Monday, April 18, 2016

Guest Rant: 10 Reasons Why You Should Give Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2 a Second Glance, by Nurjean

Another Guest Rant!  And less than a year after the last, too!  How totally awesome is that?

Today's rant comes to us courtesy of Nurjean, a new but very outgoing, enthusiastic, and interesting reader to have joined our tiny, tiny flock.  A reader who has also played a very prominent RPG which I have not: SMT Persona 2!  It's always a boon to this blog to be able to offer some perspective on another Atlus treasure.

Disclaimer: I make no claim to own Nurjean's words below.  This guest rant does not necessarily reflect my own opinions and perceptions.  I don't see how it could, really, seeing as I have none for the game it's discussing.  But I'm eager to gain some, so let's read on!

10 Reasons Why You Should Give Persona 2 a Second Glance

March 28, 2016
Hi there! Nurjean here from A Creative’s Nook. When The RPGenius posted that he was open to guest rants, I immediately decided I would make one for Persona 2. My first Persona game is the Eternal Punishment PSX version. Despite that, I’ll try to incorporate its “prequel”, Innocent Sin, in this tribute.

Persona 2 doesn’t get a lot of credit.

Try to Google how Persona fans discovered the Persona series. Most of the answers will reveal it was the third entry that led them to embrace the series. Most of them will claim that 3’s the best.

I can’t blame them. After all, it was P3 that put Atlus’ series onto the world map of must–play JRPGs. It doesn’t help that Persona 4 followed the formula Persona 3 set in stone. With Persona 5 in the making, Persona 2 is bound to be shoved into oblivion.

Well, not really. After all, I’m sure there are a bunch of people out there who were introduced to the series by playing the second entry. Now what’s unique about the Persona 2 series is that the story’s broken down into 2 chapters: Innocent Sin, and Eternal Punishment. Innocent Sin never saw an English PSX release for unknown reasons. Fortunately, Eternal Punishment was given an English PSX release. The only disadvantage of playing the second chapter is you’ll have initial difficulty in understanding the game with its references to Innocent Sin.

But it’s not that much of big deal, unless you make it so.

I’m writing this positive rant to give tribute to a beautiful game that’s not your typical highschool-dungeon crawler-sim. While the first chapter gives you the reins to 4 high school kids, the second chapter allows you to play the game as adults with real life issues. Even though the portrayal isn’t perfect, it’s a different take from playing teenage protagonists.

So allow me to show you a couple of things that endeared me to the second entry in the series:

1. “You don’t like the bad ending of the first story? No problem, we’ll add a new chapter where the heroine lives, but wait, let’s add drama to make it fun! What if the hero fucked up in the previous chapter and has to suffer the consequences of his actions in the new chapter?”

This second entry in the Persona series actually refers to Tatsuya Suou’s mistake in the previous installment, Innocent Sin; the consequences of his mistake unfolds in Eternal Punishment.

The second installment of Persona 2 is told from Maya Amano's eyes (another protagonist from IS) who died in the Innocent Sin Timeline.

There are two things to keep in mind to understand Persona 2’s story:

1. Philemon & Nyarlathotep’s Bet. Basically, the good and the evil make a bet to see which side of humanity wins.

2. Tatsuya’s Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment. For the uninitiated, Persona 2: Innocent Sin tackles the story of five childhood friends. Due to miscommunication or some plot device the writer thought up, one of them, Jun Kurosu, believed he and his friends killed their friend, Maya Amano, when they trapped her in a shrine so she wouldn’t leave. Unfortunately, the Shrine was set on fire by Tatsuya Sudou. Maya survived, but developed a phobia for fires. However, Jun’s delusion is merely Nyarlothotep’s ploy to win a bet he made with Philemon.

To make the long story short, Maya is killed, thereby fulfilling the Oracle’s Maia, a prophecy where everything in the world, except Sumaru City, is destroyed. To revive her, the four friends agree with Philemon’s proposal to create a new timeline.

The catch? They never met each other.

Although Lisa, Eikichi and Jun willingly gave up their memories, Tatusya chickened out at the last minute and failed to fulfill his part of the bargain.

In this new timeline, everyone forgot each other, Maya Amano lived, yet Tatsuya retained his memory of “The Other Side”. This was the Innocent Sin the game refers to.

Because his memories were the common denominator between both timelines, Nyarlathotep attempted to restore the previous timeline by pushing Tatsuya Sudou to become JOKER and rekindle the memories of the other 4 protagonists. That way, the new timeline dubbed as “This Side” would meet the same fate of “The Other Side”.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a simplified diagram of Persona Story.
Honestly, it’s a beautiful yet melancholic tale of friendship gained and friendship lost.

