Joker leaves the party with an iris flower, which according to the Key Items menu symbolizes vengeance. Like I was saying: nice guy. After we learn Kozy can’t see the shadowmen, and she whispers to you not to tell Michel her real name. It’s worth noting that she kept calling Michel “-kun” by accident during the past few scenes. At this point, we have no choice but to leave. Michel wants to go with you to get revenge on Joker, but everyone concludes they shouldn’t do so without weapons. Are you guys sure? Because I’m pretty sure we could have never used our weapons in Persona 1 and got through the game just fine! Well, okay, but only because you insist!
Kozy passes on a rumour that a certain ramen shop owner is selling weapons under the table, and we hit the overworld. No surprises in the overworld mechanics, at least not after the remake of P1, though this would have been the first Persona game to have a SMT-style overworld chronologically. Unlike SMT and P1 on the PSP, there are never any random encounters on P2’s overworld. Once we arrived at the ramen shop, we found we weren’t the only one checking it out. A semi-familiar face is there ahead of you, trying to order a special dish that supposedly serves as the code-phrase for the back-alley dealings. This is Tadashi, whom you might remember as a very minor background NPC from Persona 1, although I personally never mentioned him by name. It seems Tadashi’s now working for the Kuzunoha Detective Agency from Devil Summoner 1. While the main character from DS1 doesn’t appear (Ed. …so to speak…), Tadashi is also working with his rival-and-now-girlfriend Tamaki, aka the canon protagonist of Shin Megami Tensei: If…, a game that’s basically Persona 0 (and I will keep calling it that to underline its historical importance until it is properly localized). She was also in P1! None of this backstory really comes up in P2, mind. If anything, the game is more interested in cross-promoting Devil Summoner 1, since it was getting a sequel soon.
Speaking of new releases, If… has a fan translation that’s still relatively new by the time this post will go up!
Talking to Tadashi let us head to the Kuzunoha Detective Agency, where we spoke to Tamaki and her boss (Tadashi’s father). There, we learn that the whole thing about the weapons dealer is a farce, but since these detectives have experience with the supernatural, they’re willing to listen when you tell them that rumours are coming true. Hell, they’re not just willing to listen: they recognize the potential for exploit, and agree to seed the rumour amongst the general population to see if it works! Sure enough, it does, as both the ramen saleswoman and an otherwise unrelated patron are mystically changed into weapons dealers, who used to be spies! We outright changed years of history! The ramen dealer outfits Tatsuya with a sword, Lisa with gloves for her “kung fu,” and Michel with a “guitar case,” which is actually a James Bond-esque machine gun in disguise. Yes, you read that right: the case itself is the gun!
We made a few other stops while we were at the mall with the ramen shop, including our first encounter with this game’s convenience stores, which are run by a family of sisters. Each story plays a different remix of Persona 1’s shop theme based on the owner’s personality. Actually, all shops in Innocent Sin have their own unique theme song, which almost single-handedly rockets the game’s OST to three CDs over the original’s one and a half!
One of the other shops in the mall turned out to be Michel’s father’s restaurant, and we learned his dad doesn’t know anything about Michel’s bullying or even his musical career. Indeed, he hopes Michel will take over the family sushi business someday. Oh, and we also get our first hints that Michel used to be fat in grade school, but became thin through what I’m fairly sure is meant to be read as an eating disorder! I guess we’ll see! While we were in the sushi place, we ran into Kenta from Persona 1, the kid from the Snow Queen Quest who drank all the milk and got the brunt of the storyline’s shit for it. He seems to be much better off in Persona 2 than he was in a universe populated and written by jackasses, and is now a “rumourmonger,” which will be explained later.
Oh, and I should probably also mention that we run into the series’ first transgender NPC, albeit a faceless one, in the local survivalist’s shop. Persona 2: Innocent Sin has at least two trans NPCs that I’ve seen at the time of writing (Ed. and overall), and I’m pretty sure they were both intended as transphobic jokes. The first NPC, definitely: we’re talking about a trans man that text box insists on calling “Weird Woman” (delightful), who threatens to flash you if you don’t believe he’s a man. You’re just a stand-up parade, aren’t you Atlus? The second trans character you meet much later – a woman – just describes bottom surgery, but in such a way that it carries a gross vibe that’s kind of hard to describe, as though the very description of a gender reassignment surgery was itself a joke. It’s probably because she uses baby-talk to refer to genitalia, but I dunno, it feels even worse than that somehow? With this on one hand but the Kozy and Michel storyline on the other, it’s hard to say how I feel about this game.
