Persona Retrospective Introduction
Here’s the director’s cut of the Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective we’ve been running. All the bit by bit portions of our Retrospective all stuck together in one big massive document, for those of you who prefer it that way. We’ve got some more editing and better clarification on the points I was making, but if you’ve been following the piece by piece portions, none of the actual content here is new to you, just some minor differences in the way it’s presented. If you’d rather have the section by section breakout, you can start here. Otherwise, enjoy.
Persona 2! I’ve been looking forward to doing this one. I’ve got a lot of history with the Persona series, and it’s grown some deep, deep roots in me. I’ve spent a good long while immersing myself in the series, and it’s one of the few franchises I actually consider myself passionate about. I’ve carved out a good bit of prime brain real estate for each game in the series. Yes, even the bad one. Even dreck like Persona 1 has some value
Each game, that is, except for Persona 2. Well, the first half of Persona 2. See, the second installment in this series has a really weird presence here in the western world. Persona 2 is a duology. Atlus has experimented with the one game for the price of two deal a few times, and one of those experiments turned up here. There’s Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, each telling half of the story. And way back when these games were new, Atlus, far from the bold and expansive localizer they’re known as today, decided to only release the latter game in the states. The second half of the story. Flipping to the middle of the book and just starting from there.
There’s quite a few theories as to why that might be. Maybe it was because Atlus USA was a small department with too much on its plate at the time. Maybe it was because they couldn’t get it ready in time for the rush. Maybe it was because of the gay options in a time before America was ready for it. Maybe it was because of Hitler.
Nobody knows! But the fact of the matter is that we missed out on the first installment of Persona 2. Eternal Punishment came out, and trust me, it was a bit of a challenge making sense of that alone. Still, I powered through it, and while I know that game well, Innocent Sin was always a gap in my Persona knowledge, only experienced vicariously, until finally, the game got re-released on the PSP a few years ago. It’s still the game I’m least experienced in.
So this installment of our retrospective series covers the first release in the Persona 2 duology, Innocent Sin. Eternal Punishment will get its own, probably shorter post. Just seemed like the best way to do things.
Innocent Sin does form an interesting step in both the Persona series as well as the Megami Tensei series as a whole. Megaten games, up until the late Nineties and early Aughts, had been largely formulaic. First person dungeon crawling reminiscent of the old western CRPGs, demon negotiation and contracting, characters using both swords and firearms. There were variations here and there, but the Megami Tensei team knew their groove and were entirely comfortable there. Even the first Persona, which kicked off one of SMT’s more experimental series, still cleaved pretty close to the standard formula. Then came Persona 2, which mixes everything up completely. New engine for dungeon diving, new way of building your characters, new combat system, deeply explored characters, the game goes a long way towards moving things past the franchise’s well-dug trench. It’s not the first game in the series to do so, but it’s one of the most successful. You may argue that the changes made here led the development of the franchise as a whole. Now, granted, a lot of those changes were just bringing the series more in line with the standard JRPG form, but still, totally counts. Persona 2: Innocent Sin was one of the harbingers for drastic line-wide innovations in the Megaten franchise.
Largely, Persona 2 stands out by taking what worked about the first Persona and making it better, while reworking what didn’t work into something new entirely. The characters are deeper and explored more fully, dungeon design is a lot more sensible and they rarely overstay their welcome, the over-complex system of strengths and weaknesses has been pared down a bit, the combat engine is a lot more convenient and swift to work through, stuff like that. While the game’s still a bit dated, even in the PSP remake, the experience as a whole is a definite step up from the original game. Hell, the Persona 2 duology even manages to make the first game better, retroactively. That’s no easy feat.
The Ground Floor
You know how in most games, you can rely on rumors with 100% certainty? No matter how stupid they seem. Or how unreliable the source. If you’re getting ready to fight Gargalath, Devourer of the Cosmos, and some coked-out bum recently escaped from the local asylum tells you that he’s weak to the Sword of 1000 Dicks that can coincidentally be found on some god-blasted island that literally nobody has ever been to in all the history of creation, you’d better be chartering the next flight out there to pick up on those truefacts. If a game takes the time to present you with a rumor, it always is, if not specifically true, at least generally factful, no matter how absurd it seems. It makes sense from a storytelling perspective. After all, why waste the time, resources, and storytelling momentum to give you information that leads nowhere? Yet, the level to which you can believe in the vaguest of rumors is absolutely unrealistic. In video games, rumors reflect reality almost all of the time.
But what if we turned that on its head. What if, instead of rumors reflecting reality, rumors created reality? That is the world in which we find the Persona 2 duology. Our heroes find themselves in a space where if you can get enough people believing something, reality will shift to make that happen. No matter how insane that belief may be. If there’s a rumor going around that your main character is a totally awesome mechanic and can drive anything. It becomes true. If people start getting suspicious that a trinket dealer is really an arms smuggler selling weapons under the table? You just found your new supplier. If everyone starts believing a conspiracy theory that Hitler really survived World War II and has been hiding out, waiting for his next chance to strike? Well…
As you can imagine, this drives things a little crazy.
Innocent Sin opens on a small group of high schoolers just making their way through their daily lives. There’s a rumor going around that if you call your own cell phone number, a magical genie known as Joker will appear to grant you your greatest wish. Of course, events lead to your giving that a try. As previously established, rumors are coming true, and this is no exception. It’s a shame, though, that Joker is incredibly pissed at you.
Luckily, this takes place in the same world as the previous game, where playing a children’s folk game gives you superpowers. Specifically, the power of Persona, the ability to manifest the composed, outward facets of your personality in the form of a mythical being that strikes down your enemies. Your group had played this game in the past. Most of them don’t remember it, but they’ve still got the power of Persona behind them. Good thing, too, because Joker sends hordes of demons after you, then goes off to further his plans. What plans? Nefarious ones. Ones that have to be stopped. This time around, you’re not the only persona-users in town. Most of the Persona 1 crew show up at some time or another, and there’s plenty of new characters with the ability as well. However, nobody else seems to realize there’s the whole world-shaking problem just yet, nor has anyone else drawn Joker’s ire as much as you have. You’re in a better position to make things happen than anyone else, so you set out to oppose Joker and whatever he’s trying to do, all while reality is melting around you thanks to the warping power of the rumors.
If you’ve been playing the later numbered Persona games, you’re used to each entry being pretty insulated and self-contained. You don’t get much crossing over between games, at least until everyone’s ready to break out the lifebars and go for some 2D fighting goodness. Unlike the later games in the series in which, although they all take place in the same world, don’t really cross in the mainline entries, the Persona 2 duology is a direct continuation of the previous game. Persona 1 bleeds into the second entries constantly. One of your party members from last time joins your new crew, characters from the first game pop up all over the place, and the major behind-the-scenes players are all the same. You can easily enjoy this game without ever having played the first, but there will be a few times why so-and-so is significant at all, or why the game makes certain to mention someone as a persona-user when that never actually comes up just won’t make sense to you. For the most part, this game doesn’t directly touch on the plot of the previous game, that’s Eternal Punishment’s bag, but it does serve to retroactively escalate the conflict, and specifically one of your adversaries, from the first game into something much greater, and tie it into a larger whole. Honestly, I’ve found the first Persona to be a lot better when approached with the knowledge gained from this game and its other half.
Persona 2 expands on the elements of Jungian Psychology first introduced in the original Persona. Of course, the personae themselves, the personality traits one chooses to present to the world in order to manage their social connections with others and hide unwanted aspects of their true nature, plays a huge role in both the plot and gameplay here. This new entry adds two more elements into the Persona canon; the collective unconscious, and the shadows. The collective unconscious, simplified, is basically the thoughts and experiences of all individual psyches mixed, organized, and then psychically inherited and implanted into all living people without them ever being aware of it. So the reason that there’s lots of beliefs about a worldwide flood, a lot of myths about a sun hero, or that people are just naturally scared of big angry lions can be traced back to the collective unconscious, scores of people throughout the generations building up this group knowledge which is then imprinted throughout the ages. In the context of this game, two of the major characters, Philemon and Nyarlathotep, are avatars of certain aspects of this collective unconscious, and it’s what powers the effect that rumors are having on the world. If enough people believe something, if the collective unconscious grows strong enough on one thought, the collective unconscious shall make that happen. Given that the power of persona is given, or at least awakened, by Philemon, it probably plays into that ability as well. The Shadow, in Jungian Psychology, is the unconscious aspects of a personality that the conscious mind either does not or refuses to acknowledge in themselves. They play a part in all Persona games moving forward, but Innocent Sin handles them a little differently than later games. Namely, rather than being alien and malevolent manifestations of the collective repressed traits of humanity or the opposite but same power as personae, shadows here are simply beings that the power of rumors creates when two incompatible but widely believed rumors about an individual comes into play at the same time, in order to bring both those rumors to actuality. While they do seem to know plenty of hidden traits about their whole self, they’re not really used as a mechanism for accepting and exploring them, as they are in Persona 4, and mostly exist to replace the original person. They’re not explored nearly as well as they are in later games, but hey, they still originated here.
The ability to use personae, the central ability in this series, has been significantly expanded upon in this new game. Collectively, your team here and in the next game are probably the most powerful parties, at least in regards to persona use, in the entire series. For the first time, your group can easily swap personae amongst themselves, use their persona to detect and track other persona users, and, most importantly, combine their personae’s powers to strengthen themselves and launch powerful combination attacks. You’ll need that additional power, too. Not only are you up against demons this time, but there are plenty of other persona-users out in the world that will cross your path, too. Not only that, but thanks to the power of the rumors in play, you’re going to have to deal with all the worst beliefs humanity can come up with.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin’s gameplay is a bit odd. The original PSX edition was a step up from the first Persona, built off of the series’ longstanding gameplay elements with the conceptions of 1999’s contemporary JRPGs in mind. Then, in the PSP release, the only release we westerners officially have access to, Atlus made a few small updates to make things a bit more natural to modern gamers. So, in essence, you’ve got a late-90s JRPG with a few New 10’s touches here and there, creating a bit of a weird mix when you’re coming to it fresh. What I found intriguing is that they actually removed a few of the really unique mechanisms of the game’s engine in the re-release, making something much closer to your standard boilerplate JRPG in the new version. The old game had a really unique way of approaching its combat system, but with the changes enacted in the re-release version, it really plays a lot more similarly to, oh, every single turn-based JRPG out there. The changes aren’t necessarily bad, there was a lot I recall about the original engine that took a while to get a grasp on, but I do miss the old, more creative way of smacking down foes.
Much like the first Persona, this game has both elements of the classic Shin Megami Tensei formula as well as whole new mechanics giving the experience a flavor all it’s own. In fact, Persona 2 stretches even farther away from the Megaten boilerplate than its predecessor. The game came at a time where Atlus’s developers seemed to be trying out a lot of new things with their side-series, and Persona 2’s a lot more comfortable standing on its own than the original was. It still has a few elements in common with the traditional SMT game, and you can still see the foundation laid from the first Persona, but those are layered underneath some significant changes in mechanics that, especially in the original model, made this a game all its own.
As with most turn-based JRPGs, you’re essentially dealing with two separate engines here. You’ve got your big, dynamic, demon/nazi-crushing gameplay, and your totally thrilling just-kind-of-walking-around gameplay. The latter brings a completely new, absolutely innovative feature that will change the face of the Persona series forever. For the first time, you break free of the constraints of the old game, and you wander around in THE THIRD PERSON!
I’m sorry, was that too much for you to handle? Did your mind just blank that out, in an attempt to spare you from that paradigm shift? Well, too bad, because we’re going Third-Person now, and there’s no going back!
I mean, just check it out. Last game we were like:
But now we’re like:
Can you feel the freedom?! You can see the character on the screen! I have to tell you, picking this game up after immersing myself in the first Persona for so long, it felt like being a bird whose cage is finally opened. I’m not usually given to emotional displays, but I shed a bit of a tear, the first time I saw that lovely, lovely three-quarters view.
Right, so exaggeration aside, with Persona 2, the sub-series finally sheds its western CRPG inspirations and behaves more like the JRPG it really is. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the first Megaten game to take the third person perspective; in fact, I know that Jack Bros and the Last Bible had third person perspectives years before Persona 2 came out. It’s the earliest game in the franchise I’ve played to boast such, however. Honestly, the change is welcome. The third person roaming fits the style of game they’re going for here a lot better than the first person perspective did in the previous game, and it allows them to expand on the dungeon design as well. There’s still some growing pains involved, a few elements that make me wonder if either someone on the dev team wasn’t quite experienced in the third person style, or that the game was originally conceived as a first person game. Either way, the leap to third person is still a really big one for the Persona series, and I honestly believe it does this game well.
In spite of this being novel, innovative, and a completely different approach for the series, there’s not a whole lot to the mechanics of the general wandering around that you’re not already familiar with if you’ve played any JRPG within the past two decades. Control stick runs, d-pad walks, and you can check interesting things out in greater detail or open the menu to outfit and prepare your party. That’s about it. I do want to note that the running seems a little hard to control, but I think that’s more of a fault of the PSP hardware than anything else. Seriously, how anyone thought that little control nub would be a good tool for twitchy video games is beyond me. You don’t need precision out of it very often, but for those moments where you spot some cleverly hidden trap disguised in the floors texture and need to just barely skirt it to get where you’re going safely, it might be time to switch to the control pad for the safer option.
