Persona 2: Innocent Sin
by Bpwner

A little over two years ago I purchased and played through a little Playstation 2 game where teenagers summon stands by shooting themselves in the head. I ultimately found it to be an overly long experience with tedious gameplay and characters who are all assholes, but the prospect of fusing demons to reach new magnitudes of godlike power kept me interested enough to check out another game in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, Nocturne. Now here I am, six games later, and I find myself in the same place I was last year, replaying Persona 2: Innocent Sin. It is not by my hand that I am once again given fl... uh, playing this again after such a short time. When I heard about these derned old fancy-ass January uppin-dates, I felt called to pay the Persona 2 games tribu-ENOUGH TALK HAVE AT YOU.

Before playing Persona 3, I was only aware of Persona 2 as "that JRPG with Hitler in it." Why does it seem like so many JRPGs that slip just under the radar have some controversial element that is blown out of proportion, even though it ultimately has no bearing on anything? Evokers. Cross-franchise guest characters. Gay party members. Futanari. I know it's a crowded playing field and unpaid volunteer viral marketers have to latch onto something that sets their favorite game apart, but I'm here to talk about Persona 2 on its own merits. So without thinking what I'm about to undertake through, let's jump right into the deep end of the pool and start humping the water jet.

I'm going to be talking about the post-32-bit games quite a lot, since that's basically where I'm coming from as an SMT fan. Persona 2 is, at least story wise, kind of what I thought Persona 3 was going to be. An RPG steeped in horror elements where schoolkids explore a violent underworld of demonic conspiracy. It's easy to talk shit in a "What I played/What I expected/What I got" sense, but I felt a little disappointed going into Persona 3 expecting teenage suicide and satanic rites and ending up with final exams and attacking THE DARKNESS.

On the bizarreness factor, at least, is where Persona 2 delivers. So let's go ahead and set the stage of a turn of the millennium Japanese city, where rumors are becoming reality and people are being granted wishes by a harlequin figure whom they summon by dialing their own cell phone numbers. Our story begins in Seven Sisters High School, where a curse on the school emblem is leaving students with disfigured faces. Also there's Nazis, Mayan prophecies, aliens, and elder gods. But first...

Characters

The Party

Tatsuya Suou
Innocent Sin's silent protagonist, and the only one in the Persona franchise to have a canon default name (if you think "Minato Arisato" and "Souji Seto" are canon, please book a flight to Atlanta and meet me at the Pilot Travel Center off of I-20 in Madison so I can punch you in the dick). The game's opening scene has Tatsuya working on his busted motorcycle outside of Seven Sisters High School, when a couple of guys who are up to no good start to razzle him about a key part they stole from his hog. Tatsuya reacts like any hotblooded rebel teenager would and startles the two by faking a seizure.

Tatsuya is, quite literally, too cool for school. He's the lone wolf type that all the girls want and the guys think is 2 crude of a dude. But to me, he's kind of a weirdo. No sane person would voluntarily allow that haircut to adorn his skull. He does Michael Winslow-style impressions when confronted with demonic horrors. That thing he's always flipping out when idle is a lighter, by the way.


Lisa "Ginko" Silverman
A white girl living in Japan who speaks fake Cantonese and knows kung fu. Her major aspiration in life seems to be to ride Tatsuya's hog. And his penis. We get to see one of these things happen in an FMV.

Lisa is a mashup of a number of seemingly disparate cliches. She's got the kung fu tomboy thing going on that would be reused in Chie, but her femininity and constant pining for the main character makes her more like Tifa, less 3 cup sizes, give or take. She does the "baka + physical violence" thing with Michelle. She also at one point becomes an idol singer.

Now, for the longest time I couldn't decide whether I liked or hated this character. I found her Tatsuya fangirl-ism annoying and her subplot was incredibly High School Musical (literally). But look at this face and then tell me this: do you, the player, have the ice-cold blackened heart to spurn her unrequited love? Do you?


Eikichi "Michelle" Mishina
The narcissistic, flirtatious, flamboyant gang leader of Kasugayama High. Although from rival schools, Tatsuya and Eikichi are united by fate when their personas awaken and they set off to solve the mystery of the emblem curse.

Eikichi's personal stake in the case comes when the members of his gang and awful band, Gas Chamber, are turned into shadow selves during a botched Master Joker summoning ritual. But is this really the first time he, Tatsuya, and Lisa have all met? Some demons will remark that his hair makes him look like a bird during conversations, but their argument is invalid.


