Persona 4 – 2008 Developer Interview

Persona 4 – 2008 Developer Interview

This mammoth Persona 4 interview with director Katsura Hashino was originally featured in the Persona Club P4 book. Hashino covers the character design, story influences, and larger themes in great detail. Please note that about half of this interview was privately commissioned by koda, who gave her permission for it to be hosted here for all to enjoy.

—I understand the title "director" implies a range of different jobs, depending on the project in question, but would you mind explaining in detail what your role in Persona 4 entailed?

Hashino: Mainly, designing the systems and crafting the rules for the game. I also worked on the story outline and themes. I left the details up to the staff who were specifically in charge of the scenario and system design, but I would also make revisions and changes to the stuff they brought to me.

—That's actually a great transition for my next question: what are the themes of Persona 4?

Hashino: The theme, um… it's a small-town murder mystery. (laughs) First and foremost, I wanted to make an RPG that would revolve around a murder mystery. After Persona 3, we worked on P3 FES, and we were developing P4 in tandem. I spent some time thinking about what the players who enjoyed P3 would find interesting in the next game—what would they like to see. From there, our ideas eventually took the shape you see today, of exploring a string of murders in a small country town.

Katsura Hashino - Director

—So, just to re-cap then: with P3 in mind, you decided to set this game in a completely different small town, then for the plot, you arrived at the idea of a serial murderer...? Do I have that right?

Hashino: Well, not exactly—the "small country town" and "murders" ideas basically came together as a set in my mind. It's kind of a Kosuke Kindaichi vibe… I've always loved those kind of mysteries, where a person from the "big city" visits a small town, and during his stay he solves a mystery of some type.

—That reminds me of the Kindaichi novels like Inugamike no ichizoku (The Inugami Clan) and Yatsuhakamura (The Village of Eight Graves). Do you like mystery novels, then?

Hashino: I'm not an expert or anything, but it's a genre I've enjoyed since I was younger.

—What are some of your favorite works?

Hashino: For older stuff, I like Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Also, he's a sci-fi author, but I also enjoy writers like Isaac Asimov. I love those classic older works, and when I was a kid that was all I read. You know there were those kids in elementary school, right? The ones for some reason would write all their book reports on mystery novels?

—Ah, yeah! There were some kids like that at my school too. (laughs) So then, why did you decide to add mystery elements to Persona 4?

Hashino: I think it should be obvious to players what's interesting about your game, and what kind of story it is, before they buy it. This is something I reflected on and realized after Persona 3, but for the earlier games, it was hard to know what they were about until you played them. So this time, the premise is simple and upfront: there is a murder incident in a small town, and the adults are oblivious to the truth of the situation. The protagonists then proceed to investigate—sort of like a Junior Detective League—and attempt to solve the mystery.

The "Junior Detective League", as Hashino describes them, resolve to investigate the strange happenings in Inaba themselves.

—You mentioned the earlier games and reflecting on them... am I right to assume you weren't only looking at P3, but were thinking about the whole flow of the series, all the way back to P1?

Hashino: No, in terms of being inspired to make the content of the game more obvious, I was talking about P3. The truth is, P2 and P2: Eternal Punishment were so long ago, I wasn't really thinking that far back. Plus the fans themselves consider P2: Eternal Punishment to have wrapped everything up. However, when the very first Persona came out, the developers then (my senior colleagues) were trying to make a new style of Megaten game, something that would appeal to more casual players. So in wanting to do the same thing with P4, for me personally there was a sense of going back to the roots.

—Would that include the basic question of "what *are* Personas...?"