The third-person perspective may give you a lot more visual information to work with, but just like last game, you’ll probably find yourself navigating more by the mini-map than your position on the screen. It’s not necessarily a bad design choice, although it is a pet peeve of mine, finding locking your vision to one corner of the screen more useful than, God forbid, watching what your character is actually doing. There are a few instances where it pays to watch the screen, like finding the subtle differences in texture that indicate a trap’s hiding somewhere, but for the most part, the mini-map’s just so much more useful than your general dungeon view. Pulling back the field of view may have helped, but that’d require a bit of a change to the dungeon design in many cases. You are focused awfully close on your main character. Everyone in-game seems to think he’s so totally smexy, so maybe the designers figured you’d feel the same way and moved the camera in to accommodate?
Being in third-person also means you move a lot faster than the previous game. Freeform running is just plain quicker than the block by block movement of the first Persona, so you can cover a lot more ground in the same amount of time. This feature is immensely welcome. I threw a party for it and everything. Dungeons take a lot less time to get through, you move between the demon encounters a lot faster, and in general, it picks the pace of the game up quite a bit. There’s only a few dungeons that I remember that required more than a couple hours for me to complete, with plenty being done with after 30 minutes or so’s worth of work. This really helps the game keep things fresh and maintain interest.
It also helps that the dungeon design is a lot more sensible this time around. The last game felt like the level designers drew a bunch of random scribbles on a napkin, plotted out paths following them, and called it a day. Innocent Sin, on the other hand, possesses what’s probably among the most deliberate dungeon design in the entire SMT franchise. You can’t say they have great dungeon design, exactly, but dungeons are pretty crappy in most any SMT game. At least they’re trying with this one. Here, the dungeons at least make a sort of sense for what they are. The school is actually laid out like a school, the department store dungeon actually seems relatively natural if you don’t think too hard, the gym could theoretically be made by actual human beings, etc. The only major exception are the last few levels, which hew a lot closer to the old style of dungeon design, but otherwise, you do have a clear sense of direction through most of the dungeons, which is a lot more than you can say for any other Persona game.
The overworld is mostly as we remember it from Persona and, indeed, the rest of the SMT series. Your character takes the form of a spinning icon that you can move along various streets toward your destination. You can talk to a few people that you run into there, picking up a few bits of information and the occasional rumor towards the completion of your quest. Rather than being one continuous overworld as in most games that use it, Innocent Sin’s is composed of a collection of one-screen neighborhoods that you can move between via menu selections. Because of this, locations are clumped together a lot more densely than you’ll usually find in the SMT series, and it’s usually easier to hunt down any specific destination. You don’t have to deal with random encounters while you’re traversing the overworld. That’s nice, and you’d better enjoy it here, because aside from the rest of the Persona series, not a lot of Megaten games use this feature.
Interestingly enough, you’re not given a whole lot of freedom in the overworld. Shopping areas, rumor centers, and other resources like that are always open to you, but otherwise, you can really only go where the game tells you. You can see dungeons from the outside before you’re supposed to go there, but some party member will always make an excuse for you not to go inside if you try to enter. Likewise, once you finish up with a dungeon, it’s gone forever. Once you’ve unlocked almost all of the neighborhoods, you do get a permanent grinding spot opened up for you, so you can still catch up if you find yourself underleveled, but aside from that, the only real exploration you get is along those nice, shiny rails the developers were kind enough to set out for you.
Man, I just spent way too many words to describing how to walk around.
Yeah, who cares about walking! Let’s talk about cracking skulls! And according to Sun Tzu, one of the first steps in defeating your enemy is to understand yourself. In this case, let’s take a look at our combat team.
Just like in the first game, your team is composed of a group of five Persona users. Unlike last time, you don’t get to choose any of them; you’re stuck with the crew the fates have given you. Luckily, they’re all pretty capable of handling themselves, so you don’t need to worry about dead weight. Rather than the dual sword and gun SMT carry-over armaments we saw last time, your characters only get one weapon here, and that weapon type is completely unique to them. Even the characters that were around, using guns last game. No matter how much that shotgun would have come in handy, Yukino. So your main character’s the only one that can use swords, Maya’s the only one that can use pistols, and Michel’s the only one that can use the oh-so-common machine gun hidden inside of a specially-built bass violin case. I don’t know about you, but every single time I walk into a gun show, I have to wade through piles and piles of those bass violin machine guns. Defensive equipment is usually gendered, but otherwise can be equipped by anyone.
Characters have the same stat layout as last game, with strength, vitality, dexterity, agility, and luck being the main factors you have to play with. They’re all pretty self-explanatory, save for dexterity. Now, you might think that stat determines your accuracy, critical hit chance, or any of a number of physical offense options. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that. But you’d also be WRONG WRONG SHAME UPON YOUR FAMILY!!! That’s actually the stat that governs your ability to use your persona. Your magical power doesn’t come from your personae alone anymore. Now, higher dex leads to more powerful magic attacks and lets you call your personae out more often. I guess it helps you make a cooler pose when you’re invoking, which buffs them up somehow?
You get four points to assign to your stats every time you level up, one of which is determined by your persona. The rest, you get to assign for yourself on your main character, while the rest of the characters will assign them according to their own predetermined preferences. So, by carefully planning out your non-main characters’ persona, you can influence their development in one way or another, but largely they’re going to be what they’re going to be and there’s not a lot you can do to change that tide. This means most of your characters will lead with dexterity over strength as their main offensive stat, and there’s not a lot you can do about it. I’d complain, but magic’s a lot more useful than physical attacks anyway.
The power of the outward-facing parts of your personality made manifest in the form of a kickass god or monster because your personality is just so wicked sweet. This is what gives you the power to stand up against the demons, cultists, and other foes arranged against you. Given that’s what this sub-series is named after, of course these take some pretty big parts in both the story and gameplay. These are what makes your characters special, these are your first choice in battle more often than not, and these are your most reliable option when facing down whatever foe you may have.
Your characters don’t remember it, but you still had your persona awakened by Philemon, the spirit guide and apparent master of the persona power. That means your abilities work like they did in the first Persona, rather than in the most recent games. Everyone in your party can switch their persona freely, but you have to worry about their arcana compatibilities determining which personae they can and can’t join with and how powerful they are with any given personae. This time around, your fighters are skilled enough to share personae, and all your unused personae are in a party-wide pool that your members can dip freely into. So if you switched your usual healer to a more aggressive persona but find yourself really craving some of that sweet, sweet dia action? You can pop the healing persona onto someone else and roll with the same skillset.
Persona are where all your magic and special abilities come from, so without one, you’re left with nothing to do but just swing your puny little weapon. And who really does that? Michel and lamewads who aren’t cool enough to play the superpowered children’s game, that’s who. If you want to cast spells, heal people, hit enemies with a fist of godly might, or blow up the world, you need personae that have the ability to do that. Unless you use a special item in their creation, personae start with just one skill, gaining more as you use them. Usually, all the nice skills are locked up pretty well, requiring you to call them out again and again against the cute little baby monsters so you’ll have the skills ready to blow away the big beasts. A given personae costs the same amount of SP to call them out no matter what they do, so it costs just as much to have Apollo light a match as it does to have him freeze time entirely and punch the enemy a hundred times. For the most part, SP costs are really, surprisingly low until you get about 3/4ths through the game, so you can usually just invoke with impunity. Really helpful, given that your Personae’s spells tend to be so much more useful than any other form of attack against most enemies.
Unlike in Persona 3 and 4, where your stats were one and the same as your personae, and the first Persona, where you and personae had your own separate stats and the game just used whichever was higher, Persona 2 tries to split the difference between you and your personae. When personae have a higher stat than you, the game will use the average of your and your personae’s stats instead. Personae can still augment your stats, but they don’t have as much of an impact. On the other hand, this does encourage you to build your characters up in areas they’re weak in, since your personae can’t entirely compensate for that, so those interested in strategic building may find this part of the game more interesting. Personae also determine your elemental strengths and weaknesses, which attacks deal more or less damage to you. I didn’t find that to have much of an impact this time around. It’s just not a big deal. This runs counter to pretty much all entries we’ve seen in the Megaten series for the last decade, where having the wrong weakness is a death sentence, as well as the previous Persona game, where I totally cheesed the hardest boss with a bunch of weak persona that had the right set of defenses. Here, attacks just don’t do that much damage, at least on the normal difficulty, to the point where taking double damage for something or other isn’t that much of a big deal.
Persona are pretty easy to get, too, moreso than in any other game in the series. There’s no fusion system or demon charts to worry about; here, all you need is lots and lots of cards. Each demon belongs to an arcana. Successful negotiations with them get you a certain number of tarot cards of that arcana. The stronger the demon, the more cards you get. If you have enough cards of the arcana you want and your level’s high enough, just take them all to the Velvet Room and bam, personae for you. There’s a lot less fuss about it in Persona 2 than in any other persona-game.
So, to sum it up, you’ve got a lot more flexibility and ease of use with your persona than you’re probably used to if you’ve been playing any of the other games in the series. On the other side of that, persona’s stats and defensive traits probably matter less than they ever have, although their attacks and abilities still have a huge impact on your fighting capability. They’re a lot more useful than plain physical attacks most of the time, and they’re probably going to be your main option in combat.
Hey speaking of which…
The demon slaying, the knocking heads, the bread and butter of nearly every video game out on the market. The fighting. No matter how much importance you put on your plot, your sim aspects, your world building, or any other aspect of your game, if you have enemies at all, your combat mechanics will make or break your game. Persona 2: Innocent Sin is no different. As with nearly every game on the market, combat plays a big part in the experience. So it’d better be good, else the whole experience would fall apart around it.
You’re dealing with random battles in Innocent Sin. It’s a practice that really feels dated these days, opposed to the more modern-friendly fixed encounters, but at the time the game was originally released, it was pretty standard for the format. I don’t know if it’s quite required here, the Playstation probably had enough processing power for some alternative method, but it mostly works. It helps that the dungeons aren’t usually too long, so random encounters don’t slow things up too much.
I remember, playing the second part of this duology when I was just a cub, being really struck by the combat system. We’ll get into it more when retrospecting (I totally didn’t think that was a real word, but guess what!) the next game, but basically, it’s a system that’s always on auto-battle, allowing you to stop the fight and change the queued up moves whenever you feel the need. It was really hard to get used to, but it was a system that was fast-paced, efficient, and completely unique to Persona 2. It was unlike anything I’d seen before, and still remains one of the most distinctive parts of the game, in my mind. It was hard to imagine Persona 2 without it.
Guess what the biggest change Atlus made in the PSP remake is?
I have to admit, I was really, really disappointed with plugging Innocent Sin into my machine for the first time, getting into my first fight, preparing for some fast-paced and innovative skull cracking, and finding the unique system I had been dreaming of replaced with something far more traditional. Combat in Innocent Sin now works like pretty much any other JRPG on the market. At the start of your turn, your party members’ menus pop up and you queue up all their actions in order, then sit back and watch them play out your commands until everyone’s all done and it’s time for you to wash, rinse, and repeat. If you played the last game, your combat interface is pretty much the same here, less the need to worry about your position. In fact, if you’ve played most any turn-based JRPG, you’re going to be familiar with this system. It’s not executed poorly and there’s practically no barrier to entry on the combat interface, but it still stings me that one of the most unique things about the game had been replaced with something so utterly standard.
Granted, you still have the ability to enter and exit auto-battle at any time, so if you kludge it out and pretend real hard, you can have a system that’s mostly like the old one, if a little less input-efficient. You can pause combat to change your commands at any time, too, even in the middle of combat rounds. This ends up really coming in handy. If the enemies move and the layout of battle changes before all your characters get to act? No problem, you can just stop the fighting and readjust. If you find yourself with a sudden need to pop a heal on a dying character, switch attacks to the elemental weakness that you just figured out, or redistribute your characters attacks after that one enemy died a lot sooner than you expected, it’s absolutely no fuss to put a break in the fighting and do so. I imagine the game would be a lot more difficult without this function, as the original was built around the ability to change things on the fly, but either way it’s a really nice allowance that I’d have loved to see in a lot more games.
You’ve got one new ability in combat that’s worth noting. Usually, in the Persona game, your party is made up of a bunch of high-schoolers that barely have any connection with each other. In Innocent Sin, your party is made up of… well, a bunch of high-schoolers and a few adults that barely have any connection with each other as far as they know, but they’re still a lot better than most at working together. Meaning they can combine their attacks, having their persona merge their spells and abilities into one powerful fusion attack. Pick the right abilities in the right order, and your persona will surprise you by launching a joint attack, usually hitting all enemies for more damage than you’d get individually. And they can get pretty beefy. If you know what you’re doing, you can get some end-game levels of damage out of some really easy to obtain abilities early on. These play a pretty important part of building up your team, too. If you finish the battle with a fusion spell, all the persona involved have a small chance of mutating, either boosting their stats, jumping several levels in development, learning new spells, or giving you the ability to turn them into new, more powerful personae that you can’t get otherwise. If you keep them up, keep mutating your personae, you’ll end up with some quite fearsome personality traits backing you up.
