The Sins You Committed Will Never Disappear! The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective COMPLETE!

latest

Persona Retrospective Introduction

(Revelations:) Persona

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.

81Ud20BB62L._SL1500_

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.

Continue reading

Advertisements

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective-Part 6, Other Characters

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

ANTAGONISTS

The Masked Circle

 Masked_Circle_soldiers

These are the longest-lasting enemy group in the game, who you’ll be romping with for almost all the game’s 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.

Joker

 JOKER

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 pants 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 troubles is an understatement.

 JokerPortrait

Joker is the head of the Masked Circle, he who directs their activities towards the fun, fun 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

KingLeo 

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.  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.

download

Tatsuya Sudou, as should be obvious from the name unless you did the right thing and change 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. Continue reading

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective, Part 5-Player Characters

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 6-Other Characters

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

 persona2_innocentsin_trailer2-600x330

Your team, this time around, is a group of mostly high schoolers from all sorts of 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.  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 entirely dictated by the plot.  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.

Continue reading

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective, Part 4-Plot and Themes

persona2portablebanner

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 5-Player Characters

Part 6-Other Characters

Plot

So, 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.

gfs_15796_1_5

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. Well, 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.

2109678-169_shin_megami_tensei_innocent_sin_psp_gameplay_082611_wheel_fortune

The narrative generally takes place over three phases. Or acts, if you’d like to fit it into the traditional 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 Nazi’s. 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.

Continue reading

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective, Part 3-Presentation, Setting, and Tone

Persona-2-Innocent-sin-logo-full

Part 1-Introduction

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

Part 6-Other Characters

Presentation

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?

p2innocentsin_screenshots_10

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.

persona2pb

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 bland.

696049-persona-2-innocent-sin-playstation-screenshot-a-mysteriously

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 it’s 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.

Continue reading

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective-Part 2, Gameplay

smtp2psp1logo

Part 1-Introduction

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

Part 6-Other Characters

Gameplay

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’ foundations 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 modern touches here and there, creating a bit of a weird mix when you’re coming to it fresh. What I found really 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 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.

THE ROAMING

As with most turn-based JRPGs, you’re essentially dealing with two separate engines here. You’ve got your big, dynamic, foe-blasting 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!  In the original Persona, we were like:

6

But now we’re like:

p2innocentsin_screenshots_21-noscale

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 lead to third person is still a really big one for the Persona series, and I honestly believe it does this game well.

p2innocentsin_screenshots_04

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.

Continue reading

The Persona 2: Innocent Sin Retrospective-Part 1, Introduction

latest

Part 2-Gameplay

Part 3-Setting and Tone

Part 4-Plot

Part 5-Player Characters

Part 6-Other Characters

A bit of a change in format for this one. So, usually, when we’re doing these big retrospectives, we’ll just write up about twenty pages worth of text covering as much of a game as we’re able, add in some pictures usually shamelessly stolen from all over the internet, then put it up here in one lump sum. I’ve been starting to rethink that format, though. I’m not sure if just having one big, massive, 10,000 word+ post is best for myself the writer or for you the reader. So we’re going to try something new here. Something novel. Something that’s going to keep poor Matt from having to spend four reading sessions to get through the whole post. This time around, we’ll break things up, covering them topic by topic. We’ll divide the big massive study of this game into bite-sized, easily digestible sessions. Hopefully this will give a better experience for all involved. Sound good? Good. Let’s go!

So! Persona 2! I’ve been looking forward to doing this one. All the mainline Persona games have got 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 of them. Yes, even the bad one. Persona 1 has it’s value as well.

Each of them, 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. Two games for the price of one. 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. 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.

81Ud20BB62L._SL1500_

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.

Continue reading