Hashino: Yeah. We tried to depict these characters' struggle in a head-on, direct way, while at the same time returning to the fundamentals of the Persona series. That is, rather than thinking in terms of sequels and multi-part stories, we wanted to go back and once again ask ourselves, "OK, so what role were the personas really meant to occupy in this world…?" And what approach would be best to attract a new generation of users and show them the appeal of Atlus' RPGs…? We talked about what makes a Persona game a Persona game… were there necessary criteria? For example, with the progenitor of Persona, the Megami Tensei series, you've got the light side and the dark side, that contrast of exterior and interior (omote and ura)—if those are the foundations of Megaten, then what are Persona's…? Those were our questions as we began the development of P4, and to tell the truth, I was somewhat uneasy about the answers we would reach. When I look back at P3 now, it ended up being a big success, and ultimately that's the most important thing for any game.

—Did that anxiety stick with you until the reviews finally came in?

Hashino: I mean, there were people at Atlus saying stuff like, "Maybe we shouldn't have called it a Persona game…" and "This isn't Persona." (laughs) But the opinion of the players is the most important thing, so now I can say that I'm very satisfied.

—So do you know now precisely what makes something a Persona game?

Hashino: Hmm, well… one example, I guess, would be the "angsty" feeling of the games. When you're young, much of your life is managed for you by adults, but eventually everyone has to break out of that protective shell—and it's a bit like being on a train where the rails suddenly disappear, isn't it? Sooner or later, that time comes for everyone, but that de-railing provokes a keen sense of angst in many young people. Yet it's almost like we don't want to forget those times… there's a nostalgia for it, you could say. When you become an adult and are stressed out by your job, it's very difficult to find the time to re-discover yourself. I think it'd be cool if Persona can provide people a chance to re-experience that in game form, to go back to the beginning and reflect on it all once more. Of course, I don't think this is unique to Persona—there's a lot of works of art in the world that have a similar appeal.

Media Perspectives in Persona 4

—I'd like to turn now to Persona 4. What are some of the common themes that P4 shares with the previous game, and in contrast, were there things you intentionally changed?

Hashino: The themes in P3 were quite heavy, weren't they? Given our limited time on this Earth, how should we live our lives? Is the way you're living right now the right way for you…? It marks the transition from childhood to adulthood when you start asking yourself these kind of questions, I think… and that was what we wanted P3 to talk about. So for P4, we asked ourselves what the next step was from that theme, and what we realized is that in order to find your path in this world, and to understand it, you have to take in accurate information.

As you get older you naturally come to see the way things really work in the world—the hidden side of things—but it's not like that when you're young. At least my own youth wasn't that way. Today, with the internet, we can obtain very diverse information from a variety of sources, but in Japan media literacy is still quite low, and there's no guarantee that what you read online is going to be accurate or helpful. What, then, is necessary to live a meaningful life? Or to put it another way, what mindset does one need in order to parse correct from incorrect information about the world? That was the basic theme I wanted to explore in P4.

—There are definitely a lot of things in the game, some direct and some subtle, which convey that theme. The fog feels that way to me, too.

Hashino: Yeah, I wouldn't call the fog one of the more subtle or hidden points. My image was pretty specific: it's hard to see what's true in the world —> limited vision —> fog.

The fog surrounding Inaba makes for a simple but effective metaphor for the game's larger themes.

—How did you arrive at the idea of a world within the TV?

Hashino: Well, these are just my own thoughts, but… if a murder occurs in a small town, I think it casts a very dark, gloomy shadow over the area. And that means some players would probably feel frustrated: "darn it, I thought this game was going to be a light-hearted, fun, youth adventure!" Of course I don't mind dark elements in a story—but I kind of want it to be counterbalanced by light elements. So I came up with a fun idea (which is unrelated to the "city / country" dichotomy)—what if the incident was presented like a TV variety program…? Japanese variety programs will often have some celebrity visit a location do some report—like, "oh there's this great natural spring water here and they make amazing shabushabu with it!", or dumb stuff like "let's compare the smell of my Dad's socks with a Rafflesia flower." You know the kind of variety shows I'm talking about? It's all super dumb stuff but it's fun. So one of my earliest ideas for P4 was to take that dumb variety show vibe and insert it wholesale into this small town murder. As it turned out, that vibe had a big downstream effect on the rest of the game, and consequently there ended up being more lighthearted scenes than I'd originally planned. (laughs)

—Now that you mention it, when reading through player's reviews, "funny" was a recurring keyword I saw.