Innocent Sin has this really odd difficulty curve. So, Megaten games generally have a reputation for being hard. Most games in the series are designed so that any battle can overpower you, mistakes in setting up your team have dire consequences, and bosses absolutely require you to figure out a solid strategy and adapt towards it. The Persona series isn’t as tough as most of the rest in the franchise, but it’s still a step or two above average. Except for Innocent Sin. Well, for most of the game. And admittedly, I haven’t tried the game on hard difficulty, so that may be a new challenge entirely, but largely, Innocent Sin isn’t difficult at all to get through. The game’s challenge seems to progress in tiers. For the first half or so, you barely need to think about combat at all. Your enemies can barely do any damage to you, while you can kill them with only one or two spells, and your SP costs will be so low that you can summon with impunity, knowing that you’ll recover as much as you spent before your next battle. After the halfway mark, enemies grow to the point that they take a few hits to kill, you may need to actually start paying attention to their weaknesses and defenses, and they might be able to kill you if you don’t bother with healing. Still, the challenge isn’t much worth note. Then, finally, for the last couple dungeons in the game, your personae grow to the point where it’s a constant challenge to manage your SP while still getting use out of them, enemies get some troublesome attacks and instant-kill moves, and you actually have to start planning out your strategy. The tension in both the gameplay and story definitely pick up right around then, but it’s about 20-25 hours into the game and it might be a little too late for some. You don’t even have to bother with getting new personae, if you don’t want to. So long as you make the right choices throughout the game, you’ll get three sets of personae given to you through the plot, and they’re more than enough to handle any challenge before you until you get to the next one. It doesn’t mean that the game is unengaging, but I do find it a curious choice, especially given the series’ pedigree. Eternal Punishment definitely isn’t like that, so I wonder if it’s a change that was made for the PSP version.
One of my favorite things about Persona 2’s combat system doesn’t really matter, in the sense that it has absolutely no gameplay impact, but I still wanted to make note of it and now seemed like the best time to do so. Not everything’s about punching faces, you know? Sometimes, you’ve got to stop and smell the flowers. Although, the flowers smell like blood. Because Jun just punched someone’s face with them. Anyways, the characters in battle. They’re totally dynamic. They will actually move around in battle. Usually, when you have a turn-based RPG, your team is locked in formation. They may all be on one side, or they may surround the enemy, but they’re always stuck in their relative position. They’ll dart up for an attack or another, but they’re back in lockstep soon enough. Not so, here. If you tell your main character to slice up an enemy, he’ll close the range, then just stay in the enemy’s face until next turn. Characters, both yours and your enemies, are moving all over the place in fights, constantly getting into their preferred range to launch their attacks and staying there. Well, as long as you’re using their basic attacks. Still, it makes the battles feel a lot more dynamic and punchy, and I’m really surprised this didn’t get picked up by other games. I’m trying, but I can’t recall any other turn-based JRPGs that have done this. It has absolutely no gameplay application, it’s just there for aesthetics, but it still makes the fights feel a lot better. And that really goes a long way with me.
Last game, I had mentioned, had a problem with overcomplication in its attack and defensive types. There were way too many elements to worry about that enemies could be weak to, reflect, or whatever. Persona 2 mitigates that somewhat. There’s no longer a separate attack type for each weapon, nor are there twenty different magic elements to worry about, but you’ve still got a bit more to concern yourself with than most games. If I’m remembering right, you’ve got eight types of physical attacks, from the weapon styles like sword and thrown to the special attacks type like havoc, ten elements of magic, and five flavors of status effects that work just like everything else. So yeah, still takes quite the mind to keep track of all that. Luckily, the ability to check your opponents has a much better interface, allowing you to see their strengths and weaknesses to anything whenever you feel like, and your cursor will change when you’re about to hit an enemy with an attack they resist or bounce back at you, which helps eliminate a lot of the problem there.
And… that’s about it for the combat engine of Persona 2: Innocent Sin. It doesn’t offer the most exciting fights you’ve ever seen, but it’s not bad, either, and it suitably serves its purpose. Most of the interest in the fighting is going to come from well-designed enemies, which, yeah, there are quite a few of them scattered about.
Demon negotiation has been a part of the Megaten series since the first game, and it makes a strong appearance here. It’s been reworked a bit from the first Persona, but it still probably the feature that’s undergone the least change from last time around. It is absolutely necessary if you’re looking to build up your Persona-power, and quite useful for all those fights you really don’t want to bother with.
Assuming you hadn’t already pissed them off, you can stop the fight at any time to try and talk to some demon among your enemies. From there, each of your characters has four communication options and you get to choose one, which will affect the demon’s emotions according to their listed personality types. Positive responses will make the demon happy, eager, or scared, while negative responses make them angry. Responses can raise up to two emotions at once. Raise the same emotion three times, and they’ll take the appropriate action. Getting them angry usually has them surprise attack you, and scaring them has them run away or pick up a status effect. But happiness and eagerness are the key emotions we want to work with here. If you get them eager, they’ll give you tarot cards of their arcana, which you can turn into nice, sexy, enemy-roasting personae. If you make them happy, and your level is at least as high as theirs, you’ll be able to make a pact with them. And that carries a variety of conversation benefits. Namely, you’ll be able to get items, money, or rumors from them if you make them happy again, you’ll be able to ask them to spread any rumors you’ve gotten from other demons, and they’ll give you free tarot cards, which you can turn into any arcana, along with any regular tarot cards they give you in the future.
You can get some combination contacts over the course of the story, too, usually representing how much closer your team is getting. So you can have your main character, Michel, and Jun form a rock band and perform for the demons, or have Maya and Yukki perform a manzai comedy show based entirely around bad puns. These contacts aren’t usually better or more reliable in any given situation than the ones your characters already have, but it is really nice to have some gameplay representation of plot developments.
I found demon negotiation to be more reliable than last game. Just like last time, you’re given the personality traits at play with the demon you’re talking to, but their personalities are a bit less complicated now. Furthermore, if you find something that gets a positive response for one personality trait, it’ll generally get a positive response for all demons with that personality trait, no matter what other traits they have. It’s not 100 percent, but it’s still pretty close. Almost every demon seems to have either the foolish trait, which works well with Maya’s interview ability, or the wise trait, which responds well to Yukki’s persuasion, and those two contacts got me through about 80% of the demons.
You can’t just put in some new, reality warping power and not let the player toy with it. The rumors have messed up Sumaru City something fierce. They’ve created or empowered most of your enemies, they’re what’s constantly raising the stakes of your battles, and they’re what ends up putting the entire world through the sausage-grinder. It’s only fair that you should be able to twist them to your benefit too, right?
Lucky for you, you’ve got the support of the Kuzunoha Detective Agency. They’re among the first people who’ve noticed the changing powers of the rumors, and make themselves available to you in your quest to save them all from the horrors of oblivion… for a nominal fee. Sure, there’s the constant threat of total annihilation wiping out everything anyone’s ever known, but the detective still needs his Big Macs, and Big Macs don’t come free.
The Agency’s not a miracle worker, and they don’t have the kind of sway to create a rumor from whole cloth and get it believed widely enough to take effect. Otherwise, you’d be able to spread a rumor that your entire team is entirely composed of complete and total badasses with chiseled good looks and just steamroll over everything in the game. Instead, what you have to do is work with rumors that are already making the rounds, and have them influence those rumors so that the one you want comes true.
Each district of the city that you can visit has their own rumormonger, with whom you can trade info on some of the things you encounter in your adventures for rumors. The rumors you get from each rumormonger will generally be mostly the same but with small variations. So if you just unlocked a new area, all the rumormongers will tell you the rumor that the owner at the local high class restaurant runs weapons under the table, but one monger will tell you that the weapons he sells are awesome but expensive, while another tells you that they’re cheap in both price and quality, while another tells you that he has good selection, but won’t pay much when buying weapons back. You get your choice of which one to go forward with, which will then be in place for the rest of the game.
Rumormongers aren’t the only place to pick up rumors. You can get them from demons your friendly with (these rumors will also have to be spread by demons) and from the average Joe on the street. The most common rumors are those that open up new weapons or equipment shops in new locations, but they also have the ability to unleash optional enemies on areas, change the shapes (and treasures) of dungeons, and add new skills to demons and personae. Oddly enough, given how powerful rumors are in shaping reality, you only get to make small dents in it. A new armor store here, a new casino there, maybe have flowers start talking but they still keep your secrets so it’s okay. All the big ones that require huge shifts in space-time to accommodate come by through the plot rather than any player choice, and are usually enacted by your enemies or just the general public rather than you, but it’s still nice to have a bit of that power in your hands, too.
Ah, graphics. That which game industry professionals have been telling me for decades is the 100% absolute most important thing in determining a game’s quality. If you don’t have graphics, than what do you have, really? If your game doesn’t make those graphics cards catch fire, you aren’t trying hard enough. In fact, you can totally predict a game’s quality based on how many of those p’s it has. So how do the graphics in Persona 2: Innocent Sin stack up?
Well, not so great. It’s totally a Playstation 1 JRPG, and doesn’t really aspire to be anything more. The Persona franchise, hell, the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole, has never been a graphical powerhouse. But that’s ok, those industry professionals are full of it anyway. It’s the art style that matters.
And there’s where the game’s visuals excel. Also, where they flop. Art design’s kind of a mixed bag in Persona 2: Innocent Sin. The duology seems to represent a sort of transition time for the Persona team’s visual design department. When talking about art direction in Persona games, there’s two big names to know: Kazuma Kaneko and Shigenori Soejima. Kaneko’s got at least the tip of his brush in pretty much every SMT game out there, and is legendary for the demons that come out of his head. Soejima seems to work almost solely on the Persona series, and is renowned for his character design. Here, they’re both working on the game’s visuals, yet neither seems to really be implemented to the extent they will be in the future. Kaneko in particular seems to be peculiarly limited in application. You could argue that it’s his demon designs that made the series what it is today, yet here, he only develops the main characters, the main personae, and the bosses, and leaves everything else to the rest of the art team. Soejima’s still coming into prominence, still working as one of the art team grunts, and handles the design of the rest of the characters and the character portraits. So, this leads to the game’s characters looking excellent, the headlining personae looking awesome, and some quite fearsome bosses, but the rest of it, the rank and file demons, non-unique personae and dungeon design, looking a bit boring.
The dungeon tilesets in particular I have to call out as being pretty bland. They’re serviceable, mind, they do get across that you’re in a cave or department store or bomb shelter or whatever just fine, it’s just that they’re small, repeated endlessly, and you’ll be seeing so much of them with very little variation that you’ll be glad for the random battles because at least they’ll give you something new to look at.
The music is… you know, actually pretty good. As I stated last time, the first Persona had two soundtracks made for it, one for the PSX release that was atmospheric and moody at the cost of any enjoyable listening, and one for the PSP that got your heart thumping but was pretty null at communicating any sort of atmosphere. The Innocent Sin tunes bring out the best of both worlds with some eminently listenable tracks that still succeed in bringing the proper moods across. I’ve even listened to the soundtrack for fun plenty of times, and most of it’s just as good on its own. The songs aren’t quite as memorable as those in the Persona 3 and 4, but it’s still obvious that the composers really knew what they were doing for this one.
The audio, while quite good, is noticeably a little different from the rest of the series. The original compositions aren’t quite as layered, and the instrumentation doesn’t evoke as much of a modern feel as the others. A quick glance through the credits reveals why. For whatever reason, Shoji Meguro, the composer behind literally every other game in the Persona series except for the Arena ones, was completely absent on this one. The composers who are here provide a strong showing, but Meguro does have a pretty distinct style that’s noticeably absent here. He did rejoin the team in the PSP release, remixing the old songs for a more modern sound, but they’re still mostly variations on the classic compositions. It’s definitely not bad, just noticeable, especially if you spend way too much time thinking about the series like some extraordinarily beautiful video game bloggers. In any case, both the remixed and classic soundtracks are packed into the PSP release, so you’ve got your choice of tunesets to listen to.
As always, Persona 2: Innocent Sin’s plot deals with big, world-shattering matters, but all the action’s condensed into one single city. Well, and the otherworldly domains tied to that city, but still, world-wide calamity on a home-grown scale. That’s one of the distinctive features of the Persona series, so get used to it.
Our battleground this time around is Sumaru City, a mysterious Japanese port city whose planner was apparently a really big fan of the classic Yin and Yang taijitu, as he or she designed the whole blasted city around that symbol. It’s a pretty big city, too. Over a million people. And all of them are in for some troubled times ahead. It either contains or is very near to Mikage-cho/Lunarvale, the setting of the first game, given the amount of recurring characters you’ll see. At the very least, it has to be the closest city to our old stomping grounds. It seems like almost everyone that had a name last time around pops up here again. You can even go back to St. Hermelin High School in one of the bonus missions packed into the PSP release, although not a single thing there is recognizable.
The name of the city, Sumaru, is based off of the Japanese word for the Pleiades or Seven Sisters constellation. The first location in game is the Seven Sisters High School. A bit of foreshadowing to the roles that stellar alignment in general and the Pleiades in particular are going to be playing in the plot. Stars make for a pretty common motif, here.