Lastly, we stopped at the Velvet Room and poured over the Persona tutorials to see what had changed. A few highlights: reserve Persona are no longer bound to individuals, but are held in common for anyone in the party to equip so long as they aren’t completely incompatible (unfortunately, the starter Persona are almost exclusive to their starting owners, so we were locked in our current layout). You can have ten Persona in your party in total: one per party member, which eventually becomes a party of five, and up to five in reserve (although I have a sneaking suspicion that the cap may rise at some later point – Ed. it does not). The Velvet Room now tells you what item you get for “retiring” a Persona that’s at max rank, so you aren’t throwing them away and praying for good results. There are no moon phases this time, bless. Characters no longer have Persona Levels (bless that, too), but the Personas themselves still have Ranks. Experience points for Ranks are now partially documented in the subscreen, which makes up for my disappointment a little, although it uses a metre that fills in little boxes every few actions, so the only way to get an accurate read of your progress is to count your actions and check the metre after battle, probably several times. Oh, and here’s a big one: unlike P1, where Personas existed exclusively to be Personas, P2’s Persons are mostly dupes of the demons you encounter in the wild, a sort of compromise between P1 and SMT, which frankly removes a lot of P1’s spice if you ask me. The game does have a small roster of unique Personas, although from my preliminary observations, we’re just talking about the starter Personas. We’ll probably see more as we go along.
The biggest Velvet Room change between P1 and the P2s is how you create a new Persona. Instead of getting an enemy-themed card from each demon (emulating the fusion of demons from SMT), you now get generic cards named after the major arcana of a Tarot deck, and have to gather dozens or even hundreds of them to summon a Persona of that Arcana. Naturally, the more powerful demons have more cards to give you, and it helps that you can also win “Free” cards, which one of the Jungian archetypes living in the Velvet Room can turn into whatever kind of card you want. He can even create cards from Arcana that no demons will provide (Ed. at least, that’s what the game said, but I now believed it was saying “Arcana that no demon is currently providing,” as it seems all Arcana cards are on offer at some point or another). We’ve been stockpiling the Free cards except when we only need a small handful to round off a purchase. Unfortunately, we couldn’t purchase any new Persona here at the start of the game, since the game hasn’t unlocked the Chat feature to begin with!
After getting our weapons, Kozy arrived at the restaurant, having learned that story about principal Hanya talking to a mask. She wondered if maybe this had something to do with Joker, who was also masked. A huge stretch, but it’s not like we have any other leads. P2’s map is also divided into districts rather than a contiguous world map, and the game gave us a “new” district right at this point. Time to skip around, picking up sidequests, ignoring the main plot, you know how it goes. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see in this new district… because it wasn’t actually “new,” per se. It was the district that housed Sevens, and Sevens was its biggest attraction, with most other locations locked out, so there wasn’t much to explore! We met Lisa’s filthy rich, Japanophile father, and also found an Alaya Shrine (remember them from P1?), which we learned had been burnt down ten years ago and had to be reconstructed. Boy, why would anyone want to burn down an entrance to hell?
When we arrived back at school, there was a crowd outside the front gates, making a fuss because the long-dead clock in the tower on top of the school had suddenly restarted. The janitor was present, and told us that the teacher who had died there had said something like, “The world will end if time is not stopped,” which made the newly-operating clock an ill omen. On top of the rest, Ms. Ideal sprinted past, saying something else about frozen time, before deciding to check on the Naruto Stone. At this point, a girl screamed, and something happened to her face… but we weren’t shown what it was. The scene really calls for a full-screen CG, but I say that with the benefit of game design hindsight. The NPCs said that this was a sign that the curse no longer cared if you were wearing a school emblem or not, so the girl probably broke out in whatever illness was affected the bandaged students. This feels like a weak payoff to not actually show us, or even describe, the damage after making such a fuss about it over the past few hours. What happened? Are their faces scarred? Are they missing their noses? I demand hideous boils!
Our first stop was the Naruto stone, where we found that, sure enough, the statue of the principal was now walking around. But despite this, and despite Ms. Ideal’s earlier fuss, nothing seemed to happen in the courtyard for the rest of the dungeon, and have yet to see the statue walking around again? Perhaps we missed something optional? Ms. Ideal was at the Naruto stone, mentioned the name “Kashihara” when we talked to her, but even at the time of writing, that doesn’t mean anything to me.