Hashino: Yeah, when it came to embarrassing scenes, we had a tendency to fill them with as many gags as possible. I guess we were trying to be conscientious about the player's feelings: if you portray these young people's struggles and conflicts with deadly seriousness, it could easily become a very heavy and oppressive experience. (laughs) But either way, isn't it part of the excitement of being young, to have those kinds of conversations about sex and other vulgar topics… "what happened that night on the school field trip???" Even older people can get caught up in that mood when they go on a vacation, and then they have to calm down by reminding themselves: "come on, look at us… acting just like middle schoolers!" (laughs) So I think that youthful excitement was more of what I was going for, rather than simply wanting to make a bunch of jokes for their own sake.

In P3, I would often add vulgar, dumb lines to the script that the scenario writers handed me, in order to balance things out. When I would see the dialogue they wrote, so carefully and finely crafted like an actor giving a speech… it made me want to destroy it. (laughs) Anyway, all the staff saw that unfold, so this time I decided to be more open and intentional about adding gags and such from the get-go.

—I recall one of the scenario writers remarking that all those old-fashioned jokes were written by you...

Hashino: Yeah, guilty as charged. Most of those were mine. I guess I should fess up, that yeah… I deliberately tried to make the jokes old-fashioned.

—Well ok, but referencing BinBin Monogatari may have been a bridge too far. (laughs) Do you watch a lot of old dramas like that?

Hashino: I don't watch much dramas, but I love comeday. In fact I was watching Drifters' Zen'in Shuugou with my colleague just the other day. (laughs)

—I bet that stuff you've watched has an influence on the development, doesn't it?

Hashino: Yeah, no doubt. You know, there are many variety shows on TV, but have you noticed that most of those performers keep everything between them—all their jokes and whatnot—very positive and hunky-dory? I sense it's partly because the viewers themselves want to see everyone getting along. But in the real world, people don't always get along with each other. I like that old-fashioned humor where people rib on each other a bit, where they act stupid in a friendly way… I find it cathartic. So I think that sensibility is reflected somewhat in Persona 4. This was a really small joke, but do you remember that event where the phone rings and startles Kanji? That was actually inspired by one of the kimodameshi skits from Downtown's Gaki no Tsukai yaarahende. (laughs)

—I see. Were there any other inspirations, or influence from TV that you drew on?

Hashino: Hmm, let me think. Well, in terms of the overall tone, these are also old, but stuff like Oretachi Hyoukinzoku, and the anime Urusei Yatsura. I get the feeling that my baseline is boisterous stuff like that where everyone is going all-out.

—One point I was wondering about... in P4 the main characters suffer from the mass media's stories. Then you have the TV crew which all have bad attitudes. Overall, it feels like P4 takes a very critical view of the mass media, but is that a perspective you also share personally?

Hashino: I don't have any bone to pick with TV. It's a new form of media, and it'd be impossible to understate how much it's influenced me. However… I guess what it comes down to is that I don't like it when the media portrays things in an inflammatory way that stokes the fears and anxieties of the viewers.

Coincidence or not, the theme of the (un)trustworthiness of the media seems particularly prescient today.

—If you simply swallow whole whatever the media is telling you, you're only getting one side of the story.

Hashino: Yeah. Recently I've been reading news sites on the internet a lot, and there are a lot of new independent media organizations that are completely separate from the existing media. I hold out a lot of hope for them. I hope the internet can become a stronger force in that regard… I guess we're getting pretty off-topic now though, right? (laughs)

—Oh no, not at all. (laughs) This is all related to the themes of Persona, isn't it?

