Friday, November 19, 2021

Shin Megami Tensei - Persona 2: Innocent Sin Review

Tatsuya Suou and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The PlayStation title Revelations: Persona was one of the first entries of Atlus’s Megami Tensei series that saw an English localization, albeit through a cut-and-paste effort that often very poorly attempted to cover the game’s Japanese origin and setting. It would ultimately receive a more faithful translation when the game saw a port to the PlayStation Portable, Shin Megami Tensei: Persona. Due to controversial content, the first half of the game’s sequel on the PlayStation, Shin Megami Tensei – Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Atlus’s North American branch passed over for localization, although the second half, Eternal Punishment, they did translate. Luckily, the first half would see a translation after coming to the PlayStation Portable, being an ideal way to experience the classic.

The main “controversial” content is one of the main antagonists being a certain Austrian-born despot and his followers, given sunglasses and titled as “Fuhrer”. The main protagonist is the silent high-schooler Tatsuya Suou, who joins with allies to make pacts with demons across the suburbs of Tokyo, ultimately encountering MacGuffins in the form of elemental crystal skulls. Most of the main characters and notable NPCs do get descriptions when introduced saying who they are, and the plot has very mature themes, but there are issues such as passers-by within the dungeons being unaware of the demons inhabiting their areas, not to mention occasional vagueness in where to go to next in order to advance the main storyline.

The translation is a bit of an average effort, with some terrible names such as one school having the nickname of “Cuss High”, and Japanese honorifics left in the English text that mainstream gamers wouldn’t understand (and in-game explanation as to their meanings would have been nice for those not versed in the language). There are also occasional misleading ability descriptions, although the text itself is largely coherent, with some occasional mature profanity showing the script’s mature tone. Even so, the localization team could have made a better effort.

The primary game mechanics, however, do have plenty of things going for them, with battles being turn-based and randomly-encountered, an indicator gradually turning red indicating how close Tatsuya and his party are to encountering enemies, largely sparing the tedium associated with random encounters. Fights pit the party of up to five characters against several demons, with several options available for battle or negotiation. Each character can equip one of the game’s eponymous Personas, with standard attacks with equipped weapons available, along with using one of their Persona’s SP-consuming skills, their costs being fixed for all of a spirit’s particular skills.

Using a particular Persona’s skills will gradually cause it to increase in rank, which can allow for new abilities to become usable, with up to eight ranks per Persona. The player’s characters can also parley with the enemies with various conversation skills. An enemy mood square appears during conversation, with eager, happy, sad, or angry quadrants, where getting the eager option three times allows for the collection of tarot cards, and getting them happy allows a pact to be formed where the player can get tarot cards and “free cards” that can take on any arcana in the Velvet Room, or various items should the player get a monster happy again in a future battle.

Players will obviously want to avoid angering an enemy or making it sad, given their potential to break their pact if upset, and the player can only have up to three pacts at any given time. Of course, the player can of course engage in standard combat with them, giving characters commands, a turn order gauge showing who will go when, with each side executing their attacks. Eliminating all enemies naturally wins the battle for the player, and all the player’s characters dying means a Game Over, although luckily, players can record their progress most anywhere outside combat, largely reducing wasted playtime as a result of dying.

Players may occasionally become able to perform fusion spells with multiple Persona abilities that are of course more powerful than standard skills, and outside battle, they can visit the Velvet Room to obtain new Personas with whatever tarot cards they have received from battle. There are some interesting mechanics here such as the ability to “return” Personas with maxed ranks for items, and each character has a certain affinity with various arcana that may dictate skill cost. The battle system mostly works well, players also able to skip ability animations in combat for easier grinding and progress, although conversation with enemies can be difficult without a guide, and adversary personalities dictating how they react to contact options can be odd at times.

Aside from the save-mostly-anywhere feature, some areas of control aren’t exactly at their best, with a noticeable lack of features such as an equip-best option for character equipment, although they can purchase different types of items at once in bulk when shopping, how equipment increases and decreases stats before purchase being visible, and dungeons having automaps that make for mostly-easy progress. However, there are occasional points of no returns and loss of access to many dungeons upon completion, and while players can skip through text, there are some areas where they can’t, with cutscenes themselves not being wholly skippable. The game could have interacted better with players, although things aren’t too bad.

The soundtrack is easily the high point of the game, with plenty of good music such as the battle themes and the Velvet Room music with some classical music played after the main theme of the chamber finishes. There are some occasional tracks that rely a bit too much on ambience, and the quality of the voicework isn’t always consistent, but Innocent Sin mostly sounds good.

The visuals also look mostly decent, with the character sprites containing good anatomy alongside the enemy designs in combat, although there are occasional reskins on their part, and the actual battle scenery is somewhat lazy, akin to Earthbound with psychedelic aspects and minimalist scenery. The Persona ability animations look good as well, and are luckily skippable, and there are some good aspects of the environments outside battle with a few nice three-dimensional effects. All in all, the game largely looks good.

Finally, the game is somewhat lengthy, with a straightforward playthrough taking around forty-eight hours, although playing time can very well extend to seventy-two and beyond, with supplemental playtime largely due to ranking up Personas and accessing a postgame dungeon.

Overall, Innocent Sin is mostly an improved sequel, given the good within its game mechanics, save-mostly-anywhere feature, some decent story beats, a good soundtrack, and some pretty areas of its graphics. Regardless, it does have many issues regarding things such as the difficulty of the contact system without use of a guide, the spotty localization, the loss of access to most dungeons after completion, the poor direction at many times on how to advance the central storyline, the inconsistent voicework quality, and some weak areas of the visuals. It’s also not as nearly accessible as the third numbered entry and beyond, but still has plenty positives and is worth a look, if nothing more.

The Good:
+Some good mechanics.
+Save-mostly-anywhere feature.
+A few good story beats.
+Great soundtrack.
+Some nice parts of the visuals.

The Bad:
-Conversation system can be difficult without a guide.
-Some weak direction on how to advance.
-Inconsistent localization quality.
-Some poor voices.
-A bit long.

The Bottom Line:
Not as accessible as the third numbered entry and beyond, but has some good aspects.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation Portable
Game Mechanics: 7.0/10
Controls: 6.0/10
Story: 6.5/10
Localization: 5.0/10
Music/Sound: 8.5/10
Graphics: 7.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 6.0/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: 48-72 Hours

Overall: 7.0/10 

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