Maya Amano
A reporter for teen magazine "Coolest," Maya arrives with Yukino at Seven Siters High to interview students for an article but gets caught up in the investigation of the emblem curse. She and the teenage party members feel like they've met before.

Maya is cheerful, kind, compassionate, energetic, sexy, has a goofy sense of humor, and always positive thinking. In short, the kind of woman you would risk federal prison for. I know that if I knew a woman like Maya in real life, let's just say I'd be in the market for some rope, fast-acting sedatives, and a house with a basement.


Yukino Mayuzumi
A returning character from Persona 1, part-time photographer and friend of Maya. And, that's all there is to say about her really.

Okay, I'll say this. Her design is horribly dated. Permed hair, hip-huggers, and a Kangol hat? For someone who makes a crack about women trying too hard to be fashionable, she could hardly look more like a sistah if she were launched out of a catapult headfirst into the dressing room at a TLC video shoot.


Jun Kurosu
We don't really know much about Jun early in the game, other than that he was Tatsuya's childhood friend and that he went to Kasugayama before disappearing shortly before the game begins. I'll get to him later.







Supporting Characters

Saeko Takami
Tatsuya's homeroom teacher, who gives you career counseling at the beginning of the game. I don't know if your answers have any bearing on anything besides changing some cutscene dialog later in the game. Otherwise not that important outside of being the object of the game's first wild goose chase.





Kuzunoha Detective Agency


A group of devil summoners that assists the party in their investigations. Talk to chief Todoroki to have them spread rumors for you, which can influence things like shop inventory, rare demon appearances, casino odds, etc. Tamaki is supposed to be the girl protagonist from Shin Megami Tensei if... Tadashi is something of a fuckup/comic relief. Tamaki and Tadashi are an item, much to everyone's confusion. They also like to dress up as Catwoman and Zorro and fight crime.


Rumor Mongers


In order to spread rumors via Kuzunoha, you first need to hear what rumors are circulating the city. These guys are your source for the main shop rumors and such, although other rumors, such as the appearance of rare demons, are learned from generic NPCs. In order for the mongers to give you new rumors, you must first give them rumors of your own, which consist of stories of your exploits. That's basically a fancy way of saying you have to get to a certain point in the plot first.


Maya "Professor Ideal" Okamura
A teacher at Sevens who blabs on about Ideal Energy and the Mayan Oracle. A total kook who becomes important later on.







Philemon
As in Persona 1, he's the mysterious figure who explains your powers and proclaims cryptic shit about the struggles you are to face. I'm not sure why they forked this duty off to Igor and turned Phil into a save point in the later games. Maybe I need to watch Eternal Punishment's ending again for the answer.





The Velvet Room


Where you go for all your persona-related needs. Igor summons new personas, the Demon Artist changes free tarot into cards of the desired arcana, and Nanashi and Belladonna are just the entertainment, I guess. Nanashi's okay in my book though, since he knows more than one song.


Trish
A dirty extortionist who profits from your misery. She runs healing springs in dungeons, but her prices are exhorbitant and scale with the amount of healing required, unlike the flat rate of healers in town, dirty fairy prick give me public health care I'm moving to Canada FUCK.




Villains

The Joker
The mysterious figure who is granting wishes in Sumaru City. Our heroes summon him in order to learn the truth about the emblem curse, but he instead declares that they must atone for some forgotten sin and leaves them to figure out what it was the hard way.





Principal Hanya
The "demon" Principal of Seven Sisters High School who asks the Joker for the adoration of his students and a full head of hair. First boss of the game. His persona looks pretty unique, wearing a business suit and a drill on its head, with two shields resembling a hannya mask, which it can bring together to form a giant drill (and bore straight into hell, release some ancient demons from their sleep forever spell okay I'll stop).



Tatsuya Sudou
Legend has it that 10 years ago, the Araya Shrine in Rengedai was set ablaze by a boy with a name similar to Suou's. He's the Jack Nicholson to Tatsuya's Jack Nicklaus.







The Masquerade


Occult terrorist organization which those who summon the Joker end up involved with. Their goal is to gather "Ideal Energy" by stealing people's dreams, leaving them as "shadow selves." Shadow selves have their brightness sliders turned down and exist without motivation or desire, and are eventually forgotten by all (except, apparently, by persona users). The elite members of the Masquerade are based on signs of the zodiac.


