In addition to the Street Fighter X Tekken art book out today, UDON Entertainment has also released Persona 4: Official Design Works. It may be an English translation of a book printed in Japan in 2008, but it should be on the shelf of every Persona fan. In the interest of full disclosure, a bad experience with Persona on the PS1 soured me on the series until a friend convinced me to pick up P3P on my PSP. When I do eventually get a Vita, I will definitely be getting Persona 4 Golden, but when I read this book, I have to admit that I was not familiar with any of the characters.
Like the Street Fighter X Tekken book, it begins with a series of illustrations from box art, promo pieces, and whatnot. Unfortunately, in this book, there isn't a little caption where the artist explains how it was developed. While I appreciate seeing the art unobstructed, I found even the small captions in the SFXT book informative and often interesting.
After that comes the very extensive section focusing on the main characters. Each one comes with a text piece from Persona 4 Art Director and Character Designer Shigenori Soejima, followed by a series of sketches illustrating the development process as they refined the look of each character. Not being familiar with Persona 4, I had no idea there was a cross-dressing scene, so seeing those costumes was a bit of a surprise! I also found the essay on Kanji Tatsumi interesting, as it discusses his sexuality. They may not have wanted to explicitly state that Kanji is gay, but looking at his Shadow, it's clear the boy's got some issues! Unfortunately, this section is also the one place where I noticed a minor typo as a caption is repeated twice on two separate pages. It's just a small error, but one that I hope is corrected in the final printed book. (I was reading an early review PDF.)
The next section of the book contains sketches and development notes on all the supporting characters, then a look at the various Shadows and locations in the game. The chapter on the supporting cast could almost double as a strategy guide, as it mentions the Social Links associated with each one. Also, given the outrageous designs of the Shadows, I almost would've preferred more pages devoted to them with more explanation of how their surreal and disturbing looks were decided upon.
The final section is a full interview with Soejima, where he discusses in more depth the design process and how Persona 4 came to be the way it did. It may only be six pages, but I found it illuminating, and even after being spoiled on quite a lot of the game, I'm still intrigued enough to want to play it!
Persona 4: Official Design Works is a terrific showcase for Soejima's designs and artwork, and something no Persona fan should pass up. Honestly, my only complaint with the book is that it's from 2008 (the Soejima interview specifically mentions that Persona 4 had only just come out so they were still waiting to see how it was received by fans), so it doesn't include anything on Persona 4: Golden or Persona 4: Arena. Not that it really matters, as this book is technically supposed to be about Persona 4, not a Vita port or a fighting game follow-up, I just thought it would be interesting to include some information about those as well. (Especially adapting it into a fighting game, which must have been an interesting process!)