Shin Megami Tensei is one of the longest and most elaborate RPG franchises to date. The series, along with spin-offs, has released dozens of games on many platforms. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 2 – Innocent Sin, hereafter referred as Persona 2, is essentially a re-release of a turn-of-the-century, Japanese title that hadn’t been localized yet. The fact that the game is more than a decade old is noticeable in its dusty elements and general outlook, but it can luckily still stand on some of the bold innovating moves it made back then.
There will be lots of this in Persona 2. Get used to it.
The story of this Japanese roleplaying game follows a bunch of random Japanese teens, which get trapped in their Japanese society, doing Japanese things, in equally oriental districts in Japan. The game holds nothing back to cater to its target audience, which makes a localization seem like a hit or miss affair, but the original idea of serving an eastern audience is certainly well met. However, the plotlines and characters aren’t created with the same bombastic fervor. The bland characters, both playable and met throughout the game, offer nothing more than uneventful story arcs and tedium in their incessant text boxes.
The same dreary effect is also noted towards the outlook of most of the game, with monotone locales and grey dungeons a-plenty. The simple 3D environments, void battle fields and limited character sprites make it a further obstacle to get immersed in this apathetic, take-it-or-leave-it game. The only redeeming factor in this is that this game is big, with many districts, shops and places of interest and it even goes far beyond that.
Our protagonists have to take in account a world of trouble. They can talk to spirits, but also have demons living inside them, called Personas, which hold tremendous powers and grow together with them. Through these Personas, the party can cast spells and combine strength with powerful Fusion Spells, which require a certain pattern of skill use. By using skills, their Personas grow more powerful, but even that is far from all.
Persona 2 is intricate to say the least. The turn based battle system, complete with Personas, would by itself be enough for a full experience. However, these avatars themselves rest on another mechanic, being contacting demons and conversing with them in order to obtain cards to summon Personas. This also makes Persona 2 complex; too complex even.
Spreading rumors is a legitimate business. Mean Girls is their bible.
Between contacting demons, getting the correct pattern, gaining new skills, creating Fusion Spells with more correct patterns, gaining new cards, trading in cards to create new Personas and so on; it’s easy to get lost in it all. There’s also a good amount of optional side content, such as casinos, for even more distraction. In addition, a main portion of the story revolves around rumors becoming reality, which forces players to talk to many people, gain rumors, making sure to spread those rumors, unlocking new portions and differentials and so forth again. It’s commendable for anyone to try and cram this much into a game, but there is something as too much of a good thing. It isn’t even made to be engaging; it merely exists. The game never comes any further than telling players to ‘experiment’ without driving to actually doing so, nor explaining itself any further. The result of this is tons of busywork and unnecessary padding in all of the elements mentioned above.
Figuring out the correct contact pattern is not an adventure, as it’s always the same set reaction based on anger, fear, eagerness and happiness. On top of that, this scheme, as well as the boring empty dungeons with frequent random encounters, will thrive on repetition. The same combinations and paradigms will present themselves time and again and the only thing justifying this is how both versatile and huge this game is. It’s a strange thing, but somehow Persona 2 is both widespread and varied, but boring and monotone, at the same time.
Fusion Spells don't do much to improve the void battles, but at least you get more Personas.
Still, Persona 2 isn’t a bad game per se, but it isn’t an entertaining one either. It isn’t even compelling. No, Persona 2 is an investment. It’s a reminder of what games used to be like, before generations got spoiled with games that rise above the sum of their parts. Rather than a diversion, this game feels more like a very long, arduous task, but one that rewards grit and determination with vast content. If longevity and replay value, above all else, is something to be desired; this game will deliver in spades. But outside of a persuaded target audience, this game only stands on the unique contact and card system and barrage of elements, rather than thriving from any particular exemplary implementation.