Destructoid interview: Atlus on Persona 4

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You may have heard that the Persona 4 US release date was just announced this past weekend at Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei panel at Anime Expo. Coming December 9th, 2008, this PlayStation 2 title will sell for $39.99. Every single copy of Persona 4 is a special two-disc set. In addition to the game disc, you will receive a soundtrack CD featuring selected music from Persona 4.

Following our coverage of the Shin Megami Tensei event, we were fortunate enough to land an opportunity to chat with Atlus’s very own Senior Project Manager, Yu Namba, as wel as Editor Nich Maragos, to talk about the game they’ve been working on for the past several months. We tried our very best to pry a few more details on Persona 4 for you.

Hit the jump to read on, and be sure to check out the new trailer (above), box art, and screenshots in the gallery below.

In the tidbits and screen shots slowly leaking out of Atlus Japan, many of you have noticed that all of the Persona 4 characters are wearing glasses. Some suggested that these glasses may be “the new evoker,” the device that brings about each character’s persona power. We asked if we were on the right path.

“You know, people thought that, but they’re not quite that,” says Lead Editor Nich Maragos, “though they are kind of a story/gameplay element, similar to the evokers. But they don’t work exactly in the same way.”

Atlus was pretty tight-lipped on new details on Persona 4, naturally, but they did give us some background on the setting.

“This time, in Persona 4, it’s set in rural Japan, as opposed to the ultra-modern, like how it was in P3,” says Namba. “They’re trying to go for this stylish design, but a little retro as well.”

It’s back to school in Persona 4, just like in Persona 3. Despite the change in setting, the main character will still attend school daily. Namba gives us a bit of insight into what has changed for the new game.

“The main character will be going to a high school, a local high school. The things you were able to do before [in Persona 3], you can pretty much do it this time through. All the Social Link stuff, it became way more — how should I say this — integrated into the actual gameplay than just raising your Arcana level.”

Maragos adds, “They affect the main gameplay in deeper ways than they did before.”

The use of Japanese honorifics was a point of contention in Persona 3, but it doesn’t look like this will stop Atlus from going the same route with Persona 4.

“I’ve looked at different forums myself, you know, like GameFAQs and our own Atlus forums and whatnot, and I know that there are people who’d prefer without, but it’s just as Nich said in the panel, that it adds so much more meaning to the text when you add those honorifics. I know it was a very difficult decision that I had to make back in P3, and I strongly believe that it has a very important meaning in keeping those intact in P4 as well,” says Namba

As for improvements, Atlus intends to work on small details, like some of the pronounciation errors in Persona 3.

“I noticed that a couple of people were complaining about the pronunciation of words like sempai,” says Namba, “that might be something we might want to consider tweaking a little bit when we do the recording of P4.”

Persona fans know that you’ll spend a fair bit of time in dungeons in the series games. It seems that Persona 4‘s dungeons will have a bit more of a visual flair. There’s even one dungeon that’s decked out in 8-bit decor.

“In P3, and I guess in FES also, each section of the dungeon had its own kind of particular theme built in. Some of them looked like H. R. Geiger, some of them looked psychedelic. You’ll probably see that kind of trend, but way strengthened in P4,” said Namba.

Persona games are known for their length. We tried to get Atlus to tell us just how long Persona 4 is.

After laughing, Namba says, “I went through the game, I guess twice. Me being the lead of the project, I tried to cover pretty much all aspects of game, like all the things you don’t need to do really, also. But, it took me a long time.”

“Even with that kind of knowledge, it still took me a decent amount of time to finish 4. Let’s just say that I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.”

Maragos adds, “I feel like if it’s not longer, there’s more to do. There will be less repetition in the time that you do have.”

Both emphasize that the amount of in-game text for the newest game is “way bigger” than that of Persona 3. They estimate that there is 1.5 times the total of Persona 3‘s text.

In battles, there is now more character interaction. While Atlus was reluctant to disclose any specific details, they do talk about how the A.I. system has improved.

“One big change is that you still have the option to set all your party members to A.I., but you can also give them individual commands,” says Maragos. “So, if you didn’t like the A.I. system, you now have a choice. And if you did, you can still use it.”

We also asked about the included soundtrack disc. Even the first Persona game was packed full of music, far too much to put on one disc. Namba says that, just like Persona 3, the music selection will be a sort of “best of” collection for this game, We suggested that Atlus look into full soundtrack releases, much like Atlus Japan does.

“We don’t have the resources to do it internally,” says Maragos, “and to do it right, which is how we like to do things. But if that ever comes, soundtracks would be one of the things we would look into doing.”

Namba adds, “Another thing is, we’d like to not bring over the items made in Japan, but rather make something of our own. And, this t-shirt for P4, this was actually something we did on our own. There’s nothing made like that in Japan, it’s pure US.”

Maragos joked that he would be “watching eBay carefully” after this.

Now that the Persona series has become a bit more mainstream, there is some concern that Atlus may have trouble conveying the many references in the series games to new fans, especially with the Japanese-rooted Persona 4. Based on this discussion, Atlus is considering working on a Web site to help remedy this.

“What we might be able to do is add a little bit of those descriptions on the Web site,” said Namba. “We’ll see if we can’t do something about that.”

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