Ixquic
A persona-using young girl who believes she's the reincarnation of the champion of justice, she fights for the Masquerade as an escape from her home and school life. A joke boss character who later becomes sympathetic to the heroes, you know the drill.






The Last Battalion


The remnants of the Third Reich who are after the Mayan ruins and the secrets of human evolution. It seems they were willed into existence when someone published a book detailing the secrets of the Mayan Oracle and how Hitler faked his death and is still alive, and since rumors are becoming reality...

You know, as interesting as the rumors = reality conceit is, so much of what happens in this game hinges on the fact that the people of Sumaru City are incredibly stupid.


Dem Purdy Sees an' Hears

Persona 2's graphics, despite their age, are still quite good. If you're just blazing through this review and not really looking at these screenshots, I want you to take a minute and take note of how much detail goes into these environments. Excluding the battle scenes with their repeating floor textures, there are so many little extras in most areas of Sumaru City that make the game ooze character from every pixel. Stuff piled on desks, posters on the walls, little 3D objects, all that shit in Maya's apartment. Despite being released at a time when fully 3D environments were becoming the norm for RPGs, Persona 2's isometric world is still very much servicable, and in my opinion trumps the hell out of Final Fantasy Tictacs. The only thing that may be offputting to some is how the edges of the environments just end in blackness, but I don't know, I kind of like it. It makes every room look like a little diarama. I'd rather have nothing than a gradient or an ugly repeating Tekken bitmap at any rate.

Even something as basic as the map screen augments the graphical atmosphere. It's the basic top-down city map with the little pointer that's so familiar to the franchise, divided into districts within Sumaru City. The landscape consists of mostly grays with just little hints of neon lights denoting the bustle within. It's hard to even tell if it's supposed to be night or day when you're looking down on the districts, until you pull out to the larger city map from which you choose your district, and even that has an ambiguous foggy aura to it. That's something that always bugged me about Deus Ex, is that all the events of the game seem to take place at night. Here it's whatever you want it to be. It's such a simple thing that the game leaves up to the imagination, at least for me, and coupled with the excellent overworld themes it makes the city feel so familiar yet so disconnected at the same time, like you can put yourself on these streets if you choose to do so, even though you're really just looking at a pre-rendered map without much detail.

The character sprites are some of my favorite on the Playstation. They're made of multiple parts and are capable of a wide range of body language, even without a whole lot of frames of animation. They may not look as pretty as the pre-rendered, fluidly animated sprites of Wild Arms, but they're capable of so much expression that you almost don't need the multiple character portraits to tell what emotions a scene is trying to convey. Plus they get bonus points for not being SD. With such capability for expressive scripting using 2D sprites, I certainly don't miss FMV, although there are few of those. They're usually used for things where we don't need to see human characters, and when we do they're barely animated 2D cardboard cutouts imposed on the background. Luckily they're used sparingly enough that it never feels cheap.

If I do have one complaint about the sprites, it lies with the demons. The designs in this game take a departure from Kazuma Kaneko's work on the earlier games, and while most of them look alright, some can be a little generic compared to the some of the bizarre creations that the series is famous for. There are a lot of palette swaps or little variations, which is nothing shocking, but even some of the more powerful personas you eventually get are blatant head swaps. Some of the choices are just weird: since when is Mithra supposed to be a fish with an iron mask? It's just one of those little areas where Persona 2 shows its age, as the ease of making a bunch of unique 3D models over sprites gives the PS2 games a huge advantage in the demon variety department. The character-specific personas, however, look pretty sweet.

There's so much else I want express about the game's atmosphere that I just feel like I would be wasting my time trying to put into words, especially since it would probably be glossed over or not cared about anyway (I'm sure most people would rather hear about how I want to sodomize the game with farm equipment than positive things). Luckily, I have Youtube clips of the game's soundtrack to say it for me. The music makes the atmosphere of Sumaru City. Every musical cue fits the situation, with a variety of genres represented. Most of it is jazzier or funky stuff reminiscient of Yuzo Koshiro's Streets of Rage compositions, while there are a lot of haunting pieces which fit well for a series so deeply rooted in horror and folklore. For a soundtrack that consists mostly of synth sounds, it doesn't sound dated at all. There's no need for rousing fully-orchestrated scores or vocal songs, although it has a couple of those too. And there is a fuck ton of songs on this soundtrack. While there are a few horrors present, it's generally so uniformly excellent that I can just put this shit on random in my car on a trip and never get tired of it.

