Persona 2’s got a funny release history. Since Atlus beat Square to the punch by releasing Persona 1 to the PSX well before FFVII, they already had the infrastructure in place to capitalize when Square happened to strike platinum and made PSX RPGs an international boom (they also had Devil Summoner on the Saturn, giving them the infrastructure to capitalize on the fad for RPGs on two platforms! Sure, the Saturn didn’t amount to much, but they must have felt like they were riding high!). Atlus would ultimately release four SMT spinoffs on the PSX, for some reason putting their flagship Shin Megami Tensei series on hold for an entire console generation. Those games include Persona 1, Devil Summoner 2: Soul Hackers, and not one but two distinct “Persona 2″s, two halves of a common story. The first half was called Sin, and the second half, Punishment. Get it?
But after the weird, censored, and janky release of Persona 1 in the west, Atlus decided not to release the first Persona 2 game, Sin, internationally. Several reasons have been proposed for this, but I favour the economic answer provided by Atlus USA staffer Gail Salamanca: the Japanese dev team went straight from Persona 2: Sin to its sequel, Persona 2: Punishment, leaving Atlus with no resources to work on an international localization. I presume this means that either 1) Atlus JP and Atlus USA weren’t distinct companies at the time, and so the localization staff and the original dev team were mostly the same people or 2) that Atlus USA needed devs from Atlus JP to facilitate their localization for whatever reasons. Localization does involve a lot of programming and sometimes art concerns, so it’s always easier to have help from the original staff, and not hard to imagine a situation where that help would be essential to make a deadline. While we’re here, I want to add that I’m writing this introduction after finishing the entire game, so I want to add that the popular fan theory, “Persona 2: Sin is too hard to censor,” doesn’t hold water in my eyes. Other companies have glossed over way worse stuff than we’ll be seeing here, and Atlus USA just so happens to be the team that lopped off an entire third of Persona 1 for literally no reason whatsoever! If anyone was willing to carve up Persona 2: Sin down to a skeleton and replace plot and themes with no regard for the integrity of the surviving narrative, this was the team to do it, especially since they’d have had an actual motive this time around!
In the end, Atlus skipped localizing Sin and localized Persona 2: Punishment on its own, calling it “Eternal Punishment” and shrugging off the fact that it was the second half of the story! If I’m not mistaken, Eternal Punishment was also the SMT title to discard the “Revelations” label in the west. On the plus side, the game was localized intact, which is more than we can say about P1. Then again, you could say that Atlus just lopped the two-part game, Sin and Punishment, in half, an even more brazen move than removing the SQQ from P1, so pick your perspective!
Naturally, Persona 2: Sin was fan-translated on the infamously jailbroken PSX, but the game wouldn’t see official release for twelve years, when it was finally re-released on the PSP after the success of Persona 1’s remaster. Since Punishment had been localized as “Eternal Punishment,” Sin was renamed “Innocent Sin.” Unfortunately, this remaster didn’t sell well in the west. This leads to the bizarre conclusion to our story: when Punishment got a PSP remaster, it was not released internationally, even though Eternal Punishment did see release in the 1990s and arguably had nostalgia value! Atlus finally conceded defeat in the localization process by releasing Eternal Punishment’s PSX version on the Playstation Network for the PS3! A fan translation for the PSP version is underway as I write this, but doesn’t seem close to completion.
So, to summarize for anyone (understandably) having trouble keeping up: Persona 1 was localized on both the PSX and PSP, but the PSX localization sucks. Persona 2: Innocent Sin was only localized on the PSP, and its localization is fine. Persona 2: Eternal Punishment was only localized on the PSX, and I can’t comment on its localization yet!
This lack of a PSP Eternal Punishment means that international players like us will lose out on a few added features, the biggest of which include the ability to carry over your save from the PSP version of IS to the PSP version of EP (although I’m not clear on what that unlocks, for fear of spoilers). We’ll also be stuck with EP’s 90s localization, complete with names that don’t match the ones used in Innocent Sin PSP. I’ll work how to deal with that out later. Oh, and the PSP EP also has a quest that apparently answers some loose ends from the original 90s duology, so we may have to look that up to boot. This is such a reassuring start!
