Jeremy Parish: Atlus has been teasing a special Persona-related event for quite a while, which has gotten a lot of fans worked into a frenzy of speculation. Now that the dust has settled and we’ve seen the details… well, some of the speculation was right. Yeah, we learned more about the sequel to Persona 4 Arena, and as we all expected, yes... there’ll be a Persona 5. But Atlus actually had a lot more on tap than that, including a couple of surprises. One surprise is basically a game designed specifically for me, while the other is essentially a custom joint for Pete.
Pete Davison: Yeah, I was genuinely surprised to hear about a few of these things, though I'm pretty sure that I will buy and play pretty much every one of them. I need to hurry up and actually finish the story mode on Persona 4 Arena, it seems.
One thing worth acknowledging before we start, I think, is that some people are concerned Atlus may be milking Persona 4 a bit much. I'll confess to feeling a little worried about this in the past -- particularly when they released a mobile card-battling game in Japan -- but upon further reflection, I'm just happy to get more Persona. I'm a fan of the characters and setting in P4 -- not to mention the music, but we'll get on to that in a moment.
Jeremy: I actually don’t worry about it being overkill, but then again I don’t really have a solid foundation by which to judge….
Persona 4: The Ultimax Ultra Suplex Hold
Jeremy: See, I’ve played very little of the more recent Persona games. Lots of 1 and 2, sure, but not so much of 3 and 4. (They’re on my lengthy to-do list.) So, the news that the Persona 4 fighting game (Persona 4 Arena) will be seeing a sequel doesn’t excite me as much as it could. I understand the original was a pretty solid fighter and had a ton -- a ton! -- of text. Assuming the newer model offers more of the same, I assume the folks who enjoyed the original will appreciate the sequel as well.
Pete: Yeah, that's about right. I'm not a big fighting game aficionado, but the big draw of Persona 4 Arena was that its story mode actually continued the narrative from Persona 4. It stands by itself for those who haven't played it, but those who have will get a greater appreciation from seeing returning characters and locales -- an appreciation that will doubtless continue in the new sequel.
This wasn't some lightweight, throwaway story mode like in some other fighting games, either; this was a full-on visual novel from multiple narrative perspectives, featuring some well-written text and an interesting story to follow. You'd spend more time reading than fighting in a playthrough of each of the characters' "paths" -- and that's fine by me. For those who have no patience for such things, though, there's also a standard arcade mode and the usual lineup of other ways to play -- including an excellent training mode. I can't comment with any great authority on how good it is as a competitive fighting game, but it certainly has a decent pedigree, coming from Arc System Works.
Pete: This is the big one; the one that everyone's been waiting for. I'm completely unsurprised to hear it's a PS3 game rather than PS4; Persona 4 originally came out very late in the PS2's lifecycle, after all, and well after the then-"next-gen" had already begun. I'm confident that it will be an enjoyable experience -- Catherine gave us a glimpse at how the Persona team would use HD assets and additional graphical power to help with storytelling, so I'm intrigued to see how they'll approach it.
They've used the "high school kids fight monsters" setup several times now, though; do you think they'll do it again? And do you think we'll still be juggling our schedules between managing Social Links and making progress through dungeons?
Jeremy: You’d be hard-pressed to name many Shin Megami Tensei games that don’t revolve around the premise of high schoolers fighting monsters. Strange Journey, the Raidou Kuzunoha titles, and… what? Not much else. Even SMT4, which took place in a far-flung fantasy kingdom borne from the ruins of a modern apocalypse, amounted to your protagonist being a fantasy high school student. I don’t see that aspect of the series changing much. The slave/emancipation imagery is kind of weird, though.
What interests me more than the setting -- which will almost certainly always revolve around Japanese kids facing off against demons and choosing a moral path toward determining the world’s future because that’s what the novel that inspired the whole series was about -- is how they’ll approach the core game. Baseline SMT has pretty much settled on being a pure dungeon crawler; Devil Survivor is about strategy; Devil Summoner seems to be more action-oriented now. I think Persona has essentially become the modern-style SMT offshoot, and by “modern” I mean “hopping on the trends of contemporary Japanese RPGs.” Social links; heavy emphasis on characters, dialogue, and relationships; with combat and dungeon-crawling ultimately coming second. Persona has been SMT’s international breakout, so I don’t foresee Atlus tinkering with the formula too much.
Pete: I'll be happy if they don't, in all honesty. I have a lot of time for Persona's mechanics; 3 established the current formula and 4 perfected it. In my opinion, anyway. I know several people who will argue for hours on whether 3 or 4 is the better game, so I won't say too much more on the matter.
For me, the defining aspect of the later Persona games in particular is how well-defined its characters and their internal struggles are. When they're not fighting monsters, they behave like teenagers -- sometimes irrational, sometimes hot-headed, sometimes feeling like they're being pulled in multiple conflicting directions. The "Shadows" aspect of Persona 4 in particular was a really interesting way to explore a lot of subject matter I haven't seen touched on in many games before -- matters of gender, sexuality and your role in the world. The one thing I hope for with Persona 5 -- and that I think we're likely to get -- is a continuation of this sort of deep character exploration.
