Persona 3 Atlus Interview

We were lucky enough to get a short interview with Atlus concerning Persona 3. Some of these questions were from the staff and others from members of our forums. If your question didn't get answered, I apologize, but a good many of them probably have become more clear since playing the game. Keep in mind that several of these questions were proposed before the game had been received as a reviewable copy or certain details had been fully confirmed. In those cases, the questions are largely here for completion's sake as I figure some would find them to be interesting regardless.

The questions have been answered by Aram Jabbari, Assistant Manager of Public Relations and Sales, and Yu Namba, Senior Project Manager (Project Lead, Persona 3). Thanks to both of them, particularly Aram for lots of additional help. Yu Namba is listed as YN and Aram Jabbari as AJ below.


Digital Devil Database: When Persona 3 was originally shown off in Japan, it was revealed that the characters would summon their Personae by aiming gun-like devices at their heads. Obviously given more recent events there was some concern that this might prevent the game from coming to the US, or at least place a major stumbling block in the way. Obviously it has remained intact for release here, but was there initially any concern on your part that this would be taken the wrong way or that it might have to be edited?

AJ: It is imagery that some might find unsettling; this was something of which we were cognizant from the outset. That said, we pride ourselves on localizations that are as true to the original Japanese product as possible, and it was at no point an element we considered censoring.


Digital Devil Database: Several people have asked me if the Persona 3 cover will be reversible and if there was any specific reason why the current cover was chosen as opposed to the original Japanese artwork?

AJ: The case art will not be reversible. With many of our releases, fans wonder why we do not use the original Japanese art. In most instances, as is the case with Persona 3, the original art would not have stood out well on store shelves. While fans of Atlus games and of the Shin Megami Tensei universe take the time to review the Japanese assets, we need to create a final package that could catch the eye of a potential new fan. For that reason, despite the fact that it was a fantastic piece of art, the Japanese cover was not used.


Digital Devil Database: I've not personally put a ton of time into Persona 3, but given that DDS repeated a lot of demon designs from SMT:N, can we expect to see many repeated within Persona 3? I suppose, basically, the question is more is there a good mix of new and old designs?

YN: The majority of Personas come from previous SMT titles, but there are a handful of new designs.


Digital Devil Database: In previous Persona titles the player was able to assign almost any Persona to any character they pleased. I've been under the impression that in this case the characters are basically assigned a Persona from the start. Are they able to change this at all?

YN: In Persona 3, the general rule is 1 Persona per person. The protagonist is the only exception; he can swap out Personas (of which 100+ are available) and, at times, invoke the power of two Personas to cast Fusion Spells.


Digital Devil Database: The game uses AI for characters in battles other than the main protagonist. Is this something you feel will be well received by most players?

AJ: Any time a party-based RPG uses AI for the supporting cast, it can be a cause for concern for gamers, primarily the enjoyment level of the gameplay depends almost entirely on how smart the AI is. It could have been Persona 3’s Achilles heel.

Fortunately, the AI is fantastic. Characters will not repeatedly use elemental attacks that a foe is resistant to, and will in fact learn from what works and what doesn’t, they will heal themselves, each other, and the player, and you can even split the team apart while journeying through Tartarus in order to look for items, the stairs, or the exit. While split up, your party members can enter battles alone, and will give you feedback as to how they are doing.

Again, most gamers, based on their experience with AI-controlled party members in other RPGS, are going to go into Persona 3 with some trepidation – I think they will be very pleasantly surprised, and after a time, it will cease to be a concern.


Digital Devil Database: This is the fourth time a variation on the Press Turn system has reappeared. Do you feel the added group attack ) and Persona functions help differentiate it from SMT:N and DDS/DDS2?

YN: The All-Out Attack definitely gives the player a new strategic option, but I believe the biggest change made in Persona 3 in terms of battle is the implementation of AI to control the party members. Since each member has his/her own strengths and weaknesses, you must first select your teammates according to your situation (what enemies you will be facing, how balanced the team is, who you want to level up, etc.). Then, during battle, you give orders to them so they will use their skills most effectively. Having no direct control over the team members may be frustrating to some, but it emphasizes the fact that you—the player—are the protagonist, and you are working together with your teammates. I’m not saying that all RPGs should work in this fashion; for Persona 3, this system fits perfectly with the rest of the game elements.


Digital Devil Database: The game's dungeons appear to be completely within one area of the game and are randomly generated . . .