Of course, the big thing that sets Sumaru City apart from any other is the power of rumors. The collective unconscious has sway here like nothing else. Basically, if you can get enough people believing in something, one concept growing strong enough in the collective unconscious, the powers that be will make it come true. And the Sumaru citizens are infuriatingly gullible. It starts simple enough, with the magical genie that grants wishes from your cell phone, but is soon grows to empowering your enemies, then creating your enemies, then 2012-style Mayan doomsday prophecies. It’s unclear how long this has been the case, it might have been occurring since you were kids, but it shifts the world around you in some really strange and significant ways. It does have some odd effects on the way things work in the town. Because of people’s belief in it, holistic healing is not only effective, but immediately and totally effective. You don’t go to inns or hospitals to recover hit points here, you hit up the local chiropractor, or aromatherapy professional, or the freakin’ tanning salon. Most of the dungeons in this game are relatively normal places that have just been twisted by the power of rumors as well. Rather than delving through the deep, forbidden caves in the middle of the mountains, you’re questing through a bomb shelter underneath a local school. You’ve still got your forest around the local mountain to go through, but rumors have also brought the plants in the local park to life for your adventuring pleasure. Rather than storming the fierce technofortress, instead you’re powering through the great spaceship that the town was retroactively using as its foundation and ok, maybe that last one’s still a little weird, but you get my point.
Sumaru City is broken up into wards, five in all, which you’ll visit separately. The wards are pretty distinct, each with its own feel. You’ve got the suburban Rengedai, the downtown Yumezaki, the industrious Kounan, etc. Each of these places have a mall with a healer, weapon and armor shops, and a link to the Velvet Room, as well as a rumormonger hiding out somewhere and a couple of dungeons and other visitable locations. One thing that I really valued about this game is that nearly all locations are different. Aside from the drugstores, where their similarity is a running gag, every ward has a different healer, a different armorsmith, etc. So whereas Hirasaka, after a convenient rumor, has a ramen shop run by an ex-spy that sells weapons under the table, Yumezaki has a sidewalk vendor who smuggles for the Sicilian mafia, Rengedai has a clock shop whose owner, oddly aware of everything that’s going on, is happy to part with weapons for you, and so on. It would have been so easy to just copy and paste the same generic store in each location, as so many other games have done, but here, the locations are all unique and a lot more interesting for it.
The entire game takes place in this one city, where all your characters live. That’s a pretty simple statement to make, but as I think back on it now, it really does effect the tone of the game. Your characters are all at least somewhat familiar with most of the places you end up going, and that familiarity carries over to you, the player. With many RPGs, you have a hometown, with all your family members waiting, all the places your avatar knows so well, and all your friends going about their business, but inevitably the call to adventure happens and you leave it, spending most of the game seeing the new, the adventurous, the unfamiliar. Here, the entire game takes place in your hometown, and that carries a completely different feeling to it. Sure, the powers of rumors are shifting things around you, but it’s that much more of a shock when you’re coming across talking flowers or zodiac temples in areas you know should be normal than in magical locations you had to quest long to find. You’re constantly coming across new people or places your characters already know well, and it feels completely natural. It feels a lot less out of place to bump into your main character’s brother halfway through the game when you just happen to be visiting his precinct than in the middle of a battlefield several countries away, or to run into a random person from your school days when you both happen to be visiting the same burger joint a few wards down than when they just so coincidentally happen to be the military adviser for some kingdom nobody’s ever heard of. All the world-ending demon-summoning badness is going on in the same place you grew up, and that makes the whole adventure, no matter how wide-spanning the consequences may be, feel a lot more intimate than it does in other games. Even other games in the Persona series don’t carry this feeling, with most of their big combat taking place in some Other World.
Of course, that said, you do stand a bit apart from everyone else. Part of it is that your main character is supposed to be some big badass lone wolf type, sure, but beyond that, well, you’re pretty much fighting this battle alone. For all the intimacy the setting offers, for how much already feels familiar, you’re the only one’s really facing this adversary. Most everyone else is either part of the problem or just isn’t able to put up a defense. The police don’t even believe you at first, then when you finally have something for them to take action on, the precinct gets bombed and their forces scattered. The demons you face for most of the game are specifically sent by the Joker to hunt you down, so plenty of people don’t even realize they’re around. The general populace starts out completely unaware of the battles going on, then builds to unwittingly making your enemies stronger just by believing that they’re a threat. For the most part, while you’re risking your lives to save the world, the city that serves as this game’s battleground just keeps trucking on without even caring about your struggles. Then, when things finally come to a head, when the nazis invade (oh yeah, that happens) everyone is taken so much by surprise that the only people able to muster any sort of defense are the crew from Persona 1, a bunch of monks on the mountain, and Steven Seagal (seriously). This city may be your home, but your allies in it are few, and it pointedly offers no support in your efforts to keep it from devastation.
If you’re not paying attention the first time through, the tone of this game can be really hard to place. You’re just going along, facing down some harlequin and all his party-time team, gaining the affections of all the ladies and some of the gents, then finally going on a bunch of funtime adventures with those wacky nazis. Such joy! There’s barely any angst to be had at all, most of your characters seem to be relatively well-adjusted, and it seems everything’s going well. Then BAM! All of a sudden the (in?)famously dark ending of Persona 2 Innocent Sin hits, you fail harder than anyone else ever has in the history of anything, and it’s revealed that the world would probably have been better off if you had never even been born. Seems like the shift comes out of nowhere, right? I know it did to me, the first time I went through it. The dark, hard-hitting ending seems so completely out of place with the cheery character design, the ‘Let’s Positive Thinking!’ attitude of your team, and the overall way the plot develops. This swerve puzzled me, for a good long while, seeming like a contrived move to put the heroes back in danger at the end and justifying the ‘one game for the price of two’ duology release.
On subsequent playthroughs, when I took the time to actually think about it, things got clearer. The ending does seem out of place at first, like it doesn’t fit with the tone of the game. That’s because most consumers, especially those of videogames, are so used to tone being set somewhere on a scale of light, happy fun-time to dark, heavy bloodangst. Tones are generally pretty simple to discern based on how many personal issues your characters need to go to therapy for but don’t because therapists don’t exist in fiction, how many people die, and how much the plot makes you feel like a fourteen year-old who hates your parents.
And then comes Innocent Sin, which brings with it a concept relatively unheard of among video game storytelling. Subtlety. This isn’t a story that’s going to spell everything out for you. The clues are there, waiting for you to pick up on them, but you’ve got to be paying attention to catch them.
Basically, what the issue is here is that your team is very much the stereotypical JRPG action squad. You’re a bunch of teens with fun personalities blessed with awesome powers and it’s up to you to save the world by kicking ass! And you do. You kick a lot of ass. Scientists have been working on developing a new metric to try and measure the amount of ass you kick. You deal with any challenge in the most direct way you know how, by running up to it and beating it until it cries. In most any JRPG, hell, most any video game, you’d be just fine in assuming that if you are happy and effectively pummeling some sadsack, all is right in the world. Innocent Sin will let you make that assumption. It might even lead you, ever so slightly, into making that assumption. If that’s all you do, you’ll assume that the game’s pretty light and happy. After all, you’re pretty much unstoppable, able to conquer any challenge before you with a minimum of fuss. You’re just racking things up in the win column! That has to be a good sign, right?
The problem is that, except for a few instances, the enemy is operating in very indirect means, and your direct methods don’t really match them. Almost none of your opponents can be beaten with violence, but because you are Super Ultra RPG Megateam that’s all you have going for you. You try to physically beat your enemies, when you need to be counterplanning him. You go so far as being able to overpower the embodiment of humanity’s collective dark urges, yet you still lose because you do nothing about his schemes.
Once you realize that, and you start paying attention to the way the plot progresses, it’s a lot easier to pick up on the true tone of the game. And it is dour. It doesn’t really go fully dark until you hit the end with the whole world being destroyed. Your characters have issues, sure, but they’re never crippled by them, and the world is far from oppressive, at least as long as it’s still there. The game as a whole seems to have too positive an outlook to even approach the grimdarkness that pervades much of the rest of the series. But when you’re paying attention, it can get quite depressing. Largely because of the fact that, no matter how many people you beat up, you never seem to really accomplish anything. Sure, you may have defeated the latest bad guy, but does it matter when you turned his whole crew from a few crazies into a full-fledged city-wide cult just by talking to too many people about him? You may have stopped a terrorist from bombing a bunch of buildings, but when they all get destroyed anyways once you’re all through, it’s hard to feel too good about that. You may have tailed the enemies forces for so long, yet because you’re always reacting, never being proactive, you always find yourself arriving just a bit too late to do anything. And that’s where the tone lies. I can only think of two real things of value you’ve accomplished the whole game; saving the kids on their field trip from the mad bomber, and breaking your friend away from the big evil influence, and even the second one took a bit of help from outside parties. The rest? You win the battles, but you’re losing the war. And once you learn to keep your eye out for it, that’s the sense that hangs over you the whole game.
Plots have always been more important in RPGs than in most other genres. If you’re going to be dragging the player around for like forty hours, if you’re going to be making them read a light novel’s worth of text, you got to have something going on to provide sufficient drive for all that. The Persona series in particular is known for being the more plot-focused branch of the whole Megaten franchise. So how does Innocent Sin stack up? Well, it’s got some growing pains, but you know, it’s still making a lot of steps in the right direction, and it’s definitely worth the experience.
Namely, Innocent Sin uses something that you don’t see too often in video game storytelling, and that I raved about last time in the tone section. It has some subtlety to its storytelling. It doesn’t present everything up front, you’ve got to absorb and consider to get the full picture. Granted, the amount of actual depth there is pretty limited, but hey, for a PS1-era RPG released when everyone else was scrambling to catch up in the wake of the Final Fantasy VII bombshell, it does pretty well for itself.
The plot in Revelations: Persona was pretty lacking. It was certainly there, but didn’t really aspire for more than to be a simple justification for the gameplay. The Persona 2 duology has a lot more going on. Not only does the plot have some degree of focus in this game, but it actually goes back and makes the Persona 1 plot retroactively better. It’s Eternal Punishment, the second game of the duology, that relates more to Persona 1, but Innocent Sin still sets the groundwork for it. Namely, it makes Nyarlathotep, who you may remember as being one of the bad guy’s persona from the first game into his own separate entity, a master manipulator and the main villain behind this game. As it turns out, the last game was just part of a greater contest between him and Philemon regarding the whole destiny of mankind. They’ve taken the rather shallow conflict of last game and added a bit of depth by tying it into something greater. A really smooth way of handling it, in all.
The plot here ties the series more closely to Jungian psychology than the original game had managed to. Of course, there’s the titular personae making themselves apparent, but the game also introduces the elements of shadows, those parts of yourself that you don’t want to acknowledge, and the idea of the collective unconscious, one of the more major tenants of Jungian psychology. The collective unconscious drives most of the game, in fact, giving rise to both your ultimate enemy and your most powerful ally, as well as granting rumors their reality-warping power.
The plot generally takes place over three phases. Or acts, if you’d like to fit it into the traditional narrative structure. All of them are mostly conflict-driven. In other words, the plot’s drive works like almost every other game you’ve played before. The first starts off mostly down to earth, introducing you to your characters and setting up the conflict with the Joker, the cell-phone based wish granting genie that’s pissed off at you personally for something you don’t even know you did. Essentially, the first act is focused on building you into that world and your characters, and most of the conflicts are pretty interpersonal ones centered on relatively familiar locations. Your main is at the center of the first act’s plot, although each of the other characters get their own moments of focus. In the second act, Joker starts up the Masked Circle, a group of terrorists who serve as an analog to your own party. There, the conflict starts to expand a bit, as the Masked Circle are attacking the general public within Sumaru City, but thanks to them being largely focused on fighting you, and them being built of members that correspond to your own, it’s still a very small, personally-scaled conflict. Here’s where the idea of the global-destruction gets built, although it doesn’t really pay off with the Masked Circle. Your main, thanks in large part to being the silent lead, starts taking more of a backseat during this section, and the other members of your party end up leading more of the general happenings. And then come the Nazis. As often happens when they get involved, things blow up from there. The consequences finally hit the grand scale the SMT series is known for, with the Last Battalion and the Masked Circle duking it out over who’s going to rise as gods over the freshly devastated Earth. The character focus at this point shifts pretty squarely from the traditional members of your party to Jun Kurosu, the new member to join your squad in the final act.
One thing to note here is that due to Innocent Sin being the first part of a duology, while most of the individual plot threads do end up wrapped up by the end, the overarching plot only just gets started here. You still end up creaming most of your major opponents and leave both the Masked Circle and the Nazis on the ropes, but you don’t beat all of them, and the game ends on a massive cliffhanger leading into Eternal Punishment. As for how the next game handles the lead, well, we’ll talk about that next time around.
One thing the Persona series really does well is make the plot with grand world-spanning consequences seem very intimate. Innocent Sin is no different. At the start, you’re just a group of mostly high-schoolers dealing with your high-schooler world. The first big villain, the Joker, may be evil, but he’s mostly driven by some grudge he has against you personally. Even the Masked Circle, the main group of bad guys for much of the game, seemed more focused on combatting you specifically rather than the general doom and destruction they’re trying to bring about. It’s not until the Nazis show up that the plot significantly expands to start seriously troubling the world in general. And because of that, it’s a lot easier to take seriously that your ragtag bunch of kids can honestly fight against the destruction of the world. Even if they can’t. Whatever, it works well here, and it’s not something that just any game can pull off.
