Soundscapes: Persona 3
Written by: Andray Smith
Edited by: Shania Kuo
Persona 3’s soundtrack is probably one of my favorite pieces of game related media, ever. Heralded as one of the greatest modern JRPG, Persona 3 blended the traditional turn-based strategy of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise with characteristics of a social simulator. For me, the most interesting aspect is composer Shoji Meguro’s unique combination of J-Rock, J-Pop, and Hip-Hop to create an unforgettable soundtrack.
In stark contrast to the heavily synthetic sound of the Shin Megami Tensei Series and the two Persona iterations before it, Persona 3 breaks out into more pop-oriented offerings in line with the game’s more upbeat and modern aesthetic. Compared to the capabilities of the original PlayStation, the PlayStation 2 introduced higher quality audio tracks that resulted in more freedom in composing a soundtrack and score.
Look at the battle theme for Revelations: Persona. You can hear the different synthetic instruments coming together, but the overall quality is sorely lacking. The instrumentation is flat and one-dimensional, whereas modern soundtracks use grand orchestras that give a sense of space and distance between the instruments. The original Persona’s battle theme, titled “Normal Battle”, is everything but that, having a very small and compressed sound. The battle theme for Persona 3, “Mass Destruction” is light years ahead of “Normal Battle”, incorporating a dynamic selection of electric guitars, horns, crisp percussion, and a standout verse from rapper Lotus Juice.
Persona 3 was constantly ambitious in pushing forward different and interesting sounds into its environments. In an interesting departure from the first two Persona games, Persona 3 creates a specific central theme and uses every aspect of its gameplay and aesthetic to support that theme. The music in its entirety builds on the anxieties and troubles of living a fulfilling life from its opening song, “Burn My Dread” to the background of the city overworld, Tatsumi Port Island. Navigating Tatsumi Port Island is no massive task, but the incentive to do so is an absolutely catchy overworld theme that plays back on the game’s major themes. The depressing mundanity of everyday life reflects in the lyrics. A love-infused pop song, the game laments the fleeting nature of intimacy. This idea of how quickly things end plays back to the concept of death not being the end of a life, but the finality of a job, passion, or even a relationship.
In between the JRPG minutia the music serves as a constant reminder to not only think ahead but enjoy every moment. The game can only go on for so long and it's important to cherish it at every step.
Persona 3 Portable, a reimagining of the game for the Playstation Portable, released in 2016 and offered a new female main character who had her own unique tracks that would play instead of ones from the original game. The new overworld theme, “Way of Life”, is another catchy tune to frame your exploration of the city around you. It expresses sentiments towards a relationship, similar to “When the Moon’s Reaching Stars” while adding themes of individual strength and determination that apply in a broader sense. Vocalist Yumi Kawamura sings, “I tried hard but where did we go wrong? I hope we could... but I won't start all over again”. This could be me overreaching and reading too deeply into the random English lyrics of a Japanese song, but I don’t think so. Resolution in the face of failure and the closure of a relationship plays back on the theme of death and gives a suggestion of a mindset to have when facing death and living life.
I’ll say it again, Persona 3 was an ambitious game for its time and it’s soundtrack is a prime example of ambition. A clean break into what we now recognize as a Persona game, Persona 3 took great care into creating an experience that tells a grand story with constant, small moments that engage the player visually and vocally.
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