– Added translation of the interview.
Day Persona 5 officially gets released in West! A book has also appeared on Amazon US called “The Art of Persona 5” by Prima Games which might be a localised version of this book so you might want to hold out until June 27th. However, it’s thinner at only 432 pages so we’ll have to wait and see…
Persona 5 Official Design Works is one big heavy artbook… Probably the biggest I’ve seen at 512 A4 pages, 1.6kg. It reminds me of the the free telephone directories that are distributed to homes in the UK but, the paper and print quality’s much better of course. Shows how much thought went into the game and why it’s oozing with quality, enough to play through a second time to platinum it.
Book kicks off with about 20 or so pages of promotional illustrations…
So before we get to the actual content filled with designer, Shigenori Soejima’s work here are the contents. Titles are quite creative…
- Characters Gate, p23 – 241
- Sub-characters Gate, p265 – 339
- Enemies, p354 – 400
- Miscallaneous, p404 – 410
- Persona 5 World Gate, p413
- Interview with Soejima, p506
So, let’s go through some of the notes I found interesting…
This section is probably the biggest part of the book and is filled with profiles of the characters complete with design comments, early concept art, facial expressions, icons, all out attacks etc. Everything character related.
While for Persona 4’s protagonist was designed with domestic dogs when he designed the protagonist – someone who is loyal and sincere, Persona 5’s protagonist was designed with domestic cats in mind, lol. Someone with both a public and hidden side which was just right with the whole Phantom Thieves theme.
Early designs of the protagonist.
This design was used during the pilot stages of the game. He looked different if his hair was all slicked back with his hair and eye colour changed – easy to know when he was switching between his two different sides but, as Soejima continued his design, it just didn’t feel quite right.
Ryuuji was probably the only character design that didn’t change much, going straight for a typical mischievous school kid personality with a broken fashion sense.
Early designs of Mona (Morgana) was done with the image of a female in mind, giving him a smooth rubber body. He was also supposed be able to transform into anything, not just a van. Originally Soejima wanted the gang to drive around in a open roof sports car but it wasn’t going to big enough for the whole party so, mini van it was.
Anne was one of the characters to appear in early marketing material for the game and was given red tights to match the black and red colour theme of the game. It also helped show she had character because it stood out together with her mini skirt and not many ladies are comfortable with that but Anne doesn’t care. She was also given a hoodie that was designed with cheerleaders from overseas school dramas in mind.
Both Soejima and Game Planner Tanaka Yuuichi really wanted Anne to appear in the game with her hair down – only makes sense when her hair is tied up. Soejima drew this for Tanaka but it wasn’t what Tanaka wanted so it never made it in, lol.
Some more early designs of Anne along with her Persona.
Since Soejima has always been thinking about cool poses for the protagonist, he decided to give Yuusuke a different kind of pose – give him a pretty, refined face, a model’s body frame but a pose that makes him look a bit like a weirdo. The keys you see are for lockers since he should always be making something as an artist but shows his work to those important to him.
You’ll also notice a black lily symbol on his shirt which symbolises revenge and hints at how the story picks up in the game.
Yuusuke’s design began with long hair to go with the image of an art teacher before it evolved the final game version.
Makoto was given a dark eyes and a black eyeliner to show her strict personality but at the same time, she’s a little more forgiving than Mitsuru from Persona 3. In Phantom Thief mode, she has an iron mask to convey she’s always on her guard about her true self.
Oh, and she does not see the need to answer any questions regarding her weight, lol.
Her design really didn’t change much.
Futaba originally had black hair but Soejima suggested they made it orange because black hair on a withdrawn individual gave too much of a negative image. Giving her orange hair has the same effect as Anne’s red tights showing she does what she wants even though not everyone around her can understand her.
Since she’s always looking at a computer screen, she’d probably have bad eye sight. Big glasses were chosen to show this and also add to that withdrawn personality as it hides more of her face.
The geekiness doesn’t stop there. Headphones were added in collaboration with AKG – if she’s a technology geek then she must be quite the audiophile too. Her t-shirt shows asterisks like the ones you see when entering passwords and, her parka jacket has “AFK” on the back which as everyone will probably know, means Away From Keyboard.
Her Phantom Thief design was based on a high tech looking design like that from the movie Tron.
Finally we have Haru as the last party member. She was designed with an approachable, kind image in mind. Kind of like Fuuka from Persona 3 but with Fuuka’s design, the character also had to look fragile and weak unlike Haru.
And we have the sub-character section featuring Igor and all the co-op links of course….
A few guys.
Sae Niijima, Makoto’s older sister probably went through a lot of changes.
All the bosses of the game are listed in here such as the first boss, Kamoshita, a teacher rumoured to sexually abuse his students.
And the rest of the NPCs.
Persona 5 World Gate
All the locations around Tokyo you can visit and having visited Japan myself, I must say they’re really well done and almost exactly mirrors the real locations like a lot of Japanese fiction.
From places like the famous Takeshita, Harajuku…
And of course, the tarot cards all Persona games feature.
Some awesome full colour concept art.
Followed by lots of rough sketches. Looks like there might have been a sofa on the school roof!
