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

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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.

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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.

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Mark Danced Crazy for the Persona 1 Retrospective!

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I knew it. I freakin’ knew it. I suppose some part of me has known it all along. I’ve got something that makes me different. Something that makes me unique. And no, it’s not my incredible good looks. Although that does fit the bill, too. I’ve got a power, something no one else has. Right now, I’m just not sure what to do with it. Maybe I’ll be a superhero, using it to make the world a better place. Then again, I don’t think there’s much call for a superhero with the power to make developers release more games by writing huge amounts of words about a series.

Don’t give my that look. Once might have been a coincidence. Yes, you could easily write off the fact that I started writing a retrospective series about Saints Row, only for Saints Row IV to release, as mere happenstance. Twice, though, that creates a pattern. The very month I posted my introduction for the Persona Retrospective, Atlus announced the next games in the series. Not just one game, either. Four new Persona games, all as a result of me putting my powers to good use. World, you are welcome.

Of course, that does mean that I actually need to retrospect these games, for the magic to work. Which should be easy enough. The Persona series is one of my absolute favorites. All the games in the series are strong, except for… the first… one… euuuuuuuuuugh.

Now I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Some background information here. I wasn’t kidding when I said the Persona series is special to me. Years ago, I was just about ready to give up on JRPGs altogether, when I found my way to Persona 4. I was blown away by it, falling in love with its world and characters, finding myself completely immersed in its strategic gameplay several steps above what most JRPGs were offering, and being incredibly drawn in by the games characters. I love that game so much, I’d marry it if US law would let me. Those bigots. That game still remains the best JRPG I’ve played, and has a strong position as one of my favorite games. Working backwards from there was a joy as well. Persona 3 had its odd gameplay choices, but the story and characterization were both very strong and the game itself was quite fun to play. Persona 2 showed me an odd style of gameplay I never would have thought worked, but they actually managed to make a great offering out of it.

Then came Revelations: Persona, which managed to insult me on a personal level.

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And no, it wasn’t the bad translation that did it. It wasn’t the old school design, the weird experimentations, or the excuse plot, although those certainly didn’t help. No, I can trace the piece that enraged me so much back to one specific moment.

Even if you play it bereft of context, the game’s still not very good. The dungeon design is horrible, the gameplay is overcomplicated, and the whole experience just shows a weird lack of thought. Still, I was firmly a Persona fan by the time I reached this game, so I was determined to stick it out and fully experience where the series got its roots. I did this for 30+ hours, finally reaching the final dungeon. The way dungeons were designed, you only ever got a save point/refresh station at the start. I had made use of those, then took my trek towards the final boss. I spent hours doing so, navigating the maze, the enemies, the various hazards, and managed to make it to the last floor. Just before I reached the boss, however, I was attacked by a new group of enemies. A group that quickly wiped out my party, save for my main character. Every enemy in this game has strengths and weaknesses, and those are a complete mystery until you’ve beaten them once. Fearful that any of my attacks could be reflected and kill me, I attempted to run. And failed. I tried again. And failed. I kept trying to run for seriously fifteen minutes, to no avail. My resistances were set up to where none of the enemies could damage me. However, not knowing what attacks they might reflect, I couldn’t safely strike out myself, without possibly ending my own life inadvertently. So I kept trying to run, but it wouldn’t let me go, no matter what I did. Finally, I tried casting a spell. Of course, it reflected and killed me in one blow. Back to the loading screen for me. Of course, with the way the game’s set up, the last save point was at the start of the dungeon, three to four hours earlier. All that work, all that time, wasted because the game refused to let me run and did not point more than one save point in that hours-long dungeon.

I immediately threw that game back on the shelf and never touched it for years. Not even after it got rereleased for the PSP. Not even when people tried to tell me it was a lot more lenient with the save points. Even when I had the PSP remake bought for me, I still never bother playing more than a token amount of it.

Eventually, I stopped being so bitter and gave it an honest try again. Still, some resentment lingers to this day.

So hey, there’s a note to start a good retrospective on, huh?