One thing that old games tended to do that I would like to see return is using recurring musical motifs throughout the soundtrack. Play Super Mario World or, for a more modern example, Katamari Damacy and you'll know what I'm talking about. Persona 2 doesn't just have one weapon shop theme, it has a different one for every weapon shop in the game based around a common melody. Characters also have their own themes with multiple versions. Enough of my ass-kissing, go listen to some of it for yourself.

Oh and I'm not going to talk about the Satomi Tadashi song because it's dumb and you're dumb. I'm sorry Nanako, but daddy can't take you to Junes this weekend because someone at the precinct was singing the Satomi Tadashi song, and I had to murder him and make it look like an accidental weapons discharge.


How to Play

Persona 2 is pretty typically structured RPG in a modern setting. Instead of dungeons per se, you'll fight demons within high school halls, shopping malls (there's your Rush reference for the day), casinos, but also wackier locations like ancient Mayan ruins and a space ship. You buy armor from deparment stores, healing items from a pharmacy, and instead of staying at the inn for the night you see a chiropractor or an aromatherapist. There are no save points as such, you can save just about anywhere within a dungeon. Although this may sound like it would make the game too easy, I think the difficulty (and SP drain if you want to end battles with any efficacy) is adequately stacked against this fact, and games with in-dungeon save points are so generous with the things that being able to save anywhere isn't that far removed in my opinion. There are no dungeon-escape spells or items anyway, so I think it all kind of balances out in the end.

Actually, you know what? Saving anywhere is great. You should save every time you take three steps. Well you should save every time you have an encounter because you'll have one every three steps anyway, but that's beside the point. Why should you save so often? Three words. Hula. Of. Misfortune. I don't even feel safe going outside anymore, because I'm afraid a gummy bear is going to show up and dance in front of me, and then half of the money is going to be gone from my bank account.

This being a Persona game, let's talk personas. In case you're new to the series, personas are like stands from Jojo's Bizarre Adventure based on figures from myth or legend that alter the characters' stats and have their own set of spells to choose from. Getting new personas is different from the demon fusion model of the classic games that was transplanted to Personas 3 and 4. Instead of gathering personas to fuse into new ones, you must collect tarot cards. You get these cards by talking to demons. When you get into a random encounter you have the choice of contacting a demon, although sometimes they will initiate a conversation by themselves at the start of battle. Some demons will contact you based on personas you have equipped, for example Orthrus and Cerberus are rather friendly, while Barong and Rangda naturally hate each other's guts. The outcome of your demon contact depends on the mood you keep them in based on the conversation options you choose.

There are four possible outcomes, happy, frightened, interested, and angry. Making a demon interested causes it to give you tarot cards of their arcana, making it happy will make it want to enter a contract with you, after which you can hit it up for items if you encounter it again. If you make a demon that you have already contracted interested, it will give you some Free Tarot in addition to cards of its arcana. Scare a demon and it will flee from battle, piss it off and it will attack, or if it was contracted, break its contract and run.

What you have to do is figure out which conversation options certain demons respond to get the desired outcome. Each party member has four conversation options, for example Eikichi can overly praise himself, talk about life, be alpha as fuck, or rock out to his shitty music. Choosing multiple characters results in a contact based on their relationships, which can change over the course of the game. For example, Tatsuya's partner contacts with a couple of characters depends on whose affections you eventually choose to reciprocate, or you can tell Eikichi you know how to play the guitar to gain access to a new partner contact. It's a minor part of the mechanic, but it hints at the S. Link system that was to follow.

Where the game tries to fuck you up is when the demons start asking questions. Some of the answer choices don't make a lot of sense, and sometimes a certain demon will react to an answer one way, and later that same demon will react to the same answer differently. Say a Harpy tells Maya that she smells like an old woman; saying "Stop it with the compliments already!" gave me a blue response in one battle and a yellow in a later one. The thing that sucks is when a demon gets you into a line of shitty questions, it can make the conversation go to red real quick. The whole conversation process is amusing at first, but terribly grindy if you want to have enough cards to get good personas. At least it's not like GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY AND ITEMS KTHXBYE from mainline SMT. It's also nice to have a surefire, more or less, get out of jail free card if you find yourself in a battle that's a little too rough. Naturally, you can't have conversations with Masquerade members, Nazis, zombies, bosses, rumor demons, or monsters-in-a-box.

