Can you believe it? It's been nearly 6 long years since Persona 4. Atlus released Persona 4 Golden to tide us over, but, finally the dawn of a new iteration in the series is upon us. 2015 can't come soon enough. Though Atlus have been shrewd in releasing information, a lot of fans are hyped (myself included). And why not? The Persona series has consistently produced quality titles known for their appealing narrative, solid gameplay, and addictive Persona system. The high school sim component has managed to attract a wider audience than the traditional JRPG enthusiast base and I firmly believe that the series has become the poster boy for JRPGs.
All of those are reasons why the series has appealed to me, but there is one other aspect that I love which might not receive the same appreciation: the music. My love for JRPG music dates back to Final Fantasy VI and Nobuo Uematsu's incredible 16-bit score. I'll always love the energetic, high tempo boss and battle tracks, the frenetic Chocobo theme, the funky music played in Zozo, the grand score accompanying the scene when you obtain Setzer's airship. I didn't think I could love the work of any composer as much as this man, but Shoji Meguro comes pretty damn close. He flips the typical JRPG audio tropes on their head and produces magical pieces that add to the atmosphere of the game; he makes the music diegetic.
Persona is a modern JRPG in all aspects; the setting, the cast, the issues they deal with, and naturally, the music. The grand compositions of old would be out of place here. Instead, Meguro fills the world with pop music that spans various genres; a dash of jazz, a hint of electronica, throw in some rock, maybe a bit of rap, but the overall product is pure pop brilliance. However, he's far from a one-trick pony. Though his work on Persona might be heavily pop based, his compositions for SMT III: Nocturne were far more somber, whereas Devil Summoners: Soul Hacker was more electronic and Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army had more jazz.
So let's talk about Meguro. None of this is accidental or coincidental; he's a versatile genius who deserves to be up there with Uematsu. The fact that he's been promoted to a Director for Persona 5 shows his importance to the game, series, and Atlus. After being enamored with his music, I set out to find out what I could about the man through the internet. This profile of his by Chris Greening is probably the most comprehensive biography I came across. It chronicles his history with music at a young age, his influences, and how he joined Atlus and made himself into an irreplaceable fixture of their audio department. I implore you to read it, even if you have only a passing interest in his work. By the end of it, you'll come away with a newfound sense of appreciation for the man.
Here are a few examples of his brilliance:
Poem for Everyone's Soul
This was Meguro's first task at Atlus and he knocked it out of the !@#$ing park. Atlus thought so too and chose to keep it as the Velvet Room theme. The haunting operatic vocals are soothing, yet can make a grown man cry.
Ahhh Iwatodai Dorm. The first time you hear it, your ears probably singe from the J-Rap verses, but there's no escaping it. Having to come back to the dorm every night until the blaring trumpet lead and the funky piano riffs are ingrained in your head and you go, "Hey, this isn't so bad after all."
Time to Make History
The battle theme composed specifically for Persona 4 Golden. Crunchy, overdriven guitars? Check. Fast-paced percussion? Check. Fat bass line? Check? Pop vocals? Wait, what? A perfect illustration of Meguro's fresh take on traditional JRPG battle music.
Another piece for Persona 4 Golden. The first few times you hear it, you'll think it sounds awfully familiar. That's because it is. It's the normal battle theme but with Meguro paying tribute to retro video game music with the electronica.
Memories of School
I want to round it off with another track that demonstrates his versatility. This song played at the perfect (read saddest) moments and always added to the scene.
With Persona 5 comes another Shoji Meguro soundtrack. That's more than enough reason for me to pick up the game. Hurry up 2015, my ears are waiting.
Have boss, will write (on the weekends). Final Boss is dedicated to all forms of (literal and figurative) bosses, with a focus on JRPGs.