Persona 2 – 1999 Developer Interview
originally featured in The Playstation magazine
Kouji Okada – Producer
Kazuma Kaneko – Art Designer
—First off, I’d like to ask about the title “Sin” and main theme of “rumors”. How do these two ideas tie into the story?
Kaneko: My definition of “rumor” is when a person makes a judgment based on their own preconceptions and prejudices, and then recklessly disseminates that to the wider world. When that stuff circulates and circulates, you know… it could eventually become a sin. Even though we never intentionally think we’re committing a sin, I bet in our everyday lives this kind of thing happens a lot. A careless comment you make could have a major impact on someone else’s life. Those ideas are intertwined with the story of Persona 2.
—In this Persona game, you’ve given the main character a name. Up to now you’ve used the more neutral “protagonist” title…
Okada: I don’t think the concept of this series that the protagonist==the player is changing, but in terms of overall updates, with this game we’ve switched from the first-person player view (3D) to a top-down, 3/4 isometric view, and this change has made the characters themselves stand out more. I think it’s normal in a movie for the viewer to feel emotionally involved with the characters on-screen; in our Megami Tensei and Persona games we’ve had a decided focus on the player and demons’ point-of-view, but now we’re compromising a bit on that and trying to evoke a stronger emotional connection with the main characters. You can, of course, change the name of the protagonist to whatever you’d like, but regardless of the name, we’ve put a greater emphasis on the characters and their personalities this time around.
—In terms of the visuals, I see that during a demon contact, each characters’ expression changes depending on how it’s going.
Just another day in the life of Okada (L) and Kaneko (R).
Okada: I think dialogue and conversation are an excellent way to have interactivity in your game. In that sense, both the dialogue and collecting the cards are still selling points of the Persona summoning system, but this time we wanted to use the appeal of the dialogue to push the characters to the forefront. Up to now it’s been all text, and the nuance was conveyed through the prose, but in the last Persona game we introduced stats. But I think if you rely on stats too much, the whole thing starts to feel like a chore, so this time we went in the opposite direction, relying not only on text, but on a combination of dialogue and expressions to give more presence to the back-and-forth of the demon conversations. You’re conversing with these demons (and some of them are friendly), they aren’t necessarily your enemies, you see. I hope players will enjoy experiencing the way the negotiations evolve with multiple human characters.
—Like the previous Persona, then, the content of the conversations can change even if it’s the same contact?
Okada: There’s times when the dialogue seems angry, but the visuals look happy and cheerful… how should one react in that situation? I think there can be negotiations like this sometimes. We’re thinking more in terms of the depth and subtlety of those negotiations, rather than having lots of branching dialogue.
—You’ve revealed two personas today: Vulcanus, who belongs to Tatsuya, and Maia, who belongs to Maya. Kaneko, could you tell us about your design concept for these personas?
Kaneko: When I draw demons and things like that that, there’s often a reference that I’m basing the design on, but at the same time, part of me wants to let go and just have fun with it, you know? I mean, it’s no good if you don’t take it seriously at all, but…. basically I try not to overthink it, and just use the keyword or basic theme as-is. For Vulcanus, I guess, we’re talking about a volcano, so that keyword would be fire. Maia was one I struggled with. I didn’t want to cling too closely to the greek mythology, but finding a keyword for her was very difficult. I eventually settled on “wa” (Japan), and went with a “kimono style” thing. There’s a lot going on with her, you see, if we’re talking about what motifs I used.
—The town in Persona 2 called “Sumaru” comes from the ancient name for Subaru, the star in the Pleiades cluster. Are these kind of Greek mythology connections a big part of Persona 2?
Kaneko: Yeah. I thought it would be best to have a sense of unity to the designs.
—I can see that in the Personas themselves, but was Greek mythology important to the story as well?
Kaneko: The mythology behind the stars themselves weren’t the basis for anything, but that Greek cultural influence, I think it’s really just because so many of the planets are named after Greek gods, you know? Mars, Pluto, and so forth. So naturally it ends up giving it a Greek or Roman vibe. Up to now we’ve avoided putting stuff like that into our games, but this time we decided to change course and add that flavor.
Maia and Vulcanus, two of Kazuma Kaneko’s persona designs.
