The teenage years are a tumultuous time for many, but for Tatsuya Suou and the other young stars of Persona 2: Innocent Sin, being a teen is especially challenging. Not only do they have to deal with high school, the first pangs of romantic yearning, and all the other trials and tribulations that go with being a teen; they must also use their shared ability to summon powerful spirits called personas to help them defeat a mysterious evil force. When it was first released in Japan in 1999, Innocent Sin stood out from most role-playing games because of its contemporary setting and atypical cast of teen heroes. Now, the game is finally being released in the US, but alas, its time to shine has passed. By today's standards, the mechanics of this RPG are dull, repetitive, and outdated, and subsequent, superior releases in the Persona series offer more involving tales of modern-day teens faced with tremendous, otherworldly challenges. Today, Persona 2 is a bit like a former high school star quarterback whose best days are behind him.
6331495NoneThese characters are trained professionals. Please, do not attempt to summon Joker at home.
As Persona 2 begins, strange things are afoot at Seven Sisters High School. The school's emblem has been cursed, and students are suffering from unusual, disfiguring ailments. Meanwhile, a dangerous new trend is spreading: teens are using their cell phones to summon Joker, a mysterious figure who might make your dreams a reality, or sap your soul and leave you a shadow of your former self. And on top of it all, any rumor that spreads to enough people in Sumaru City inexplicably becomes true. The pieces that make up the story's puzzle are interesting--ancient Mayans, aliens, and Adolf Hitler are all involved--but the story doles out new information much too slowly to make you feel invested in the early happenings. The shallow character sketches of somber Tatsuya, intense Michel, lovelorn Lisa, and the other party members aren't enough to make their quest feel personal or involving at first, and it's far too many hours into the game before you start learning more about this unlikely team of heroes. When you do, though, the characters reveal themselves to have fascinating connections, both to each other and to the events in which they're embroiled.
The fact that the game looks its age makes it less involving still. It wasn't a particularly attractive game in 1999, and the intervening years have not been kind. You view the action from an isometric perspective. The tiny characters express themselves with stiff shrugs and robotic shakes of the head. And although the high schools, record stores, aerospace museums, and other locations that serve as the "dungeons" for this RPG are a refreshing change of pace from the fantasy locales of so many games in the genre, these locations have no personality; one bland hallway is very much like another. Every once in a while, animated sequences are used to lend drama to a situation, but these are too infrequent to have much impact. The game fails to generate much tension in even the most desperate situations, such as a race to locate detonators for time bombs placed in various locations around the city.
Tedious, repetitive gameplay makes even inherently suspenseful situations like this one fall flat. As you explore a location, you're interrupted after every several steps by a random encounter with demons. The frequency of these encounters drags down the pace of the game, and the tiresome, menu-driven nature of the combat makes the battles a chore. At the start of an encounter, you can opt either to do battle with the demons or to attempt to communicate with them. Each member of your party has four different ways of making contact with these creatures. Tatsuya can "do impressions" and "discuss manliness," among other things, while Yukki has the abilities to "reason" and to "take photo" in her repertoire. If you say or do the right things, demons give you tarot cards, which you need in order to summon new personas. Initially, it's fun to see how demons respond to your different communication techniques, but it quickly stops being interesting. Once you learn that you can make a cockatrice hand over tarot cards by using Maya's "compliment" ability or that you can please a puck with Lisa's "kung fu" demonstration, the mystery is gone, and successful contact becomes a matter of just selecting an effective technique from the list again and again.