Honestly, it’s a little hard for me to review the quality of the plot, given that every single twist and turn was spoiled to me by the fact that I was forced by the localizers to play the second game first. Well, except for the Nazis showing up. But really, who expects to be going through your present-day Japanese high school warfare for hours only to have Hitler crash the party? Anyways, the overarching plot feels relatively straightforward, keeping its twists and turns gentle, but maybe that’s just a result of already knowing all the shocking reveals. After all, if you already know which villains are going to turn face and join your group, who’s going to die, and what that big secret everyone can’t remember is before you ever start the game, it’s a little bit harder to ride the swerves. I can tell there’s enough foreshadowing implemented that nothing should be completely a surprise, while it’s vague enough that some things should catch most unawares. Like, say, the Last Battalion again. Seriously, if I didn’t know the Nazis were coming, I never would have guessed. And you wouldn’t have either. Don’t even lie.
Gameplay and story integration were good for its time, but still pretty weak from a modern perspective. They do some interesting stuff with it, what with the rumor system at the core of the plot actually having decent gameplay impacts, the way actions taken during cutscenes can impact your characters in battle, and how making the right plot choices can power you up later in the game. For the most part, though, you’ve got your gameplay segments, you’ve got your story segments, and never the both shall meet. Dungeon diving and storytime alternate, so you get a bit of story that points you to the next gameplay segment, then you spend some time fighting monsters, maybe with a few bits of flavor along the way, then get a little bit of story when you reach the end, some more after a boss fight, and then the cycle starts over. It’s not a bad way of doing things, and it’s not really lacking anything, but the story doesn’t inform the gameplay the way that players of Persona 3 and 4 may be used to.
Characterization is definitely one of this game’s strongest suits. Get used to hearing that. The whole Persona series is like that, so it’ll be popping up a lot in this retrospective series. Just like the previous game, all the player characters have something different to say in every single room, and that really contributes a lot to fleshing them out. The fact that there are so many rooms and thus so much content you get from them, and the fact that the characters have plenty of layers, bring them to life in a way that few games have managed. Your team is interesting, and you really get a good feel for them over the course of the game. It’d be really easy to leave your party as relatively simple constructs in a game like this, but the writers have worked in a lot of characterization details and it makes the game so much better for it. The creators could have stopped at making Maya the genki girl caretaking love interest, and it still would have worked just solidly for the story, but they also worked in that she’s way overconfident in her nonexistent driving skills, keeps her apartment a mess, and a whole bunch of other features that help bring her out of the screen. Eikichi could have just been the loud-mouth street thug wannabe rock star, but he’s all the better for being the formerly overweight extremely reliable friend who has to hide his hobbies from his family. And so on.
It’s not just your characters benefiting from this, either. Even the average npc gets in on it, with their dialog constantly adjusting according to the plot. You don’t find any ‘Welcome to Corneria’ types here, everyone has something new to say as the conflict around them progresses. You don’t get characterization out of them to the same degree as your cast, but they get enough that they feel alive rather than just graphics with a line or two of text attached to them.
Games in the Persona series, after the first one at least, tend to be pretty deliberate with their choice of themes and rather obvious in the way they apply them. So there won’t be a whole lot of me picking unintentional themes up out of simple storytelling consistencies the way there was in the Saints Row series. Here, the themes involved are clear for anyone paying enough attention to the story. Doesn’t mean they aren’t worth discussing, though.
This is perhaps the most blatant theme in the entire series. All of the new playable characters have unfortunate relationships with their fathers. Your main character’s dad disappeared when you were a kid, and you’re estranged from your older brother, who’s raised you and been your replacement father figure since then. Maya’s father died when she was young, and she still blames herself for letting him go on his final trip. Eikichi has to hide his lifestyle from his forceful father, who is constantly pushing him towards taking over the family sushi shop. Lisa is actively rebelling against her dad, who wants nothing more for her than to become a proper, traditional, demure Japanese lady. Jun was direly ashamed of his father for not living up to his lofty ideals before the man died. The only one spared from this is Yukino, probably because as a Persona 1 alumnus, her background was (kinda) already explored last game. The characters vary widely in how their arc handles this theme. Eikichi and Lisa barely develop it at all, while Maya and Jun seem to come to terms with their father issues, at least. Your MC’s matters are hardly touched on this game, but they do carry over, at least in terms of your relationship with your brother/guardian, into the next.
In any case, they do come to a head in a bit of a unique way in the final battle. It’s no coincidence that the boss of this game is an ungodly amalgam of all your characters’ daddies. Each is able to use their kid’s primary element, and each has attacks that their children are especially weak to, yet, in the end, each are eventually overcome by their offspring.
This theme’s a little shallow, at least as far as this game goes. Fatherhood’s a connecting thread between a lot of the game’s characterization and plot, but they don’t really take it anywhere, don’t have anything to really say about it within the context of Innocent Sin alone. It does tie in with some of what’s going on in Eternal Punishment however, which will serve to expand on the framework laid down here, so it’s not really a weakness at all, so long as you aren’t expecting the immediate payoff.
So, the power of persona is spawned from the self. It is the force of the manufactured aspects of your personality made manifest. Later games in the series even refer to the power of persona as ‘the facade used to overcome life’s hardships’, or something like that. In any case, even as Igor’s flying his chair around the Velvet Room slapping cards together to make personae, really, the power of persona comes from within. It’s a part of your personality. So, isn’t it sort of natural that your persona-power grows just as your personality does?
Later games will pick this up and run with it, but here’s where it all started. Your personae are an extension of yourself. Literally, they are the traits and features of your personality presented to and used to relate with the outside world. Which you use to light monsters on fire. I’m pretty sure that Jungian Psychology teaches how to do that. They just don’t want the rest of us to know. Anyway, as you grow internally, your abilities to use your personae will change to reflect that.
In Persona 2 there are a number of powerful super-special candy-coated personae that you can’t get the normal way, by sticking a bunch of tarot cards together. These ones are granted to you at certain parts of the plot. Specifically, they’re given to you when your characters have earned them. Throughout the early parts of the game, you’ll periodically be presented with situations in which one party member or another is getting into a pinch, and you’re given the opportunity to get involved. With most games, the best choice in these kinds of situations is always to help out your friends. Why wouldn’t you?! They’re your comrades, after all! Your nakama! And what kind of festering fool betrays his nakama! Innocent Sin shows the underside of that, however. You could show your friendship by jumping in and saving them from the struggle. But sometimes, the struggle is valuable in itself. Sure, it may not be pleasant, having to deal with your obstacles alone, but rising above them on your own power, well, you learn something in doing that. It’s hard, but it leaves you stronger. And by helping them at the drop of a hat, you’re robbing them of that growth. Instead, you let them conquer their own problems by themselves, they grow from the experience, and they get greater power from it later.
Some time after that, you get a second round or special personae, your party’s ultimate personae in fact, provided you’re able to completely recover your lost memories and thus learn more about yourself. Even beyond that, your ultimate personae will grow even stronger if you use them to overcome your shadows, the twisted counterparts to yourselves bearing all the bad little things you don’t want anyone else to know.
So, yeah. The statement is pretty easy to glean here. Internal growth is just as valuable as external power.
Persona 2 came out in a time where video games, as a medium, was starting to deliver more than just the gameplay through the game. Developers were putting more importance on plot, on presentation, and yes, on characters, among many other features aimed at delivering a deeper experience, at giving you something to enjoy beyond the mechanics. Perhaps the biggest advancement Persona 2: Innocent Sin made is how it handled its characters. Your cast was remarkably deep for its time. So what do you say we explore who exactly we’re dealing with, here?
THE RUMOR MILL
Your team, this time around, is a group of mostly high schoolers from all walks of life, brought together by circumstance and kept together by that one guy who just really, really hates you all for reasons you can’t understand. You’ve all got the power of persona, the ability to call on the manufactured personality you use to deal with the world to smite your enemies, but, aside from Revelations: Persona alumnus Yukino, none of you recall actually getting that skill. In fact, all of you bar Yukino have some very noticeable gaps in your memory. There’s reason for this.
As it turns out, most of you knew each other as kids. You were quite good friends, in fact. You all played the persona game together and thus were given your godly superpowers, and a few of you even awakened your personae as children. All well and good, right? Except for one of your friends. Rather than a traditional personae, he got the embodiment of humanity’s capacity for self-destruction, who messed with your memories, corrupted your friend, and kicked off this whole game.
Most RPGs will give you a pretty sizeable cast for your main party, plenty of members to build an active party out of, switching in and out as you see fit. Not so, in Innocent Sin. Your party is almost entirely static, with only one member changing, and completely chosen for you. You’ve got absolutely no input into your group, so you better enjoy the team you’ve been given.
Personality-wise, everyone’s very distinct. You’ve got the strong, silent type in your main, the genki girl Lisa, the manly bravado of Eikichi, the peppy optimism of Maya, the stoic Yukino, and the dour, reserved Jun. For the most part, they play along pretty well. Your group is a little dysfunctional, and it’s not unusual for spats or various ill-conceived activities to break out, but overall your team is pretty thick. They don’t start out that way, of course, but that is one of Innocent Sin’s strengths, in that you get to watch your team growing closer together as you all learn more about each other.
CUTTER “WARSHIP” KILLMAN/TATSUYA “TA-CHAN” SUOU
Again, you get the option to name this guy whatever you want. His canon name, and the one the next part of the duology uses, is Tatsuya Suou, but while you’re at it, you really should change his name to something more proper for a warrior of your stature.
Anyways, this is you, your avatar, the main player character, the guise you have to interact with the world of Innocent Sin. As with all Persona games, Arena aside, your lead is a silent protagonist, and it’s really up to you to impose whatever personality you like upon him. That doesn’t mean the game gives you nothing in the way of characterization, however. The Persona series constantly tries to give your silent protagonist a bit more of a voice than most games will, and that’s no different here. Although he doesn’t speak outside of battle, he does have two main means of communicating. The first is largely for the player’s benefit, using his character portraits to express whatever emotion he’s feeling at any given time. The game gets more use out of this than you expect for a silent protagonist, using these to help keep him a part of many conversations in the game, in spite of the fact that he never says anything. The second means of communication serves largely as a replacement for normal dialogue, that being his eyes. You’ll regularly see him communicating what would normally be told in dialogue via his eyes. He often shoots other characters gazes, stares, glares, and etc. bringing across just the message he’s intending to the rest of the cast. The other characters react just as if he was speaking to them, so he manages well enough with this.
He may be mostly quiet, but the young Killman still has something of an established personality. He does speak up in battle, and his quotes suggest he may be the most intense and aggressive member of your team, directly threatening your foes with death when most other members will stick to lighter statements. As shown by his demon contacts, he’s got a Michael Winslow-level skill with impressions, is passionate about manliness, is a reasonably adept negotiator, and plays the guitar. He’s a well-known bad dude, and apparently skips school all the time. He rides a motorcycle, and are very skilled with machines, able to fix or operate most everything you come across. The end of the game reveals that’s just the result of everyone assuming you’re good with machines thanks to the whole motorcycle deal, as you end up in a rebooted world without all those skills once people don’t remember them. Everyone loves him for it, though. In fact, everyone seems to love him in general. He must be really hot, because all of the women and a lot of the men in Sumaru City want him. Which, honestly, hits a little too close to home. I like to play video games for the escapism, thank you very much, and that is just too much like my everyday life for my tastes. Anyways, he tends to be a bit aloof and will often just watch arguments amongst your party go down right in front of him, but he’ll step in and efficiently get everyone to get along when it really matters.
Usually, when a game’s bringing out the silent protagonist, they give you the bare minimum of backstory, just enough to properly place your character, then let you make up the rest. Not so with Innocent Sin. Your main character gets just as much background as the rest of your cast. I’d bet that’s largely because he’s not a silent protagonist next game, so you do need to know enough about him that he’s able to stand on his own without your imagination, excellent though it may be. In any case, you’re pretty much an orphan. Your mother’s never mentioned all game long, and your father, a former policeman, disappeared after being disgraced in some official case long before the game began. You’re being raised by your brother, a police detective, but there’s always been a distance between you two, and you don’t really get along with him. And you’re at least a bit sentimental, given that you always carry around and fiddle with a keepsake lighter, a memento that you traded with Jun when you were kids as a sign of how much you meant to each other. Then you promptly forgot about him. Good for you.
In combat, you’re… well, pretty much whatever you want to be. As the player character, you get to choose what your layout of stats are, and the Sun arcana is flexible enough with its affinities that you can pretty much choose your strengths and weaknesses at will. Your personae will likely build up your speed significantly, but overall, you can craft yourself towards whatever role you want. If you stick with mostly Sun personae, expect to be throwing around a lot of fire spells, but they’ve got pretty decent physical boosts as well. You wield a two-handed sword in battle. Your beginning persona is Vulcanus, the Roman god of flame and forging, and your ultimate persona is Apollo, the demigod noted for his skill with the bow and his musical aptitude.
Ah, yes, miss Let’s Positive Thinking herself. Except when she’s at her worst, Maya’s always cheery and bubbly and keeps a smile plastered on her face. She’ll do whatever she can to keep the rest of you feeling that way, too. Must have missed her calling as a motivational speaker. She’s just so happy. All the time. Kind of alien to me, really. That seems to be how she learned to deal with the world, her own, literal personae. It wraps up a fair bit of trauma and darkness in her past, though. Mostly dealing with her father. Her dear old dad was a war correspondent who never made it back from an assignment when she was a kid. She still blames herself for his death, and carries a memento of him everywhere. She’s also followed him in careers, although she’s taken the decidedly safer path of serving as a journalist for a teen magazine. Her eternal high spirit seems to be how she copes with things, how she deals with everything coming down the pipe. And hey, I wouldn’t take it away from her.
