The Definitive History Behind Every Persona Remake and Spinoff (2006-2012)

Listen To The Soundtrack ⇣

Being a spinoff of a spinoff, no one ever would expect the Persona series to grow past its main entries. However, with rampant success of Persona 3 the wheels of fate began to turn in the franchises favor. Persona was no longer some offshoot that could just be forgotten, it was something all its own. Capitalizing on this fact, like any good business would do, Atlus quickly went to work on expanding the franchises venture. It all started with Persona 3 before its release, with a browser game of all things. Releasing on June 1st, 2006 and dubbed Persona 3: The Night Before, it was a prequel to the game only in name. Taking place before the protagonist’s fateful journey into Tartarus, players are tasked by Igor with climbing to the top of the tower, defeating any shadow they find in their way. Interestingly enough being an online game gave it a few merits, as for the first-time players could take on the role of the shadows. Persona users and Shadows, these two warring factions would fight it out week after week with whomever emerged victorious reaping the greatest rewards. Using the series classic turn based gameplay with the look of old Megami Tensei titles it was an interesting title to say the least. Persona 3: The Night Before was so successful that it ran for two more years and on the day that it shut its doors in 2008 it reemerged as Persona Ain Soph, essentially the same game but with a new skin. Only in 2010 did Persona’s online experiment finally come to a close with only sparse remnants of the game still existing around the web till this day.

Atlus wasn’t the only one making Persona titles around this time, though. They had actually contracted multiple companies, including Japanese mobile game developer Bbmf, to use the growing trend of mobile gaming to their own advantage. The first to come out of these developments was Megami Ibunroku Persona: Chapter of the Foreign Tower of Emptiness, a 3D dungeon crawler. This small, easily forgettable title found some success though, prompting the two companies to collaborate once again resulting in two sequels revolving around Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. Persona 3 received the best mobile treatment of all though, as not one, not two, but three separate games where released for the phone market. There was Persona 3: Em and RPG side story that took place during a portion of the game, Aigis: First Mission, an action-based prequel set ten years before the events of Persona 3, Persona 3 Social, an alternate version of the game that stars completely different characters, and lastly Persona Mobile Online, a mobile RPG set around Gekkoukan High School. All in all, most proved to be interesting side distractions rather than compelling gameplay experiences so they were forgotten soon after and completely lost after the adoption of smartphones.

Mobile gaming was one thing but what about remakes, the backbone of any successful franchise? Well, after its revival in 2006 Persona jumped into that aspect rather quickly compared to other series, starting with its most recent release. Not a year after Persona 3 had hit store shelves, Persona 3 Festival or FES for short had arrived. Following a growing trend with many of the main RPG franchises of the time, such as Kingdom Hearts, Persona 3 was rereleased with nearly everything intact from the main game, a director’s cut if you will. Nothing else was lost in translation so what would be the point in buying this supposed brand-new game? Other than some obvious tweaks there was a single answer, The Answer. An expansion of the endgame of Persona 3, The Answer acts as the definitive final chapter of each SEES member’s respective journey’s, wrapping up any loose plot threads that the main game never tackled. There was a problem with this expansion, though; a big one. Unlike in the main game where you lead a double life fighting demons and going to school, The Answer is exclusively about the former. You’ll be spending the majority of time fighting through the demonic horde again, again, and again in a tedious fashion. The saving grace, though, is the story. Dealing with the grief over a devastating loss at the end of the original Persona 3, The Answer shows our protagonists going through the many stages of it, learning to cope and move on. If only this heartfelt tale hadn’t been bogged down by copious amounts of combat. But Persona 3 still wasn’t ready to call it quits as yet another version of the game was in the pipeline.

Due to the success of the PSP, in Japan at least, Atlus thought that the Persona series was a perfect fit for the gamer on the go. Releasing in 2009 as P3P or Persona 3 Portable, this port was actually very distinct from its console counterparts in both story and design. For the story, much of it remained the same… for the male protagonist at least. Taken from a concept thrown out during the development of the original Persona 3, Persona 3 Portable gives the player a choice of either a male or female protagonist. This changes the dynamics of the story considerably with many changes needing to be made just for it all to make sense. Relationship options needed to be flipped, certain story bits needed to be rectified, and sometimes entire characters were replaced. Playing through as each of the protagonists leads to some very different feelings for each playthrough, incentivizing players to try the game again and opening up an entirely untapped market for the franchise. This extra content did come with a few caveats though as The Answer expansion from Persona 3 FES had to be completely removed due to the systems many constraints. The new content made up for that in spades although much of it was hindered by the PSP capabilities. The town of Tatsumi Port island isn’t as free to roam around in anymore. As the PSP simply can’t handle all the 3D models at once, exploring the city is unfortunately limited to clicking on static images and moving a cursor around. Ordinary conversations are even hampered because of this with only the characters in-game portraits being present. Gratefully none of this affected the series classic combat in the slightest; in fact, it improved on it in almost every way. Notably the player was given free rein over the all party members just like in Persona 4, allowing the game to be played more along the lines of any old RPG. Altogether, the Persona 3 rereleases aren’t the flawless packages many would hope for. Persona 3 FES has a greater emphasis on story yet is still hindered by its unwieldly gameplay. Persona 3 Portable fixes those exact problems while adding more on during the process even if the extra content was worthy of that sacrifice. Persona 3 lacks a definitive edition so the only choice in choosing between these two is what you’re willing to lose and what you’re willing to gain.