We finish off with an interview with the man himself from November 11th 2016 – Shigenori Soejima who works as a character designer for Atlus but who was also the art director for Persona 4.
What does a character designer do exactly?
I come up with the design and imagery, deciding the kind of characters that should appear in the game. These ideas are then passed along to various people, exchanging opinions until the team is satisfied they should be used. These sketches and ideas are then passed onto another team who creates the 3D models etc.
When we interviewed you in the Persona 4 Design Works, you had predicted it will be very difficult to create Persona 5 with various hurdles to overcome. How was the actual production process for you?
Well, that interview was 8 years ago and I said that because I assumed we would make Persona 5 in 2,3 years time. What I meant was is if we really did make another Persona game in such a short period of time I would be separate the P4 and P5 or what kind of new features could we add in to make P5 different?
But now that it’s been 8 years, it’s a complete different story. I appreciate how the Persona series hasn’t been forgotten during that time and on the contrary I have a much stronger feeling of how there are now a lot more fans.
Why do you feel that way?
After Persona 4 Golden we had an Anime show, comics and various spin-off titles which really helped boost the expectations for P5. Because of that it made the team feel like we really need to push the Persona brand and aim for something bigger.
However, we were also wondering how people would feel playing a Persona game after 8 years.
What do you mean by that?
We were thinking people who will play Persona 5 will be those who played P4. However, since it been such a long time since P4 we weren’t sure what kind of expectations they had for a new Persona game. What made it more difficult was that we now had a new fans that were exposed to the series via various different media types so we weren’t quite sure which base to focus on.
Why is that difficult?
As a designer, I need a clear idea of who our designs should appeal to.
And that makes it hard to decide on the direction of your designs?
Indeed. The more information we have, the more detailed and intricate our designs become which in turn makes it easier to convey ideas to poeple. And that was why it was tough during the early stages of making Persona 5.
I see, so that’s why it’s difficult in a completely different sense than what you expected 8 years ago.
Yes. We wondered how the new fan base would enjoy and what would make them happy in the latest title. There were various questions in mind we had to clear up first such as whether it will have any link to P4 and also what was in the company’s best interest. After puzzling over various issues the team decided to turn a new page so that we weren’t just progressing from P4 but creating a fresh new title that was P5 and I’m glad it turned out that way.
Did your style change working on P5 compared to when you worked on P4?
Our art team was bigger. When I worked on P4 I only had one assistant. For P5 it was me and 3 other members on the 2D art team. We would work on our designs and discuss issues such as “What should we do about their clothing?” and say, it should be more like this or not like that etc. I did the majority of the designs while more effort was put into the more finer details by the other staff. Everyone did a lot of illustrations so there was a lot of variety.
And what changed for you personally?
I worked on less art than I did on P4. It might seem like a very minor change but in P5 I made the brows on the characters lower so that they’re closer to their eyes. This way, it really adds shine to their eyes.
Both P3 and P4 were major hits. Did you feel any pressure from expectations?
I think the director was under that kind of pressure. For me, it was more like “It’s really motivating when I know there’s going to be lots of people seeing my work!” (Laughs) I did have other kind of stressful moments such as “What are we going to do about the uniform?” (Laughs) I’m sure anyone who produces some kind of work will always be happy others are enjoying their work. I think it’s extremely sad when no one views the work you’ve put so much effort into.
P3 had a cool image, P4 was bright and full of energy. What was P5 designed with in mind?
P5’s probably more about passion. It’s been 8 years since the last Persona game got released so we didn’t want to go with a calm quiet image. Instead we wanted to convey “We are starting anew!” You can feel that kind of adrenaline from the logo design which is also why we’ve chosen red and other high contrasting colours to use in the theme. We really wanted to let players know, “We’re not done yet, there’s a whole more coming!” Red fairly much helps symbolise passion. It gets straight to to the point about how much passion we have for this latest game.
What kind of theme did you go with for the characters?
Characters that had habits. We aimed for a picaresque type of character.
What about the theme used for the phantom thief outfits?
We went with a straight forward classic look. There were all sort of suggestions such as designing the outfits with a classic look in mind then re-arranging their uniforms to see what they’d look like in phantom thief mode. However, I thought it’d be easier to convey the idea of phantom thieves if we went with the classic leather look rather than something modern.
Did you think about what theme to go with for the protogonist’s Persona design?
I decided to go for something straight forward, something even more so than the phantom thief outfits. Game director Hashino had a different opinion and wanted it plain straight forward. He requested, “If the Persona’s going to be Arsene Lupin then we must keep the silk top hat.” We talked over about how if we were going to follow the trend in the series, maybe we should design Arsene in the same way as we did with Izanagi where we create an original design instead of keeping their original image.
And what lead to the current final design?
Up until P4 a lot of Personas were designed with their names in mind with some degree of mystery. We would look at the Persona and think to ourselves, “Why did were the Personas designed this way?” and then found it was fun when you looked up the legends and myths that surrounded them which lead to the form you see them in. However, this time we had chosen well-known characters such as Goemon Ishikawa and Carmen for the rest of the Persona so that players would recognise them right away. This was why we decided to make Arsene Lupin different from what people already had in their minds.