Just to make things even more complicated, we had trouble placing the games in the Marathon, because the JP-only release of P2IS follows FFVIII in Japan but precedes FFVIII’s international release, which is the release we normally use for the Marathon. We had to put our foot down to decide which game to play first!
Now, if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you know that I don’t hold the PSP Persona 1 in very high regard. In fact, it’s my current, “Least favourite Marathon game ever except maybe Mega Man X7 I still haven’t decided.” And since P2 was developed very soon after P1, on the same codebase and presumably by the same team, there’s no reason to expect it to have the mass of improvements that would be required to get a game in the mould of P1 out of the gutter. Suffice to say, Kyle and I very weren’t eager to get into Innocent Sin. I can’t pretend that we chose to play FFVIII before P2 from an unbiased perspective. Once we finally cleared FFVIII, we actually put off P2 even longer to play an entire session worth of FFIX rather than face the music! Somehow, we managed to scrape up enough blogger’s professionalism to play P2 for our next session after that, and we stuck with it to the end, which leads us at last to the Journal. Of course, P1 got to burn us twice thanks to the SQQ, and P2 is going to get a similar opportunity thanks to P2EP, so who knows if we’ll keep focused until we clear the second game? Wish us… luck?
That’s it for the intro. From this point on, we’re into the first-timer’s impression. This first set of Journals was written after our first session, which spanned from the beginning of the game to just outside of Aoba Park.
Persona 2: Innocent Sin begins with our new lead character, a teenaged boy, checking up on his motorcycle just outside of his high school. There, he’s approached by a pair of faceless NPC bullies. Being a silent protagonist, he tries to blow them off by being nonchalant and disinterested, playing with a lighter as he ignores them. Speaking of the lighter, it’s not referred to as such until much later, so Kyle and I weren’t sure what our protagonist was doing until I outright stood up to get close to the TV screen (remember, we play PSP games using TV Out cables), not just once but about three times! Kyle worked out that it was a lighter, though he also felt the main character was lighting a cigarette in his mouth, which he’s not. He just plays with the thing. Me? I thought it was some sort of notebook he was flipping open! That might not make sense, but the lighter’s lid is almost half its size, so it looked more like a book to me!
Anyways, just as our protagonist is trying to play cool, the screen colours inverted and he collapsed, hearing what’s almost certainly the voice of his Persona, attempting to give the now-famous famous introduction speech from the first game: “I am thou, thou art I,” etc.
The main character and the bullies are spared this medical emergency when a man steps out of the school and starts shouting at them. And look who it is! It’s our old friend, former vice principal Hanya from Persona 1, now principal of this new school, Seven Sisters Academy. The name “Seven Sisters” refers to the seven stars of the Pleiades, and the school is usually just called “Sevens.” Like Persona 1, Persona 2 gives everyone an on-screen bio when they’re introduced, and principal Hanya’s intro curiously notes that he was hated at St. Hermelin but is “looked up to” here, and that’s an understatement. Speaking to students of Sevens over the next real-world hour, Kyle and I discovered that Hanya was outright idolized, even though he’s a jerk to our lead character in this opening scene… although to be fair, the main character isn’t very nice to him in turn! Hanya’s fame never became unmistakably suspicious, which was a good show of tact on the part of the game.
Hanya doesn’t recognize our lead (despite his irregular behaviour towards him?), and demands his name. Thankfully, our lead actually has a canon name this time around, so we used it: Tatsuya Suou, aka Ta-chan. I thought it was funny that this apparently cool-kid, hard-assed character, apparently a former bully himself, goes by “-chan,” but if that’s what the game wants, no problem. Hanya finds it amusing that he ran into Tatsuya, saying that an unnamed third party will deal with Tatsuya soon, and then he walks off.
As I noted in the Persona 1 voice actor appendix, Atlus doesn’t credit its English voice actors. Fuckers. All I have to work off of are few unsourced claims from IMDb and Behind The Voice Actors. If these sources can be trusted, Tatsuya’s voice actor is Keith Silverstein, whom we last encountered as Brown in P1. Oh sure, sure, Tatsuya’s a silent protagonist most of the time, but unlike The Boy with the Earring from P1, he has a few complete battle quips! Thankfully, he also has more personality than Sorrow, despite being equally bound by the video game protagonist vow of silence.
