Estimated reading time: 11 minute(s)
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Title: Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4 Visual Data
Year of Publication: 2008
Genre: Video Game Art Book
Goodreads ID: 22060890
Note: This book was originally packaged with copies of Persona 4 for PlayStation 2. It was never officially made for sale on its own.
Before I offer my review of the original Persona 4 artbook, Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4 Visual Data, please indulge my backstory on how I came about the book.
Learning About the Persona Series
Back in 2009, a talented friend of mine from high school suggested that we work on making a video game. He would focus on programming and art while I would work on writing the story. After mulling it over, I suggested to him that we make a game that combined traditional Japanese role playing game elements, taking place at night, with the characters going about their daily lives during the day. He informed me that my idea had been preemptively stolen in the form of a game called Persona 3. To demonstrate, he showed me the opening scenes of Persona 3. It was indeed a game that had the main cast of high school students going about their normal lives during the day and fighting monsters at night.
Although I was a bit annoyed about Atlus, Persona’s publisher, having stolen my idea before I could think of it first, I was very intrigued by what I saw. Now, while I did have a PlayStation 2, I had not actually played it in years. In fact, I was not even sure where my PlayStation 2 was. But not letting that stop me, I ordered Persona 3: FES on Amazon before searching for my PlayStation 2. I managed to fish the dusty console from behind my former TV cabinet, where it had fallen, and I had it up and running in time for the arrival of Persona 3.
A Surprise Artbook Comes With Persona 4
I had a great time with Persona 3: FES. While searching for the game on Amazon, I saw that there was also a Persona 4. Persona 3 had not only arrested my attention over the course of 100+ hours, but it also changed how I looked at storytelling in games, and I had no doubt that I should order Persona 4 as well. I proceeded to order what I thought was just the game itself.
To my surprise, my ordinary, $20-ish copy of Persona 4, which I had ordered about a-year-and-a-half after its American release, came with the artbook I am reviewing today. I greatly enjoyed Persona 4, and later its re-mastered version, Persona 4: Golden, and I may enjoy its PC re-release sometime in the future. I enjoyed it so much that I have even written about it here at The New Leaf Journal. But this is not a review of Persona 4 the game, but the artbook that mysteriously arrived with my non-special order in the spring of 2010. Without further ado, let us review the Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4 Visual Data artbook.
General Overview of the Persona 4 Artbook
The Persona 4 artbook was shipped along with copies of Persona 4 for PlayStation 2. It expressly states on the back that it is “Not for Sale,” meaning there was no alternative way of purchasing the artbook separate from the game.
The Persona 4 artbook spans 100 pages. The pages are magazine-style, albeit not glossy.
The book begins with an apt warning against reading it until one has played through the entire game: “If you have not yet finished the game, we recommend holding off on savoring this artbook until after you’re done. Truths are meant to be hard-earned, not viewed safely from afar.” Having played through multiple versions of Persona 4 over the years, I concur with the warning. While the artbook does not expressly spoil most key events from the game, it comes close enough that it should only be enjoyed by people who have already played through the story.
For the benefit of those who have not played Persona 4, but may do so in the future, I will not write anything that will in any way spoil the game’s main story.
Sections of the Persona 4 Artbook
The Persona 4 artbook features four sections. In the following passages, I will describe what is in each section along with the front and back cover of the book.
The front cover of the Persona 4 artbook features the title of the book along with a depiction of the game’s silent protagonist and his starting persona, Izanagi. Most of the cover’s backdrop features the yellow-and-black color scheme that permeates all of Persona 4’s menus. In the bottom-right corner of the cover, you will find an occult circle that comes from the game’s “Velvet Room,” where, among other things, the player can obtain new personas.
Warning and Table of Contents (Pages 1-2)
Page 1 of the artbook features the warning about reading for those who have not already played through the game. The warning is voiced by Teddie – a strange cartoon bear-suit creature – who is one of the game’s main characters. On the left side of the warning page, the book arrays TV screens with pictures of scenes and characters from the game, befitting Persona 4’s television-world theme.