—Now that you’re using an isometric perspective, we get to see the back side of the characters too.
Kaneko: Yeah, it’s cool to be able to see the characters from behind now. Actually, we were making Maken X for the Dreamcast at the same time, and in that game we were able to draw very detailed textures that wasn’t really possible on the Playstation. That’s why we emphasized silhouettes more, I think, for Persona 2. On the Dreamcast you can imagine very complex textures, but that wouldn’t work here, so our designs emphasized color schemes and shapes that you could recognize at first glance.
—Speaking of the party members, Eikichi’s “guitar-shaped gun” looks really cool.
Kaneko: I think he’s trying to form a band. He’s probably the lead vocalist, but he’s still looking for other members. He knows other guys who play other instruments, but he doesn’t like them. “Let us be in your band!” they say, but he’s like, “Sorry, you’ve got no style.” So he’s out looking for other members, that’s his goal… I think. (laughs) By the way, check this out: it’s the Seven Sisters branded zippo lighter. We have a St. Elmin one too, from the last game.
—Right, these were for sale at the Tokyo Game Show in March. Do you have any other goods planned?
Okada: Yeah, a cell phone strap…
Kaneko: I want it to slowly take over your personal belongings.
Okada: Eventually we should get some Kaneko-brand suits going.
Kaneko: I used to wear Sailors and Boathouse… if they could like that I’d be thrilled. (laughs) 1
—There’s a rumor in Persona 2 that if you’re carrying the Seven Sisters emblem you’ll be cursed. I have a theory, that the reason it’s OK to wear the Kasugayama High School emblem is because the ‘kasu’ kanji character 春 has a torii (Shinto shrine gate) in it, so the wearer is protected…
Kaneko: Unfortunately, that wasn’t something we intended. (laughs) That would have been interesting though, to make some connection with a torii. Not necessarily with rumors, but just in the sense of a good luck charm or something.
—You’ve explained how rumors can be started in order to change the events and items available in the game, but do any of the rumors ever turn out to be completely fake?
Okada: In terms of difficulty this is an extreme case, but for example, there are some rumors where there’s one way to spread it that’s very simple, but if you don’t do it that way, it could end up being a lot harder… it’s not that one way is the “right” way, but for a given event, you’ve got to figure out what steps to take to most efficiently spread the rumor.
—Do some of the rumors spread more slowly, and some more quickly, depending on their content?
Okada: Persona 2 doesn’t progress in real-time. You aren’t meant to just spread rumors willy-nilly; rather, it’s the way you choose to spread them that will affect how the story unfolds.
The “kasu” kanji mentioned by the interviewer, who theorized that the top radical portion, which represents a torii gate and thus good luck/protection, may have figured into the name Kasugahara. Unfortunately, this interesting theory was not intended (a kasu luck charm was sold later, though, so perhaps they picked up on it afterwards)
—The first Persona’s story progression was divided neatly into two halves; will Persona 2 be the same?
Okada: No, it’s different. Those details will have to remain a secret for now, though.
—Did you update the screen layout to isometric because you wanted to make everything easier to see for players?
Okada: Part of it was wanting to bring out the characters more, but on the point of clearer visuals, I actually think that these isometric dungeons are fun to explore in their own right. Making the visuals “easier” to see for players wasn’t about making the gameplay easier though; we want the isometric dungeons to have challenging gameplay that is unique to that perspective, so I hope people approach it with that understanding, that these will be different from the 3D dungeons. As for the overworld map, we’ve tried to make it so there’s less red tape between you and the destinations you want to go to—you don’t have to enter a dungeon to visit a shop now, you can go there directly.
Kaneko: We also improved the tempo of the battles. Last game was… well, you know. Now it’s quick! The battles flow more smoothly.
—Many people complained about the save points in the first Persona as well, but how’s that looking this time?
Kaneko: We’re trying to think about how it affects the gameplay… well, in a normal RPG, you often see save points right before boss fights. But that really takes the tension and thrill away… so that’s why we made the save points in Persona 1 the way they were, but this time we’re trying to be a bit more balanced…
—Balanced, but still challenging?
Kaneko: We want it to feel good, yeah.