Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2 – Innocent Sin Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Portable.
A cursed city where any spread rumour inexplicably comes true; demons are running amok everywhere you go; and a spirit that grants peoples wishes, or reduces them to Shadow Selves to be forgotten by the world, is terrorizing anyone who dials their own phone number.
And I thought I had a tough time with high school.
Atlus has released their popular Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin for the PlayStation Portable for the first time in English in the United States. This JRPG takes the standard role-playing formulas and changes the rules to bring a level of freshness to the status quo. Decisions you make can have an effect on the world around you (either to your advantage or detriment).
Innocent Sin is about a group of teenagers who encounter the Joker, a demon who can be summoned by calling your own cellphone. When you do, he will appear before you and grant your deepest wish. However, if you don’t have a wish, or refuse to tell him, he steals your “ideal energy” and reduces you to a Shadow Self. These Shadow Selves are quickly forgotten by the world, and they’re left to wander around with no purpose in life.
After their encounter with the Joker, the main protagonist, Tatsuya Suou, and fellow teens Lisa Silverman and Eikichi Mishina are brought to the mysterious realm of Philemon. It is here that they are given the ability to summon their Personas, an alter-ego that presents itself in the form of a mythological creature such as a god, goddess, or demon. These Personas act much like summoned creatures in other RPGs, as they can join with their caretakers in battle. Armed with their Personas, the teens battle the Joker, and he comes to the realization that he has met them before. The Joker vanishes, swearing revenge, and leaves the group to recall their past, and prepare to meet him again.
Innocent Sin has some interesting concepts working for it that change up the normal button mashing method that usually accompanies the JRPG. One key element is the use of rumours; in the world of Innocent Sin, rumours that are spread mysteriously become true. Around town, there are rumourmongers that you can pay to spread a rumour that can work in your favor, helping you to progress through the game. An example of this takes place early on in the game where you learn of a rumour that a local ramen shop secretly sells weapons. If you happen to know the secret dish to order, they will provide you with weapons that you need. You investigate the restaurant and the owner will swear up and down that they do not sell weapons. However, after visiting a local detective agency that specializes in spreading rumours, you return to the restaurant and order their secret dish. The store owner then provides you with your first weapons to start the game with. Of course, the caveat is that the person making the order has to eat the dish (which is pretty disgusting).
Another departure from the JRPG is with the battle system. Yes, there is the usual number of endless menus that must be memorized for the button-mashing frenzy to ensue, should you actually need to battle. However, instead of just blindly attacking these demons that appear randomly in front of you, you negotiate with them.
I use the word negotiate loosely, here. In a sense, you’re actually getting to know them. Because these demons, unlike in other RPGs, have feelings. They aren’t necessarily the horrible terrors that eat people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ok, well, they are, but in Innocent Sin, you have the chance to get to know your demon and befriend them, instead of letting them make a brunch of you.
In the battle screen, an indicator appears in the upper right hand corner, showing the emotional state of the demon that you are conversing with. Each corner indicates one of four associated emotions and their related colors: red for anger, green for happiness, yellow for anticipation, and blue for fear. You initiate the conversation by talking about a specific topic (like how it feels to be dead) or performing an action (such as dancing) to solicit a response from the demon. The demon will react according to their personality, and one of the four emotion gauges will begin to fill. If you perform the wrong action, you can try to take the conversation in another direction to try to change how the demon is feeling. In the end, you can wind up being friends with the demon and forming a pact with them, provided your level is high enough (best case scenario), scaring them off, or (in the worst case) fighting them.
As you progress through the game, additional parts of the city become unlocked for you to explore, take on side-quests, spread rumours, and further the story. You can do this through a two-tiered world map. At the top level of the world map is the city view which overlooks the entirety of Sumaru City, with different explorable sections labelled. Once you select an area, a second level of the world map brings you to that section of the city to navigate through. Here, you are able to talk to random passers-by and go to select locations such as shops or other points of interest.
It is in these points of interest that you can have chance encounters with enemies to battle. Once a battle is triggered, you have the option of selecting you character’s standard attack, using your Persona’s magic attack, defend yourself, or run away. Combat is turn-based, with your team and the opposing forces taking their individual turns amidst the battle, instead of the typical one side at a time approach. You have two choices should you ever have to fight an enemy: Battle Mode Normal and Battle Mode Single. In Battle Mode Normal, the battles run themselves based on your initial selections, so you can spend more time watching the fight rather than micro-managing. Conversely, if you prefer to choose every attack, making every choice yourself, Battle Mode Single lets you do that, returning control to you after every round of battle.
During battle, should you choose to use your Persona’s magic, with various components like Fire, Earth, and Water, you have a chance to implement a Fusion Spell attack, which is dramatically more powerful than its standard counterpart. For example, having your character use a Fire spell, followed by an Earth and Water spell will initiate the Hydro Boost attack, doing a significant amount of Water damage to an opponent. There are a huge number of Fusion Spells that can be learned either by trial and error, or with a special item that can be bought.
The game retains the graphics of the original release, adding to the feeling of nostalgia with their 2D sprites laid down upon a 2.5D perspective environment. Even the occasional cutscenes (which don’t add much to the story anyway) have been retained from the original game. The only big change is that the intro movie has been updated, with a makeover that’s seemingly inspired by popular Japanese anime show intros. Atlus really had an opportunity to shine had they shed those older cutscenes and leveraged the beautiful work done by their animators for the intro. Unfortunately they didn’t, and that means that the teaser given in the beginning is really the only artwork update that you’ll see. Call me pernickety, or even spoiled, but after seeing what a fantastic job Atlus did on the cutscenes for Catherine, I was really hoping to see more.
The soundtrack has also received a makeover from the game’s original composer, Shoji Meguro. However, if you wish to add to the nostalgia, you can opt to listen to the original score. If you find that you enjoy the remix, Atlus has also included a mini soundtrack CD for your listening pleasure when your face isn’t glued to your PSP. I myself enjoy the new soundtrack as well as the old, depending on my mood, but I do have to admit that I was rocking out on the CD in my car for a good couple of days.
While we over in North America missed out on the original 1999 product release, we’re being treated to it now. With its unique game mechanics, and an involved story with likeable characters, and fantastic music, Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin feels wonderfully fresh. We can now only hope that they’ll give Eternal Punishment a similar treatment and see its release in the near future, for Innocent Sin is merely the beginning…
This game receives a 4.75/5.0
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