Okay! So you've gone through all that rigamarole and gotten some tarot cards, and you're ready to summon some new personas. Go see Dicknose at the Velvet Room and scroll through the list of arcana. If you have enough cards of a certain arcana and your level is high enough, you can choose a persona from the list and summon it. And that's all there is to it. No god-modding, no canceling and re-entering a thousand times to get the skill set you want, just pick one and you're done. Simple huh?

Well there are a couple of other things. If you've collected spell cards, you can assign one extra spell to your persona upon summoning. And you can get incense cards to give them an increase of a single stat. If you don't have enough cards of a certain arcana, you can get the Demon Artist to paint your free tarot as whatever cards you're lacking. Also, some persona will only show up on the summon list if you have a special summon item. Don't forget to take your new personas out of the reserve bank in the Velvet Room! Seriously, you have no idea how many times I've fucked off to a dungeon only to realize I forgot to bring the bastards along.

Now that you have some new personas, you can equip them on your party members. Some personas are character specific, but for the rest you want to go for the character/persona pairing with the lowest SP cost. Every spell a persona learns costs the same amount of SP to cast, so media takes no more to cast than dia, and so on. You can probably get away with a higher SP cost pairing on someone with a high TEC stat like Maya, but try that with Michelle and you're going to be out of SP quick. The persona you have equipped also gives you a different bonus point of a particular stat when you level up, kind of like how espers do in Final Fantasy VI. Tatsuya is the only character whose stat distribution you can directly control when he levels, by the way.

Personas rank up and learn new spells the more they're used in battle, with 8 ranks total. After you get a persona to rank 8, you can return it at the Velvet Room and get an item such as a spell card or a rare summon item. Don't feel like ranking them up? Go to an area with weak monsters and command your party to cast status effect or healing spells, basically anything that won't kill the monsters. Now go get a cup of coffee or fap or whatever until one of your characters runs out of SP and defaults to attack, the monsters flee from battle, or they use skills that your party reflects and somehow manage to kill themselves. The game does the work for you! Of course, you won't get advanced persona growth this way, which I'll get to in a minute.

Combat goes in order based on each unit's agility stat and will auto battle with the tactics you've set up. You can press X to stop the battle at any time and issue orders. In addition to the usual stuff like attack, defend, use items, and cast spells, characters can change Personas at any time during combat. You can also organize the order in which your characters act, although if you move a character who was slated to act later to the front of the line, you run the risk of giving enemies a free shot. You'll need to stay on top of this if you want to pull off fusion spells.

Each fusion spell has a specific order in which the spells must be to execute successfully. There's a helpful menu listing the fusions you've already cast and the order of their component spells, and it even lets you know which fusions you can cast with your current loadout of personas. However, it's up to you to look at a guide discover new fusions. Fusions are also an important part of Persona growth. End a battle by killing the last enemy with a fusion spell, and there's a small chance of the involved personas increasing their stats, jumping up two ranks, learning new spells, or getting the option to mutate into a new Persona. And when I say small, I mean small. It's good practice in random battles to try and kill the last enemy with a fusion anyway, but be prepared to grind if you're going for a specific hidden spell or mutation.


Things in Persona 2 That I Wish They'd Bring Back

You can change personas on any character.
Sure, some match-ups work better than others, but when playing 3 and 4 it seemed stupid to me that only the main character can do this, coupled by the fact that none of the other characters seem to notice or make a big deal about it. I think they only mentioned it once in Persona 4, and I guess they just assumed he was "special." It just forces your main character to carry the battle, well, he kind of does that anyway in Persona 3 thanks to the stupid auto commands (why did it take until the third revision to realize that was a dumb idea), and due to a little reason that segues nicely into my next point...

The game isn't over if Tatsuya dies.
Anyone who's lost 30 minutes of gametime to a random hamaon knows what I'm talking about. Digital Devil Saga doesn't game over if Serph dies, so why'd they change it back? Assholes. Digital Devil Saga also lets you take Serph out of the party, which isn't an issue here since the game dictates your characters, but it's just a thought for future installments.

Fusion spells.
Again, Digital Devil Saga had combo attacks, though they weren't as essential as they are here. It's not really something that I thought 3 and 4 lacked, I just like fusion spells. I guess a little variety in strategy never hurts, something besides the constant Power Charge --> God Hand routine anyway. There's a little risk vs. reward that makes boss fights interesting in 2's model; do you try to pull off fusions and deal big damage, or do you have your characters act individually to mitigate party damage/status effects and ping away at the boss with weak attacks? It's nice to at least have the option.