Returning to the school, we discovered that it was now infested with random encounters, which didn’t seem all that interested in attacking the other students, thank goodness. Unlike Persona 1, there are also people and chests in the wild, with no need for the game to cluster them all in rest stops. Traps still exist in chests too, which makes a lot more sense in this new context. These were pretty natural extensions and clean-ups of P1’s gameplay that I’m not surprised to see, but am glad to see nevertheless. When in dungeons, you can tell when a fight is coming by watching the border around the minimap, which turns gradually red as you get closer to a fight. Battles are much simpler this time around: there’s no grid, and while characters spend a lot of time moving about the “arena,” it’s all cosmetic, though it frankly ends up looking crowded. You don’t even have two weapons any longer like in most SMT games of the time (a gun and a melee weapon), just the one, but the game retains a huge number of elements and attack types from the original, if not all of them. At a base level, you might as well be playing any traditional RPG, just with unusual visuals, and that’s probably for the best.
Conversations with demons are unlocked at this point (after a chat with an especially friendly tutorial slime), and they have been tweaked as well. First off, it’s now possible to change who’s talking by backing out of their talk menu, which isn’t just polite but saves you from being trapped with someone inappropriate if a demon talks to you first, like they would with Sorrow in P1. It’s also possible to “talk” to demons by having two or three of your characters interact with one another, with the results based on their relationship and personalities (these “pair” and “trio” conversations don’t have submenus, they basically produce the same results every time). As an especially nice touch, pair and trio conversations change as the character’s relationships develop through the game, although we only noticed this later on as we weren’t using pair and trio conversations at first, and so wouldn’t be able to compare them in detail.
On top of the above changes, there are a few other changes that improve the system once you get to talking. You’ll recall that demons have four generalized moods: Eager, Happy, Angry and Scared, and once you get three points in any category, the conversation ends with that result. In P1, there was no reason to make demons anything but Eager, which gave you a list of options including a request for their magic card. Making them Eager in this game, however, only gives you cards, with all the other benefits having been moved to Happy, instead. It’s actually a two-step process. Making a demon Happy allows you to form a Pact with all demons of that type. You can have three active Pacts at a time (thankfully, you can cancel a pact if you make another when you’re at a cap, instead of just failing), and if you make the same kind of demon Happy again, only then they give you the list from before, which now consists of items, money, or “information,” although the last one doesn’t really kick in until much later in the game. Note that the “give me EXP” option has been removed. If you make a Pact demon Eager, it will also give you some Free Cards on top of their tarot cards, which is a great payoff.
Happy’s not the only mood to change. Making demons even a little Angry tends to cause them to threaten you, provoking dialogues that are likely to make them more Angry. You have to be careful not to set off an Anger spiral that gets out of your control, especially if you have a Pact, since making a demon fully Angry will cancel it! Some demons have angrier in general, probably based on their Traits – Kyle and I didn’t have a healthy conversation with a certain squirrel-woman demon until we were just about to leave the dungeon for good! The “Anger spiral” mechanic makes chatting a lot more interesting in my mind, though there were a few instances where we’d lose control of the conversation through (in our opinion) no fault of our own. Nothing seems to have changed for Scared (although it, too, will break a pact), but before we go, I should note that getting two results at the same time gives you mostly-unique payoffs. Eager+Happy randomly gives you either the item or money from the Pact reward list, even if you don’t have a Pact. Combos that include Angry simply cause the enemy to become Angry, but combos with Scared (except Scared+Angry!) seem to cause status effects.
Throughout the school, the curse was now spreading to everyone, including some of the people who had originally collaborated with Joker. There were a few other moments where plots progressed during the dungeon, and the biggest one was when Michel heard Kozy’s real name and told us that she was his ex-girlfriend from middle school. I’m a little fuzzy on why he’s so surprised to learn that she goes to school here, since his school and our school seem to be the only high schools in town, but maybe he assumed she moved away, or went to an out-of-town school? Unfortunately, he hasn’t learned that his ex is Kozy, and begins insulting Kozy for being fat. Yes, the former fat kid, who may or may not have an eating disorder, is insulting a fat girl. He’s not just stuck up his ass, he’s twisted around and knotted there. Lisa tells Tatsuya not to tell Michel about Kozy just to see how this plays out. Yeah, uh, Lisa’s not always great person either, for the record.
