Persona 2: Innocent Sin
Persona 2: Innocent Sin is another gem that, for some obscure reason, have never been released in North America. Like Square did for many Final Fantasy titles in the US, Atlus skipped Innocent Sin and only released its sequel Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. This doesn't make any sense because those two games are strongly linked together. Although it is possible to understand the story by only playing Eternal Punishment, the experience is much more enjoyable if you play Innocent Sin before. When starting an Eternal Punishment game, you can even load your Innocent Sin save data to get extra stuff. For example, in Innocent Sin, at a certain point in the game, you can fight a secret boss that will give you a special ring. Then, in Eternal Punishment, you can use that ring to create a secret Persona. Since North America doesn't have Innocent Sin, it's impossible to get that extra stuff, which is quite disappointing.
I guess the main reason why they didn't release Innocent Sin is because there are tons of references to Nazis and Hitler into the game. Nowadays, being saturated with World War II games, not releasing a game because of Nazis elements sounds kinda lame, but I guess that 10 years ago, talking about that kind of stuff in videogames was taboo. At that time, Japanese developers seemed reticent to release controversial games that might offend Western gamers. I guess that's why games like Xenogears took so long to come out. They could just have edited that Nazi part out by calling them "The army of Death" or something… That would have been cheesy as hell, but that's better than nothing!
It is such a shame that Innocent Sin never came out in North America, because it is such a great game, especially thanks to its game mechanics. In this game, everything is based on the mechanic of rumors becoming reality. It starts with a rumor saying that if you call yourself on your cell phone, a joker will appear to grant your wishes. However, this joker happens to be sucking up people's dreams which put them into some sort of comatose state and gradually kills them. This joker seems to feel some kind of hate against Tatsuya, Eikichi and Lisa, the main characters of the game, because they committed a sin they can't remember (or don't want to remember). With their Persona power granted by Philemon, Tatsuya and his friends decides to go on an adventure to resolve the mystery revolving around the joker. Because of the rumors becoming reality, the story becomes completely over the top with neo Nazis and crazy stuff going around.
The goal of the rumor system is not only to make the game progress; it's a complete gameplay element. For example, after talking to NPCs in town, you hear three different rumors about a restaurant selling weapons. One says that they sell crappy weapons for cheap, another says that they sell normal weapons for a normal price, and the last one says that they sell great weapons for a very high price. Then, you can pay a detective agency to spread the rumor corresponding to your needs. Afterward, the rumor will become reality.
You got to be careful, because any kind of rumor can become reality. Like in the first Persona, you have to communicate with demons to collect tarot cards. After accumulating a certain amount of cards, you can create Personas in the Velvet Room. One day, when I was farming for cards in a dungeon, a conversation turned really bad. After a demon told me he heard that my best weapon was actually crap, he ran away to spread the rumor. A few minutes later, my best weapon actually became completely useless…
This seems like an annoying game mechanic, but it is actually very rare that such bad things happen. Like in the first game, personas are the main focus of battle, so you don't really need good weapons to survive. Personas still have 8 levels, so you have to grind a little bit to get the best of them. Since it's a lot easier to max them out, instead of sticking with the same personas continually like I did in Persona 1, I ended up using new personas after every dungeons. This makes the game much more addictive, and since I can exchange maxed out personas for rare items, I never felt like I worked for nothing.
Since I ended up with more than 100 hours of playtime, I realized that it still takes a while to max out personas. But since the battle system is much more enjoyable, I didn't felt like I spent that much time grinding. I actually was surprised of my playtime. In Persona 2: Innocent Sin, all the fights are in auto-battle mode. After choosing each character's action, they do the fighting automatically. If you need to heal or are not satisfied with your battle strategy, you can pause the battle anytime and change the settings. By choosing the right combination of attacks, you can even create special attacks with your personas. Thanks to this auto-attack system, battles are fast paced, and with the right attack pattern, you can go through dungeons easily.
Plus, those dungeons are some of the most original dungeons that I've ever seen. You will fight in a CD store, in a gym, at the Arcades, and in many other colorful settings. I don't know what it is, but there's something appealing about fighting my way through a shopping mall infested with demons. This feeling is similar to when I was playing Earthbound on the SNES; since you can somehow relate to the environments of the game, it triggers a reminiscent feeling.
Also, since we all experienced high school life, we can also relate to Tatsuya, Eikichi and Lisa, three of the main characters of the game. There are tons of other characters in the game, and they all have a specific back-story and development. Since it takes place a few years after that game, some characters from the first Persona make their apparition in Persona 2: Innocent Sin. We even get to know who Philemon, the guy who gives you the power to use personas, really is. For Megaten fans, there are some cameos hidden in the game, For example, in one of the stores, there is a guy wearing the uniform of the school in Shin Megami Tensei If…
If you pay a close attention to the surroundings, you can find many little interesting details. For example, in Maya's apartment, if you flip the camera to the right angle, you can find a TV set with a Playstation. In the Bikini Line store, on the vendor's desk, you can see a pack of a popular cigarette brand in Japan. It's interesting to see that, at that time, this kind of advertising was perfectly politically correct, and that nowadays it's completely unthinkable.
It's those little details that make the graphics rich and beautiful. Except for the map of the city, the game is completely in 3D with 2D character sprites, similar to Xenogears or Disgaea. When you talk to NPCs, most of them have a portrait, which is quite impressive considering the huge quantity of characters in the game. Lisa, one of the main characters, is actually a gaijin. When you go to her house, you can meet her father. Since her father is a complete Japan freak but cool at the same time, his portrait is a perfect copy of Steven Seagal. I know it's kind of a prejudice toward gaijins, but I thought it was hilarious.
The graphics looks gorgeous for their time, and it's pretty much the best that can be done on a PSOne. They finally threw away the archaic first person view and replaced it with smooth third person controls. You can run in any direction you want and, compared to Persona 3, flip the camera angle anytime you want. It may sounds like nothing but, it's actually a big step in the evolution of the Megaten series.
This game has a great story, great graphics, great character development, and an addictive gameplay. It has everything I want in an RPG and even more. If you want to try Persona 2: Innocent Sin but can't read Japanese, some fans made a really great English translation of the script of that game. This script can also be used as a walkthrough. You can find it at http://www.chthonian.net/persona/oracle/
Like SquareEnix, Atlus tend to rerelease their games all the time to do as much money as they can. Therefore, if we show enough interest in the Persona series, who knows; we might see a PSP rerelease or something. Anyway, don't miss my next article in which I will embed videos showing off my level 99 team wiping out everything with the strongest personas in the game. I will also show some secret stuff.
This is a video of Hitomi singing kimi no tonari, the main song of the game. She wrote the lyrics and made the melody. She is a cancer survivor, so I'm glad she's doing fine today. The modern sound of the soundtrack of Persona 3 is nice, but we don't hear those heartwarming songs anymore nowadays. Just hearing the melody of that song gives me the chills.