In any case, Maya is perhaps the member of your group the others respect the most. Everyone other than Yukino looks up to her as a big sister of sorts, and she’s responsible for keeping your group going more often than your protagonist. She even holds a good amount of sway with the group’s leadership, although it all really comes down to you. She can be somewhat of a deep thinker, too, and has more than a few philosophical moments and times where she’s the first one to figure out a given puzzle.
Maya may be a few years older than the rest of you, but the game does show a few signs that she’s really lacking in the maturity department. The fact that she’s crushing on a high schooler is only the tip of it. She still carries around the stuffed bunny she tried to give her father, and cries for her dad when she gets scared. She has absolutely no ability to keep herself organized, and I’d guess she’d have a lot of trouble getting along in life if it weren’t for the people around her. Most damningly, perhaps, she has absolutely no sense of her own limits and capabilities, and keeps trying to do things she just isn’t able to. Like drive. Really, don’t let her do that.
For much of the story, you’re stuck with a bit of an ominous sense about her. The characters rarely comment on it, but one of the big movers of the plot is the Oracle of Maia, a piece of prophecy that calls for the death of the “Maia Maiden” in order to properly doom the world. Given Maya’s name, and her starting persona, Maia, you know she ties into it somehow. It doesn’t pay off until the end of the game, when it does so in the worst way possible, but you just know that all this is hanging over her, even if the cast doesn’t acknowledge it. And indeed, she is at the center of all that trouble in the finale, the dour ending that requires resetting reality itself to fix.
In battle, Maya’s largely focused towards casting. Her stats naturally leave her high in dexterity, the main factor going towards magic power, and the personae her Moon affinity gives her tends to have a really good variety of spells available. She’s among the best at taking hits from magic, and her personae tend to give her some really useful magical resistances. Her stats and personae don’t make her useful at anything except magic, but spells are your primary means of dealing damage in almost any situation anyways, so her specialization comes into play all the time. She is always going to be one of the biggest contributors to your party’s performance. She often ends up with the healing spells, too, so she’d be pretty indispensable even if the game did give you a choice. You’ll need to take some degree of care with her, as she doesn’t roll with the punches that well, but as part of a team she’s pretty deadly. She dual wields pistols, which don’t do nearly as much damage as you might expect. Her starting persona is Maia, the sometimes unwitting consort of Zeus and mother of several demigods, and the oldest sister of the Pleiades that show up so much in the Persona 2 lore. Her ultimate persona is Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and fertility. Light seems to be her element.
LISA “GINKO” SILVERMAN
Oh, Lisa. Ms. Silverman is a young lady who knows what she wants, and will stop at nothing to get it. And what she wants is you. Whether you reciprocate… well, that’s really up to you, now isn’t it? I’m not going to tell you what to do with your love life. Anyways, Lisa is considered one of the more popular and beautiful women in school, and doesn’t lack for attention. She was bullied pretty badly as a child, though. She’s very hot-blooded, and constantly butts heads with other people. Especially Eikichi, another member of your party that we’ll be getting to in just a moment, although she’s much more similar in personality to him than either would dare admit.
So, let’s talk about her parentage, a bit, as that’s going to come up with most every character here. Lisa’s dad is Steven Seagal.
Sure, they try to claim he’s in some sort of import/export business or something or other, but we all know the truth. Lisa’s parents are both western Japanophiles who dug the culture so moved to the country and took root, making her the only caucasian PC in the entire persona series.
And she hates it. Everyone puts a lot of expectations on how she’s supposed to act because of it, which may be where a good part of the aforementioned hot-bloodedness comes from. She also deliberately stays away from learning any English, and gets worked up over any suggestion from her peers that she’s supposed to be good at it. It goes against her parents, too, who put her under a lot of pressure to just be a sweet, demure, traditional Japanese girl. She instead either embraces her outgoing nature or pushes herself to be outgoing, deftly ruining that fantasy. Lisa really hates having others tell her what to do and what she’s supposed to be.
So, with everyone expecting her to be part of either western or Japanese culture, Lisa took a third option. She spites both groups by developing a passion for all things Chinese. She peppers her speech with gratuitous Cantonese, learned Kung Fu rather than her father’s Aikido, and absolutely loves Chinese martial arts movies. And you know what? It serves her well when she actually needs to start doing some fighting.
For all her outgoing, seemingly friendly nature, Lisa has some dark sides in her. The reason I think her outgoing nature may be a bit forced; she’s really dismissive of her current friends, and it seems that as soon as she has something else going on, she readily drops them entirely. She’s also openly distrustful and annoyed by any existing friends, in spite of them never showing anything but a genuine connection with her. And it seems that she goes on paid dates under really shady circumstances with older men, and may have played around with drugs. Moreover, some of her more extreme life choices seem to be made to pointedly rebel against her family, rather than because she actually enjoys them.
In a fight, Lisa is fast. Probably your fastest character, and she’ll almost always act first, if you let her. Beyond that, she’s kind of subpar. Her magic is stronger than her physical offense, but not nearly to the degree your main and Maya can reach. She can’t take hits well, and her physical attacks are weak. You’re stuck with her, the game won’t give you a replacement, but she probably contributes less to your fights than anyone else. Her starting persona is Eros, the god of love and desire, and her ultimate persona is Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. You might sense a theme there. Her personae are often aligned with the earth element. She uses gloves in a fight, incorporating them into her Kung Fu strikes.
EIKICHI ‘MICHEL’ MISHINA
Look at him. Just look at him. He’s fabulous! Michel is a wannabe visual kei rock star, in spite of the fact that nobody in his band can actually play any instruments. He looks the part, too. He’s proud of looking the part. He’s so focused on his looks, you might expect him to be the traditional wilting violet prettyboy. Well, actually…
When he was a kid, Eikichi was the fat boy in class, and bullied mercilessly for it. You know the stuff he went through; social ostricization, kids pulling his pants down in public, the kind of stuff all younglings have to deal with because there is something seriously wrong with children. Eventually, he decided he had enough of that, so he lost all that weight, started thugging it up, and used his blasted persona to beat down all the normal-powered students and ruled his high school as the Death Boss.
Seriously, what the hell? Bringing in your persona against random punks is like winning a chess match with the help of a sledgehammer. At the top of the bancho food chain, Eikichi’s very outgoing and hotblooded, and constantly surrounds himself with friends.
So, Michel was bullied for being overweight. For the way he looked. And he took that to heart. Michel is all about appearances, in every aspect of the word. He is desperately concerned with what others think of him. Fitting, for a game that centers on personae. There’s the amount of effort and dialogue he puts into his looks that leave even me and my massive ego in the dust. That may be understandable, given that he worked hard to get into the shape he’s in now, but I get the feeling that at least some of that is an effort to leave his bullied childhood self behind, to separate the man he is now from the boy so downtrodden by others then. He is also a very compassionate and moral young man, but he goes through great efforts to hide that from the general public, because that gets in the way of the badass image he’s trying to maintain. In truth, Eikichi has remarkably low self-esteem, and carefully crafts everything about his public personality, like his apparent ego, his hardcore nature, and the fear kids from other schools have of him, in order to protect his fragile self from others’ perceptions. The few times you see someone break through his shell, he seems just a few steps from falling apart completely. He’s particularly timid in front of his father, a gruff sushi chef who seems to browbeat him for making any choices in his own lifestyle.
As I said, Eikichi seems really mean, but he’s honestly a very good guy. He’s a man of great passion, and is incredibly loyal to his friends and allies. Even as the chief thug of his high school, he seems to target other bullies and those who make life worse for the innocent kids. He’ll go to great personal risk to save even the students he really doesn’t get along with, because he believes it’s his duty. He loves talking about manly ideals and what it means to be a man, as well as justice, beauty, and all sorts of lofty concepts. And he is surprisingly sharp. When one of his enemies, the ‘chief’ of his school, spread the rumor that ‘the chief is stronger than the boss’, he immediately figures out that if he casts aside his Death Boss title, he can beat down his rival with impunity.
So, in Innocent Sin, spells are more powerful than physical attacks. Except for Michel’s. Dude hits like a freight train. His stat growth prioritizes physical attacks to such a high degree that his strength stat is likely to be the first, if any, attribute you max out all game. I’m not sure how strength helps him, exactly, given that his weapon of choice is a machine gun hidden inside a string bass case, but it does. I guess he can pull the trigger super hard. As overpowered as magic is in this game, it is very notable that Eikichi is able to keep pace with its damage output through his physical attacks, which become more useful the later you get in the game, as it becomes harder and harder to spam magic without running out of juice. He can take hits pretty decently. He’s slow, though, probably the slowest on your team, and his magic power leaves a lot to be desired. His starting persona is Rhadamanthus, one of the judges of the dead, and his ultimate persona is Hades, the ruler of the underworld. His main element is water, although thanks to his weak magic, you won’t get that much punch out of it.
Hey, an old face in our new ranks! This is the very same Yukino Mayuzumi that ended up as the most underutilized party member of Revelations: Persona. Being condemned to the secondary questline that offered little in the way of characterization, we didn’t see too much of who exactly Yukino was last time around, but the more character-driven Innocent Sin does its best to make up for it.
Just like last time around, Yukino serves as a mentor to the rest of the characters, watching over them, keeping everyone safe, and trying to guide everyone along the proper paths in life. She’s gotten a little high in the social hierarchy to quite fit the big sister role, but she still tries to lead those she cares about to better lives. This extends even beyond your party, as she tries to make herself a mentor to anyone who seems like she might be able to help. As it turns out, she was so touched by what Ms. Saeko did for her, turning her away from her troubled roots, that she’s really driven to do the same for others.
Like always, Yukino is very tough, stern when she needs to be, and totally, completely reliable, up to near the end of the game. Before she breaks, she will never let those who count on her down. She works alongside Maya as a photographer for a teen magazine, in spite of her total lack of skills when it comes to technology, and is dragged into the plot along with her partner. The conflict is never as personal for her as it is for your other party members, but she still fights, because you need her help, and she’s one of the few who can stand against this enemy.
For that matter, Yukino never feels like she fits into this game’s plot quite as much as your other party members. Even if you came into this game with absolutely no knowledge of the previous one, you’d probably still be able to tell something is off about her. Joker seems irrationally pissed off at most of your PCs, but he never has anything personal against her. Yukino not only already has her persona awakened, you know exactly where she got it from, cleanly circumventing the mystery the rest of your characters are under. Yukino’s not missing any memories, and when the rest of your cast unlock theirs, it turns out she was never part of your childhood group of friends. She doesn’t have any readily apparent issues with her father. Her ultimate persona doesn’t come from a Roman background. She’s missing nearly all of the commonalities that stick your characters together.
Rather, Yukino’s arc is all about struggling, usually with no happy ending. Being a professional photographer is her dream, something she’s really passionate about, but she has great difficulty picking up the technical skills required by that craft. She sees herself in one of your adversaries and devotes herself to trying to save her, but if she manages to do so, it’s not until after she’s lost just about everything herself. She has herself a very obvious love interest, but she can’t bring herself to do anything about it, and as strong as she is, no matter how powerful she may be, she can do nothing to save him from the foes you’re facing. Her tale ends either with her succumbing to despair over his death and the big bad guy taking her ego back into the collective unconscious, leaving her an empty shell, or with her unable to shoulder the costs of holding the front line against her foes, and dropping from your party entirely. Either way, she passes her power onto your next party member, awakening his personae at the cost of her own, unable to take the fight anymore.
So it’s a good thing the end of the game hits a reset button and the whole thing, and she never has to actually deal with all that, right?
In a fight, Yukino can take a punch like no one else. She prioritizes defense over offense, and is often your last man standing should you ever find yourselves over your head. She has roughly average offensive capabilities, although her magic’s more useful that her physical attacks. She won’t deal much significant damage compared to Maya and Eikichi, but her stability makes her really reliable in those tough battles. Just like the first game, her starting persona is Vesta, the goddess of health and sexuality, and her ultimate persona is Durga, the Hindu redeemer Devi. She wields two knives, and doesn’t really have a main element. Yeah, a lot of her combat traits have been grandfathered in.
THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE
Jun is the Joker, the genie that’s pissed off at you because he remembers bad things that never actually happened. When the rest of you played the persona game as kids and got your psychology-based superpowers, Nyarlathotep, the embodiment of the destructive traits of humanity, slipped through the collective unconscious and took the place of Jun’s persona. He then proceeded to mess everything up, screwing with your memories, kickstarting the magical power of rumors, and set the wheels in motion for this entire game to take place.
It takes most of the game, but you’re eventually able to break Nyarlathotep’s hold on Jun. It helps that Maya, who Jun remembers getting killed by the rest of you, is very clearly alive. Which Jun would have known if he bothered to look into things even the slightest bit. Anyways, once Nyarly doesn’t need him and the Joker’s not strong enough to overcome you anymore, you’re able to bring him back to the side of the angels. He still doesn’t have his memories back, which certainly makes things more than a bit awkward, but at least he realizes he can’t trust his memories. After Yukino sacrifices her persona ability to awaken his, he takes her place on your squad.
