Finally! I have always been excited whenever I saw a Persona game hit shelves, but when it’s a title we simply never got here, let alone one with a little Lovecraft mixed in, I couldn’t resist, and as soon as I found a copy, I picked it up. Being a portable game, I dragged it out a bit by mainly playing when away from home, but having finished, it’s time to talk about it. Come on in and enjoy.
Story: Persona 2 places you in the roll of one of the most popular guys in high school. You ride a bike, are rumored to be nothing but trouble and, this being in Japan, the lead students in other schools all know your name, for better or for worse.
It’s the end of the day at school, and things are already getting strange. There is a rumor that someone from a rival school put a curse on your school icon, your principal, who everyone adores, is babbling something about “him” guiding you and your fate being a miserable one, and some voice is trying to talk to you about “you being it and it being you.” But all this can be put aside as you find out quite quickly a rival school gang has captured a student and his holding her captive to call you out. You simply can not stand by this so you get on your bike and ride to the prison you were told to go for the showdown!
But upon arrival, of course nothing is what it seems… at all. Tempers flair and a new power of yours, the girl who lead you to the prison, and the guy who “kidnapped” a student comes to be revealed. You are all Persona users. And while none of you have any idea how you got this power, it will become the way you handle the ordeals to come. For rumors have been coming true around the city when enough people believe them.
One such rumor in particular is called the Joker Game. In this rumor, if you call your own cellphone, you summon an entity known as Joker who will grant your greatest dreams. But there is a darker side to this tail, and failing to tell him what you want costs you your ambition, drive, and having such dreams at all. It reduces you into a shell of a man known as a shadow man. Finding out this rumor is true at the cost of three friends facing this fate, you head off to find out what Joker is, to save your friends, and to the beginning of an epic adventure to save the city and to discover just who you really are.
And those are the core concepts this game’s story rides on: rumors coming true because of the belief of people, the inner self, and a forgotten past that is now haunting your characters. Based around these concepts, you travel all over the city, fight religious terrorists, and even save the world from Nazis! Yes, this game manages to bring it all together, and to be quite honest, the backdrop let’s this work remarkably well! And while the wrap-up of the game may seem a little weak, the ride to get there is simply amazing.
Graphics: Persona 2: Innocent Sin is a remake of an old PlayStation game, even though it’s the first time we got it here in the US. As such, it carries a lot of the old-school style in it’s look. Old-school 2D sprites will move around an isometric view for the entire game, and while the look is not going to wow anybody, it’s still descent in it’s own right. It also allows you to use the bumpers on your PSP to spin the map to assure there is nothing hidden from your view. Overall, it simply looks like a classic RPG of the 32-bit era.
However, that isn’t to say the game doesn’t have a few bumps here, most notably the city maps. When you are not at a specific location, your view is basically a picture of the city or part of the city you are in. I don’t mean it looks like a painting either. I mean it looks like a photograph, and your position is designated by a blue spinning arrow/guy. Nothing moves… at all. If you are in a neighborhood, you glide this piece around to the location you want to visit while a city-view basically puts the neighborhoods in a menu to select from. It’s efficient and useful, but it loses the whole astatic of an RPG of any kind, replacing it with an interactive pin you move around on a bulletin board map.
Also, despite the lack of real technical prowess, this game still has times where the PSP chugs along. There is really no excuse for this when the game was made for the PlayStation and the PSP was touted as basically being a portable PS2.
Sound: It seems rare to me these days to be treated to a soundtrack that really stands out, but somehow, the Persona franchise seems to do it again and again. They have gotten better at it over time, and it shows here too. Most of the music in Persona 2 is remixed from the original title, and as such really isn’t the same stand-out quality I’m talking about, but the main theme the opening cinematic greets you with will stick with you forever, and in a good way. It was not uncommon while playing this for me to let the video play just to hear it and set my tone before I pressed start. And while the rest serves well and doesn’t sound bad, this is what you will remember.
Sound effects are as limited as one might expect from an RPG, but the voice acting is actually a high-point for this game. Everyone sounds right for their personality and look, though it seems to me that special attention was made for Maya. Her voice acting was absolutely brilliant.
Gameplay: Being a turn-based RPG from their golden age, there are certain things you can expect instantly from this game. You will move around between locations, buy weapons, armor, and items, fight monsters in turn-formation, rinse and repeat. And while this core formula is indeed alive and well in the title, it has a few twists to stand out with.
These twists almost all center around your ability to use personas. In combat, this amounts to your magic abilities, but rather then buy them from a shop, they come as packages in the persona you have equipped. As you use them, their own levels will increase, sometimes making your powers stronger and sometimes adding new ones, until you max it out. These personas also come with adjustments to what kind of attacks you are weak to, strong against, can ignore, or even reflect back at the monster attacking you!
It is also possible to do more then simply “cast spells” since as you play, you will invariably hit combinations of spells that the game will remember. These combinations become fusion spells, or abilities you can use more then one character to pull off for a lot more damaging effect. And if you do this with maxed out personas, it’s entirely possible they will try to mutate and allow you to turn them into more powerful personas and begin the process all over again. Not that they mutate right away mind you. You will have to go to the Velvet Room (found in most malls) to have Igor help do this.
Outside of leveling your persona, you will also have the ability to get new ones in the above mentioned Velvet Room. Doing so will involve trading arcana cards for it… and this is where the game fails. To get arcana cards, you have either defeat monsters and hope you get one, or choose to contact them and convince them to give you a lot more cards… and a lot more is the key point here, because there are very few personas you can summon without a couple hundred arcana cards of the same type. This leaves you to choose if you want to play an RPG game, or complete a “talking puzzle” that, if you succeed, does not give you any experience points to level or cash to upgrade your stuff… and you better do it right to the same monster (if they show up) repeatedly to get enough cards for it to matter. In short, this part of the game is tedious as hell, and frankly at about the 10 hour mark I stopped trying. For better or worse, I made the active choice to basically stick with my original personas through most of the game because the game made it such a chore to get new ones… in a game where the main hook is your ability to do just that. This is probably the biggest failure of the game.
The only other real focal point to note this game from other RPGs is the Rumor System. There is a detective agency where you can pay them to spread rumors you collect, changing what stores carry what and side missions available to you. This was pulled off brilliantly as a way to open new locations to get more powerful gear as well as unique items in a modern world without using “hidden caves” that you would wonder why no one found them before and was frankly a stroke of genius for this reason alone.
Bugs: Outside of the occasional slowdown, this game ran perfectly… I really have no complaints.
Overall: While a vast improvement over Persona by simplifying combat and not causing the player to miss half the game by making choices that don’t seem to have any weight to them at all, Persona 2 still has it’s own flaws as the franchise was developing. Still, overall, this was a very solid RPG and if you are a fan of the series or even of old-school RPGs, it’s definitely worth your time to pick this one up.