Persona 5 Director Katsura Hashino Interview in March’s Official Persona Magazine, Reaction

Pmag-9-724x1024Translations of Katsura Hashino’s latest interview featured in the March 2016 edition of the Official Persona Magazine are beginning to surface and were they ever worth the wait.

First of all, I cannot take credit for the paraphrasing I’m about to do. This is all secondhand from very dedicated translators whom you should go pay respect to immediately. Shoutout to @MysticDistance on Twitter and to Siliconcera’s Sato.

The biggest thing to address regarding new info is that Hashino reaffirms and is adamant that P5 will release in 2016 and will do so prior to Persona celebrating its 20th birthday on 9/20/16. This falls in line with the game releasing in the summer, though it may still come as late as August.

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Regarding the game’s story, Hashino states that P5’s cast has been wrongfully labeled by society as “useless.” The game’s central theme seems to be rising up and changing society as the story progresses. The setting in Tokyo differs greatly from Persona 3’s and Persona 4’s fictional settings of Tatsumi Port Island and Inaba. Hashino says having the setting in a world we know will allow for a thrilling ‘Phantom Thief’ drama.

New details are given on the cast members. Ryuji Sakamoto is unsurprisingly the main character’s right hand man and enthusiastic about the prospect of the Phantom Thieves changing the world. Though he may be a bit rough around the edges and defiant, he’s described as being a good guy.

Yusuke Kitagawa, the eccentric artist of the group and most recent character revealed, is described as being more than meets the eye. He is gifted and bright, but also has a certain charm to his personality, apparently.

Most interesting are comments about Morgana and Ann Takamaki. Ann is said to stand out among peers and be popular, but lacks any true friends and feels isolated. Once she joins the team, she’ll be the life of the party and will ultimately play a large role in the ultimate fate of the main characters.

Morgana, the game’s mascot character akin to Persona 4’s Teddie, is said to have been in the ‘phantom thief business’ prior to having met the main character and Ryuji. Her experience allows her to act as a mentor to the team. Hashino also states there is a reason why Morgana appears as an average cat in the real world as opposed to her more cartoonish appearance in the other world (“Palace”). Also stated is that Morgana has a specific goal she’s looking to accomplish – one she’s had since prior to meeting the other characters.

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P5’s cast, minus the main character

News regarding gameplay is that the Social Link system, or at least something very similar, will be making a return, however, it is said to be far more in-depth than what was in Persona 3 and Persona 4. The goal in Persona 5 is to improve the human relation component to this part of the game and ATLUS did significant research in how to do so. Additionally, dungeon gameplay will be very different than what has been seen in the past.

Finally, Hashino states that come the 20th Anniversary Festival in September, ATLUS will be making an announcement that he hopes will please fans. However, keep in mind, this would be after P5’s release and Hashino says that he wants fans to enjoy P5 first, before the announcement.

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As far as gameplay goes, I was certainly unsurprised about comments regarding the dungeons. Given that P4’s initial release was on PS2 and this game is coming to PS4, plus what we’ve already seen in the first three preview videos, it’s always been clear that Persona 5’s biggest advantage over its predecessors is just how in-depth and unique its dungeons will be. Dungeon gameplay in P3 and P4 was somewhat monotonous, though that was more a symptom of the era they were made and not bad game design. As time has gone on, it’s those parts of the games that have aged poorest whereas P3’s and P4’s story writing and combat systems have held up splendidly.

News regarding the social aspect of the game leaves me a little bit weary. I’m a big fan of the Social Link system from Persona 3 and Persona 4 – particularly from P4 where it was seemingly perfected. Part of me says “Why fix what isn’t broken?” Then again, this is Katsura Hashino and his team we’re talking about and they’ve certainly earned my trust. Ultimately, what I want to see is that whatever this new system is, whether it is still called “Social Link” or not, is something that takes no more or less in-game time as the previous system, but simply reimagines the way each event occurs. In P3 and P4, each Social Link rank-up was sort of on rails. You were always going to get the same dialogue and same response options in every play-through. It’d be interesting to see the system be more alive where responses in earlier events shape the dialogue and response options in later events. We’ve already seen something like this with Marie’s Social Link in Persona 4 Golden.

Comments on Ryuji’s and Yusuke’s characters were also about what I expected. It’s hard not to compare P5’s cast to Hashino’s past characters, so I must say that Ryuji does come across as a mix of Persona 4’s Yosuke and Kanji.

What was surprising was to hear that Ann will play a role in the fate of the main characters. Some of the things said about her were reiteration of what we already knew: she’s part caucasian and feels a disconnect with her peers. Hearing that she becomes the life of the group once joining the team is also expected, given some of what we’ve seen of her in the first three previews.

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Ryuji, Ann, and Morgana

Comments on Morgana leave me intrigued. As was the case with Teddie in P4, it’s expected that she know more about the other world than the main character and other team members. In fact, that sort of mentor relationship was made clear enough in PV03. What has my interest is whatever her “goal” is. I have my own idea, but it may be too outlandish for now. I am eager to learn the nature of her existence, which undoubtedly ties in with why her appearance changes in the real world versus what it is in Palace. Much like how players discovered Teddie’s origins towards the end game of P4, the truth behind Morgana will likely be hidden to the main character throughout much of the game.

As time goes by, the more I question my initial reaction to P5’s first impressions. Hashino’s previous two games had two very clear themes. Persona 3’s theme was death and its corresponding color was blue. Persona 4’s theme was truth and its corresponding color was yellow. At first glance, the theme of P5 seemed to be “freedom” and unquestionably its corresponding color red. But with last September’s debut of PV03 and the first look of new vocalist Lyn singing the opening theme of the game, I’ve thought the overarching theme of this game may not be freedom, but rather “change.” This interview has reaffirmed that idea.

