Though the autumn chill may be setting in, the afterburners of Rocket Chainsaw burn as heatedly as ever. As such, I’m proud to introduce the first edition of our new monthly feature, Rocket Boom. Rocket Boom will focus on original video game soundtracks, with a different series or composer being featured each month. There’s so many soundtracks out there, one for pretty much every game in existence, and we look forward to sharing a small part of this massive library with you in each edition. Now, with the spirit of the music guy in my heart, I announce this month’s featured series:
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona
Both Persona 3 and 4 are all about facing your demons, quite literally. Characters manifest the various facets of their personalities as Personas, demonic creatures which can be summoned at will. Though party members are limited to a single Persona, the nameless protagonist has the ability to give form to numerous Personas at once. Through spending time with the characters though, both they and the main character grow and form bonds, which affects each of their Personas.
When you’re looking for a notable composer for the Persona series, there’s one name that comes to mind immediately: Shōji Meguro. Though he started life wanting to be a car designer rather than a musician, he eventually found his true calling, and has made an excellent contribution to the video game industry. He’s a man who has been composing music for JRPGs since 1996, ever since he took on the job for the very first game, Revelations: Persona. Since then, he’s composed many impressive soundtracks, most of which were for Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series. While the Persona games are a spin-off of the main SMT series, they have proved to be highly popular outside of Japan, with Persona 3 and Persona 4 in particular being very well received by critics and gamers alike. These two games will be the focus of this month’s feature, which is part one of a two part focus on the series. So far, 4 games have been released in the series, and at the helm of each original soundtrack has been Shōji.
First up: Persona 3.
With the first two Persona games having been developed for the original PlayStation, Shōji found himself feeling a bit limited by the simplicity of the hardware. The release of the first 3D Persona game brought new possibilites though, and Shōji pulled out all the stops, making full use of the PlayStation 2’s audio capabilties. Burn My Dread, the game’s opening theme, was a bit of a revelation for the series. For the first time, it was possible to truly make vocals a part of the audio, and Shoji made heavy use of them throughout the soundtrack. Of course, someone had to provide the vocals, and Yumi Kawamura was just the woman for the job. She provided the vocals for the entire soundtrack, and really did a great job of giving the tracks some extra impact.
Burn My Dread
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It’s a simple, but rather catchy song which really captures the game’s fairly dark atmosphere well. One of the most interesting elements is that the lyrics are entirely in English, a rarity in Japanese games.
The release of an expansion for the game in 2008, called Persona 3 FES, brought some new music with it. Most notably, it brought a new version of Burn My Dread (simply titled P3 FES) to the table, in a new form that really kicked the beat up a notch. The addition of vocals by Lotus Juice (an English-speaking Japanese rapper), as well a new opening verse, were also defining features of the new version. Some liked it better than the original version, while others disagreed, but nobody could deny that it was a clever transformation.
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Lotus Juice has since become a regular contributor to the Persona series, being featured in the soundtracks of Persona 2 (PSP version), Persona 3, and the anime adaptation of Persona 4.
Of course, no RPG is complete without battles. As a third-person dungeon-crawler, Persona 3 had them in spades, and accompanying each one was Mass Destruction. Matching simple pop vocals and some skillful trumpet playing with a flowing stream of rap from Lotus Juice, the catchy song would get stuck in players heads from the minute they initiated their first battle.
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As far as battle music goes, Mass Destruction was a real winner. Despite being played hundreds of times over the course of the game, it never seemed to get old. At worst, it might start to get tuned out, becoming little more than an inoffensive piece of background music. At best though, it could really get you feeling pumped for an epic battle.
Wiping All Out
A couple of years after the release of FES, Atlus saw fit to port the game to PSP. It was an enhanced port though, which added a female protagonist, new music, and extra character interactions. With the new female protagonist came some new tracks, and the battle music that plays during her story mode is very much a companion track to Mass Destruction. Featuring some great use of trumpet once again, the track also brought Lotus Juice back to the game to deliver some more smooth rap. This time around though, the female vocals are much more extensive, with Mayumi Fujita singing from the perspective of the new protagonist.
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Next up: Persona 4.
Only four months after the release of Persona 3 FES, the next game in the series made its way to Australia. Persona 4 took 3’s gameplay and refined it, giving players more options, and greater control. As you’d expect, it also came with an entirely new soundtrack, courtesy of Shōji. A new game demands a new opening theme, and Shōji wasn’t going to disappoint his fans. Recruiting the talented vocalist Shihoko Hirata to work on the entire soundtrack, he produced Pursuing My True Self as Persona 4‘s opening theme. The song combines a catchy beat with a simple yet effective bit of piano, as Hirata keeps the lyrics pouring out. Persona 4 has a somewhat lighter tone than Persona 3, and the opening reflects this well. With lyrics focusing on the pursuit of truth that the characters engage in, and their relationships with each other, it gets gamers into the right mood before they even start playing.
Pursuing My True Self
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Like Burn My Dread, the game’s opening theme has been met with much praise from fans.
Reach Out To The Truth
Another game, another piece of battle music. Shōji knew what he was doing though, and with Hirata once again on vocals, they put together a tune that’s very easy on the ears. What starts out as some basic guitar strumming suddenly kicks into gear, and we’re treated to a catchy tune as the lyrics also get fired up. Some of what she sings just comes across as nonsense, but it all sounds great, and the chorus is clear and meaningful. The ‘dark inner world’ that she mentions is an important part of the game’s story, with each party member needing to be rescued from a prison composed of their own secret desires.
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Catchy, isn’t it?
I’ll Face Myself
As I mentioned above, each party member in the game needs to be rescued from a dungeon formed by their own secret thoughts and desires. These dungeons include a battle against their shadow self, a being who physically embodies both their negative traits and desires, a part of themselves that they had tried to deny. When victorious, they are finally able to come to terms with that part of themselves, and this track plays in the background. It’s a minimalistic piece, which features simple, but quite moving use of piano. It has a sad, but slightly nostalgic feeling to it, as though yearning for better days. I’ll Face Myself is a beautiful track.
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Interestingly, Persona 4‘s ending credits music (Never More) is a slightly more upbeat, fully vocalised version of the song.
Each dungeon in Persona 4 has its own unique background music, and while I like them all, there’s one in particular that has always stood out to me. Heaven is a track that plays in one of the last dungeons in the game, and it has a rather different tone to the ones that came before it. With a minimalistic sound, and slow pace which gradually builds a little, the song also features some beautiful use of piano and soft vocals.
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Over the course of the game’s soundtrack, Hirata really showed off her range, even going as far as performing a light rap song which was featured in one of the game’s hub areas.
The finish: That’s it for Persona 3 and 4, as well as this first edition of Rocket Boom. I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the fantastic music which has been featured in these two games. Both games have extensive soundtracks, with many more great pieces of music than I’ve covered here. There’s a healthy variety of tracks, some fast paced, some slow, some vocalised, and some which are more simplistic. As you can hear, Shōji did a great job of composing the soundtracks of both games, and hopefully we’ll be treated to something equally special when the upcoming Persona 5 is eventually released. Thanks for listening!