The party decides to go to the principal’s office, to find either Hanya himself or this “talking mask,” but they find neither. At one point during this scene, Michel and Lisa get into a fight, and he’s so tired of her calling him “Undie Boss” that he decides to call her “Ginko” in return. The text box immediately re-tags her as Ginko, which is hilarious. So far as I can tell from the wiki, “Ginko” is a bit like calling her, “Silver Girl,” probably in reference to her not-very-Japanese blonde hair. Judging from Michel’s comments, it’s probably meant to be a xenophobic insult, although Lisa only calls it “lame.”
At this point, two young women to barge into the office. These are reporters for a local teen magazine called Coolest, who are researching the emblem curse and ended up here at the worst possible time. And I do mean the worst possible time, as two zombies break down the door seconds later. But both women were surprisingly cool-headed about it, because it turns out they were both Persona users, even though they didn’t even know that about one another! One of the two woman, the reporter, Maya Amano, believed her Persona was her “guardian angel.” The other, the photographer… while neither Kyle nor I recognized her at first… was none other than Yukino “Yukki” Mayazumi from Persona 1, once again voiced by Kirsten Potter. I’m sad to say she’s pulled a Samus and lost all her power from the Snow Queen Quest, and is left with only her starting, now-Rank 1 Persona, Vesta. By the way, Vesta reintroduces herself with an odd comment about helping Yukino find her true love. Hi again, Vesta. I legitimately do not know what to think about the fact that you now have motorcycle wheels.
Meanwhile, Maya’s Persona is… Maia! Mother of Hermes. Man, what are the odds that two unrelated languages would be able to convey similar-but-distinct names like this? Oh, and make sure not to confuse this Maya or that Maia with the “Maya” normally addressed as “Ms. Ideal!” Psst! I think the game wants to make the name “Maya” to be significant! Maia-the-Persona and Maya-the-person both align with the Moon arcana, opposite of Tatsuya’s Sun arcana, so this is probably a good time to mention that Tatsuya and Maya both share space on the cover as lead characters, with no sign of the rest of the cast. So yeah, Maya’s joining the party, no surprises here.
Maya has our first credited voice actor that wasn’t previously in Persona 1! Her voice is (un-)credited to Dorothy Elias-Fahn, who overlaps with some of our other actors with Digimon, Gundam, Ghost in the Shell, and Cowboy Bebop credits. For Final Fantasy, she’s got minor voices in WoFF, Kingsglaive, and FFType-0. This is her only role in the Persona series, what with Atlus refusing to re-localize P2EP on the PSP.
Tatsuya, Michel and Lisa have a strange reaction to the new arrivals, saying they felt a rush of nostalgia that brings the two of them to tears. “Like a hug from my mom,” says Michel. Maya says she felt it too, so it’s doubtful this is just the party happy to see a character from the first game, Yukki. But they don’t have an explanation, and so move on to other subjects. Yukino explains that she’s been through this thresher before, and offers to help. However, when she brings up the “Persona game” from P1 (the ceremony that gave everyone their Personas), she gets another weird reaction: Michel confesses to remembering something like that from a dream, and Lisa seems to be lying when she says she knows nothing about it. Tatsuya doesn’t talk. Tatsuya never talks.
Maya and Yukino join the party at this point, eager to help. Yukino is still carrying throwing knives with her at all godforsaken hours, but there’s still the question of how to find weapons for Maya. Thankfully, Michel offers her a pair of pink pistols he’s apparently been carrying all this time, even when we were so desperate for weapons that we rewrote a woman’s life. Bull. Shit.
Maya has a plan: since rumours say the school’s evidence caused the curse, if you destroy every example of the school’s emblems, you might be able to stop the curse! This sounds… virtually impossible. While it’s true that students have been tearing off the emblems on their uniforms and maybe destroying them, that can’t account for all of them, and it seems more likely to me that there are still thousands out there, stuffed in closets, attics and landfills. But maybe we only need to worry about the emblems on school grounds? But even then, what does that mean? The emblems on every piece of letterhead? On books and signs? On teachers? Maya initially hints that there might be some all over the place, but the game drops that like a lead weight and decides to announce that you’re going to go after the school’s clocks instead, as they also have emblems on them, and you soon discover they mean only the school’s clocks. Apparently that’s all the emblems left on site! How convenient, let’s get straight to it!