AJ: Yes, the game’s central dungeon, Tartarus, is randomly generated on each visit. However, you don’t need to start over from the very beginning every time you enter, and the enemies you encounter change as you ascend the tower. Furthermore, since you can see enemies on the screen, you may try to avoid them if you like. The ability to split up your party also gives you the option of hastening your exploration through the dungeon. But, I think most people will find combat surprisingly enjoyable, and will want to take their time adventuring through Tartarus.


Digital Devil Database: While previous Persona games have starred school kids and have based themselves around a school (at one point or another), Persona 3 is the first game in the series to really push this aspect of the game. Classes, dates, etc. This isn't a gameplay concept that's very common in the US, even in RPGs companies choose to localize. Do you think this will be well received and that it adds something to the game?

AJ: Absolutely. In many ways this is the most accessible Shin Megami Tensei RPG, in large part due to the settings, characters, and general premise. While the contrast from the social elements to the dungeon expeditions is a stark one, we think this will only enhance the game’s attraction for players – studying in class and hanging out with friends by day, vanquishing Shadows in a twisted labyrinth by night – not your everyday RPG to be sure.


Digital Devil Database: We've read about some references in the game to older Persona titles (specifically through a computer game within Persona 3). Are there any other throwbacks to the older titles or any cameos? Beyond that, does this take place in the same general "universe" or is it completely new otherwise?

YN: There are things here and there that the fans of the series will recognize. And yes, Persona 3 takes place in the same universe as Persona and Persona 2.


Digital Devil Database: Before Devil Summoner for PS2 came out, Tomm Hullett informed us that he'd be adding various 20s-era slang to the game to help spice up the localization. Has there been any major challenges with Persona 3 or anything similar to this (perhaps slang that's used by teenagers here?) that has been done throughout the localization process? Considering it obviously takes place in some sort of parallel universe Japan, has there been a strong effort to hang on to Japanese references?

YN: Because Persona 3 takes place in modern day Japan, we tried our best to retain the feeling that you are living in Japan. There were things, however, which were simply impossible for the general American audience to understand because of cultural differences, so we took the liberty of changing them. In retrospect, we could have done some things differently, but I believe that for the most part, we have accomplished our goal.


Digital Devil Database: Persona 3 looks to have quite a bit of voice acting. How are voice actors chosen for this process? Is it something outsourced or handled by Atlus itself and were there any unique challenges in this case?

YN: The voice actor selection for Persona 3 was a bit more difficult than the other titles I’ve worked on, because many of the characters were teenagers. We worked together with the recording studio and selected the cast from a wide pool of actors.


Digital Devil Database: In the US the game has received an M rating, but in Japan it managed to get a rating for 12 year olds and up. Is this just a cultural thing?

AJ: I would imagine that cultural differences play a part in this disparity. On the one hand, the game has some imagery that people have focused on, such as the animation for summoning persona. But the game is not gory, and does not feature creature design or settings any more mature than what would be found in a Saturday morning cartoon.  

It could be argued that the story and dialogue are more mature than many of the artistic and gameplay elements—it is not so much perhaps that younger players would be disturbed by the game’s content, but rather that they may not understand all of it.


Digital Devil Database: The inevitable FES question. I think most Persona fans have accepted that this couldn't have been realistically translated at the same time as the original Persona 3. I've read mostly "no plans" comments in reference to this question before. I suppose what we'd like to know is, basically, if Persona 3 does well by your standards will FES be a possiblity? Or is it simply a no go?

AJ: Unfortunately, nothing has changed regarding our stance on FES. But, we have gone the extra mile to bring fans something that wasn’t available with the original Japanese release of Persona 3—a full-color, hardback art book plus a soundtrack CD packaged in a deluxe box set.


Digital Devil Database: People sometimes wonder about the older SMT games, specifically in reference to Wii's virtual console. Is there any real interest in translating these titles or are you more concerned with future entries in the series? Does Nintendo currently even have any interest in newly translated games for the service?

AJ: There are no plans at this time to localize any previously unreleased SMT games. The potential of digital distribution systems is something we are still exploring.


Note: We had one final question concerning the choice of Shoejima over Kaneko as far as the main art designer goes. Unfortunately, they did not have the time to contact them for the interview and were therefore unable to speak on their behalf.

In any case, thanks a lot to both Yu and Aram for their time and support!