Hashino: Originally I had no intention of making a video game that criticized the media. But during the development, there was that "Natto Boom" which, if you recall, was precipitated by the baseless claims in the media that natto would help you lose weight. I think most viewers probably only half-believed that claims, or just tried it thinking "well, maybe I'll get lucky", but no doubt some percentage of people sincerely believed it. But I'm not saying people should not trust the media at all. But then the problem is, precisely which parts are you supposed to believe…? And I think this state of affairs, where lies are mixed with the truth, is a problem on the internet too.

—You seem to be talking about the recent buzzword "media literacy".

Hashino: Yeah. Either way, when you're taking in information from a third-party, you've got to always be aware of that third party's interests and aims. But that leaves you not knowing what you can trust. In that situation, I think if we rely on that most granular unit of humanity—that is, our family, friends, and community—and put our trust in those interactions, then even when the media goes and stirs up our anxieties and fears, a re-assuring word from our people—"you're ok"—can save us.

—Helping you keep your feet on the ground, as it were?

Hashino: Yes. That's why, I suppose, in order to strengthen and highlight the importance of your personal community, TV (which is still the go-to stand-in for "the media") is cast as the villain of sorts in P4.

Villains, Mysteries, and Myths

—Going back a bit, I wanted to ask some more specific questions about the development process. What were some of the challenges you faced in creating a mystery?

Hashino: I'd say one big challenge was interweaving the real-world elements of the murders with this fantastic psychological world where you're battling with personas. I mean—OK, there's these murders, but then if all of a sudden a Shadow pops up out of nowhere, it would be like… "forget these murders, wtf is that!!" (laughs) Also, in P3 the dungeon fights were basically just for training, and in the beginning they don't have much connection to the story. We wanted to intertwine those more with the story, so for P4 we first came up with the idea of someone getting kidnapped, taken to this mysterious other world, and you have to go rescue them… and that led to us coming up with the serial kidnapping-murder part of the story.

—It sounds like rather than having a whole mystery story figured out from the get-go, you focused more on how to artfully interweave the gameplay systems and main story.

Hashino: I often start from the end, so to speak, like coming up first with a catchphrase and working backwards from there. For this game, too, rather than working out the details of the story, I had more general situations in mind: a town is enveloped in fog and a person disappears —> the main character goes to rescue that person. Just that brief outline sounds exciting, right?

—That being the case, at what point did you come up with the character of the villain Adachi?

Hashino: Actually, this goes back to the discussions we had at the very beginning of the development when we were creating the plot, but one of the themes we hit upon was "how do we get our information." So initially, we wrote the true final villain as someone who mistakenly thought they were doing the right thing.

Maybe it was too obvious, but I was surprised Hashino didn't mention Videodrome as an influence.

—Are you talking about Namatame?

Hashino: Yeah. And there was something manipulating him behind-the-scenes, and Adachi was not the villain then. However, as the development went on, we felt the story development was lacking in something, and it needed one more twist with regard to who the true culprit was. The first candidate for that role was Yukiko, actually. (laughs)

—What!!

Hashino: Yeah, I mean, when you think about "murders in a small town" stories like this, a Kindaichi story would have the killer be someone like the ryokan proprietress. (laughs)

—Oh yeah... I know what you mean.

Hashino: It was something I talked about Soejima with, only half-joking of course. The idea of Yosuke the villain also came up. He was a character with solid reasoning abilities and good judgement; it would be believable to players, we thought, that he could have plotted everything himself. We also discussed making the culprit a "likable villain". But we were hesitant about making one of your party members the killer.

—Being betrayed by a close friend like that would be quite painful indeed.

Hashino: But the biggest reason we thought Yukiko and Yosuke wouldn't work, was that we thought players would find it boring if we gave the killer a merely personal motivation for his crimes. That kind of simplistic motive belongs in the realm of Tuesday afternoon TV crime dramas. So we went back and re-examined our themes about information: and this links up with the notion of irresponsibility on the part of the person disseminating the info, but when you think about it, doesn't the responsibility for what happens with that information ultimately lie with the recipient? It's hard to explain, but yeah… we felt the connection between ill-intent and that kind of irresponsibility fit the game the best.

