Dealing with demons at high school is nothing new for teenagers.
Originally released in Japan as one part of a double act with Eternal Sin, it has been a long 12 year wait for this stylish JRPG to finally hit the UK. Released as a downloadable title over PSN earlier this year, Persona 2 – Innocent Sin is now available as a full retail collector’s edition complete with art cards, soundtrack and poster thanks to Ghostlight. But realistically, do all of these extras make up for the fact that the game really shows its age?
Innocent Sin begins with the hero of the piece, Tatsuya Suou, having a minor run-in with a couple of bullies outside his school, Seven Sisters High. The game is based in the modern day and, as such, all of the environments, including the JRPG staple dungeons, are all the modern equivalent. The first environment that the player has to explore is the school itself, when they are tasked with finding the guidance councillor. There are various characters wandering the school with which the player can interact, mostly receiving a snippet of gossip or help with their mission. As it happens, the guidance councillor is actually in the courtyard, when you eventually get there. I say eventually because Innocent Sin seems to spend a lot of time loading from the UMD and as this happens when moving from room to room, floor to floor, exploring is a fairly drawn out process.
The player is presented with a small map on the screen that shows where they have already been, which is rather handy as the player can change the viewpoint, leading to some confusion in this largely angular location. The visuals are one aspect where the game really shows its age. The sprites are recognisable, but lack the cuteness that can be found in most JRPGs. They are also fairly small on what is already a much smaller screen than that which the game was designed for. The environments, although well filled, also lack the detail of modern games.
Anyway, as things progress, the story slowly reveals itself. It turns out that there is a mysterious figure known as Joker who, should someone phone themselves on their phone, will appear and grant that person their hearts desire (I should point out that I tried this and just got the busy tone). However, should the person not be able to tell Joker their hearts desire, Joker will basically make them disappear from existence.
Tatsuya and his party inadvertently come face to face with Joker who, for some reason, is really annoyed with them. The fact that our heroes have no idea why only further enrages the mysterious character, who then vows to take his revenge on them. And thus the story progresses with the player trying to find out what is going on.
Combat within the game is much like the visuals, showing its age. It is a turn-based affair that will be familiar to anyone who has played older JRPGs before, but that’s not really the problem. Where things do come unstuck is how long everything takes. There are quite a few different ways to indulge in battle, with the player able to summon Personas, or demons, to aid them along with regular attacks and the impressively powerful fusion spells which involve members of the party casting spells in a particular order. It is just that it all seems to drag on.
As the player wanders this world, they will be involved in many random encounters. Whilst these serve the purpose of giving the player experience, they do happen an awful lot. But it is during random encounters with demons that the player can choose to negotiate instead of fight, and hopefully end up with a card that can go towards a new Persona. This involves chatting with the demon and then getting their demon card and taking it to a Velvet Room along with a whole bunch of other cards to create a new Persona. This is an interesting mechanic which is quite enjoyable, but can become overly complicated.
Another interesting feature of the game are the Rumormongers. Basically, if a rumor becomes spread enough, it will become true. These Rumormongers can be found in various locations and can be paid to spread rumors to the players advantage, such as suggesting a certain shop sells cheap equipment to actually make the equipment cheaper. Managing these rumors becomes essential further into the game, and are a clever way of letting the player manipulate their environment.
Innocent Sin is certainly not short of things for the player to do. The actual game world is pretty large and has plenty of places to explore and secrets to find. But the main story is perhaps the most impressive aspect, pulling the player in and making them care about the characters. RPGs of any type are not often found based in the real, modern world, and I think this has a lot to do with why Innocent Sin’s story, no matter how fantastical, is easy to relate to.
The reality is that fans of the series are going to get a lot out of this title, especially with the extra goodies thrown in by Ghostlight, as they will already know what to expect. But JRPG fans in general may well find that the older mechanics of the game and less than impressive visuals leave them wondering what all of the fuss is about. But knuckle down and dig deep, because beneath all of those problems is an immersive story populated by interesting characters that will take up a generous amount of time. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Innocent Sin may well be a blast from the past, but a good story never gets old.