More than just noise: “Thou art I, I am thou”

[I’m back from PAX, and Monthly Musing promotions have begun! I don’t have to describe Aurain’s Monthly Musing — he’s already done it for me! In his own words: “A look at Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 4 as a means of evoking emotion, story progression, and good times using it’s Soundtrack as a vehicle of delivery, rather than simple accompaniment. There will be story spoilers unfortunately.” Want to write your own musing? Click here and go for it! — JRo]

If we were to consider the three major elements of Gaming as parts of a Human Being, We would probably classify them as this: Graphics – Appearance, Gameplay – the Brain, and Sound – Personality. Your outward appearance is what you present to the world, ideally, you want this to be attractive and eye pleasing, but as an overall element. It’s not really too meaningful. Your Brain is what keeps everything going, without a Brain; there is no reason to have an appearance or a personality. It’s the glue what holds you together. The Personality, is you, it’s what makes you interesting, what makes you tick; it makes you feel love, hatred, despair and happiness. It’s what people want to know about you.

I like to think there are two things that make you who you are. Your environment, and who you know. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and Persona 4 are great examples of two games, in which music gives you a great feeling of environment and camaraderie.

Most importantly of all, Sound and Music is an incredibly personal thing. One man’s interpretation of it can wildly differ from the next. This is mine.

First of all, we should start here, In the Velvet Room. The Velvet Room is inhabited by a unusual being named Igor, who is clearly un-human. The Velvet Room is the beginning of it all, to simplify matters. It’s a sterile environment where you create the “Persona” you want.

The Soundtrack to this room is “The Poem for Everyone’s Souls”, a haunting piece with an almost divine quality to it. Current in both of the games, it is an iconic piece of music across the entire Persona series, albeit in different forms.

The operatic chanting gives a sense of control, and flexibility. It gives an impression that nothing is guaranteed, and that you can change anything if that’s what you want. I would consider the Velvet Room the only section in either game with complete neutrality.

I would consider Persona 3 the more environmentally focused of the games. You character is a victim of circumstance, awakened to the power of Persona in a world where people are being hunted by Shadows during the “Dark Hour”, an hidden hour at Midnight every day.

In the original release of Persona 3, we were greeted by a track named “Burn My Dread”, a fast paced Japanese Pop song, which gives you an overview of what you’re going to be doing in the game and when you’re going to be doing it, before the game had even begun.

Voiceless town, tapping feet
I clench my fist in pockets tight
far in mist a tower awaits
like a merciless tomb, devouring moonlight.

If you’ve played Persona 3 before, you’re going to recognise immediately the Voiceless Town symbolising the “Dark Hour”, the “Tower” as “Tartarus” and “devouring moonlight” as Nyx. It reaffirms to to you that these are going to be ever present themes throughout the game, and that rather than trying to avoid it, you’re going to have to dispose of it. Much like “Burn My Dread”, the games battle theme, “Mass Destruction”, is another reminder of your duties in the “Dark Hour”.

Fear’s awake
Anger beats loud
Face reality
Never be charity
The enemy you’re fighting covers whole society
Mommy’s not here gotta fight

A reminder that you’re fighting to save the planet, you have to do this to protect mankind.

Whilst I would contend that Persona 3 has more of a focus on its environment than that of Persona 4, it isn’t entirely centric on that, with tracks such as ”Heartful Cry” and “When the Moon’s reaching out the Stars”, as an example of the effect that you’re also having on the people you have as Social Links. Another great example of that would be my favourite song from the Persona 3 Soundtrack, “Kimi no Kioku” (Memories of You). This track plays shortly after the credits roll, and considering Persona 3’s bittersweet ending, its lyrics are all the more poignant. Whilst Japanese, its melody is intriguing, and the translated lyrics are rather beautiful.