—And that's where Adachi comes in.

Hashino: Initially, Adachi was written as a character whose role is to facilitate the exchange of information between the protagonists and the police investigation. But he seemed a little out-of-place there amongst the other adult detectives, and personally, I started to worry that he would stand out to players as odd and it would be too obvious that he was the killer. So we switched gears midway through the development and took his character in a different direction.

A somewhat unusual villain, Adachi's motives have long been an object of speculation among Persona 4 fans.

—That "something" manipulating Adachi was, of course, Izanami... was that also something that was revised midway through?

Hashino: Actually, Izanami was there from the very beginning. Even before we had the themes figured out for P4, in the previous games we'd used a lot of Greek gods, so we talked about how this time we wanted to focus on Japanese mythology. And so, around the time that we decided on the theme of uncertainty surrounding the truth and the rumors you're hearing in this small town, I thought these native gods and goddesses would be a force resisting that kind of social anxiety.

—I see. And the story of Izanami and Izanagi is one of the most well-known in Japanese mythology.

Hashino: As we worked out the plot, I took that story of Izanagi descending into the underworld (Yomi) and gave it my own expanded interpretation. In the myth, it is Izanagi's inability to accept Izanami's death that, ironically, nearly gets him killed by her: but I added my own interpretation, that the news and rumors we hear from all these sources == death (that is, it's an invitation for you to cease thinking).

—That's an unusual reading.

Hashino: At the time I thought to myself, "Nice, now this sounds like an idea that would be in a Persona game." (laughs) Izanami sees that humanity has stopped thinking critically for themselves and has surrendered to whatever they hear, and she thinks, "These unthinking people might as well be dead, so I will grant their wish. If I'm wrong, prove it to me." Then, when she happens to encounter certain humans that appear interesting to her, she bestows on them the power to change their reality, and that is how it all begins. But the protagonists are far stronger than she had thought, and though she had planned to merely be a spectator, they strike back in a way she hadn't expected. (laughs)

—Does the fact that she is defeated in the last battle mean that she had erred in her judgment?

Hashino: Yes, definitely. The ability Izanami uses in the battle, "Thousand Curses", I imagined it as a metaphor for all the lies the media tells. And likewise the ability the player uses, "10,000 Truths" [localized as Myriad Truths], that represents the trustworthy words of those people closest to you. I hope players get the message I was trying to convey, that no matter how much irresponsible, unverifiable information the world tries to deluge you with, you can always rely on the truths of your trusted friends to see you through.

While it probably sounds unsatisfactory for the much deeper fake news problems of today, Hashino's "trust in your friends" message has a distinctly Japanese ring to it.

—Whoa... that's deep!

Hashino: Also, the fact that there is a date and time that the world will end within the game—that day is meant to symbolize imported culture. There's a similar commentary with the native Japanese deities and a resistance to globalism. The way the Inaba shōtengai resists the incursion of the Junes department store chain is part of that too.

Struggles Hidden and Revealed

—I think the story of Persona 4 wraps up very neatly, but was it a smooth process, writing those scenarios?

Hashino: No, it took a lot of time and research to come up with plot twists, red herrings to throw players off the scent, and all the things you would expect to find in a proper mystery. There were a lot of additions and revisions too. As I mentioned above, in particular I wasn't satisfied with the plot development in the first draft, so aside from adding a "true villain" we also made a lot of changes. In the first draft, for example, we weren't originally planning to have Morooka die.

—What?!

Hashino: We had planned to include Mitsuo and the Void Quest, but we wanted to put a big surprise in there that would really betray player's expectations, and sadly for him, Morooka was sacrificed for that.

—It was kind of a shock.

