I confess, and it is probably no secret as well, that I am a huge fan of the Persona series. How can I not be one? The unique characters, the psychological plot and fun role-playing game mechanics all blended together to create an incredibly human mess that I have a fair amount of trouble pulling myself away from it all. It is with this in mind that I approached Persona 2: Innocent Sin for the PSP with a lot of excitement. So is this previously unreleased game worth the wait?
Persona 2 (P2) follows two high school students who are following rumors about one of them threatening the safety of the other. As the silent hero, Tatsuya, is about to confront the male equivalent of a goth Lolita, Michel (with Lisa/Ginko right behind Tatsuya), they decide to test the rumor about the Joker. Here’s the thing: If you call your own cellphone, a mysterious being known as the Joker will appear to grant your deepest desire — if you can voice it. As quickly as the “game” starts, it’s over. The Joker takes Michel’s friends’ energy and then quickly screams at them for a “sin” none of three characters remember. From there, things kick off, and the three newfound friends, along with a journalist and her photographer, head out to stop the Joker from destroying the city and their own sins.
Granted, I’ve oversimplified the plot, yet it is pretty intriguing. Rumors abound in the world and can actually influence people. However, Persona 2 doesn’t revel in its weirdness like its predecessor. Instead, it’s comfortable with where it is like any other proud teenager or 20-something. It slowly becomes clear that Persona 2 is a bit more mature, where its successors gets its maturity. It’s a step up, a mediating point if you will, to show where the overall quality for the series is heading.
Gone is the first-person dungeon crawling. Instead, you explore areas from the third-person perspective, and movement is much more intuitive and typical of modern RPGs. You’ll also romp around town, buy the necessary equipment, visit the Velvet Room (more on that in a bit) and advance the plot. Combat is turn-based, and you have a bit of freedom of when party members act. Certain skills can now be “fused” together to create a stronger version of the skill. Fusions help raise persona levels (which allows access to more skills) quickly and will sometimes help it learn skills and boost stats. Personas also provide a boost to a stat during leveling, so it does provide a little more flexibilityaid when comes to shaping your characters.
What helps make the game unique is its rumors system. As you speak to the different NPCs, sometimes they’ll share a rumor with you. You then take those rumors back to a detective agency and have them spread the story around town to influence it to the city’s and your party’s gain. Rumors vary, from the quality of equipment a store carries (and if it doubles as two different types of stores) and side quests.
The Velvet Room is in full swing here. Everyone, just like the first game, enters the room with the protagonist, and you can meander around the small room — even talking to the pianist and singer. Igor is present as well, though this time you use types of cards instead of the demons’ cards. For example, if you want a specific person, then you need to bring the proper amount of cards to bring the persona forth. Cards are gathered by making contact with the demons, complete with their own personalities. Thus, you need to make eager, and each character brings different tactics to do so. Add into the mix the possibility of making pacts, an option that lets you talk to and extort demons; it suddenly makes the system nearly overwhelming. Thankfully, you don’t have to touch the pact portion of the game, but you will probably miss out on discovering some rumors.
Visually, the game looks great. One can easily tell that this is based on an old PlayStation game with a much stronger resolution. Just add a few things, and it would almost rival the PlayStation 2’s power. Anyway, characters emote, move around the screen smoothly and the swirls of the battle’s backgrounds. The demons steal the show as they all have unique movements.
There’s a major catch with the system, and it permeates virtually every aspect of the game: the loading times. Want to enter a new area? Here’s a loading screen that lasts a minute. Enter combat? Loading screen. Want to make contact with demons and an ally returns to the sidelines? Loading that is especially noticeable when an ally goes back to the side. Finished with combat and ready to resume exploration? Loading screen. Oh, and do you want to look at your map? How about a nice juicy loading screen? The frequency and the duration of the loading screens are unnecessary. Thankfully, it can be fixed a few notches and made “reasonable” by installing the game onto your memory card. Still, it slowly kills the flow of the game.
Sound in the game is solid. There are the usual sound effects in their proper places. Music is wonderfully eclectic like the rest of the series: techno, rock, pop ... it’s all there. And it’s great. As an added bonus, you can switch between the remixed version and the original soundtrack. Voice acting is also present, though it is rather sparse. It’s mostly heard during major battles and, I feel, is rather good. However, when the other games in the series make their way onto the PSP and have varying degrees of increased voice acting, something feels a little wrong that it is not implemented more.
So is Persona 2: Innocent Sin a game I can recommend? Yes, it is a solid RPG for the PSP. It is a few notches above Persona . It is also far more playable, thus it is, from a technical perspective, more enjoyable. It’s here that the series begins to mature, so fans of the series will probably get a kick out of seeing its narrative roots. However, the loading times are downright unreasonable, leaving fans out in the cold, while die-hard RPG fans are left to enjoy it. Was it worth the wait of almost a decade for the game to arrive stateside? Yes, but the price of $40 is too much for a game that lacks the perfect polish of other games accomplished by Atlus. Ultimately, unravel this rumor on your own. You might find the source more enjoyable than all of the hearsay surrounding it.