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Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 - Innocent Sin Review

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On 01/06/2012 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola

Time is a harsh mistress.

Even fans of the Persona/MegaTen series may have a tough time with this antiquated title. Only the most diehard of that group should bother.

As a fan of the Persona series, I'm delighted by the release of Innocent Sin. It's the one chapter I've never been able to experience, solely because it was left in Japan more than 12 years ago. Now that it's here, my feelings on it are mixed at best. Truth be told, Persona 2 is not a game that has weathered the years well. It's full of old school RPG designs and has been completely eclipsed by Persona 3 and 4. At this point, Innocent Sin is a game that only the most diehard of fans will be able to appreciate.

Innocent Sin suffers a number of problems, most of which aren't truly the fault of the game. For one, it's a game brought back from the past that absolutely no one will have nostalgic ties to. Having never released in America, at no point during your play time will you be able to glaze over the rough patches and push through to that great part that's due to come at a later point in the game. As such, you'll be forced to push onward, without any clear idea if what you're doing is truly worth the effort.

Worse, the game is rooted in gameplay elements that have since been done away with by the vast majority of RPGs that succeed it. Random battles are the most egregious and they're more plentiful here than I have seen in a very long time. Exploration is completely discouraged by the insanely high encounter rate, making many of the dungeons a constant grind.

The battle system, which offers depth, but lacks the polish of the one featured in both Persona 3 and 4 does a decent job of holding up the gameplay. Negotiation has been excised from the more recent Persona games, but is a cornerstone of the Persona 2 experience. While negotiation has a plethora of results, the most important will provide players with a tarot card, which is used to fuse new personas.

Fusion, a staple of the MegaTen series, is absolutely one of the best parts of the experience. When the system was first introduced to me in Persona 3, I couldn't believe what depth it added to the experience. The same absolutely holds true here.

With tarot cards in hand, players can go to the Velvet Room and combine varieties of the cards to produce new Personas. It's necessary to have a stable of Personas on hand in order to combat the more challenging foes you'll encounter along the way. Because of the weakness system, you'll need Personas of all sorts with different elemental attacks to inflict the most damage. There's something inherently addictive about collecting as many Personas as possible and trips to the Velvet Room are often exciting as there you can finally realize the fruits of your labor.

What's truly a shame is that the astronomical encounter rate makes the process of acquiring new tarot cards for fusion mundane. You'll quickly learn what negotiation techniques work on which demons and employ them without thought, over and over and over. The same can be said of general battle techniques, which must be tailored to the demons who challenge you in a given battle. You'll learn weaknesses and continue to attack in the same ways each and every time you encounter the same foe.

The dungeon designs only make the encounter rate that much more frustrating. You're never quite clear where you are going and more often will find yourself scouring every inch of the map, which means you'll encounter that many more demons along the way. The funny part is that when the game released, gameplay of this sort was very much par for the course, so it's unlikely it would've struck a nerve with most gamers.

The one thing that has benefited greatly from this delayed release is the translation. As is typical of Atlus these days, the game is masterfully translated, properly capturing the tone and meaning behind the originally Japanese text, all while intertwining a certain amount of humor and personality.

As a matter of fact, most will only push through the game to continue to explore the game's story and characters. While you won't get the robust social interaction as featured in Persona 3 and 4, the game's story and concept lends itself nicely to consistently interacting with NPCs.

Rumors are the backbone of the game and they set the stage for the main plotline as well as a wide variety of plotlines that unfold as the game progresses. Rumor has it that if you dial your own cell phone number, the Joker will appear and grant you your wishes; however, if you fail to answer, for whatever reason, you will become a shadow of your former self, losing all drive and ambition. When your ragtag group decides to test the validity of this rumor, it of course turns out to be true. When the Joker shows up, things take a twist that kicks the story into action – it seems you all have wronged this supernatural being in the past and for this he seeks revenge.