The table of contents – listing the following four sections of my article – is found on page 2. The four items for the table of contents are listed in the bottom-lower-left portion of the page. The full right side of the page is dominated by the outline of the left-side of the protagonist’s face.
Featured Images (Pages 3-8)
Pages 3-8 feature full page featured artwork of Persona 4’s main characters. The protagonist features in all of the featured images. Other playable main characters appear in the featured images for pages 4-7. Page 8 features the full image of the protagonist that I mentioned was on the table of contents page. On the left side is one-half of the protagonist’s face, and on the right side, completing the face, is one-half of the protagonist’s persona’s face.
While the featured images are all striking depictions of the main cast, the one on page 6, stands out. In the foreground, we see the protagonist and the first three playable characters – from left to right: Youske, Yukiko, the protagonist, and Chie. In the background, Izanagi, the protagonist’s starting persona, looms over a TV in the middle of the page and the characters.
Characters (Pages 9-53)
The largest section of the book features pages dedicated to the game’s characters. After an introduction page featuring Youske on page 9, the artbook launches into pages dedicated to Persona 4’s cast. Although the table of contents does not delineate the characters, pages 10-42 are dedicated to Persona 4’s playable characters while pages 42-53 are dedicated to the game’s supporting characters. Because of the differences in the structures of the sections, I will treat them separately.
Playable Characters (Pages 10-42)
Each of the game’s playable characters is afforded 4 pages in the artbook. The playable characters are listed in order in which they join the player’s party.
The first page of each player character profile features the character’s name on the top. While the sections of the first page of each character are the same for all characters, they are organized differently from character-to-character to accommodate the large character portrait. Each page, however, features the name of the character’s starting persona, a two-sentence description of the character, and pictures of how the character looks in combat both in his or her winter and summer school uniforms. The character descriptions on these pages relate only to who the character is and not to his or her design.
The second page is a bit different for the protagonist than for the other members of the main cast. For all characters but the protagonist, the second page features the character’s 2D art that goes with his or her dialogue boxes. The top of the second pages features headshots of the character’s in-game expressions, and the bottom features the character’s torso in all of his or her in-game outfits. Because the protagonist does not have dialogue-box portraits like the rest of the cast of characters, the protagonist’s second page features concept sketches at the top and pictures of the protagonist’s torso in his summer and winter uniforms – with and without glasses – on the bottom.
The third and fourth pages for each main character are perhaps the most interesting pages of the artbook. They feature design sketches of the characters from the game’s development and include a brief note about how the early concept art differed from the final design for each character. In some cases, such as the protagonist and Youske, the design changed very little from start to finish. However, in the cases of the first two girls to join the protagonist’s party – Chie and Yukiko – the designs changed significantly. Most of the later party members also saw substantial changes in their design over the course of the game’s development.
Pages 43-52 feature the game’s non-playable characters. These pages include every social link from the original Persona 4 and a few other characters of significance to the game’s story. Before continuing, I should note for people who have only played the remastered Persona 4 Golden that the original Persona 4 lacked some characters and story elements that were added in the remake. There are three types of page designs in this section.
Pages 42 (see below), 45, and 52 feature two characters in a joint spread. In these cases, the page title features both of the character’s names and there is a single, one-sentence description, applying to both characters. The pages feature a portrait of each character, a couple of design sketches, and examples of the characters’ in-game dialogue portraits. In both of these cases, the pages feature a couple of the design sketches for three characters (Dojima, Nanako – see below – and Margaret respectively). The artbook does not provide any commentary on the design sketches, however. Page 45 features sketches of the two characters’ final designs.
Pages 44, 46, 48-51 feature split pages, with one character being depicted on the top of the page and another character being depicted on the bottom. Each of these sections feature’s the character’s name and a one-sentence description. Most (44, 46, 48, and 49 (top)) feature two examples of the characters’ dialogue box expressions. Each features a large portrait of the character. Each of these half pages also features at least one sketch of the character, although the sketches reflect the character’s final design with the exception of the top of page 51, which features an adorable design sketch that did not make it into the final game.