At this point, you’re given your first objective: apparently Tatsuya has been “dodging” the school guidance counsellor and she won’t let him put it off any longer, so you have to go looking for her. She virtually dodges you in turn, but I suppose turnabout is fair play. This means getting directions from the students and being strung about the school for a while, after which the game throws pie in your face and reveals that she went to meet you at the bike racks where you started. Irritating, but still a little funny.
The controls in P2 are much improved over P1, even the slightly improved version on the PSP. There’s free camera rotation, and controls now allow for free movement and are relative to the camera like you’d expect, rather than being skewed 45 degrees like in P1, which was a misplaced effort to to both affix you to, and to “help” you with, the isometric perspective. You also have save-anywhere instead of tree-based save points… god! It just hit me that PSX players of P1 would have had to deal with save points on top of that unbearably slow overworld system they had! Well, none of that here!
There’s a lot going on at the three-storey building, much more than in Persona 1, where everyone and their dogs were talking about the SEBEC corporation, and the half dozen people who weren’t were talking about The Snow Queen. It probably helps that this game’s story is (so far as I can tell at the time of writing) set within a single dimension, meaning it can set up future plots without having to limit everyone’s dialogue to “their half’ of the game’s setting, like P1 had to do. Let’s see if I can boil it down.
First off, several students in the school are ill with some kind of terrible condition that’s left them heavily bandaged, though Hanya has been insisting they come to school anyways. We never get a portrait close-up of these students, and their on-map sprites aren’t really clear on the bandaging. For whatever reason, I also didn’t notice their text boxes were headlined with the words “Bandaged Student,” so I mistook their tiny, bandaged, sprite-faces as wearing blank masks like Maki’s in Persona 1! That visual still creeps me out, by the way, so a school half-full of them, with literally no one commenting on these “masks” as “masks” (because they aren’t masks and I just couldn’t see very well!) gave the game a memorable, creepy vibe that it hadn’t earned! Thanks to this outbreak, the school’s festival was at risk of being cancelled, and later was. The cancellation happens really early and with zero fanfare, so I’m not sure why the devs chose to do it in two steps in the first place?
Next, everyone says that Sevens’ school emblem (worn on school uniforms) is cursed. No one outright connects this to the sickness from the last paragraph, which is strange, because later in the session they act like everyone knew the emblem “curse” caused the illness! In any event, students who believe in the curse also claim that stealing and wearing an emblem from their rival school, Kasugayama Academy (aka “Cuss High”), will guard against the curse, but how they came to these conclusions is unclear.
Next up: people are performing a ceremony called the “Joker game,” reminiscent of the “Persona game” from the original, except this one promises to reward you with a wish. Some people outright claim to have been granted their wishes, though most of them could be coincidences, like hooking up with a crush. On the other hand, one girl wished away her freckles, and they were gone overnight. This is understated compared to some of the other wishes, which seems weird to me, because it’s hard to explain otherwise!
In the middle of all this early exploration, we cut our first recording short so that we could restart the game to check if P2IS had install data, like many PSP games. It did! And thank goodness, because the load times were awful without the install, and were still pretty damn bad with them. It’s always such a drag to hear the UMD start spinning every time you’re in a conversation with a demon, just so the game can load an audio clip of your character saying “Cool!” or some other asinine, half-second sound bite that took six to load. That’s not hyperbole, by the way: a character really does just say nothing but “Cool” in one voice clip, and you can count the load time on the recording! Even with the install, load times were still pretty bad, but better to have them than not!
While walking around in the school’s courtyard, you meet up with Hanya again, who passes you an odd message: “The one under the star of stolen dreams has no right to have his ideals realized.” Stilted, but that happens sometimes when you’re translating a cryptic line, since you want to avoid getting it wrong. Hanya was admiring his own statue at the time, which he apparently already has on site despite only recently getting the job as principal. A nearby student tells you a rumour that the statue occasionally moves, but there was no sign of that at the present.