As you progress through the game to get to the bottom of this phenomenon, you'll come to find that in this world, when rumors spread, they become reality. In order to utilize this to your benefit, it behooves you to traverse the land, talking to all sorts of folks in order to spread rumors and change the world to accommodate your needs.

While the premise of Persona 2: Innocent Sin is creative, albeit weird, it's hindered greatly by the high random encounter rate. With the massive improvements made in more recent Persona games, it's quite hard to return to Innocent Sin. Toss in the fact that there's no nostalgia for the game due to its late localization and you're left with an experience that only the most devoted of Persona fans and classic RPG enthusiasts can enjoy.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

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Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.




01/06/2012 at 08:39 PM

Dammit, this sucks.  I'm a big fan of MegaTen and especially the Persona series.  Having never played the first two games, I was expecting this to be mroe of a srpg....but from the screens, it appears to have the look of Devil Survivor....just not as good.  Did you get it new?  How's the soundtrack that came packed in with it??

Nick DiMola Director

01/06/2012 at 08:59 PM

In terms of battle mechanics, it's mostly like any other PlayStation era RPG. It bears some similarities to 3 & 4, but it's nowhere near as interactive or fun. Visually it does look like Devil Survivor and that's mostly because your characters randomly move around the screen as they attack, but it has no bearing on the gameplay.

I got the game digitally, so no soundtrack on the side, but what's in game is great. It aligns closely with the rest of Shoji Meguro's work, but I still think 3 and 4 had the best soundtracks.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

01/07/2012 at 10:19 PM

As someone who's never played a Persona or Shin Megami Tensei title but wants to, I'm guessing this is not where I should start.

Nick DiMola Director

01/08/2012 at 02:51 PM

Nope, definitely not. If you want to get into the Persona series, I still say P3: FES is the best way to do it. I know lots of people liked 4 better, but I thought 3 trumped it with its characters, story, setting, and certain gameplay designs.

P3: FES is probably the best starting point for the MegaTen series as well, though you may be a bit let down by the others when you get to them because P3: FES is so good. I've enjoyed the Devil Summoner games quite a bit and Persona 1, but Nocturne wasn't doing it for me. Still have to play Digital Devil Saga... one day.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/08/2012 at 03:32 PM

I like random battles. People say that it's better when you can see the enemies on screen, but I see two problems with that. 1: Most games that use that encounter type invariably put enemies in such a way that you'll have to encounter them anyway. 2: Why would you want to avoid battles? In an RPG where you need to fight to get stronger, you're just setting yourself up for needless grinding in the endgame. Assuming that the encounter rate and XP gain is smooth, of course.

In old-school RPGs, I never run from fights. I may even spend a little extra time in each dungeon just to get some extra XP. So that element of this game wouldn't turn me off. One question though-is the exploration in first person like the first Persona game? That's the only one I ever played, and I found the first person exploration of school hallways to be boring and a little confusing.

Nick DiMola Director

01/08/2012 at 08:14 PM

As a counterpoint, random battles aren't so great because they remove choice from the player. While you may ultimately need to engage in a battle, you may not want to at that given moment. With random battles, you have no choice, the battle starts when the game says and they occur however often the game decides. With non-random battles that choice is in your hands.

Grinding is a whole separate matter, but I don't really have a problem with it if the battle system is interesting enough and the battles are non-random.

To answer your question about the dungeons, no they aren't first person here. They moved to third person to keep up with the times. Movement is a bit awkward though. Not sure how to describe it, but it just doesn't feel right.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

01/08/2012 at 08:22 PM

I understand what you say about choice, but in most games I've played where you can see the enemies before you engage, that choice is an illusion. Lunar, Xenosaga, FF XII and XIII all let you see your encounters before they happen, but rarely do you have the ability to avoid them. In XIII I found myself in battle just as often, if not moreso, than games with random battles.

Of course, part of it depends on how the battles are handled. If you fight enemies in the same field as you walk around, I'd prefer to have them shown on the screen. If you transistion to another fight screen, I'm totally fine with random battles. But all RPGs should allow you ways to lessen encounter rates if you are just trying to get from point A to point B.

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