Finally, pages 43 and 47 each feature only one character. These pages feature the character’s name, a one-sentence description of the character, a few sketches (43 features design sketches), and the character’s expressions from in-game dialogue.
Interestingly, while the first of these two characters is significant to the game’s plot, and part of the reason that the artbook is best left for those who played through the game, page 47 features an ordinary secondary character – Ai Ebihara. However, while Ai plays no role in the game besides being a possible confidant for the protagonist, her story is, in my view, the best written of any character in the contemporary Persona games. It is so well-written, in fact, that I will post an entire article about it in the future. I will take the fact that the artbook team gave her a dedicated page above and beyond the space given to similarly-situated social links as a sign that I am not the only one who thinks that she is the best character. But I digress.
Persona/Shadows (Pages 53-84)
Pages 53-84 are roughly broken into three distinct sections. For purpose of my examination, I will break my description into two sub-sections.
Personas (Pages 53-69)
After a single-page introduction on page 53, page 54-69 are devoted to the personas of the main cast. Each cast-member gets a two-page spread. The left side of the first page for each character features a headshot of the featured character on the top-left. The first page of each character features a picture of his or her first persona with the persona’s name and a description of the character. The second page features the character’s second persona with a name, but includes no description. The descriptions on these pages relate to the persona’s design. The pages feature several design sketches in different configurations, with most generally reflecting the final design. The protagonist’s page follows generally the same pattern, but is organized slightly differently because of the nature of his personas.
Shadows (Pages 70-84)
Pages 70-84 feature the game’s shadows – the enemies that the player must fight in the game’s various dungeons.
Pages 70-74 deal with ordinary shadows that the player encounters while working through the game’s dungeons. These pages include design sketches of the final design of the shadow and of earlier concept designs. Page 71 includes an entirely unused design that did not make it into the final game.
Pages 74 (bottom)-84 deal mostly, although not exclusively, with shadows from boss fights. Again, these sections consist entirely of sketches that reflect both the final designs and some earlier designs of the enemies. For spoiler reasons, I cannot go into more detail on the boss shadows, but this is one of the more interesting sections of the artbook.
Illustrations (Pages 85-99)
The final section of the artbook features illustrations. These illustrations include concept art for the game’s TV world, concept art of major events, character concept art, key image sketches, uniform design sketches, game packaging designs and concept designs. Although they do not come with descriptions or explanations, this is a neat section of the artbook showing some of the work the designers did to come up with the final designs for Persona 4.
The final page features the game credits for Persona 4 rather than credits specifically related to the artbook. This reflects that the artbook was exclusively a bonus packaged with the game.
The back cover features the base yellow color from the Persona 4 menus. The center of the cover has shadow (literal shadow, not shadows as in the game’s enemies) outlines of Persona 4’s playable characters.
The artbook was a nice bonus as a tie-in to Persona 4. While much of the art in the book are portraits used in the game, it has a nice selection of early design sketches, concept art, and promotional pictures.
Although the artbook is not for sale, those who are interested can hunt down copies on sites such as Amazon and Ebay at reasonable prices. With its good-sized collection of sketches, early design ideas, and concept art, it may be a worthwhile purchase for Persona 4 fans who also enjoy collecting merchandise. For those who are not collectors, I would caution that much of the book features portraits that are used in the final game, and that it does not include much context or information about the earlier, ultimately unused, design ideas.
Furthermore, for those who do not have a strong preference toward physical books, Steam has made available a digital Persona 4 Golden artbook with purchases of the game for an additional $5. I have not purchased this digital artbook yet, but I will likely do so in the future.
In any case, I thought it was interesting to look back at a tie-in artbook for the first version of Persona 4 that I obtained rather unexpectedly. Since I kept it all these years and made a book review out of it, I suppose it was a good bonus add-on to my game purchase in 2010.