Hashino: Many people told us that, yeah. It surprised us how popular Morooka was.

—He makes a bad impression on you on your first day at school, but there's many moments throughout the game where you realize he actually cares for the students' well-being.

Hashino: Hah, that's so funny, because I had no intention of making him that way.

—Oh, really?

Hashino: For me, Morooka was the kind of character you'd see in a typical school drama, basically just your typical unpopular homeroom teacher. But perhaps the staff in charge of that scenario had a lot of affection for Morooka, because they added all these extra details and episodes that gave depth to his character. So his popularity had nothing to do with me—it was all our staff.

—It really made that fight with Mitsuo intense. It was like, "THIS IS FOR MOROOKA!" (laughs)

Hashino: It got people fired up, didn't it? I'm glad his sacrifice was not in vain. (laughs)

—Speaking of unexpected stuff, the whole sequence when you're going to Yomotsu Hirasaka for the final fight with Izanami really took me by surprise. It was very difficult to find that route though.

Hashino: For the Normal Ending where you fight Adachi, we were hoping players would see that and feel a sense of closure: "ah, it's all over now." Then, say you still feel something isn't quite right, so you talk to a friend who saw the true ending, and when you go back and search and find the answer by yourself, it's like a fog has lifted from your own brain… I thought that would be cool, if your real-life gameplay experience sort of linked up with the game itself in that way.

Post-game musings at the food court.

—Ah, I can see that, definitely.

Hashino: Of course, partly I just wanted people to play to the very end of this game that we had put so much time into making… (laughs) In the beginning I was saying, "Let's keep it a secret for at least half a year."

—It seems like it must be tough to hide a true ending, or provide the right level of hints.

Hashino: Recently it feels like players are very sensitive to the dialogue, and can detect the slightest whiff of anything suspicious. That's why we put these hints at the very end, hidden in each party member's greetings. We made them say some things that just don't quite add up, hoping that players would suspect something is still hidden. Also, the fact that the Judgement Social Link isn't at MAX despite being so close to the ending is another hint that there might be something more.1

—It sounds like a very tough balancing act. On the one hand, players will get bored if they know what's going to happen, but if things are too vague and opaque that's not good either.

Hashino: Exactly. To that end, when the final draft of the scenario is finished, we have the entire staff read through it to see if they spot anything weird. After reading it, one of our staff blurted out, "The Killer is Yasu!" (laughs) 2

—Ah, right, that famous spoiler from Portopia, where the detective's assistant Yasu is the killer. Now that you mention it, that does sort of match up with Adachi's position in P4. (laughs)

Hashino: It's a pretty old game though, so I figured there's no players today that would think that. Nevertheless, early on when we put Adachi's face in some of the magazine spots we did, there were apparently people who were saying "The Killer is Yasu!" in response to him… you see, actually, in the beginning, Adachi's first name used to be Tamotsu (保), which can also be read as "yasu", right? Maybe I'm overthinking it, I thought, but we were trying to really control the timing of the hints we fed to players about the killer, so we hurriedly changed his last name. Of course we'd already finished the voice recording, and there were lines like "Hello, I'm Adachi Tamotsu", so we had the sound staff re-edit those clips and cut the "Tamotsu" part off.

—Sounds like a lot of work.

Hashino: I never imagined "The Killer is Yasu!" was that well-known! (laughs)

Voice Acting, Music, and Animation

—Now that you mention it, because Adachi had a very famous voice actor, I bet that tipped off players to think, "Ah, Adachi must be the killer or someone important."

Hashino: Ah, yeah, that could be. I don't know a lot about voice actors, so I wasn't aware of that at all and merely chose the voice actor who I thought best fit the role. But many of the voice actors in Persona 4, not just Adachi's, received a lot of praise.

—What do you think of the voice actors' performances for P4?

Hashino: It's no exaggeration to say they saved us. (laughs)

—How did you conduct the casting?

