The Shin Megami Tensei series has a cult following outside of Japan that goes back as far as the first game that was localized in English for the PlayStation (Revelations: Persona), all the way up to the recent game on the PlayStation 2 (Persona 4). GameSpot Asia recently tried out the first few hours of the second Persona game that came out on the PlayStation in 1998, specifically the first half of the game subtitled Tsumi (or "Innocent Sin"), which has recently been released on the PSP in Japan.
The plot is about main character Tatsuya and his schoolmates who are embroiled in an urban myth that is turning real. The myth is that whenever a person calls his or her own cell phone number, this summons a demon called the Joker, who either grants you a wish or kills you outright. When Tatsuya and his other friends--glam rocker-esque Eikichi and Japanese-speaking American blonde Lisa--put this to the test, the Joker appears and proclaims that he has a grudge against them for a sin they may have committed in a past life. The story then takes a turn into the strange as the students are given personas by an observer called Philemon to combat supernatural demons and get to the bottom of this mystery. Joining the three are teen magazine reporter Maya and her photographer, Yukino, the only returning playable character from the first Persona.
The role-playing game's battle system is turn-based but came attached with two key commands: sync-skill and contact. Sync-skill lets two or more party members cast a powerful attack with their personas provided that they cast spells in a certain sequence. As their personas level up, they get powerful spells that could be amplified further with sync-skill. The contact option lets you negotiate with demons. You can either forge a demon contract with a demon, ask it for a tarot card to power up personas, or be frightened and run away from the party. However, getting them angry will make them do a preemptive strike on the party. When a contract is established with a type of demon, you can ask them for items or yen or even to help spread a rumor, which makes the current dungeon easier to navigate in. The trade-off is that attacking or frightening that particular demon type will break the contract, making you start over from scratch.
Unlike in the original version of Innocent Sin, the battle order on the right side of the screen is now in a fixed and constant sequence. This means that you will not need to rearrange action sequences so that you have the right order of spells to initiate a sync-skill. In fact, the sync-skill menu had a subsection that notified us about the many different combinations to trigger that particular combo. Once you pick a combination, all characters involved with the combo will be grouped automatically on the battle menu. This may be a minor change lost to anyone who hasn't played the original, but it made selecting sync-skill spells all the more organized for veterans.
In order to get stronger in the game, you have to collect tarot cards--mostly from conversing with demons--to be used in the Velvet Room to summon new personas. Unlike the main character and his party, personas improve their rank only through frequent usage of skills and sync-skills, so understanding both the tarot card system and demon negotiations was key to building up the uber-party with the best possible persona for each of them.
New additions in this port include a remixed soundtrack which can be switched back to the 1997 original, and a reworked interface that is easier on the eyes in terms of organization. While the red color may be jarring for some, the developers have taken cues from Persona 4's interface and arranged it in an intuitive and orderly manner. The port even includes a "fast-forward" button that lets you breeze through the less-than-cerebral fights with low-level enemies with previous commands from a past fight, and there's an option to skip all the battle animations during combat.
Another new addition to this sequel is Theatre mode, where Tatsuya and his party members engage in a plethora of optional missions presented by a person called the Sumaru Theater girl. These missions have little to no bearing on the main plot and are just extra dungeons where you can take your tweaked-out party to acquire high-level gear and other rewards. As if that weren't enough, you can unlock an option to create and design your own quests where you set the map of the dungeon, the rewards, the monsters and NPCs, and even the dialogue. We have yet to unlock this feature, but the option for fan-made quests and sending them online to other PSP users was welcome, particularly for those who would want to relive their favorite JRPG (or movie) moments using this tool.
The port's main issue was the numerous loading times that plague the flow of the game. Loading screens popped up whenever we entered a new section of a dungeon, a room, or even encountered random enemies on the field. Thankfully, we could choose to install game data on the PSP's memory stick to reduce the length of these load times.
While Atlus has yet to make any official announcement in regard to an English version of Persona 2: Tsumi, it wouldn't be surprising news given the company's track record of the game outside of Japan. After all, the port of the first Persona game on the PSP was localized, so chances of this port being in English are looking good. Personally, we can't wait either, because Persona 2: Tsumi's story showed a lot of intrigue and twists coupled with a solid battle and persona-building system that should make any JRPG fan happy.