Oh, I tell a lie; there is one other thing I hope for: The option for a Japanese voiceover. Atlus typically uses some decent voice actors, but hearing Americans appending "-kun" and "-chan" to people's names is just weird. I won't hold my breath, though.
Jeremy: Even Final Fantasy is retaining Japanese language tracks these days, so who knows? Personally, I just want an option to turn off voices altogether.
Pete: What do you think of it being a "winter 2015" release, given that probably means "a year from now"? Is it too late, given the rise of the new consoles, or do you think hardcore fans will keep their PS3s around for this?
Jeremy: I suspect next-gen isn't entirely off the table. My guess is that the performance of the PlayStation 4 will determine the final outcome of this project. If it does well over the next year, especially in Japan, I would expect to see either a change of platforms or at the very least a dual-generation release. On the other hand, PS3 will probably be an easier platform to convert the inevitable Vita port from. So pragmatic!
Pete: As I said above, it wouldn't be out of character for the series to release on a "last-gen" platform as new consoles are finding their feet. But there's also the fact that Persona is a much bigger deal than it was when Persona 4 first hit the PlayStation 2. I wouldn't complain at a PlayStation 4 release, but regardless of whether there is one or not, I'll be keeping my PS3 around for a good long while yet anyway.
Persona 4: Dancing All Night
Pete: Ever since Persona 3 -- my entry point to the series, though I've since gone back and explored the earlier games -- I've strongly associated Persona with excellent, distinctive music. It's an acquired taste for some, sure -- the crazy J-pop/hip-hop soundtrack was the last thing I expected to hear when I fired up the game for the first time -- but it's as important a part of the franchise as its characters and narrative to me, and as such a music game makes perfect sense to me.
I'll be interested to see whether any attempt is made to integrate this into the wider Persona "canon," for want of a better word, or whether it's just a celebration of the series' music. There's potential to use some Project Diva-style relationship mechanics and brand them "Social Links," for example, but will they go full-on and include a story mode? Given the background of the character Rise, it's perhaps possible.
Jeremy: This game is pretty much your jam, yeah? I understand the premise is actually a sort of sequel to Persona 3 in which the cast is flung into a new labyrinth where combat won’t save the day, only dancing. I’ve heard worse pretexts for a rhythm game. But I’m not much of a music gamer, so this concept does nothing for me. On the other hand….
Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth
Pete: ...On the other hand, this is your jam, right?
Jeremy: Persona Q? As in Etrian Odyssey? (The Japanese title of EO is "World Tree Labyrinth," Seikaiju No Meikyuu, which they abbreviate to SQ.) Well, yeah.
I’m not super attached to Persona’s characters, but I like the Shin Megami Tensei world view. And I love Etrian Odyssey. So, drop Persona characters (and one assumes the accoutrements of SMT, such as demon fusion and the classic spell families) into Etrian Odyssey’s world and you basically have… well, my assumption is that it’s going to be a lot like Persona 1 and 2 with a Persona 3 and 4 character vibe. I mean, really, Atlus’ RPGs all come from the same gene pool, and (so far as I can tell) the original Etrian Odyssey was more than anything else an attempt by the SMT crew to go back to their roots after the series began drifting away from first-person dungeon crawling. Which I assume is the case -- they didn't actually show the POV in that trailer, just cut scenes and combat.
A first-person view would make this game, I don’t know… kind of the ultimate Atlus RPG goulash. The P3 and P4 characters meet in a classic SMT-style dungeon crawler with portrait and environment art crafted by the Etrian Odyssey artists. Weird and needlessly recursive, but I dig it. And now I understand what Etrian Odyssey Untold was about -- it was an experiment to make way for this. And the website says the soundtrack will be by Persona's Shoji Meguro, not Yuzo Koshiro.
Pete: Makes sense, since he's more associated with the SMT franchise as a whole. Too bad there couldn't be some sort of crazy collaboration. The mind boggles.
You know, I've never played an Etrian Odyssey game. It's not that I don't want to, I've just never got around to it. This could well end up being my first, particularly if it ends up being any good. I think there's a huge amount of potential in this one, and I'm excited to see how it ends up.
It does sound as if it will be a return to the early days of the Persona franchise. Persona 1 was largely a first-person dungeon crawler, after all -- although the combat switched to isometric-perspective quasi-tactical battling. If there's anything I might be mildly worried about it's that EO's traditional focus on dungeoneering at the expense of plot and narrative character development might cause the game to lose some of what makes Persona magic for me, but that's something that we won't really know too much about until we've seen a little more of the game.
Color me "cautiously excited" for this one, then.
Jeremy: Now I guess the only question is, when does this all come to the U.S.? Or does it come at all? Previously I'd take it as a given, but who knows how Atlus will run things now that it's under Sega, a company not known for being proactive about localization. Well, let's cross our fingers.