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SummaryDostoevsky and Heine would be proud
The GoodInnocent Sin is the second installment in the Persona series, and is in fact the first part of a large game split in two parts. The second part is Eternal Punishment, a game that was translated into English and released in USA. The two parts act like two facets of the same story, the second one being a version of "what would be if all of that never happened". The original title is an allusion to Dostoevsky's famous novel Crime and Punishment.
The first Persona tried to keep as many classic elements from Shin Megami Tensei, the game it was considered a spin-off to. As a result, it struggled to establish its own style, having somewhat clumsy gameplay and not particularly interesting characters. Innocent Sin is a much more confident, more polished game. In it, the series found its own tone, and perhaps its most complete incarnation.
The gameplay system has been refined and slightly simplified. Your characters can't equip two kinds of weapons any more (sword and gun), there are no Moon Phases that would influence demon conversations, and you can't perform demon fusions. This eliminates quite a lot of cumbersome micro-management which, frankly, didn't fit the new "humans only" party system. You communicate with the random enemies (demons) the same way as in the first Persona, but as a result of a successful conversation, the demon gives you Tarot Cards. Those are divided into classes, as are the demons themselves. Instead of getting specific demons in a card shape and go through tiresome fusions, you can choose any demon as long as you have accumulated enough cards in the respective class. Communication with demons is also much more intuitive and enjoyable.
The variety of personae, their characteristics and spells is very impressive. Each one of the twenty or so persona classes has seven-eight available personae, each one with its own level, statistics, and spells. When you equip a new persona, you should use its spells constantly in order to learn new ones. Once your character equips a persona, his (or her) stats change. For example, some personae are strong against holy-type attacks, but weak against nuclear element, some are strong against magic generally, but are weak physically, etc. You can seek out all magic-absorbing or reflecting personae, experiment with the vast amount of spells and so on. When your characters level up, their stats are upgraded, and they get a bonus upgrade on one stat, depending on the persona you chose to equip on that character. As for the game's protagonist, Tatsuya Suou, you upgrade his stats by yourself.
A nice addition that was unavailable in the first Persona is fusion magic. You can team up to perform a strong spell which is a combination of two or three other spells. In order to find out those fusion spells, you must experiment a lot with various kinds of magic and various order of their casting. Those fusion spells are particularly useful when you are fighting a boss with an elemental affinity.
Balancing has been also significantly improved, with each persona and each spell having much clearer advantages and disadvantages. The difficulty is still somewhat on the easy side, but at least the game doesn't let you abuse the same magic to get through half of it. Another excellent addition is the ability to save anywhere you like.
An interesting feature is the "rumor system". You can talk to various people around the city (yes, the entire game takes place in one huge city, not on a "world map" with a dozen of tiny towns) and learn rumors from them. Then, you can spread the rumors at Kuzunoha Agency, and see the results for yourself. The rumors can be about a particular shop selling weapons or armor, about a rare monster that lures somewhere in a dungeon, about a casino that opened in a certain part of the city, and so on.
Compared to the first Persona, the game world of Innocent Sin is larger, with many more locations, and many more characters. Almost the entire cast of the original game makes cameo appearances in the game, and there are a lot of other characters you can talk to, besides the six characters which will be in your party. The game's main characters are by far more colorful and more interesting as well.
The story of Innocent Sin lacks the delirious (anti)-religious fervor and passionate grandeur of Shin Megami Tensei, but it has pretty much everything else you would require from a game of its genre: cosmic battles, psychological depths, split personalities, and all the other stuff without the excess of melodrama in contemporary Final Fantasies. Emotions are presented in good taste, reserved but with an underlying force. There is even a hint at homosexual love that doesn't deteriorate into jokes and flamboyant stereotypes. Several well-placed plot twists and sudden revelations lead to a truly poignant ending, one of the best I have ever encountered in a game.
There are unfortunately only a few animated cutscenes in the game, but those that are there are beautiful. The intro sets the melancholic tone of the game perfectly, and quoting Heine is a nice touch.
The BadAt the time Square was bombarding the market with four-disc epics full of videos, Innocent Sin looks too modest. The isometric perspective wasn't perhaps the best choice. As per Japanese stone-age rules, battles take place on separate screens anyway, and a more dramatic presentation would greatly benefit them. I understand the need for devoted zoomed-out battle screens in games like Realms of Arkania, where tactical positioning and good overview of the field were essential. Here, it's just unjustified low budget.
The first-person dungeons of earlier Megaten games have been replaced by isometric areas in this installment. The good thing is that the transition between battles and exploration is not as jarring as it was in the first Persona. But it's a pity they dropped first-person 3D, the most absorbing and atmospheric of all viewpoints in games. Dungeons are still monotonous, somewhat bland, and overly long, and the isometric perspective only makes them more so.
The characters can be irritating, particularly when their faces are distorted by the annoying little animations in the anime portraits. Also, this game features Nazis, which, as expected, turned out to be cartoony and inappropriately demonic. In order to draw attention to the atrocities committed by the Nazis, one should precisely describe them as realistic human beings, not like some kind of zombie-like creatures and machines who can't even talk. In the game, the entire blame was put on Hitler alone, and supernatural elements were readily introduced to supersede the grim reality.