Persona 2 first made a splash in 1999, although only in Japan. Westerners never did get the chance to play it, despite the sequel Eternal Punishment being released in North America the following year. Fans of the series were no doubt ecstatic when Atlus announced an enhanced re-release of the game on the PlayStation Portable, but it still remains to be seen if time has been kind to this unique RPG or if it's an experience best left in the past.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin follows the development of the main male lead Tatsuya Suou, a high school student at Seven Sisters High. Rumors have been circulating that the school's emblem is cursed, with multiple students bandaged up due to facial disfigurements. After a series of events, Tatsuya and his friends play the "Joker Game" and inadvertently summon a demonic entity known as the Joker who seems to be holding a grudge against Tatsuya for reasons he's oblivious to. Tatsuya's life becomes a living hell as he has to deal with the fact that Joker has the ability to make people's wishes come true if they pledge themselves to him. There's a bit more to the story without dealing into any major spoilers, but it is the one part of the game that doesn't feel dated at all as it's still as intriguing as it was back in 1999. Atlus' excellent localization for the North American release helps out a great deal in this regard as the dialogue flows smoothly and the banter between the various party members is exceptionally entertaining. There's a few odd bits of dialogue lost in translation, but all in all Innocent Sin's translation is relatively well done.
The graphics, on the other hand, are hit and miss. The new character busts and the existing general and main character designs are generally well done, as well as some of the animations during Fusion spells, but the overall dungeon and character sprite artwork leave a lot to be desired. Other titles that mixed this isometric 3D approach such as Chrono Cross did a much better job than the tiny, squished character sprites and the boxy and constrained dungeons that make up Innocent Sin. They were serviceable back in 1999 and are leagues above Persona 1's first-person view in terms of usability but the PSP can do a lot more here and it feels too archaic for its own good.
There's also an issue with the game's mini-map as it doesn't rotate when the player changes directions so exploring can get rather disorienting, which causes some issues in later levels where or when looking for hidden routes. This wasn't an issue in the PSP enhanced port of the original Persona due to the first-person perspective in the dungeons but it's definitely noticeable in Innocent Sin.Battles are turn-based random encounters. While the battle encounter rate isn't as bad as some might lead you to believe, the issue is that its turn-based mechanics rely on setting up specific actions for each character before they can be carried out. Let's say you set the first four characters up but neglect to remember that the fifth needs to be the third character to act to carry out a Fusion spell (which occurs when specific Persona attacks are used in succession alongside another character or character's own Persona attacks), instead of being able to change the order and only reset the fifth character's attacks, the game requires you to re-confirm every character all over again. There's a few other smaller issues present but this is one of the key issues that rears its ugly head in Innocent Sin. The user interface has received a fresh coat of paint, but its core functions remain intact so fans don't have to worry about getting lost in menus.
The demon negotiation system and Persona summoning that's a staple of the Persona franchise makes its mark here as well. Unlike Persona 3 and 4, new demons are created through the use of cards which are obtained by negotiating with demons successfully. This slightly justifies higher-than-usual encounter rate as obtaining cards is a key mechanic. The system is rewarding in its own way, especially for those that enjoy grinding, which also plays into the leveling system for each Persona since they are independent of the character's level that they are equipped to.
One of the more interesting aspects about Innocent Sin is the rumor system. Just as Joker can use rumors to put kinks in Tatsuya's plans, Tatsuya can employ rumors of his own to alter the world around him. The rumors range from expanding a dungeon to add more treasure, having shops sell new and possibly rare items, altering the odds at the local drawings or casinos or even teach Persona exclusive items that can't be obtained any other way. There's a modest fee attached each time a rumor is spread and some rumors cancel another out so players have to carefully choose which ones to spread.
Innocent Sin features a New Game Plus system which carries over some of your progress to the next play-through so any inadvertently selected rumors can be nullified the next time. It's a pretty basic system but it's one that is greatly appreciated. I'd honestly love seeing a system like this implemented in the newer Persona titles.
As far as the audio, the occasional English character voice-overs that play during are par for the course for fans who have played previous Persona titles with some voice actors being easily recognizable if you are paying attention. Innocent Sin's release on the PSP also includes remixed versions of the original songs which carry the same feel as the originals. Players can also opt for the original tracks whenever they like.
There's no doubt about it that long-time Japanese RPG fans will love Persona 2: Innocent Sin even with its flaws as the game is essentially a product of its time. It would've been nice to see updated mechanics and higher resolution sprites, but it's still a perfectly fine game for those who are willing to put up with its old school gameplay. Those who are looking for a modern RPG should look elsewhere.
|The story still holds up even after almost twelve years.|
|The quality of the localization is superb.|
|The rumor system was and still is something unique for its genre.|
|The battle system definitely shows its age in some areas.|
|Requires a data install to be bearable for UMD owners.|
|Those who can't overlook its flaws will get turned off by the title.|