Also in the courtyard: the Narurato Stone, a magnetic megalith and supposed marker of the tomb of a demon named Narurato Hotefu. I immediately dubbed this “the Naruto Stone.” One of the teachers, Maya “Ms. Ideal” Okamura, was really interested in the stone, apparently concerned it would “change its magnetism.” Somehow. For some reason. In any event, I’m sure the tomb of an evil Naruto demon won’t ever come to anything.
The aged, live-in janitor told us a story about how a teacher once died in the school’s clock tower, and that the clock hasn’t worked since. That’s pretty creepy, so I’ll credit the devs for that. I’ll also credit them for the box of, “long rope and candles – for emergencies, you hope.” Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say n’more.
According to rumour, one of Tatsuya’s yearmates, Lisa, has been looking for Tatsuya while carrying a letter, making everyone conclude that she wants to ask Tatsuya out. Her friends get on Tatsuya’s case to be nice to her, probably because he had already burned an NPC girl who confessed to him earlier in the year, whom you can meet in another part of the school.
Whew, there’s a lot going on! There’s also a few plot seeds I can describe in single sentences. A girl on the school track team is heartbroken that her idol on the track team has dropped out of school after an accident and has basically gone missing. The “Boss” at Cuss High (who is also a bully) has it out for Tatsuya. Half the school newspaper’s staff went out on investigations earlier and haven’t been seen since. One student saw Hanya talking with a mask in his office.
Hmm… I think that about covers it, let’s move on with the plot. Once you finally meet up with your guidance counsellor, it turns out that it’s Miss Saeko, the homeroom teacher from the original game. I remarked to Kyle how both Saeko and Hanya went through the blender with the Snow Queen Quest and both decided to stay in the career they were in at the time. Resilient people! The Snow Queen Quest hit Kyle and I so hard that we barely wanted to come back to the entire fictional world! Ms. Saeko asks you questions about your future, but according to a walkthrough, your answers don’t have a substantial impact on the plot.
It’s at this point when Lisa finally tracks you down, and Ms. Saeko abandons you to your fate even as Tatsuya comically protests. Oh, I should mention that this game makes a lot more attempts to be funny than the original, which helps improve the experience my mind. So let’s introduce Lisa Silverman, resident genki girl, a white woman who’s lived in Japan for some time now and is trilingual, able to speak English, Japanese, and Cantonese. That bit about Chinese is important, because she’s also an embarrassing Bruce Lee fangirl, and claims to know kung fu. So far as I can tell, she does not. But that doesn’t stop her from using melee in combat!
Lisa’s voice was provided by Stephanie Sheh, as I noted in the P1 appendix. …Wait, so the only non-white actor in this game’s cast is voicing the only white character in the game? Did I read that correctly?
Luckily for standoffish Tatsuya, Lisa isn’t here to ask him out. It turns out the Boss of Cuss High has outright kidnapped a girl from Sisters to get Tatsuya to fight him, and invites Tatsuya to a nearby abandoned prison for a throw-down. Naturally, you head straight there. By the way, say goodbye to Tatsuya’s “beloved” motorcycle, because after this scene, it mysteriously vanishes! Maybe you’re using it on the map screen, I don’t know, but the game never outright says!
Luckily, the “kidnapping” isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. The Cuss High students have actually just invited the school paper’s editor, Miyabi “Kozy” Hanakouji (poooooossibly named after Atlus producer/directory, Kouji “Cozy” Okada?), to their hideout for an interview about the emblem curse, and have outright provided her with a pile of food and drink. The thing about kidnapping was just a bad-taste bluff to get Tatsuya to come. The Boss doesn’t even know she’s there, much less about the bluff. It turns out one of his underlings did that of his own initiative, and when Tatsuya arrives, everyone ends up in a confusion spiral. It’s a good laugh.
Kozy is a shy young girl for a journalist, but will become a minor recurring character as the game goes on. I also need to note that she’s fat, as it quickly becomes relevant, though I’m happy to say that Persona seems to have turned over a leaf when it comes to fat characters, and runs bullies over the coals for mistreating her like the devs themselves did in P1 (or at least that’s how it’s been has to date). Good job so far, Atlus, now let’s see if you can fix any other lingering bad attitudes without introducing more in the process.