Because you protected this ephemerally floating world by your own hand
Now simply fold your wings and sleep restfully
Be wrapped up in an eternal tranquillity, and love through all eternity
Sleep, by this hand of mine that gently watches over you
I remember you laughing, you crying, you angry
I will never forget for all time until my life is exhausted

Persona 4, to me at least, has somewhat different aims with its music. Rather than giving you a constant reminder of what effect the environment is having on you, it gives an impression of what effect other people can have on it, and it also tells you not to embrace everything as a given, and rather to find the truth for yourself. If Persona 3’s message was “change things for the better”, Persona 4’s would be “change yourself for the better”.

There is no more stark reminder of that then the opening intro. The opening track is entitled “Pursuing your True Self”, once again a foreshadowing of things to come. In keeping with what is the theme of Persona 4, the opening theme encourages you to look inside yourself for the truth, rather than to rely on and believe others. It encourages you to accept your flaws and use them to your strength, which is a running theme in the game. This is also echoed in the Battle Theme “Reach out to the Truth”.

The plot of Persona 4 is rather different than that of Persona 3, rather than attempting to eliminate the “Dark Hour” from existence, you are working to stop a Kidnapper from murdering people by throwing them into the Television. In game, this is known as the “Midnight Channel” and it projects out your deepest insecurities across the Television.

Due to the nature of the “Midnight Channel” being a much more personalised dungeon than that of Persona 3’s “Tartarus”, the developers were able to use the music not only as a way of keeping you entertained during the dungeon sessions, but in circumstances, they’re able to make it so you want to progress as quickly as possible.

The nature of the music in these dungeons is wildly variable, as the cast of supporting characters are all rather unique individuals in comparison to each other. Due to this, we have themes such as “Striptease”, a track that sounds like night club music with for Rise, a teen who is tired of her “idol” status; we have “Secret Base”, an inquisitive and curious theme for the young detective Naoto, who is having identity problems.

Two notable mentions for this are “Game”, a call back to the 16bit era of gaming, with a delightfully old school vibe.

Heaven” is perhaps the seminal tune when it comes to Character themed tracks for the game. It plays shortly after an undoubtedly beloved character has been kidnapped. If the plot point itself didn’t make you want to save your friend, the theme for her dungeon certainly will.

Those long days passing by from that door
Like late summer they slowly fade away
Finding ways through the favorite tune
Play all day with my eyes closed

The lyrics in the context of the game are rather saddening.

On a purely technical level, both entries in the series have displayed stunning usage of Leitmotif in their final boss battle themes. “The Battle for Everyone’s Souls“, the final boss track for Persona 3 uses Rock styling to give a sense of finality and urgency, punctuated with the operating chanting of “The Poem for Everyone’s Souls” to put into scope that you are fighting an higher power, Nyx, the embodiment of death. It calls back to your first time in the Velvet Room, and that feeling of opportunity and limitless potential.

The Genesis” is the final boss track for Persona 4, a quietly understated piece of music, it is a fantastic example of the Izanami’s motivations and intentions, to blanket the world in the lies and to create mankinds true desire in her own image. Much like in Persona 3, you are contending with force of an higher power, the low rumblings of “The Genesis“, are symbolic of an uphill battle, The rumblings slowly getting more frequent and more intense as the battle wears on. Eventually, during an hard thought battle, the Chorus of “Reach out to the Truth” bursts through, reminding you that you’re an idividual and that the answer is within you.

Through the usage of Music, Shoji Meguro, the composer for both games has created a situation in which, the music of the game is able to keep you entertained, help you understand a character, and at times force your hand. What I have covered here is only really the surface of what Persona offers in terms of soundtrack.

Finally…

My objective of this blog was not to necessarily make it so you immediately understand the full ins and outs of the games, only playing the games as a complete package will allow you to do that. This is more of a showcase of what the Persona soundtracks can influence both in and out of the game.

In the least, If you have not played Persona, I hope this at least inspires you to try the franchise, and hopefully then you’ll understand why “Kimi no Kioku” or “Heaven” are so moving in their executions.

If you are an existing Persona fan, why not leave a comment saying what your favourite track in the series is and why that is infact your favourite track.

If you aren’t already, why not leave a comment with a link to your favourite piece of music, and a little comment perhaps of why it’s your favourite.

Thanks for reading!

Aurain