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I am Thou… The Persona Retrospective: Introduction

So you remember last time we did this whole retrospective thing, when we were writing essays on each game of the Saints Row series and then all of a sudden they decided to release the fourth game about the time we would have finished up?  Most people would probably just write that off as coincidence.  But if you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I am far from being most people.  After much consideration, I’ve been forced to come to the conclusion that I have magic powers.  If I write enough words about a series, it will put the arcane forces into motion and summon the next game into being.  It’s a heavy responsibility, but I’m going to use these powers for the good of everyone.  See, there’s one series that is truly among the best of its peers, yet hasn’t had a real sequel for half a decade.  I speak, of course, of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona.

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You’ve probably heard of Japan.  If you haven’t, it’s that place where approximately 28% of weird on the internet comes from.  They’re very committed to their craft of making everything weird, and very little passes through their hands unscathed.  Give them pillows, they turn those into girlfriends.  Mention Mein Kampf to them, they’ll make it a manga.  Try to teach them about Jesus, they’ll turn him into a busty, scantily clad blonde woman who’s constantly the victim of sexual aggression.

You thought I was joking.

You thought I was joking.

So I guess we should be glad that when introduced to the basics of Jungian psychology, they just ended up making a series of JRPGs out of them.

The Megami Tensei series is one of the longest running JRPG series there is, with the first game actually coming out a couple of months before the original Final Fantasy.  The series is known for several things, including its high degree of complexity and challenge, its heavy use of mythology and religion, and its high degree of focus on spin-offs in comparison to other series.

And it’s the last of those points that brings us to the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series.  One of Megaten’s first spinoffs, the series launched on the PS1 in 1996 and has been going strong since.  Probably intended as a more accessible gateway to the famously opaque main series, the Persona games certainly dial the challenge and complexity the series is famous for back quite a bit, ending up being merely really hard rather than Megaten’s standard controller-crunching difficulty.  In exchange, the Persona games are among the most character-driven and plot-focused of Megami Tensei’s offerings.  As the series go on, they only get better at this aspect, building up sprawling epics that absolutely will make you care about at least some of the characters on offer.

Both the gameplay and plots centers around the titular personas, the characteristics a person adopts to deal with others made manifest in the physical realm.  Every character in your party has formed their personas into some sort of god or mythical creature, and draws strength from them in addition to being able to summon them to deal with their enemies.  These personas are obtained through various means across the games, but they are the central pivot holding everything together.  Other bits of Jungian psychology, such as shadows and the collective unconscious, also get a fair bit of play throughout the series, but it is always the persona at front and center.

Battles are turn-based and often require quite a bit more thought than your standard JRPG.  Just hammering on the ‘fight’ button indiscriminately will get you nowhere.  Instead, you have to take advantage of the various strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your enemies to truly succeed.  The series has a heavy emphasis on dungeon crawling as well, with buildings twisting themselves into maze-like structures the likes of which would drive any engineer mad.  Resource management is also a central point of gameplay, moreso than most other JRPGs.

For the first three games, the Persona series is extremely experimental.  They’re constantly trying new things, including several that you’d be crazy to try to put into any serious game.  The experiments don’t always work out, but when they do, they work wonderfully.  In any case, playing these games gives you an experience that’s certainly unlike any other, and it’s honestly interesting to watch the series progress from being just a few alterations away from Shin Megami Tensei If… to being something so stridently different from any of the series’ other offerings.

The tone of the Persona games is a little more varied than the main series’ usual dour resolution.  In fact, this is one of the more optimistic series in Shin Megami Tensei canon, with your characters actively averting apocalypse rather than simply surviving and dealing with its aftermath.  That said, the series does take some really dark turns, moreso than many other JRPGs would dare.  Serious danger and death are always lurking in these games, but that does not mean there’s never any bits of levity.  In fact, some of the more memorable scenes from the series come from the characters just forgetting about the everpresent threats and just enjoying themselves for a while.

Just like last time around, we’ll be putting up a separate entry for each game.  These entries will contain a lot of words.  Hopefully, they’ll be good words, though.  We’ll be taking a look at every aspect of these games that my meager little brain can come up with.  And hopefully, I’ll develop a better understanding of them myself.  You can try to, reading over what I have to say about them.  Given the size of the series and the time it takes me to do these, it’ll likely take me a while to be complete, but I’m sure it’ll be a worthwhile journey.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some games to play.