The second entry in the Persona series is something of an oddity. It's actually two games, divided into the subtitles Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, part 1 and part 2 respectively. For a number of reasons that I can't be assed to type out here, we on the North American side never got an English localization of Innocent Sin. However, we did get the second part, Eternal Punishment. It really works out to be quite a nice kick in the balls for fans of the game, who had to wait nearly a decade for a playable translation. (This is not to discount the Oracle of Maiya fan translation script made some years earlier, but now appears to be offline.)
I had the misfortune of playing about halfway through Eternal Punishment last fall when the Innocent Sin patch was released. So naturally, I had spoiled the first game for myself and been left confused regarding details of the second, since Eternal Punishment's story is directly intertwined with Innocent Sin's. This dismayed me enough that I gave up playing the games altogether for a few weeks until I picked Innocent Sin back up and followed it through to completion. I'll be doing IS and EP as separate reviews, since I haven't actually beaten EP yet.
Here's the quick 'n' dirty:
Innocent Sin utilizes a graphical style similar to Breath of Fire III. Two-dimensional sprites move on a polygon grid while exploring the world. This leaves mixed results. The sprites are fairly well-detailed and well-animated for the most part, although the number of things the characters do is rather small. Most of the characters will go through the same three or four animations several times while standing idle.
The dungeon graphics end up being extremely repetitive, but this is more a side effect of the game's sprawling, mazelike dungeon layouts, which will be discussed further in the gameplay section. Each of Sumaru City's many stores has its own individual, highly-detailed room filled with people to speak to, and each storekeeper has a unique portrait when they speak.
Speaking of portraits, this is one of Innocent Sin's shining features, and something I've always loved about the Persona games. Each main character has a wide array of well-drawn portrait sprites depicting a range of different emotions, displayed appropriately in sync with the dialogue, a tradition which carried onward into Personas 3 and 4 to great success.
IS loses points for battle graphics, however. A good deal of enemies are slightly-altered palette swaps of previous enemies. Some of the spell graphics are also pretty lame. One I can remember off the top of my head is Guradyne (not to be confused with Garudyne, the wind ability), an empowered Guraiva spell, which simply spams he Guraiva graphic 3 times instead of 1. There are also a few abilities which are just recolored versions of others. I'm hesitant to attribute this to laziness on the developers' part rather than just to save memory space, given the large amount of voiced dialogue and cutscenes on this one-disc title.
Overall: 6 (Out of 10, with 5 being average) - Environment graphics are repetitive; Battle graphics repetitive or uninteresting; Unique areas, character sprites and portraits are all excellent.
I'll make this short. This game has some of my absolute favorite music in any game, ever. Much of it is dark and upbeat at the same time, and I didn't hear any music that sounded ill-fitting or out of place. The only real issue I had with it was that some of the dungeons are so long that you start to get sick of it.
Battles and cutscenes are fully voiced at parts. The voices are in Japanese, of course, so I can't comment on the quality of the voice actors, but I often found myself cheering in garbled Japanese right along with them, so they must have been doing something right.
Overall: 9 (Out of 10, with 5 being average) - I listen to this game's music for fun. That should say it all.
IS's gameplay is, well, different. It's kinda turn-based, it's kinda tactical, it's kinda real time, and overall it's pretty deep.
Battles can divide either of two ways. You can either attack your enemies or speak to them. Attacking is pretty straightforward. You choose your characters' actions all at once, and you can choose the order in which they act. This lends the player the ability to have their characters participate in a Fusion spell, cast by multiple members at once to greatly enhance the effects of a spell, or to create a new one entirely. It starts off as simple things like an enhanced water attack or attacking with a fire sword, but later in the game more complex fusions can be created, including materializing pickup-sized, rocket-propelled fists to rain from Heaven and crush your enemies and even summoning Satan and Lucifer to bring about Armageddon itself (a spell so strong that it can one-shot the final boss of the game, even!)
Conversation is a little different. In conversation, you choose one to three characters to converse with the enemy in an attempt to win yen, items, information, and most important of all, tarot cards. Each demon has one to three personality archetypes (Angry, Wise, Fool, etc.) that you can use to determine which of your characters would be most suited to producing the reaction you want. Demon reactions are associated with a colored light that appears around them when the player chooses an approach. Red indicates anger, blue indicates fear, green indicates joy. You can also trigger any of these reactions in addition to a yellow exclaimation point that indicates interest. Receive any of these reactions 3 times and the conversation will end, and you will be rewarded or attacked depending on which reaction you provoked.
Tarot cards are received if you pique the demon's interest three times. Tarot cards are the power-up fuel of this game, allowing you to summon new Personae in the mysterious Velvet Room. I have mixed feelings about this system. On the one hand, it certainly adds a whole new level of depth to the old grind formula RPG fans are familiar with. Unfortunately, it results in even more grinding to find the necessary cards to summon that shiny new Persona you want. You aren't rewarded experience or yen for any of the battles you talk your way out of (unless you defeat enemies prior to speaking, which can be more of a pain in the ass than it's worth.)
Overall: 7 (Out of 10, with 5 being average) - A high encounter rate and second degree of battle flow in the form of conversations make the grind unbearable after a short while. However, deep combat and a huge variety of attacks keep the battles interesting and keep you on your toes. All in all, I credit the game for trying a different approach to battle than other popular Playstation RPGs of the era.
Final Verdict: 8/10 (5 being average)
RPG fans, this is a must-play for you, but definitely not a game for rookies.
Note: I skipped talking about the game's story because I feel that it is so intertwined with the second part that I'd save it for when I review Eternal Punishment.