So out of all the characters and Persona, which are your favourite and why?
It must be Arsene because he has some stylish details on him and is very different from the other Persona. I think it’s great that the flame on his face and the red colour really says, Persona 5. I think Futaba’s Necronomicon would a close runner up.
Why was Necronomicon an original design?
No one knows about Necronomicon. I like the “what can you come up in 5 minutes” design (Laugh). Johanna was also done the same way because not many people know about her either so it was meaningless to stick to a straight forward image. We ended up with an original design for her so that it would give the idea of what having a “Persona” meant.
And your favourite main character?
Anne. As I wrote in the design notes, she was one of the early characters I designed for the game and really said, “Persona 5” so she was more a baseline for the other designs. For example, when I first designed Makoto and showed her to the staff they were thinking, “Is P5 a really serious themed game?” and didn’t really get what the game was about. On the other hand, when I showed them the design for Anne the colours and style for her really spoke volumes. There was a lot thought put into Anne since she was the first character I designed for the game.
Your favourite confidant?
I like Sae Nijima. I like to twist my character designs a lot so I get told “Make them cuter!” a lot. I designed Sae with a lot of cool, straight forward style and made her the most balanced beauitful woman.
So Sae is your idea of a beautiful woman’s characteristics?
When was Makoto’s name come up with?
We had various names but a lot of them went out the window (Laughs)
In the P4 Design Works, you said there are always females with hair bands in the games so could tell us about them this time?
I think I had the most fun designing Makoto (Laughs). I’ve never had to design most of the characters similar to the ones you see in P5 but for Makoto I had sketched about 186 pages. The rest of the staff felt Sae and Makoto were the hardest to draw.
For most characters, they give some kind of strong vibe that shows what kind of character they are such as they’re cute or cool but in Makoto and Sae’s case they do not have that kind of stance about them. They had to be drawn so that it doesn’t look like they themselves think they’re beautiful. Seems it was a challenge for everyone apart from me. They said, “I don’t know what to focus on” or “Could you do the face please?” so I ended up doing the faces for them (Laughs)
In Makoto’s case you didn’t give her a hair band did you? Could you tell us more about her?
I myself feel Persona 5 really doesn’t need to have character with a hair band (Laughs) But there are people who think otherwise, “There’s always a character with a hair band” or, “I love characters with hair bands!”. I had mixed feelings with those thoughts in mind. I thought to myself, how can I make myself like characters with hairbands to avoid thinking “Oh no, not another hair band character” (Laughs) That said, I didn’t really fuss that much about it when I designed Makoto’s hair band.
But Makoto’s hairband does look diguised in some way.
Yes… It did turn out that way. When I designed Makoto I realised her hair isn’t long enough to use a hair band so when I did some research I found there were hairbands made from synthetic hair. When I design female characters, I like drawing the outline of how a hairband divides their hair. It’s… really fun drawing how their front hair, the sides and back are composed and form together.
It’s just like drawing the parts that form a robot. Biological entities are basically a single form so they don’t really come in parts. That’s why I enjoy drawing characters with accessories such as headphones because I can divide them into parts just like any those that wear hairbands. It’s much easier to design a character after you’ve chosen the angle that accessory is set at. That’s why I also enjoyed drawing Aegis from P3.
So you like hair bands and headphones.
In a way, I think girls are cute with hair bands. Actually, I gave Anne a huge hair band because she’s still so young but, it made her look like a country girl so scrapped it.
It seems aesthetics is a big part of P5 and you’ve mentioned aesthetics a lot. How does P5 relate to it?
The word “aesthetics” gives off a fairly strong passionate image. I think the words aesthetics and character is interchangeable. So when I say aesthetics what I mean is someone who you think has a unique personality or, someone who influences others in a good way or, someone who inspires people to think “I can’t do what he/she does but I’d like to try”. In P5, various unique characteristics flow so naturally together that it makes you realise something is wrong and that by breaking that flow, you can change the world. That’s why I mention aesthetics a lot when it comes to P5.
When you focus on aesthetics or character as you put it, what do you focus on?
I wrote about this in the design notes but I go for something that really highlights their personalities such as the colour of Anne’s tights or the colour of Futaba’s hair. They aren’t doing it because it’s trendy, they do it because they themselves want to. I think it’s great when that becomes something iconic for that particular character and shows their different personality. It’s very difficult to achieve something like that so not only do we have to pay attention to appearance but also how they act too. Especially when these characters form this mysterious group in the game.
And what would like to say to your readers who bought this book?
This book is filled with the sketches and designs I had after P5 was finished. They include illustrations that I was hesitant about showing to the public too. However, I myself enjoyed seeing this kind of behind the scenes work long ago in magazines and artbooks too which was how this book was created. I hope our readers will have gotten a feeling of how fun it was making the game. I hope you enjoyed this book and thank you for purchasing it!
So there you have it…
Overall a really satisfying book for anyone who really enjoyed the game. It’s chalk full of art and even if you can’t read Japanese there is little text to read.