Jun’s kind of morose, shy, and quiet. However, he does seem to care about humanity as a whole, even if he’s willing to make a whole lot of sacrifices for what he considers their own good. He seems to have trouble valuing the individual, but is still concerned with the well-being of the group. When he was a kid, he was really embarrassed of his father, for no adequately explained reason, given the other kids thought his dad was really cool. His mother is incredibly selfish and had a very troubled relationship with his dad, who ended up dying in a bizarre accident. Nyarlathotep began posing as his father afterwards, taking on all the traits Jun thought an ideal father should have. No wonder the kid’s so messed up. His first move on receiving his ‘persona’ was to use it to beat down his bullies, which is problematic for all the same reasons as Eikichi’s case. While he was a very active force in his Joker guise, after Nyarlathotep stops guiding him, he ends up really passive, mostly following the lead of the rest of your group. I’d have to guess that he’s gotten so used to following someone else’s plan, dancing to a master’s strings, he just doesn’t know what to do without it. He does seem to have a taste for culture, though. He is very well-versed in the language of flowers, bringing it up constantly in both his guises. He’s also quite into astrology, which is quite useful given how often that comes up in the game.
Also, Jun’s gay. This is never a big deal. And that’s how you write sexuality well. Trying to make an issue of a character’s choice of sexual partners when it’s not relative to the plot just leads to bad writing. Jun’s sexuality is readily apparent, but there’s so much more important about the character. The game comes off treating it with a lot more subtlety and grace than you see with a lot of gay characters because it never makes a bigger deal about it than it needs to be, and Jun feels like a more fully-fleshed out and realized character because of it.
Whether as the Joker or as Jun, he spends almost all the game at the center of the plot. He’s your leading antagonist through most of the early acts, and heads up the Masked Circle that you’ve been running wild trying to stop. After he’s jumped to your side, the plot focuses largely on two things. The impeding destruction of the world, and working out Jun’s personal issues. With how late he joins there’s not much time for him to be developed, and he does have more backstory than any other character in the game, so to some degree this is understandable, but still, it’s a little odd how completely he steals the spotlight.
Jun’s stat growth heavily prioritizes luck. Luck sucks. Luckily, his other stats somewhat pick up the slack. He ends up being really similar to Lisa, having some considerable magic power to keep him relevant in a fight, although he doesn’t have quite the speed she does. He’s never going to be your most powerful character, but he is good enough to ensure that you’re not actually weaker after losing Yukino. His starting persona is Hermes, the messenger of the gods, and is sufficiently stronger than the rest of your starting persona to reflect how late in the game you get him. His ultimate persona is Chronos, the primordial personification of time itself. He fights by throwing flowers. Laugh if you will, but they hit harder than Maya’s pistols. His prime element is wind.
The Masked Circle
These are the longest-lasting enemy group in the game, who you’ll be romping with for almost all the plot. The Masked Circle is a doomsday cult, led by the Joker, who seek to gather enough ‘Ideal Energy’ to destroy the world and drive humanity into a new golden age in space. Yeah, the rumors allow pretty much anything to happen. Those who make their wish with the Joker find themselves first forced to be a part of the Masked Circle, then sacrificed for their goals, their Ideal Energy drained from them until they’re left motivation-less husks. Their leadership is made up of pastiches of your own group, as Jun seeks to replace your childhood crew with his own creepy cult fellows. They lose a lot of steam after you break Jun out of his Joker guise, leaving them pretty much without leadership, but they do maintain a presence up to the end of the game, being one of the few organizations able to make a stand against the Nazi invasion. Of course, they don’t stand for long against them, and they’re only fighting them towards their own twisted goals, but still, at least you’re not the only group putting up the fight. You’re constantly running roughshod over them, interfering with whatever they have planned, but most of the time you figure out the full extent of their plans just after they put them into action. Your interference only seems to make them stronger, too, thanks to your spreading the word about them and the power of the rumors at play. At least until you start knocking off their leadership. Once you reach that point, there’s no recovering for them.
If you call your own cell phone number, the Joker will appear before you and grant you one wish. At least that’s what everyone says. Except that your crew tries it in the early game, and instead on sending you on a shopping trip to buy those larger underpants you’re suddenly needing, he just sics a bunch of demons on you. As stated previously, the Joker is Jun, still really, really pissed off at your crew thanks to the influence of Nyarlathotep and the false memories he has of all his childhood friends burning Maya to death. To say his feelings towards you are troubled is an understatement.
Joker is the head of the Masked Circle, he who directs their activities towards the funtime goal of destroying the world. Making you suffer seems to mostly be a side project of his. The Joker is all about ideals. He highly values his own ideals, he respects other’s commitments to their own ideals above all else, and he thinks largely in terms of ideals. As twisted as it is, he honestly believes that the destruction of the world and the ascension of its people are honestly what humanity wants. Thing is, he’s much more of a big picture guy, and doesn’t much care for the individual. So, the fact that thousands of people don’t really want their ideal energy drained away in pursuit of the Earth’s destruction doesn’t much matter to him. He is completely serious about the Masked Circle and their goals, focused on them above all else. He doesn’t even use them to go after you until you start messing with the circle first.
Like Guido/Kandori of last game, Nyarlathotep is his persona. And like last game, Nyarlathotep ends up taking him over for his final battle in this guise, then flees his form once he’s defeated. Free of Nyarlathotep’s corruption, Joker reverts to his old form, and joins you in undoing the mess he’s created.
King Leo/Tatsuya Sudou
Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is Japan’s Foreign Minister. Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is a bad, bad man. Growing up in that environment did him no favors, compounding the troubles he already had with his schizophrenia. He found a father figure in Jun’s dad, however, who helped him make some sort of sense of the voices he was hearing, believing them to be some sort of alien prophecy and codifying them into the Oracle of Maya doomsday thing the Masked Circle is buying into.
Some time after that, Sudou snapped. Depending on how far back the rumor thing was in effect, this may have been a result of other’s beliefs about him, conflating his schizophrenia and his father’s bad reputation and thinking he was a violent figure. Or maybe that was just the general beliefs about schizophrenia at play and hey social commentary! Either way, he became a serial arsonist, and burned down the shrine kid you and kid Maya were hanging out in. You broke out, Sudou stabbed you, and you awakened your persona and burnt out his eye. I’m going to say you got the better of that one. After that, he stalked Maya for a good long while, then joined up with the Masked Circle for reasons that are mostly up to conjecture, and serves as King Leo, the second in command to the order.
Tatsuya Sudou, as should be obvious from the name unless you did the right thing and changed your protagonist’s handle for something wicked sweet, is the counterpart for your lead. Given Maya’s history with him, he serves to some degree as the Masked Circle replacement for her, too. He’s an arsonist, so he likes blowing things up. Throughout the section you’re dealing with him, he leaves behind clues that will lead you to buildings he’s rigged to blow. You usually have two buildings at a time to choose from and have to pick the right one, enter it, and find the bombs in order to properly bring a halt to his deeds. Or, if you’re of a lazy mind, you can choose the wrong one and skip a few dungeons entirely. It culminates in a big encounter in an aviation museum where you have to rescue an entire field trip, beat him in a big slogknocking fight, and jet of there in an exploding blimp. Probably one of the high points of the game, in all. As you might guess, he gets a sadistic glee in death and violence, and actually burns a man alive by means of introducing himself. His persona is Reverse Vulcanus.
Lady Scorpio/Anna Yoshizaka
Anna’s a friend of yours from Seven Sisters High. She used to be the star of the school’s track team, but was injured when one of Persona 2’s developers (seriously) ran her over. Her injury scuttled her track career, and with that, she grew despondent and didn’t see any point in showing up at school anymore, so she joined your protagonist in ditching class all the time before dropping out entirely. She wished for the Joker to cure her injuries, and got tied into the Masked Circle as a result, reigning as one of the lower level royalties under the guise of Lady Scorpio.
Anna was probably intended by Jun to serve as the surrogate for Eikichi. When written in kanji, Yoshizaka uses the same characters as Eikichi in reverse. They both identify with the Scorpio astrological sign, and both their personae use water spells. And they’re both well-known delinquents. The thing is, Anna fits the whole ‘evil counterparts’ deal the least out of all the Circle’s leadership. Everyone else’s personae is a dark version of one of your own, whereas Anna’s persona is Reverse Aeshma, the original of which is used by nobody in your party. Instead, Yukino has the most connections with her, plotwise. Yukino sees herself in her, and makes it a mission to try and put her on the right path. Anna’s quite resistant at first, but if all goes well, Yukino can bring her to redemption.
It’s possible to go the whole game only dealing with Anna in cutscenes. Her fight only exists depending on the choices you’ve made, and if you do end up fighting her, well, there’s nothing good for Yukino down that route.
Prince Taurus/Ginji Sasaki
Ginji Sasaki was once a member of the Backstreet Boys or something, but after Justin Timberlake broke out and the rest of the group faded into obscurity, he found himself on the downside of the fame spiral. Desperate to regain his former glory, Sasaki instead tried to carve his name in the annals of music history as a producer, finding absolutely no success until he dialed up the Joker and made his wish. I think you can guess how things went down from there. He uses his fame and celebrity for the purposes of the Masked Circle, harvesting ideal energy all the while.
It’s pretty obvious whose counterpart he is. He guns for Lisa from the outset, spreading the rumor that she’s part of his new supergroup just to draw her out. And his persona is Reverse Eros, just like hers. He forces her to confront the fact that she’s not a very good friend before you give him a good old whuppin. In front of like, everybody. He never recovers from that.
You don’t really see him much for the rest of the game, but he’s still working behind the scenes. He gets killed by Nazis near the end, but he does so while moving the pieces necessary to so royally screw you over in the finale.
Queen Aquarius/Junko Kurosu
She’s Jun’s mom. She may be the one who planted the seeds for Jun to get so royally messed up. She never got on with Jun’s father, and likely poisoned the boy against the man who was, by all appearances, a totally sweet and awesome dude. She kind of treated Jun pretty rotten after his dad died, too, trying to get back to the carefree life she had before she was responsible for a family. Not realizing who the Joker was, she made her wish for eternal youth, and got swept up into the Masked Circle with all the rest.
You don’t learn a whole lot about Junko. She’s only in a few scenes, most of which are just covering backstory. You never even face her down in battle. She seems to serve as the replacement for Jun himself, of your childhood crew, judging almost solely by the fact that they’re both under the Aquarius sign. I guess Maya doesn’t warrant a counterpart in the new Masked Circle, given that Jun believes her to be dead. He must not want to be bringing up those memories of her. In any case, Junko realizes who the Joker is shortly after the Nazis invade and you take him down. In one last, motherly effort, she shields Jun from Hitler’s Lance of Longinus, sacrificing her life for his.
King Leo blows up a whole bunch of buildings. The Masked Circle starts spreading around the rumor that your group did it. In order to keep the power of rumors from turning you all evil against your will, you start spreading the counter-rumor that you in fact saved a whole bunch of people from those exploding buildings and are also totally cool people that everyone is jealous of. Rather than just taking the more popular rumor, as you guys are hoping, the collective unconscious makes both true by creating the shadows, evil versions of yourselves working with the Masked Circle.
Shadow Maya is the only one of them that’s really proactive. She actually replaces the original Maya in your party for a brief while, complicating the process as you guys are first recovering your lost memories. The rest of them stand guard over the Masked Circle’s repositories of Ideal Energy.
These may look familiar to Persona 4 veterans, but they don’t quite match with that game’s use of them. While they do know all the deepest, darkest secrets of their originators just like the P4 shadows, these guys are much more actively malevolent. They launch personal attacks on your group, saying anything they can to try and break you down, with Maya going after the whole party and the rest trying to tear away at their originals. These shadows will mix truth with lies in an attempt to get you to believe their falsehoods, and will readily hammer down on you with them. Of course, your team stands resolute. In a fight, they each use their original’s ultimate personae, and you can get a nice boost if you beat them with the good persona equipped.
The Last Battalion
There’s a conspiracy theory that gets picked up by the general populace. The theory goes that Hitler, rather than dying in some random bunker at the end of World War II, instead cheesed it with a bunch of his most trusted men to a secret base in Antarctica. As conspiracy theories go, it’s no Bill Clinton Faked the Moon Landing. But people believe in it. Enough people believe in it. And you know what that means.
Yep, just when you’ve got the Masked Circle on the ropes, the Nazis invade from out of nowhere. Well, almost out of nowhere. There was a bit of foreshadowing, but not much. Yet you know what? It works. As much as, by this point in world history, the Nazis are pretty much a punchline in general, their invasion truly marks a time where the game starts to pick up. As you were knocking out executives within the Masked Circle, that group was really starting to lose credibility as a threat, and the Last Battalion truly provides the sense of danger that they were lacking. It also marks the point when your conflict starts impacting the world proper. The Masked Circle was, aside from a few terrorist strikes, really just a problem for you and a few select groups. Everyone has to deal with the Nazis. Also, did I mention I find video game Nazis funny by nature? There’s probably something very wrong with me.