While Persona 3 may have lacked a definitive way to play Atlus sure wasn’t going to let that be the case for any subsequent remakes; and, thanks to Persona 3 Portables success, more were on the way. The first was of course the original, Revelations: Persona. Releasing in 2009 as the retitled Shin Megami Tensei Persona, this endeavor was directed by the series iconic composer Shoji Meguro for the first time, although, it was just a by the books remake. Everything was either touched up for the modern era, like the soundtrack, or completely unchanged, like the gameplay. Purposefully, it was a very small project with a tight budget so they didn’t have much room for creative freedom. People still warmed to the idea of playing through the original Persona all over again and its success in Japan cemented this fact. This little experiment payed off big time and soon Persona found its way to North American and European store shelves in the preceding years. The localization, specifically in North America, was a story of redemption. With hindsight being 20-20 the original localization seemed cultural insensitive even racist at times. But Atlus had changed as a company over the past decade and now wanted to bring Japanese culture to the West. Every change, alteration, and revision was reverted back and made to be more in line with the original title, an aspect that longtime fans would appreciate. This was the version of Persona that players should have gotten so long ago.  However, there was still one missing title that no one outside of Japan got a chance to play. That one little title was Persona 2: Innocent Sin.

Continuing under the direction of Shoji Meguro, the Persona team was allotted a higher budget for the sequel this time, allowing them not only to translate the game onto the PSP but expand on it and further refine Innocent Sin to a tee. The combat system was the first to receive such an enhancement, being entirely replaced by the superior system that came with Persona 2 Eternal Punishment. A change was also made to the aspect ratio, changing it from 4:3 to 16:9, and several interface adjustments were made for ease of use. For the music, Meguro gave up his seat as composer for the first time. Due to his work on Catherine alongside production of Innocent Sin there was just no way he could put in the time to make the music memorable. So, instead of relying on him entirely, Toshiki Konishi, Ryota Kozuka and Atsushi Kitajoh, a group of talented composers from a wealth of Atlus titles, were brought in as his replacements. The task to remake over 100 of Innocent Sin’s tracks would be a monumental one indeed. Fortunately for them, Konishi, Kozuka, and Kitajoh’s jobs were just to add a bit of subtlety to the tracks that weren’t present in the original. In the end, it was a much more manageable job then it looked. Still, the remake of Persona 2 Innocent Sin wasn’t all about improving on the past, it added on a great many things too. Prominently, DLC was introduced into the series for the first time in the form of the Climax Theater where players could travel to classic settings from other Shin Megami Tensei and Persona titles; even including Karukozaka High School, the location from the game that inspired it all Shin Megami Tensei If. The other fantastic addition to the game was an actual opening like Persona 3 and 4 before it. Entitled Unbreakable Tie, written by Japanese Hip-hop artist Lotus Juice and sung by J-pop singer Asami Izawa, Innocent Sin’s opening was a first for the studio as it was produced by Studio Satelight instead of the Persona team internally. Due to the re-imagination the game had undergone they felt that working with an experienced outside studio would help further this feeling along, and it worked out wonderfully. The team at Atlus was so into the process of creating this opening the best it could be that they even brought back one of the franchise’s creators, Kazuma Kaneko, to consult on the project. The results speak for themselves as when the second Persona rereleased in 2011 it was a success yet again. Atlus had struck gold on the PSP and soon capitalized on it with an international release that Innocent Sin so rightful deserved. Players all around the world could finally get a taste of the Persona that had come to define the series as a whole.

But Atlus wasn’t about to let their work go unfinished. They still had a sister title that hadn’t been released. And so, right after Innocent Sin’s release, Meguro and his team quickly went to work on developing the sequel for the PSP, Persona 2 Eternal Punishment. The original plan had been to release both Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment on one single UMD, however, the system’s limitations prevented this from happening. While they couldn’t follow through on that specific plan they still intended to give Eternal Punishment the same treatment they had given Innocent Sin. Refinements came through across the board with Innocent Sin’s new battle system being one of the many improvements. Music was even more crucial this time so returning composers Konishi, Kozuka, and Kitajoh took a different approach to their composition, intending to stray not too far and not too close to the original. Konishi was put in charge of the games new opening, produced by the famed Studio Madhouse. A remix of Eternal Punishment’s theme song, Change Your Way, Konishi had to completely reconstruct the song from the ground up, forcing him to rerecord all of the vocals while trying to keep his new vision in line with Elisha La’Verne’s original take. Kitajoh had a more arduous task compared to him as he was put in charge of remixing Maya’s Theme, one of the defining themes of Persona. However, just like with Innocent Sin new content was added into the game. Focusing on Tatsuya’s activities before he joined the party, this brand-new scenario was written by the one who penned the Persona duology himself, Tadashi Satomi. Returning to write for the series for the first time in over a decade, Satomi didn’t just hope to add onto his previous work… he wanted to change it. His focus was squarely aimed on the main character, Maya. He wanted to have her be fully voiced, a first for the series. If she had a voice actor in Innocent Sin surely, she should remain voiced in Eternal Punishment? This was Satomi’s line of thinking but when he brought it up in one of their meetings he was shot down outright as Persona protagonists are silent, no exceptions. Even without this unique addition Satomi’s work alongside the rest of the team’s efforts resulted in yet another compelling repackaging. Upon its release, the trend of success for these successive rereleases continued on. The entire Persona saga was now in the modern era for all to see… in Japan and North America unfortunately. For “unknown reasons” the PSP port of Persona 2 Eternal Punishment was never localized outside of Japan. While America still thankfully had the original release of Eternal Punishment on the PlayStation to fall back on, the rest of the world lacked such an option meaning that only two countries would ever know the full story behind the franchise. It was a shame really.

Even if some parts of the story hadn’t been seen by the rest of the world, the entirety of Persona was now in the modern era. Their little saga of remakes had been completed, or so it seemed. As what was about to come was a universe in and of itself.

Kazuma Kaneko and Shigenori Soejima Artwork

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