Shoji Meguro helps Persona 5 Strikers Feel Familiar
Despite being an action RPG, the sequel to Atlus’ acclaimed Persona 5 feels right at home thanks to series composer Shoji Meguro’s instrumentation.
Do you remember what you felt the first time you played Persona 4? In my case, I was the proud owner of a PS Vita, and was in desperate need of some solid titles to justify the purchase. When the console was released I picked up Rayman Origins, which helped restart my love of 2D platformers that would carry on with games like Mutant Mudds and Celeste. I also nabbed Disgaea 3, a game in a genre that proved to be the perfect match for the Vita: JRPGs.
Though Disgaea and its bevy of otherworldly anime characters held my attention for a while, by the summer, I was in dire need of a new game. Knowing absolutely nothing of Atlus and the Megami Tensei series at the time, I took a swing at buying Persona 4 Golden. Needless to say, I fell in love.
In the JRPGs I was used to, the adventure would take place across a vast landscape like in Final Fantasy, or on varied battlefronts, like in Valkyria Chronicles. Persona 4 localized the story to Inaba, a small town, which, for lack of a better comparison, spans a total of about six map accessible locations around the town.
After blazing through multiple Persona 4 playthroughs I’d pick up Persona 3 Portable, then Persona 3: FES. The third game in the series lit an equally passionate fire in me for its setting, the futuristic city, Tatsumi Port Island, but Inaba remained my favorite stomping ground. Of course, the soundtrack played a huge part in drawing me in. Series composer Shoji Meguro implemented plenty of pop music stylings in Persona 3. The “Iwatodai Station” theme is somewhere on my hip-hop guilty pleasures list, right alongside of Knuckles’ rap songs in Sonic Adventure 2.
“Changing Seasons” conversely is great but of neo soul, featuring funky horns and some ethereal, floaty vocals. Seriously, this song isn’t far from something I could hear Floetry performing.
Meguro took a more casual route with the fourth game, using brass and vocal led themes to add a bit of fanfare to the otherwise unremarkable Inaba.
Years later, when Persona 5 was released, Meguro again redefined the city’s atmosphere through music. This time, however, he scored the game to a jazz-funk soundtrack that painted the realistic recreation of Tokyo with a splash of color. The soundtrack relied on more bass, which served to keep in time with the natural rhythm of the city. Whether on the down tempo, city strolling, “Beneath the Mask” or the disco inspired battle music “Last Surprise” — the orchestral accents are perfect, by the way — bass keeps the game moving along as our band of protagonists try to sort out Atlus’ latest mystery.
So, imagine my surprise when I loaded into Persona 5 Scramble expecting to hear remastered music from the original game, only to be warped back in time to Persona 4 when the “Camping (Day)” song plays.
After leading off with a bass, guitar, and percussion rhythm, Meguro’s trademark electric organ steals the show about 40 seconds in, lifting the melody with a subtle call back to his work in Persona 4.
Persona 5 did feature modest use of Meguro’s signature instrument, but the modern setting — 2017 Tokyo saw healthier use of electric guitar and synth work on much of the soundtrack. The Daytime Camping theme, by contrast, is a natural ode to the simpler setting of Persona 4, which used the electric organ to play breezy melodies like the “Inaba (Night)” theme.
Having played Persona 4 and 5 more than a handful of times, I’m often tossing between which one I love more. Both spawned their fair share of spin-offs and tie-ins, so I have no shortage of exposure to their characters and settings. Considering how the Persona 5 Scramble camping song struck a chord with me, I’m hard pressed not to think I favor the fourth game, with its idyllic, countryside murder mystery plot nudging out the fifth game’s commentary on social freedom. However the real star of the show is Meguro’s keyboard, which continues to breathe life into Persona soundtracks time and time again.
(If you made it this far, feel free to check out my thoughts in video form!)