It's set up like a traditional JRPG.
Look, I'm all for trying new things. Persona 3 was something different, and Persona 4 streamlined that formula and fixed a lot of things I didn't like. But I don't think the world needs another life sim Persona game.

You actually fight demons.
3 and 4 had a few interesting enemy designs, sure, but the thing that bugged me about those games is that only fighting those stupid shadows seemed so insular that it just felt like those games exist in their own little bubble removed from the Devil Summoner > SMT if... > Persona 1 and 2 timeline.

See, I have a problem with stories that amount to "a singular threat exists, so a person/group of people receive a singular power specifically tailored to combat that threat." I think it's a Japanese cultural thing that hinges the hopes of the hero on prophecy and destiny and power levels and shit, but as an American I'm more inclined to get behind someone who makes their own destiny. Who says only Link can defeat Ganon? Fuck Link, what's so special about him? Because it is written that only Link can defeat Ganon? Well now you're just breaking the fourth wall. Of course it's written that way, that's how the author wrote it. Now you're just saying, "this is going to happen, yeah the hero is going to defeat the villian, but just in case you're a moron or something let's spell it out for you." I once had an argument on a fighting game message board that Terry Bogard is a better character than Kyo Kusanagi because... okay I'm really getting off track here.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that Persona 2 feels like it's part of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, while 3 and 4 feel like they're doing their own thing and throwing in Jack Frost and Loki and Featherman because why not. All they've got tying them to the other games is some crap on TV with Trish and a failing MMO (no, I don't mean SMT: Imagine). In 2 you've got all those jerks from Persona 1 running around, plus the Kuzunoha agency. There's a scene in at the Sky Museum where Tamaki has a clearly visible COMP and is trying to use summoned demons to fight off Sudou (even though you don't see them for whatever reason, I guess the scripters were getting lazy). It's like all the crazy occult shit going in 2 has a real visible impact on the game's world, while in 3 and 4 everyone except the main characters are unaware of what's really going on and no one will care if they don't save the world because they'll all be dead/shadows. Don't get me wrong, I actually like Persona 4, but the later Persona games seem so closed off from the rest of the series that they might as well be gaidens, and sadly I don't think many people give a shit. Maybe I'm wrong, I don't know, I don't go to SMT fansites for non-research purposes.

Okay, I don't go to them for research purposes either.

It has a plot.
I honestly couldn't tell you what Persona 3's plot was, outside of "SHADOWS BAD MUST FITE." Persona 4 at least had that murder mystery thing going on, but it still eventually amounted to "SHADOWS BAD MUST FITE." I guess they felt that didn't need to develop the overall plot much when you're more concerned with which girl prefers which gift so you can bone her on Christmas (<1m).

Tatsuya actually seems like, you know, a character.
Sure, he's a silent protagonist, but he has an established presence in the world he inhabits. Jun was his childhood friend. Ginko has a crush on him. His brother works for the police department. In 3 and 4, the main character is you. In Innocent Sin, you are Tatsuya. In 3 and 4, your parents are dead/overseas, nobody knows you, and coupled with the fact that picking the right dialog options will make everyone think you're the coolest dude around makes you seem like kind of a Mary Sue. If this is to be the trend for future games, and the series actually continues on a not handheld, they should probably just let you customize your appearance and give you some terse prerecorded dialog options.

Oh god, I think I just wished for Persona 5 to be a Bioware game.


Things Probably Better Off Having Been Changed

Summoning is shit boring.
You've got the grind of trying to get cards (Persona 2), vs. the grind of giving change to homeless demons only for them to cut and run (Nocturne), vs. the grind of listening to that old couple about their stupid tree (S. Links). No matter what ancillary WORDS WORDS WORDS bullshit it's attached to, the fusion system still trumps tarot summoning on all accounts. It feels good to finally get a demon team sorted out in Nocturne that can totally murder a boss or dungeon. There's no satisfaction in gathering arbitrary currency and selecting a name from a list. And you still have to grind to get skills!

Combat.
The system itself isn't bad per se, it just takes forever due to the animations and micromanaging your fusion spells, and the encounter rate kills it. I like the press turn system even though I felt like 3 and 4 just took that model and dumbed it down. Though I rarely used them, Digital Devil Saga managed to have combo attacks within the press turn system, so maybe a marriage of press turn and fusion spells isn't that bizarre of a concept.

