Cognition Dissemination: The Next Persona

Though we’ve yet to receive any solid sales numbers, signs suggest Persona 5 is off to a solid start in western territories. It’s not only one of the best-reviewed title in the series from professional critics, alongside Persona 4 Golden, but one of the best-reviewed games this year thus far. Shortly after its release a month ago, Atlus confirmed they shipped over 1.5 million worldwide; and given that it shipped around 550,000 in Japan (though it’s likely a little higher than that by now), it shipped around 950,000 immediately in western markets. It’s believable, given reports that the European version was difficult to find shortly after its launch.

Persona 5 garnered enough praise that director Katsura Hashino had to provide a special “Thank You” address to the western audience. Here, he mentioned how happy he was that the game was being played and enjoyed by many westerners, as it’s tough for him and other development staff to gauge English reception from Japan. He also said he couldn’t imagine how the western audience would react to it, as it has a very “Japanese” story (which you’ll see upon playing it) with political aspects. He also mentioned how it differs from other Japanese superhero works, as the villains in many of them tend to be foreign invaders — though not necessarily foreign humans. Persona 5, on the other hand, features Japanese superhero figures taking on villains born from within Japanese society, and the developers had no idea how those outside the country would feel about this. As it turns out, they warmed up to it pretty well.

Art commemorating the occasion from Atlus’ Shigenori Soejima.

Also, if Hashino is unaware of how popular Persona is outside Japan, then it’s likely that the rest of Atlus is also blissfully unaware of this and many other situations regarding their western audience — including many of the top execs. Considering that, it’s no surprise decisions like their recent streaming demands were made, even though they recently lightened the stipulations.

There’s another important takeaway from his address to fans: He confirms that he’s handing the next Persona installment to another team, something only implied to have happened before. Project Re Fantasy was announced by Atlus at the end of last year, a title with a temporary name because it’s still in the concept phase. Not much is known about the project outside of how it will have a traditional fantasy setting due to the artwork released, and it was announced this early to drive hiring for multiple lower positions.

With Project Re Fantasy’s reveal came the announcement that Hashino is directing, and is focused on building the development team, known as Studio Zero, from the ground up. Meanwhile, it was specified that despite the Persona franchise’s Shigenori Soejima providing main artwork and Shoji Meguro being the main composer, they would continue working on future Persona games in tandem. The same wasn’t said of Hashino, though they refrained from going as far enough to say that he’s done with the franchise. Some fans believed the next mainline Persona game would wait until this game releases so he could return to Persona 6 afterward, while the other teams would work on spinoffs, similar to what happened between Persona 4 and 5. The discovery of a series of URLs hinting at such a plan exacerbated this line of thinking.

Concept art for Project Re Fantasy, also from Soejima.

But with Hashino clarifying that he “handed off the series development to [his] successors,” he’s officially left the franchise behind. He’s also no longer listed as a key member of “P-Studio” Persona development team, according to listings added on Atlus Japan’s recruitment page late last month. Instead, others who’ve worked on a series of mainline Persona titles and spinoffs like Kazuhisa Wada and Daisuke Kaneda are mentioned. Wada directed the Persona 4 Arena titles and Dancing All Night, while Kaneda directed Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth, along with Etrian Odyssey IV and Trauma Team. It’s possible one of them will be directing the next mainline game, and given the reactions to the gameplay structure in the Arena titles and DAN, many are hoping Kaneda will take the mantle.

Regardless of which one takes over, the effect of Hashino’s non-involvement in Persona 6 will be felt nearly immediately. The game will receive a heap of scrutiny when it’s revealed, reminiscent of Dark Souls II’s unveil, where it was confirmed that Demon’s and Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki wasn’t taking the helm. Expect it to be referred to as a B-team game through no fault of the developers, but it would be nice if another sizable segment of the Persona fanbase is more open-minded regarding changes that will be made. The team claimed it will be difficult to match or surpass Persona 5, but it could ideally come close at least.

On the other hand, Project Re Fantasy will be a risky project due to it being made by a team that doesn’t have much experience with fantasy-based RPGs. But this could lead to them making one of the most unique examples of the genre in years if they’re able to implement their ideas, so let’s hope they take their time.

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