With the announcement of Persona 3 Dancing Moon Light / Persona 5 Dancing Star Night, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about the wonderful music of Persona and the creative forces behind it. We’ve come a long way since the release of 1995’s Revelations: Persona for the PlayStation.
Megami Ibunroku Persona was developed by Atlus and released for the PlayStation on September 20, 1996. It was a spinoff of the Megami Tensei series and the first in the Persona series. It would be one of the first Megami Tensei games to hit American shores, under the name Revelations: Persona. While some might say the game has aged rather poorly, It’s safe to say that the music continues to stand out to this day. The composers behind Persona’s sublime soundtrack were Kenichi Tsuchiya, Hidehito Aoki, Misaki Okibe, and Shoji Meguro.
Of the four composers, Kenichi Tsuchiya contributed the most tracks on the soundtrack with his bass heavy compositions. Bass is certainly not the type of leading instrument you generally see video game music, so his work has a unique sound even among all the other tracks. As with most Persona songs, compositions tend to use instrumental combinations which shouldn’t work, yet somehow fit perfectly within the context of the Megami Tensei universe, such as the bass and piano in Tsuchiya’s Reiji track.
Though not nearly as prominent as in the original game, Tsuchiya would continue to work on the Persona franchise, composing for Persona 2, 3 and 5. While absent from the Persona 4 soundtrack, he eventually contributed a rearranged track for the PlayStation Vita release of Persona 4: The Golden.
Next, we have Hidehito Aoki. He had previously worked on the Megami Tensei spinoff, Majin Tensei. His tracks leaned more heavily on the cold, mechanical sounds of industrial rock. Though he wasn’t afraid to experiment with Piano ballads on A Girl at the Window or hip-hop beats in AIAI Shopping, I still associate his sound with the harshness of tracks like Deva Yuga. He was the only composer to not return for Persona 2. Unfortunately, Aoki passed away in a car accident in 2002.
Following Hidehito, is Misaki Okibe. Jumping from the jazz stylings of NO.1, the creepy carnival sounds of TOY&Joy, and the distorted guitars and bass in ..Stillness Before, there are many fabulous songs from her work to pick from. Okibe’s compositions work well in creating an unnerving atmosphere. It often sounds unworldly, as if a demon is lurking around the corner. She also contributed as a lyricist for the soundtrack with Tadashi Satomi. While she would return for Persona 2, it would be Okibe’s last foray making video game music.
And with only 4 tracks to his name, we arrive at Shoji Meguro. For most fans, Meguro is the sound of Persona, yet it was Kenichi Tsuchiya and Hidehito Aoki taking the lead on the first game’s soundtrack. It’s hard to imagine that in a few years, Meguro would surpass all of them, becoming the lead composer for Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne and go on to compose all future Persona games.
It isn’t hard to imagine why Atlus placed so much faith in Meguro. His arrangements varied wildly in style, from classical piano, rock, electronic, and jazz, yet somehow is able to find a cohesive sound. Tracks like Persona, Cheerful Shopping District, and Dark Shopping District offer an immense amount of diversity. The amount of creativity and seamless genre blending in Meguro’s compositions is breathtaking. But what makes his work stand out above the rest, and what I consider the best song on the soundtrack, is Poem for Everyone’s Souls.
Anyone who has played a Persona game will instantly recognize this as the Velvet Room theme. Having started the series with Persona 3, I was blown away to go back and find out that the track originated in the Revelations: Persona. Meguro would continue his work on the MegaTen
After 8 years of working alongside other composers, Shoji Meguro was given the chance to become the leading composer for Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne. Meguro’s blend of orchestral, jazz, hip hop, and rock fit marvelously within the decrypted, demon-infested world of Nocturne. His arrangements varied wildly in style yet were able to find a cohesive sound that held everything together. Nocturne would serve as a template for Meguro’s later work on the Persona series.
In 2009, Persona was re-released for the PlayStation Portable under the Shin Megami Tensei moniker. The American release undid the various changes made during the localization of Megami Ibunroku Persona, making it more faithful to the original Japanese release. With this new version of the game, came an arranged soundtrack, now fully helmed by Meguro.
As much as I adore most of Meguro’s work on the Persona series, I’m not a huge fan of the rearrangements on the soundtrack. He strips away the atmospheric sounds of the other composers work to create a more homogenous sound closer to his own sound. Taken on their own, the PSP soundtrack is pretty great, but we have to remember that Persona 1 and 2 are vastly different experiences from 3 and 4.
Many of the remixes songs sound like they would perfectly hit among his later work with Persona, yet they sound out of place here. The muted instruments are unable to capture the tone and atmosphere created by of the original tracks. For anyone else who wants to play the remake on PSP, a fan on Reddit released a patch to bring back the original PlayStation music. You can grab a copy here “PSX music patch by Canzah”
I loved Persona 4: Dancing All Night, so much that I platinumed the game, and will surely do the same with Persona 3 Dancing Moon Light / Persona 5 Dancing Star Night. It’s about time for Atlus go back and give Persona 1 and 2 the same treatment. While most fans were introduced to the series through Persona 3, there are a wealth of amazing songs in the first two games that deserve the same love and recognition as the music of the later games. Only time will tell if Atlus decides to ever create spinoffs to the start of the series. Then again, we did have to wait over 8 years for a proper Persona sequel, so I’ve learned to be patient when it comes to Atlus.