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.
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:
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 lead 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.