Hashino: Once we had a rough draft of the script, it was time to send out offers to the voice actors. Tanaka, who wrote the scenario, came up with some candidates, and we selected them from his list. Neither myself, Soejima (character designer), or Meguro (sound designer) had much knowledge about voice actors. We only relied on their samples to make our decision.

—What were some of the challenges you faced with the casting?

Hashino: Initially we fought a lot over whether Kuma (Teddie) should be voiced by a man or a woman. A female voice actor could provide a cuter voice, but the character itself was male. I was a little worried that a female voice would give players the wrong idea, given his ambiguous appearance. At the same time I wondered if that was something even worth worrying about anyway. (laughs)

—Do you have any favorite performances?

Hashino: In terms of what was most memorable for me… probably Kappei Yamaguchi's performance for Kuma (Teddie). The truth is we made some last-minute changes to his dialogue. There's a scene towards the end where Kuma reveals his true self, and at the time of the recording the story hadn't been completely solidified yet, so there were a number of re-writes we had to do.

The scene where Teddie reveals himself, one of Hashino's favorites.

—Perhaps it's that attention to detail with wrapping up the story neatly that has made Kuma such a popular character.

Hashino: Is Kuma popular? I thought people found him annoying?

—Well, he's annoying but in a cute way.

Hashino: Yeah, I mean, in the beginning we had no idea how Kuma would be received. I guess our perseverance paid off. (laughs) I'm glad he's popular.

—Like the previous game, P4 was also lauded for it's music. Do you have any thoughts to share on that?

Hashino: Meguro, who was in charge of sound, is the type of composer who isn't overly preoccupied with "game music" per se—his creative process starts more from live music and actual recordings. I think the popularity of Persona's music stems from that fact: he's able to maintain a certain objectivity about game music and has a different starting point. His songs are not constrained by anything, and that is something I personally like about him too.

—Did you have any requests for the music?

Hashino: Nothing too concrete, no. I would point out certain scenes that needed music in relation to the overall direction, like a rainy day and so forth. I also asked him to use the melody from the Yomotsu Hirasaka hidden dungeon during the Bad Ending credits. That was about it though. Ah, though actually, for the Steamy Bathhouse and Marukyu Striptease dungeons, I asked him not to write any flashy or showy music. The thing with Meguro, if I don't say anything to him he'll write cool and badass stuff, so I told him in advance to "just write something weird." (laughs)

—Hah, I can see that. Meguro is that kind of a composer.

Hashino: On the other hand, if I give him a bunch of nitpicky instructions he just tends to ignore them. I remember saying for this development, "It's the Japanese countryside, so how about some traditional Japanese instruments?" He said, "Got it, I will look into that." But in the end he didn't use a single traditional instrument. (laughs)

Shoji Meguro's eclectic OST for Persona 4.

—Nonetheless, he produce a fabulous soundtrack. You must have been confident about leaving it up to him?

Hashino: Each of his songs has its strengths… he knows when to be restrained, when to be playful, and to it all he adds his own unique signature. When I see how he's balanced everything so expertly, well, it's what I've come to expect of him. And he writes the music not for its own sake, but for the gameplay, which also re-assured me.

—Alongside the music, the animated movie scenes are another exciting part of P4. What can you tell us about those?

Hashino: I entrusted the animation subcontracting to our designer Wada, but the actual animation was done by A-1 Pictures, who also created the TV anime Persona Trinity Soul. I think the straightforward style of the animation—avoiding any precious or pretentious camera angles and so on—really fits the world of P4. As for requests from me, I asked them to make sure it matched Soejima's illustrations, but that was about it.

Closing Thoughts

—From talking to you today, I can tell that everyone on the team really gave this project their all. Is there an aspect of the development that you personally felt very pleased with?