Too many elements.
Earth, fire, wind, water (derp), ice, electric, holy/dark, almighty, nuclear, about 4 types of physical, mental, plus weird hybridized types from fusions. It's just a lot of shit to keep track of. The main thing to think about here is enemy/party susceptibility, since press turn criticals aren't in effect, but I found myself summoning personas I didn't want or burning through spell cards in order to be prepared for every eventuality.


This is Rumor Control. Here Are the Facts.

Why didn't Innocent Sin come out in the States? Conspiracies abound. Sony hated 2D. It has gayness. It has Hitler.

All of these reasons are stupid and you should stop believing them.

But let's consider the Nazi thing for a second. Let's break this part of the plot down to its bare essentials. "An evil empire is after some ancient technology from a dead civilization." Now, here's a variation you may be familiar with. "The Gestahl Empire is after Magicite which was left over after the Espers departed." You see where I'm going with this, right? "The Nazis are after the technology of the Mayans left behind by some aliens who visited Earth."

So despite incorporating one of the most controversial events of the 20th century, it's basically the same evil empire/ancient civilization song and dance from a billion other JRPGs. It could have been Master-D and the Badds for all I care. Taking Hitler and the Nazis out of the context of WWII may been seen as poor taste, but they don't do anything offensive with it. They're basically using his likeness to stir up shit. Nazi imagery shows up in Japanese media from time to time, and it doesn't seem to carry the same connotations that it does here. At any rate, I didn't find Innocent Sin's Last Battalion offensive, and I'm a guy who finds Mengele-kun disturbing. Personally, I think Michelle calling his band "Gas Chamber" makes him look like the neo-Nazi.

Next, the gayness. I'm sure it's no secret among people who've never played it that Jun, Innocent Sin's eventual fifth party member, is gay. Now that's not to say that he's portrayed as a gigantic fabulous queerbot, although the flowers and the fortune telling do make him seem pretty fruity. But Jun's sexuality is mainly characterized by him basically being really in love with Tatsuya. Who you are, by the way. Jun's gay for you.

Honestly though, Jun's a decent character. For the short amount of time you get to use him, he's pretty well-realized. It never feels cheap, the way in which the story enables him to be a protagonist, like saying Hal Jordan was controlled by an evil yellow space bug all along. And despite having every reason in the world to be an emo bitch, he seems like a pretty happy guy. Not to say that he doesn't have remorse for his past or it doesn't play and important role in his characterization. BUT DAMN HE SURE DOES LIKE DUDES RIGHT?

Anyway, the simple fact is that no one currently working at Atlus USA knows why Innocent Sin was passed up for a US localization. Something about it not being economically feasible for Atlus Japan, since the development team was trying to get Eternal Punishment in stores by Christmas and didn't have time to work with the English editors on Innocent Sin. Listen to this 1UP Retronauts podcast interview with Atlus localization editor Nich Maragos if you really care, since I can't be cocked to pinpoint the exact runtime and/or transcribe the conversation. I'm at least giving more evidence for a rational argument than people who parrot "GAY NAZIS COLUMBINE" and offer no proof.

As of this writing, Innocent Sin has been announced for the PSP remake treatment, similar to what Persona 1 got. The new intro looks nice, in spite of the shitty J-pop that seems to be the series' aural trademark these days. No word yet on a North American release, but given Atlus' recent track record with SMT in this part of the world, I wouldn't count it out. Of course, that would mean I'd end up playing it yet again. Damn it.


Old Maid

Has Persona 2 aged well? That's a question I tend to shirk since I play more old shit than anything, but in this case I think the question has special implications. There can't be many, at least in this country, who got into Shin Megami Tensei before the PS2 era and would have experienced the 32-bit Persona games in their millieu, unless they had import contacts and were fluent in Japanese. I'm sure most of you are like me, playing IS by the good graces of the internet and that translation patch (by the way, kudos to Devil Hackers for dropping the honorifics. Even if it isn't voiced, that shit has no business being in something produced for an English-speaking audience). And even if you did play Revelations: Persona and Eternal Punishment back in the day, you were essentially getting a localization with less content of an already derpy game and then jumping into the last chapter of the sequel story. It would be like only experiencing the Lord of the Rings via the Rankin Bass animated films, which means that you're not only getting less content than the books, but you're starting with The Hobbit and jumping straight to Return of the King. Okay, cast your nominations now for the worst analogy ever.

