Persona 2: Innocent Sin

PlayStation RPG Persona 2: Innocent Sin first came to Japan in 1999. A Japanese PSP port followed earlier this year, but so far the game has been a tantalising rumour in the west. Until now.

For fans of Persona it will have been worth the wait, as this is a solid early chapter in the JRPG franchise. The narrative follows the extraordinary life of Tatsuya Suou, his classmates at Seven Sisters High School, and a mysterious affliction befalling the populace instigated by the central foil: Joker.

In Sumaru City, youngsters play a game in which they make a phone call to themselves. This summons the appropriately clownish figure of Joker, who asks them what their aspirations are.

Should they lack any dreams or fail to tell him what they are, Joker will sap their energy, hollowing them out and confining them to a different plane of existence.

A lack of ambition

Tatsuya and his party set out to take the fight back to this masked menace, battling demons and a number of Joker's human allies with their Personas - personality features that have become manifest.

Like Persona 3 Portable, released earlier in the year, P2:IS is ripe with subtext and commentary on its native country's school system and society within a Lovecraftian storyline.

The focus on the importance of having goals to succeed (here: to survive), inter-school rivalries, the formation of hierarchies, the questioning of pre-existing cultural morays: all is tackled within the framework of a fairly typical role-playing game.

Which is absolutely where Persona 2 disappoints. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with its adherence to levelling up characters and their Personas, nothing unlikeable about its town and dungeon formula, but there's very little to get excited about at the same time.

Played from a zoomed-out, isometric perspective incorporating 3D and low resolution 2D elements, the combat never engages you because it's too remote.

There are some middling effects on display, too. Even the bigger Fusion Spells that require two or more Personas to pull off are totally underwhelming.

Selecting options during fights feels stilted, menus taking fractions of seconds longer than is needed, slowing down battles for a device that's meant to be played in quick bursts.

You can let the game make many of your combat choices for you, but it's rarely an effective solution, the AI often making repeated attacks on enemies that will never make a dent in their armour.

As the title falls back on random encounters to force you into combat, clashing with enemies (and subsequently exploring areas) can become a chore over long stretches of play.

Action speaks at just about the same level of volume as words

Persona 2's two attempts at twists on the formulaic are outside the realm of high action, though, revolving around discussion with NPCs. The power of words is another theme the game pushes - rumours in this universe can become truth, opening up new advantages for the player.

An early example of this is found by spreading the idea that the owner of a local eatery is actually an ex-spy selling weapons under the counter, sold only to those who eat a specific dish on the menu.

Gaining this knowledge, then reporting it to the Kuzunoha Detective Agency, turns this fiction into fact, giving you access to your first set of blades and pistols.

During battles, you can also attempt to communicate with the demons you encounter. Answering questions set by the inquisitive enemies affects their attitude towards you, with success resulting in them giving you cards to exchange for more powerful Persona in the Velvet Room, or spreading further rumours to aid your journey through the dungeon.

It slows combat even further, but it's at least an interesting diversion from the rote combat.

It's not a perfect package - this release doesn't include the follow up Persona 2: Eternal Punishment for example - but to fans hungry for a new instalment after outings three and four this is likely the closest they'll get to a fresh release for quite some time.

Persona 3 Portable is a more exciting, more original game than Innocent Sin, but that doesn't stop this being a solid JRPG in its own right, albeit one that is held back by its adherence to dated traditions.

Persona 2: Innocent Sin

Persona 2 is at its best when it deviates from the cookie cutter design of JRPGs, yet it never quite strays far or often enough from these conventions, leaving a by-the-numbers adventure with just enough innovation to keep players hooked until the closing credits
Peter Willington
Peter Willington
Die hard Suda 51 fan and professed Cherry Coke addict, freelancer Peter Willington was initially set for a career in showbiz, training for half a decade to walk the boards. Realising that there's no money in acting, he decided instead to make his fortune in writing about video games. Peter never learns from his mistakes.