Hashino: I really like the camping event. The first half, with the curry section, was written by event writer Kido, and the second half was written by me. I was able to get a swimsuit scene in there, and nosebleed scene, and finally top it all off with a classic puking scene with Morokin (King Moron). It's a nicely paced section, if I do say so myself. I also thought the Bunkasai (Culture Festival) scene that the staff worked so hard on was really fun.

—Are you saying you had no part in writing the Culture Festival section?

Hashino: I wrote many of the special event scenes, but for the bunkasai I just wrote a general outline, and left all the details to Kido. From the Group Date Cafe scene to the school trip King's Game scene, I was very impressed with all the branching paths and choices they packed in for the players! I'm not able to write stuff that dense, let alone give the requisite instructions for the programmers to create all the branching logic. (laughs) As far as impactful scenes go, other than those… I probably have to mention the baka scene, right? 3

The King's Game scene from the Persona 4 Golden re-release.

—And who is your favorite character of P4?

Hashino: Hmm… I don't think I have a specific favorite. I love them all equally.

—So you don't have an adorable favorite, that whole "moe" feeling that fans talk a lot about these days?

Hashino: No, nothing like that. If I was forced to pick someone I would probably say Chie or Yukiko. When I was young I had a lot of delinquent guy friends, but no girls like that who hung out with me, so I'm kind of envious of them.

—They're the type you would want to be your girlfriend, then?

Hashino: I mean, in high school, what boy wouldn't be thinking that? Really irrespective of whether they're your "type" or not. (laughs) But yeah, it would have been fun to have a circle of friends like that.

—It's kind of rare to see friend groups so tight-knit like that, in mixed-sex schools.

Hashino: Yeah, it's not common. Of course they are all brought together by the strange events of the plot, and maybe if they'd not gotten wrapped up in all that, they'd never have become friends… Well, I guess Chie befriends the main character from the start, and then it's like, through Chie and Yousuke you become friends with Yukiko? But with Kanji, there's no way they would have become friends on their own. (laughs)

—You're telling me. (laughs) But for real, it's not just those character interactions, it's also the overall themes and gameplay systems that, for me, make Persona 4 such a great game. How do you feel about how it all turned out?

Hashino: Hmm… my feelings, eh… well, I guess it all turned out pretty well.

—It kind of seems like you're trying avoid saying something uncomfortable there...

Hashino: No, I mean, it's more that when I'm in the thick of developing a game, I lose my perspective on whether it's good or bad. In a development things always start out a mess and then gradually get better and better, so I don't know what someone who only plays our final iteration will think of it all. That's why we only get a real sense of it's quality once we hear the public's opinions and feedback.

—Ah, right. I can see that.

Hashino: For that reason, as soon as the development reaches the point where it's possible, I recruit a lot of players for test-playing. I listen to their feedback, and that gives me a general sense of whether something is actually interesting or not. If they get really invested in something—something that technically we haven't done any polishing or refinement on yet—then I know that parts going to be successful. The response from the playtesters for P4 was quite positive.

—And of course, once your game is finally released, you get to hear all the different opinions from actual players. That "live" feedback must be very precious too, I imagine.

Hashino: Indeed. We always end up hearing a lot of things that we'd never imagined or thought of ourselves. And the messages of encouragement and praise truly make us happy… it motivates us for our next project. We do our best to take that feedback—interpreted in our own way, of course—and use it for our future games (not just Persona, either).

—I see. We're looking forward to your next work! Thank you so much for your time today.

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  1. Contrary to what he says, that comm / social link maxes on the date the player finishes the December dungeon, so by the time March 20th rolls around in-game (the day the game ends), it is already maxed.

  2. This is a reference to Portopia Renzoku Satusjin Jiken… "The Killer is Yasu!" is a famous meme derived from that game.

  3. It's not exactly clear what this refers to, but it's likely the line "baka gundan desu ka?" ("are you guys the idiot-squad?") spoken by Naoto. This was featured in a JP trailer and is a somewhat famous line amongst Japanese fans.

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