So let’s meet the Boss: Eikichi “Michel” Mishina (that nickname’s pronounced “me-shell,” by the way, the same way a French speaker would say “Michael” – this is the second game I’ve seen in only so many months to use this truncated version of the name “Michael” to convey proper pronunciation, the other being The House in Fata Morgana). Besides being a bully, Michel’s bio also identifies him as “lead vocalist in his band.” The joke here is that we soon learn he’s also the only member of his band. Michel’s design and personality is based mostly on the band thing. He’s a flamboyant, musical showman first and foremost, and my friend who’s big on Japanese music from the 90s suspects he’s based on visual kei artists like Malice Mizer, LAREINE, and Versailles, all of which she qualifies as being particularly “operatic.” As I mentioned in the P1 appendix, Michel is another Persona character voiced by Troy Baker.
As I was saying, Michel doesn’t know his friends have planned for him and Tatsuya to get in a fight, and he’s actually delighted to see Tatsuya and wants him in his band! But when Lisa starts calling him “Undie Boss” in reference to how he likes to pants his victims, he gets embarrassed and pissed. This provokes him into revealing how he became The Boss: he has a Persona, Rhadamanthus, Greek judge of the dead. Rhadamanthus attacks Tatsuya and Lisa, only for their Personas to wake up in turn: Lisa’s is Eros (a woman in this version) and Tatsuya’s is Vulcanus, aka Vulcan the smith god. All Greco-Roman gods so far! The three Persona all speak, but their voice actors are unknown. Long story short, everyone ends up unconscious.
The three of them have a shared dream where they’re greeted by Philemon from the first game, who asks if they’ve “forgotten.” He doesn’t specify what he means by that, and instead moves into an explanation about Personae, and refuses to answer any of their unrelated questions, like who he’s supposed to be. As he goes, he explains that the cast’s island home city, the fictional Sumaru, “is now a netherworld where rumours become reality.” Not long after that detail, you’re returned to the waking world.
Kozy and Michel’s friends have been trying to wake the three of them, and stand back when they start babbling about Persona and rumours. Abruptly, Lisa brings up the Joker game, which seems to like a non-sequitur until she explains that since it spread as a rumour, they could see if it’s become true as a way of seeing if rumours are becoming true in general. Lisa doesn’t find many willing volunteers, and has to draft Michel’s three friends to perform the ceremony, which involves joining hands, chanting, and then stepping three steps away from one another before taking out your cell phone and calling your own cell phone number. Cell phones were just beginning their explosive popularity in Japan around the time, so this would have been especially topical.
Sure enough, the ritual works, and four copies of a masked being called “Joker” appear in the room, asking the summoners for their “ideals.” Unfortunately, they stall, and Joker decides this means he can take their souls! Joker uses a strange, diamond skull (probably meant to evoke the idea of crystal skulls, ala “Indiana Jones and the”) to syphon energy away from Michel’s gang, leaving them as “shadowmen,” though he strangely ignores Lisa at first. Joker mocks the three’s dreams as impossible, though when you learn their ambitions a few minutes from now, it’s not clear why Joker would say that. They just want jobs and stuff. Given how Joker seems to be able to modify people’s bodies and make people fall in love with one another, you’d think arranging a career wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility? It might be that he’s being disparaging about dreams in general. It’s probably the later, the guy is basically an ass.
Joker explains that these “shadowmen” will soon be forgotten by everyone, and sure enough we soon learn that only the party is even able to see them (Kozy can’t). Joker then decides to attack Tatsuya, summoning his own (unidentified) Persona to do so, and began calling Tatsuya “the Thief” and implying they have a personal history. He adds: “What kind of dreams did you build on the corpses of other people’s ideals?” He later implies that he knows Michel and Lisa as well. But when they all tell him that they have video game amnesia about whatever he’s talking about, he gets upset and says it’s not worth killing them if they don’t know why he’s doing it! Well, that’s what he says, but then he sics demons on you, and for all I know is responsible for every demon you encounter for the rest of the game, so he’s being a little inconsistent about whether or not he wants to kill you. Ah, that traditional RPG plot hole! Yeah, it’s kind of hard to make a plot where the bad guy’s a whole games’ worth of experience points stronger than the player, isn’t it Atlus? Maybe you should reconsider your plot structure, is all I’m saying.