For as much comparing as I and many others are doing with P5’s known details to Persona 3 and Persona 4, I must say that a lot of what is known about this game thus far reminds me of the earliest entries in the franchise: Megami Ibunroku Persona and Persona 2 Innocent Sin. For starters, in each preview, we’ve seen the Phantom Thieves doing battle not against the Shadows we’ve become familiar with from P3 and P4, but instead actual Personas – the same Personas that have their roots in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise’s signature demons. Prior to Persona 3, the player would battle demons and negotiate with them to earn cards in order to fuse into new Personas in the Velvet Room. It isn’t yet known how new Personas will be acquired in P5, but the sheer fact that the player is battling proper Personas and not Shadows is a drastic change from P3/P4 and is a callback to the franchise’s roots.

The most recent thing that makes me think of P1 and P2 are these new comments about Ann. The idea that Ann will not just be another cast member no different from Ryuji or Yusuke is surprising. Stopping to think about it, there wasn’t really a character like that in P3 or P4. The closest anyone comes would be Aigis from P3, though her uniqueness was more so tied to the game’s background than the ultimate fate of the rest of the cast. There are, however, young women that fit this description in the original two games: Maki Sonomura from P1 and Maya Amano from P2. Each character was extremely central to their respective game’s story and ultimate outcome. It remains to be seen if Ann will play such a pivotal role in P5, but it would be interesting. Keep in mind that unlike the original games, P5’s social system will undoubtedly include romance, just like P3 and P4. So if Ann does hold some sort of heightened significance, one can only imagine how the perception of the story may change if the player pursues an intimate relationship with her.

Persona fans often joke that P1 and P2 never existed, largely due to ATLUS’s treatment of those games and the way they’re essentially ignored compared to everything P3 and later. At the corporate level, there may be some truth to that. In the recent past, ATLUS hasn’t been quick to acknowledge those games, but 2016 marking the 2o-year anniversary may be an exception. All of that said, I’ve never gotten the sense that Persona’s creative directors have ever meant to bury the legacy of the original games; especially when you remember that the series’ composer, Shoji Meguro, worked on Megami Ibunroku Persona and directed the re-releases on PlayStation Portable. P3 in particular had several allusions to P2 and even some of P4’s art design and naming choices can be seen as a callback to P1. Persona 5 releasing close to the franchise’s 20th birthday and having design callbacks to Persona’s roots would hardly be surprising.

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Finally, Hashino stating that they hope to make a big announcement after P5 releases was a huge takeaway from this interview. I can only imagine what it could be because it’s truly anyone’s guess. ATLUS making a big Persona related announcement after launch could be anything from another new game going into development, an older game getting a re-release/remake, or possibly even downloadable content for P5. DLC has made its way into the Persona franchise recently, but only in the spinoff games. P5 could mark the first main entry to receive DLC. Whatever it is, more Persona after P5’s launch can only be good.

There are some things I’m still disappointed we didn’t hear about, even though it was probably unreasonable to expect that we would. We will unquestionably have to play through the game to learn more about P5’s two new Velvet Room attendants, Caroline and Justine. On that note, we also don’t know what year P5 is set in, thus we don’t know how much time has passed since P4 and how that relates to why Margaret is no longer the attendant. Along those lines, I’m incredibly eager to see if Margaret’s absence, and perhaps the absence of Theodore as well, will somehow relate to the ongoing story that ties back to P3 and that game’s attendant, Elizabeth. You know what story I’m talking about, Persona fans.

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I’m also anxious about the size of the cast. I’m expecting more characters to be shown and would prefer to see a larger cast like what was in the last two games. I didn’t expect for a new character to be revealed via an interview. That would have been impractical. I was, however, hopeful that Hashino would comment about there being more party members in the future. We’ll have to wait for a likely PV04 for this to change.

And of course, as an American, the most frustrating thing about the slow trickle of P5 news is just how little we know about the game’s localization process. Did I expect to hear anything about that in this interview? Of course not. It’s just a tough reminder that while Hashino is opening up more about the game in Japan, ATLUS USA’s last comment about P5 was five months ago and incredibly vague. In this digital age, months between P5 launching in Japan and seeing English localization would be painful, because that is a lot of opportunities for this game to be spoiled by the Internet’s endless supply of cretins. It’s such a large concern that I’m considering taking a class in Japanese over the summer so that I may be able to take advantage of the PS4 being region-free and try to stumble my way through this game’s story. That’s crazy, I know, but that’s how much I value having an untainted experience of this game. I pray everyday that P5’s American release is as close to the Japanese release date as reasonably possible. As much as Hashino is keying on the story of P5 being a Phantom Thief drama that “surprises” the player, I hope the decision makers on that side of ATLUS are aware of just how much a delayed localization process could hurt the game outside of Japan. Ideally, something on the U.S. front will be said at E3 in June.

For now, this is all we have, but I will be happy to update if more detailed translations add any new pertinent info. The final thing to report is that another issue of the magazine is slated for “sometime within Summer 2016,” but we should get more info before then (hopefully). Until the next stop on the 2016 Persona 5 Hype Train…

Author: Scott

Scott is a content creator, gamer, and student from Austin. At the ripe old age of 21 he discovered that the Nintendo 64 is never worth returning to and that Castlevania Rondo of Blood is the best Castlevania ever made. Can successfully rap the entirety of "Mass Destruction" from Persona 3.

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