So Persona 2's age is very much a factor, at least for me and my analysis of it. In terms of technology, it still holds up. It may not have gorgeous 3D (no such thing on PSX DURR) and a Hans Zimmer score, but it is about as perfectly crafted, for what it is, that it could be. The story is better developed than what most think of when they hear "RPG." Even with the wackiness and the AN ELDER GOD DID IT ending, the themes and emotions at work here give it much more weight in my mind than the princess saving densetsu of old and pretentious everyone-is-a-dream-of-a-dead-civilization wankery that succeeded it.

As much as I love the story though, it's certainly not perfect. There are a couple of pacing issues when it comes to individual character development. Two party members in particular have arcs that get brushed aside to make room for the big reveal and all the other crazy shit in the second act, and are hastily wrapped up toward the end when you're going around fighting everyone's shadows. Without spoiling too much, one regards a character's past... "extracurricular activities," which I didn't see any mention of anywhere else in the game until talking to a random NPC early on during my second playthrough. Since there are a bunch of NPCs standing around the city and they usually have something new to say every time you pass a new plot point, it's easy to miss these details. The other thing deals with the relationship between a party member and another character who disappears for 3/4ths of the game. All I'll say is that it's much easier to forgive someone if they suddenly become hot. Life lessons!

Of course, this is me glossing over the fact that the actual gameplay is pretty repetitive. My greatest fear in attempting a Persona 2 writeup was that the prospect of slogging through the dungeon crawl for a second 100+ hours would spoil my positive memories of both games. I considered streamlining the gameplay section of this review to make it a bit less boring to read, but no, I want you to feel, at least vicariously, the same pain I had to go through in order to experience the story in full.

It's not even that it's ill-designed, it's just so slow that it becomes incredibly unfun in large doses. It's good to have fine control over your party's actions and the persona variety almost assures that you'll never play the game the same way twice, but the sheer amount of grinding you'll end up doing coupled with the malicious encounter rate (you have estoma but all it does is stop monsters of a lower level than you from showing up), plus how long each battle takes really makes it feel like the game would have only been 20 hours long with something more streamlined. Even knowing all the little gameplay quirks that I wasn't aware of the first time around don't make it go any faster, and it's frankly a wonder how I got through it back then.

You know how in Skies of Arcadia, which also has a notorious encounter rate, you knew you were in for a battle when you heard the GD-ROM start spinning up? Here when you're running through a dungeon, Tatsuya stops for about half a second before ZA WARUDO and you're dumped to the battle screen. And like Pavlov's dog, I would throw my hand up and roll my eyes every time Tatsuya stopped running. It's a feeling not dissimilar to getting stuck in traffic.

I think part of the problem is that there are too many dungeons. Literally nothing of importance happens when you're required to go through Mu Continent, you just meet up with the Muses and they say "Lisa stop being a bitch we have to go do a radio interview now." Then you have to go through Giga Macho, Ginko leaves the party, and then you have to go through Aoba park before you get her back and fight the next boss.

Not to mention that this came out at a time when RPGs, even those with the J prefix, were trying all kinds of wacky combat systems. I never played Tales of Whatever or Valkyrie Profile, but what with your Star Oceans and Grandias and Bioware-pausing I would like to think that Persona 2's combat appeared just as dated to players then as it does to me now. Then again, I think the Japanese have a higher tolerance for busy work in their games, so maybe it wasn't seen as that big of a deal. Even the PS2 Persona games' combat feels like a step backward. I know I keep sucking Nocturne's dick, but the fact remains that Nocturne got it right. If Persona 2's combat were as fun as Nocturne's (I'd even be willing to ignore Nocturne's brutal difficulty), the last five or so paragraphs wouldn't exist. Even Digital Devil Saga is more fun to play, and you spend most of your time grinding mantra in that one.


Jibber-Jabber Completed

So I guess Persona 2's gameplay hasn't aged well. But I can't bring myself to hold that against it. Everything else, the story, the atmosphere, the characters, the music, is just so well-crafted, charming, emotional, and about fifty other positive adjectives that I can forgive the poopy combat and some poor pacing here and there. The affinity you feel for the characters makes the ending that much more heartbreaking, when they bid you farewell for the final time. Tatsuya will never experience the joys of their company again, and you probably won't have 60 hours to throw down on the game again because you've got bills and shit to worry about.





Next episode: I'm not a player I just grind a lot.

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