A Glimpse Into The Mind of Persona's Art Director
Atlus' Shigenori Soejima is best known for being the man behind the Persona series' art direction. The characters we see and worlds we inhabit are in part thanks to his talent and imagination. We had the opportunity to chat with Soejima and he talked about his creative process, his favorite designs, and what lessons he's learned along the way.
His Creative Process
Soejima strives to make his designs as realistic as possible. He noted because the Persona series has traditionally been set somewhere in Japan, it already has a "root." The team first sits down and tries to talk about a theme color for each game. Persona 4 was more lighthearted and had livelier characters, and every time he envisioned its rural setting he kept thinking of the color yellow, "like the wildflower you see along the streets," he said. But he also liked yellow because it was a color of warning, so he felt that worked well for the murder-mystery premise. Persona 3 had a darker storyline and more serious characters, so blue worked well to represent that and its urban style.
When he gets down to the actual character designs, he looks to existing people for inspiration. Be it celebrities or people he sees around, he always looks at what someone's appearance says about their personality. If his vision gets too close to their actual image, he does a rough design and tries to keep the feeling and personality of the person.
Favorite Characters And Persona Game
Soejima has worked on the Persona series since its inception and he's helped create the designs for so many beloved characters. We couldn't resist finding out his favorites. Soejima's favorite game is Persona 3; his all-time favorite characters are also from this entry. He said android Aigis is his number-one favorite, followed by Yukari. Outside of those characters, Soejima feels most strongly about the protagonists from Persona 3 and 4. He said it's because they don't show much personality and the player reflects their own image onto them. Creating the protagonists was also a challenge for him as a designer; he didn't want to give a character too strong of a look, but at the same, he wanted to make sure people actually had fun playing as the character. Soejima spent a lot of time thinking up ideas for the main protagonists and it makes him happiest when people tell him they really enjoyed playing as the protagonist; this is his favorite praise to hear from fans.
Designing For Persona Q
The upcoming dungeon crawler, Persona Q: Shadow the Labyrinth, uses elements from the Etrian Odyssey series and brings together the casts from Persona 3 and 4. The game ditches the lifesize versions of the casts and has miniature (chibi) versions of each character. "You need to not just shrink it and make it look good, you need to focus on what feature for each character stands out the best, so that becomes the key feature in the smaller version," Soejima said. Soejima noted they did research on what fans thought were characters' trademark features. "For some characters, it was different than what I thought when I was making them."
Lessons He's Learned
Soejima admitted he always wonders if he should have done something differently after projects, but he also doesn't want to cater too much to the audience. He would rather create something original for Atlus than merely replicate fan demands. He does believe it's important to keep the fans happy, but he finds it more important that he and Atlus always present something new and original. He hopes people appreciate new things and that Atlus can continually do something that other companies can't do. He hopes for Persona 5, "people see the new thing I've done and think that's awesome." He also teased that Atlus should be able to release [new information] pretty soon for Persona 5.