arena games- because nothing endears you to new characters like learning they have sick strike/throw mixups.
“We wrote the story of Persona 4 Arena with the intention of getting more people interested into P4 and P3. If you feel that way, it really fits with our intention and we’re happy you think that way”, Wada says, laughing.
“Basically, Arena is digging into the story of P4/P3 and also the characters: it was our intention for players to want to dig more into their backstories, and again, if you feel that way, it fits our expectations and we’re happy”, he adds.
With the Persona series celebrating 25 years, Wada also took some time to reflect on how far the series had come, particularly considering its ties to the Shin Megami Tensei series.
“Atlus is a company that started from the SMT series and Wada is originally a fan of the serious and deep stories. Although starting from P1/P2, we took a new direction of the game: From the player side, maybe P1/P2 still had a really strong character as a SMT game”, Wada says.
“We changed our design concept to what we want the Persona series to be able to reach a wider audience rather than the “maniac” fans, starting from P3. After that we have observed a really big hit for the titles and we’re really happy to see that”.
It’s pretty obvious Wada has nothing but gratitude for the success of the series. Any discussion about fan reaction was always met with the genuine vibe of being both impressed at what fans could do with the series (such as the infamous one-shot Pixie) or just gratitude that fans had put that much time into the games at all.
Before he left, he had this to say to the SEA readers:
With Persona 5 Royal launching three years ago and Persona 5 six years ago, we really think that this game is one that the team has put all their effort into, that they really devoted to the game. So we promise you you can get the best JRPG experience in this game and we really want the players from all over the world and all platforms to enjoy this game, that’s why we proceeded with this project.
Also like, with the launch of the remasters, we would like to introduce the title to those who haven’t played Persona or Persona 5 before and hope they will enjoy the game.
Our thanks to Wada for taking the time to talk to us, and SEGA for giving us the opportunity to talk to the man behind some of the most important JRPGs in the industry.