The Last Battalion sure does have a lot less character than the Masked Circle, though. Their ranks are filled with a bunch of high-level grunts, the Order of the Holy Lance, and Hitler himself. Except not really. We’ll get to that later. The grunts are just random encounters. Stronger than the masked circle, sure. And they have the annoying habit of launching instant-kill moves on you, so in general they may be a little more threatening than the average demon. But not that much. You’ll get through them quickly enough. The Order of the Holy Lance is where it’s at. Apparently enough people believe Trevor Ravenscroft’s real world theory that Hitler was obsessed with gaining possession of the Lance of Longinus, the spear that pierced Jesus’s side after he died at the crucifixion, that it carried over to the rumor causing their resurgence. In turn, the Last Battalion made 13 copies of that lance and equipped them on a series of anti-persona mechas. You’ll be facing them a few at a time in a series of actually pretty cool boss battles. The lance has the ability to temporarily seal a persona, making them the perfect enemy for you. Then, at the top of the Nazi food chain is Hitler, who bears the original Holy Lance, with the added ability of inflicting wounds that cannot heal. Except he’s not actually Hitler. He’s actually…
This. Guy. This guy! You might know him from the Lovecraftian tales this version obviously draws a lot of inspiration from. You might know him as Guido/Kandori’s persona from the last game. You might know him as Fantasy Magic Hitler. You do not know Nyarlathotep.
He was a minor bad guy last game, a villain’s persona that took over his body before being handily dispatched without much in the way of background. He becomes so much more in Innocent Sin. Persona’s Nyarlathotep departs quite a bit from what you may know through the Yog-Sothothery. You remember Philemon? He who grants the persona power, chucked you the magic mirror you needed when you were taking on the Snow Queen, who always pointed you the right way when you couldn’t figure out where to head back in Revelations: Persona? Nyarlathotep’s his brother. Of sorts. They are both avatars of the collective unconscious, representing different, opposite pieces of the conglomerate psyche of humanity as a whole. Nyarlathotep, in particular, represents mankind’s capability for destruction.
It turns out he and Philemon are behind all the badness going on in this game and, retroactively, the previous game as well. They’ve made a bet, regarding whose aspect will come out on top when the chips are down. Nyarlathotep, with the weak many behind him, wagering that humanity will destroy themselves, against Philemon, guiding the strong few, believing that humanity will rise above. It’s not entirely clear what they have for a wager, but Nyarlathotep is committed to winning. He is behind literally everything here. It was he that enacted the power of rumors, giving the collective unconscious the power to warp reality when people believed in something enough. Using his shape-shifting abilities, he’s not only Hitler, leading the Last Battalion, but he’s Joker’s persona and his idealized father, putting him at the head of the Masked Circle. And it’s revealed he was manipulating Kandori last game, too, making him to blame for everything that went on in the previous adventure. Additionally, he serves as one of your weapons dealers in disguise, so in a sense, he’s behind your crew’s activities, too.
Dude proves himself to be a master manipulator. He pulls all the strings. He uses the Masked Circle to set up the eventual destruction of the earth, then has them run you around, followed by the Last Battalion, purely to keep you fighting battles that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, so you don’t do anything about his real plans. Sure, you’ve gutted the Masked Circle, but what does that matter when he’s already gotten what he needs out of them. Sure, you’ve trashed the Order of the Holy Lance, but who cares when they weren’t the real threat in the first place? Through the course of the game, you’re able to beat everyone. Every fight that’s thrown at you, you win. And it’s just a distraction. Nyarlathotep’s plan doesn’t require him to beat you to win, but thanks to his machinations, you never realize that until it’s too late.
He’s kind of a dick, too. Thanks to his nature, he knows everything about you, and he’s more than ready to use it just to jerk you around, sending the shadows out where he knows you’ll be headed, taking the form of all your fathers for the final battle, and manipulating things so that Maya gets killed to fulfill the prophecy, even though by that point, he had no need to go that far. By the time you’re finally able to confront him, he’s already won, and he drags on the fight just for the hell of it.
In a lot of discussion about the game, you’ll see people refer to Nyarlathotep as being very active. That’s not entirely true. It certainly feels that way in comparison to the absolutely indirect Philemon, but he still seems to have some very strict rules that limit his involvement. He’s a planner, a manipulator like no other, and he moves pieces around like they’re on the light rail. But he cannot do anything without people, ordinary humans, leading the charge. He gives rumors their reality-warping power, but any changes he makes have to be bought into by humanity first. When the doomsday prophecy does start coming true, he’s absolutely limited to enacting only what people are working towards making happen. He spends most of the game acting through Jun, before people’s belief in Hitler gives him a physical form to work with, and even then, he’s only sending other people to do his work until you make your way into the collective unconscious itself to deal with him. He may be monstrous, perhaps the most powerful evil figure in the entire Persona series, yet he still cannot do anything without humanity.
Granted, humanity’s kind of messed up, so that doesn’t stop him from doing much. But hey, the limits are there.
And here’s the god-like being in our corner. Philemon, who you’ll remember as your benefactor from last game, is revealed this time around to be the good counterpart of Nyarlathotep. Literally, he is everything Nyarlathotep is, but with a halo. Whereas Nyarlathotep embodies humanity’s collective destructive desires, Philemon is the avatar of mankind’s constructive deeds. Whereas Nyarlathotep manipulates the many weak-willed into his bidding, Philemon leads only those whose ego is strong enough to manifest their persona. Whereas Nyarlathotep bets that humanity will destroy itself, Philemon places his wager that human-kind will ascend to something greater.
With Philemon’s inherent goodness in mind, it’s surprising that he’d make the bet that causes the first two entries in the Persona series, and all that associated death and suffering, in the first place. Which even the game calls him out on, letting you deck him for it if you so choose, but it never really gives you an answer. I’ve got a few fanwank theories for it, though. Being the equal but opposite force to Nyarlathotep, it seems natural that they wouldn’t get along. Violently, perhaps. But, given their nature, could one truly triumph over the other? Nyarlathotep will never stop so long as humanity still has those destructive urges, but can’t end Philemon while the species still seeks to improve. Given that they can’t truly beat each other, and given that they’re both the embodiments of certain aspects of humanity’s collective unconscious, it seems to follow pretty easily to me that they’d let humanity itself decide their battle. In a way, it’s what they’re there for. Philemon cheats in the bet way more than Nyarly does, though. Rewriting reality itself to change the fact that he lost? I guess we should be grateful that he restores the earth in the process, but still. That’s some dirty pool.
Philemon is very much an observer in your conflict. You only run into him a few times, when the situation is at its most critical. He helps you every time, giving Jun his persona back, awakening greater strength in you, and resetting the whole world once it goes awry, but beyond that, you’re pretty much on your own. That’s kind of his MO. Nyarlathotep will manipulate thousands of people at once towards his ends, but Philemon will just find a few of the right people and give them the powers they need to stand strong. And it makes sense. Philemon is all about being constructive, of raising people up. If he stepped in and took on the demonic hordes himself, how would people get stronger? Empowering them, though, falls right within his purview.
Also, is it just me, or is Philemon way sexier than he was last game?
Good old Igor. He’ll be our most constant companion throughout this series, always there to invite us into the Velvet Room. Residing in the realm between the conscious and unconscious, Igor serves Philemon by helping persona-users manage their personae and create new ones. This time around, Igor’s able to summon new persona from the numerous tarot cards you’ll be given by demons. He also helps you maintain your stock of persona and turn the ones you don’t need anymore into useful items. He’s very handy to have for advice in a few points, too.
As always, Igor leads a small host of helpers in the Velvet Room, and unlike last game, you actually get to walk around in it and talk to them. Fitting the Velvet Room’s artistic space, they’re all creative folks of some sort. Nameless and Belladonna are a piano player and opera singer, presumably responsible for the room’s haunting leitmotif. They mostly pontificate and philosophize, nothing good for smashing demons in the face. The Demon Painter, on the other hand, based on character designer Kazuma Kaneko, is able to actively help you out in your quest for more personae, painting blank tarot cards into whatever ones you happen to need.
Kuzunoha Detective Agency
This three-man detective’s office is probably the closest thing that you have to a home base. It’s where you’ll go when you need to talk amongst yourselves, and by its nature, you’ll probably find yourself stopping here between every dungeon crawl. The Kuzunoha crew were among the first to figure the whole rumor thing out, were the earliest group to figure out your part in the conflicts sweeping the city, and let you hire them to spread rumors of your own and take advantage of that good old unconscious magic.
Daisuke Todoroki is the head of the office, a private dick with a third-rate performance until he found himself possessed by the spirit of Kyouji Kuzunoha, protagonist of Devil Summoner, an earlier, Japan-only game in the SMT series. The original Todoroki had investigated Jun’s parents way back before this game was even a glimmer in Atlus’s eye, so the whole agency has some pretty strong ties with the game’s plot. He’s assisted by Tamaki Uchida and Satomi Tadashi. You may remember Tamaki as being the retroactive lead in Shin Megami Tensei If…, making this office the Club Du Jour for previous protagonist cameos. Satomi Tadashi was around last game, and started a sappy relationship with Tammy. I didn’t mention him in the last retrospective because… well, he kind of sucks. Anyways, the two of them are presumably the ones doing all the legwork for the agency while Todoroki hangs around and grows his mustache. Sometimes they dress up as bandits and rescue people. As you do.
Team Fantastic Victory
It’s by no means universal, but you do see a lot of your old team from Revelations: Persona around in this game. They’ve all graduated high school, and are out handling their own business, but they’re still more than ready to throw down when it comes to it, as the Nazi invasion proves. A lot of them are tied into your characters ultimate weapons somehow. What do you say we check in on where they are now?
Aside from the obvious in Yukino, we’ve got five possible members of our last game’s team showing up in Sumaru City. Eriko was always the best person back in St. Hermelin, and she still holds that designation today, being the returning teammate who’s the most useful to you this time around. She immediately takes a break from her life as a jetsetting model when Yukino calls her up, needing her occult knowledge to figure some things out in regards to some issue or other. Maki, the ill girl from the first Persona and not the Ideal Maki that was actually in your party, has started to work her mental illness out and now works as an assistant for a psychotherapy clinic, hoping to bring others the same type of help she’s received. Hopefully without involving the doom of her hometown, this time. Brown is now a variety show host, and hates Jun’s mom. The game claims he has excellent fashion sense. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Reiji’s gotten a girl pregnant and married her right out of high school. He’s taken up the life of a door-to-door salesman, but the same things that made him an efficient demon-bopper make him really inefficient at relating to people, so he’s not very good at his job. He doesn’t show his abs anymore. I think that might have something to do with it. He likes to blow off steam by hunting down demons on his own. He’s started looking more and more like his evil half-brother, prompting rumors that Kandori has returned. Nanjo, now a bit less of a stuck up snob, takes a break from running his family’s business group to check these rumors out, willing to do whatever it takes to make sure Persona 1 does not happen again. This is foreshadowing. This will be on the exam later.
Persona Retrospective Introduction
Rumors in video games are almost always true, aren’t they? Imagine if real life worked that way. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is one of the few games I can think of in which that is not the case. It didn’t come across so well in English because the translation had some issues, though not quite in the way most people think. In the Japanese version, some townspeople would begin their dialogue with “I heard…” or “It is said that…” If that’s the case, you can safely bet that it’s never true. At best, it’s a heavily-altered truth. This distinction wasn’t always made in the English version, so it just added to the confusion.
Also, Hitler as a boss? I’m getting Wolfenstein 3D flashbacks from this.
Anyway, as I said before, it’s amazing how tonally different the first two Persona games are from the latter two. Especially the fourth installment, which is so cheery by comparison, it’s hard to believe it’s a Shin Megami Tensei game. I’ll bet you’re looking forward to Persona 5. I know I am.
It is really cool seeing how the series progressed, and I think the comparisons to the original Persona do a good job demonstrating this. You did an amazing job with this retrospective.
Yep, and the few times rumors get it wrong, it’s about something in the past that you were actually part of. It’s definitely a trope that has plenty of room to be played with. I think another game that messed with rumors, of a sort, was Nethack. You could get rumors through a variety of means, but they only had about a 50% chance of being true. The true ones could save you quite a bit of trouble. The false ones could straight up murder you.
Yeah, the tone shifts pretty drastically over the course of the series. It’s kind of hard to believe that the game where the entire planet is destroyed shares a world with a game where everyone is so bright and happy and everyone’s working out their personal issues and becoming better people and only three people actually die before the threat is over. The next half of the duology deals with psychotic serial killers and mankind’s willingness to destroy itself, so it’s not all too cheery either. But that’s one of the neat things about the Persona series, that it can fit all these stories of varying tones in there. I’m looking forward to Persona 5 quite a bit. I think I’ve stopped buying that they’re actually going to get it out this year, but when it does, well, you guys might not be hearing from me for a while.
Thanks! After putting so much work into these, I’m really glad to hear you enjoyed this.
First, I just want to say that this was really fun to read. You really went in depth into Innocent Sin and a lot of its strengths.
Second, I’m curious, is this retrospective continuing? I’d to see your thoughts and insights on the later games!
Hey, thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I really appreciate you saying so!
Unfortunately, I never followed up on this, and the series is on a sort of hiatus now. A couple months after this post, I went through a big move and change of job, and this was one of the things that slipped through the cracks in the shuffle. I really would like to pick it up again, but I’ll have to get to a point where I’m able to dedicate the time to do these big long analysises like I used to. I’ve been trying a smaller, less dense project for the time being. If that does well, I might find the confidence in my time to jump into a project like this again.