America finally got its hands on Persona 2! Expect pure JRPG here, there is no genre blending, no wild deviations from the norm, save for a few interesting and unique mechanics, but otherwise it is all stat building and character progression from here on out.
Fans of this very specific Shin Megami Tensei series will no doubt be excited, but is there enough in this Playstation 1 Japan exclusive to warrant the attention or hype? Is it a worthy precursor to the critically acclaimed Persona games ahead of its time? Let’s glance at what’s hot and what’s not about Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Innocent Sin for the PSP.
In a massive JRPG like this, one should hope for a good storyline, because the storyline is what carries the experience here in Persona 2. While sometimes its atmosphere may fail its underlying depth, its themes of rumors, truth and the abuse of lies and deceit can actually carry a surprising amount of weight and character building moments. While it may not entrance you enough to glue your hands to the controller for hours at a time, the characters and sub-plots can be interesting and developmental enough to make you smile, or even find yourself liking the characters as more than just broad anime stereotypes.
Easy To Turn On And Start
While the overall complexity of the game might make this an invalid point for many gamers, especially ones that aren’t interested in JRPGs, the ability to save anywhere and load from where you left off is extremely convenient. While many games might have you work through load times, burdensome save points and a general slowness to loading up, Persona is the rare RPG that wants to be played any time anywhere.
Classic Japanese Atmosphere
Like a piece of pocky inside a rice ball being eaten by a tentacle monster, this game is Japanese nerd culture at its most distilled. With plenty of Japanese humor that’s sure to humiliate you in front of your friends, a general colorfulness to the game and plenty of camp, it’s a cheery, if not occasionally creepy game. The dialog also isn’t as horrifically bad as some JRPG translations, although a terrible translation can often be a selling point, don’t expect to claw your eyes out every time a character speaks.
You go to a ramen-ya to buy weapons, you have to confront, and then enlist the gang leader of a rival high school, you go to same rival school’s cultural arts festival and pretty much everything else you can think of from the last High School anime you watched. Every once and a while, it can pull out a plot device that some might see more as disturbing than charming, but these surprisingly only work to enhance the atmosphere.
Unique Battle Options
While, admittedly, the battle mechanics themselves aren’t unique, the social simulator aspects from later games is absent, every character can attack, every character can cast spells, some can cast fusion spells, it’s all very deep but not necessarily unique, until you discover the Contact system. Nearly every demon you come across in the game is available to contact, and contact is a much more sterile way of saying, “attempt to make friends with”.
You decide who in your party will go up to speak to the demon (this is extremely important due to the fact that every character besides your own has a unique personality) and attempt to make them happy or eager. This can be deceptively difficult because every demon also has its own personality. If you make them happy enough they’ll either reward you or make a pact with you, to help you along your way. This also leads to a hilarious aside in which a demon’s tutorial of the contact system lays out the consequences of making the demon angry, stating that if you fail, in big bold letters, the demon might end the conversation, or if you really make him mad, never speak to you again.
It’s a fun little system, can sometimes get repetitive once you realize exactly how to push any certain demon’s buttons, but a very nice little touch to a fairly repetitive game.
Lack Of Focus
This is a game with ambitions to be as big as possible, to be a massively huge RPG. However, the only way it’s able to succeed is to pad out the storylines and missions and to fill it with various sub-plots. Where a lack of focus might actually aid a game that emphasizes exploration, you often just visit the same locales in the game over and over, constantly wandering toward whatever your next objective is, and every time, you will come to what you believe is the objective, find out that nothing is happening here, speak to some NPCs and then head off to another place that is actually correct. This usually repeats 2 to 4 times.
Many JRPGs revel in repetition, there’s a sweetly sick satisfaction to reaching the next level, grinding until your fingers bleed, or working toward the best items, but it’s repetition is only worsened here by the extreme amounts of backtracking, mostly through areas that are infested with random battles. It can be likened to running around your high school, looking for your backpack, and you’re tripped every seven steps. The battles themselves are also repetitive and boring, and what’s repetitive and boring becomes even less substantial when you find the auto battle mechanic.
Where in some games, like Final Fantasy XIII, an auto-battle mechanic can be helpful or even necessary, in these circumstances, what was repetitive and boring devolves into entirely trivial and often moronic. The auto-battle mechanic defeats itself at every turn. It only barely speeds up the battle process, it often asks you to input whether certain characters should initiate fusion spells so the name ‘auto-battle’ is a misnomer, and the AI will also repeat specific techniques that are completely ineffectual, useless or at the worst of times detrimental to the party (i.e. healing the same character over and over again who is at full health).
Weird Difficulty Curve
The first five hours of the game are simply not difficult, on Normal difficulty at least. While this may change in Hard mode, after a specific point, the difficult ramps up from boring to frustrating, which is an extremely jarring shift. This is due to the fact that when playing, one can safely assume that this is a game that does not emphasize grinding, but rather, fluid and natural progression of the characters. That would not be the case. To be ready later on, one must grind themselves silly, without even being aware that they should, and can often be put into situations in which there is no way of backing one’s self out of a corner other than intentional death or praying that you saved earlier on and are not too far back to save yourself. If one isn’t careful, this can render the game nearly unplayable, though this would be a rare circumstance, to the game’s credit.
Persona 2 is only a disappointment to those expecting the second coming of a game too beautiful and opulent for us Americans. This is not a good jumping point for anyone hoping to get into the Shin Megami Tensei series or JRPGs in general. For those who are already into JRPGs, this game will come across as a functional, if not often bland addition to a system that already has a large amount of spectacular role-playing games. Good for a car ride, not a waste of money, but not worth the anticipation.
[Editor’s Note: Persona 2: Innocent Sin was played on a PSP handheld. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]