It’s not Persona 3’s Minato, who pulled a Jesus Christ to save his comrades by crucifying himself. Persona 2 gives you the feeling of being with a “stranger” whom you once called a “friend” (most profound if you played IS before EP). It’s the feeling of pain when you know you had so many experiences together, yet you’re the only one who can recall that.

Even if I never played Innocent Sin, I could feel how sad it was to play Eternal Punishment and hear Lisa, Eikichi and Jun’s responses. “Excuse me, but have we met?” “Why do I have this feeling that I met you before?”

It’s like seeing your parents with Alzheimer’s Disease--except that Alzheimer’s unintentional.

Choosing to erase your memories to give your friend a new lease in life is intentional. And knowing that you didn’t fulfill your part of the bargain hurts more. Because you’re burdened with the memories that you were all once friends...yet they can’t remember anything about it.

Sad tale, huh?

Now try to beat that, Minato!

2. Hitler as Innocent Sin’s Antagonist

I’ve heard rumors that one of the reasons Innocent Sin wasn’t released for an English Port for the PSX was because of this dude. Anyway, now what’s a real life historic figure doing in a fictional story like Persona?

Well, that’s because Atlus decided to make him one of the main antagonists of this game! And you get to fight him at the final dungeon!

Oh, have I forgotten to mention that he has his own boss battle theme?

Or that his name is mentioned in the Madhouse-produced opening sequence for Eternal Punishment?

3. The Rumor System

I thought this was one of the brilliant features of this game! Even though it was part of the plot development, this feature was used to affect the gameplay. You could spread rumors to unlock powerful weapons, or unlock a quest. Though the protagonists weren’t the only one who used this: even the antagonists used this against the players!

One of the antagonists in EP, Wang Long Chizuru, spread the rumor that anyone who used the Joker Curse would become Joker themselves.

On the flip side, I wonder why the antagonist (Nyarlathotep) decided NOT to use this to his advantage. He could have spread the rumor that Lisa, Jun and Eikichi would remember “The Other Side”. That would have saved him time. But of course, Atlus came to present a story of redemption and the fight between good and evil. That would have been too easy.

4. The Joker Curse Urban Legend

Japan is oozing with excellent urban legends to scare the shit out of you. Who could forget the videotape that contained Sadako (The Ring)? Or how about the cursed house in The Grudge?

This is the perfect premise for a Japanese horror story. I wonder why no one thought of making a movie out of this?

The curse is simple: dial your cellphone number, and Joker will answer to grant your wishes (Innocent Sin) or kill someone for you (Eternal Punishment). The downside of this curse is that when you don’t have a wish, Joker will take your soul instead (IS); or you will become Joker, as mentioned above.

5. The in-game art is beautiful

No, I’m not referring to the mannequin-freakish art. I’m referring to the in-game portraits that pop up when you talk to relevant characters!

When I first played this game way back in 2006, my only high-end phone was a Nokia 6600 with a VGA camera. I remember taking pictures of every portrait I saw in this game. It was like capturing a rare Pokemon—every portrait was such a rare treat!

I was born in the early 1990s, and I grew up watching 90s anime. This lead to my fondness for cell-shaded art. I believe the artist who drew Persona 3 + 4 also made the in-game art for Persona 2. It’s vibrant, crisp and clean. It suits the overall mood of the story. I doubt it would have the same impact if it used moe-like style. (No, Just no).

6. The Music is a hit or miss, but when it hits, it HITS!

I have to admit, there are some tracks which are lackluster and repetitive. Yet there are tracks which are brilliant, heart-warming and memorable. The music isn’t Yoko Shimomura’s sweeping pieces, nor Nobuo Uematsu’s epic compositions. But it does match the game’s paranormal-horror and occult feel.

Take this dungeon theme for example:

Or the world map that has that Rhythm and Blues Vibe:

Or how about a boss fight that gives you that adrenaline rush?

Or maybe you like chilling in a bar with your significant other?

Or when your significant other is about to dump you?

There are several pieces worth listening in this game. My Top 10:

Map 1 (PSX & PSP EP version)
Map 1 (PSX & PSP IS version)
Maya’s Theme (PSX & PSP EP-IS Version)
Aoba Park (EP)
Parabellum II (EP)
Main Theme Side A (IS)
Change your Way (EP)
Boss Battle Theme (EP)
Knights of the Holy Spear (PSX & PSP IS Version--the Dual Mix Version is great as well)

7. Did I forget to mention that you can talk with demons?

I promise you’ll meet some of the most mercurial to the most gullible enemies in this game. And I promise you’ll read excellent short horror stories when you have Ellen in the Party. Where else can you find a game where you can scare demons by telling horror stories?

8. Glitch #1: How to cast every spell in the game for 3 SP

This worked for my EP PSX version. It was my ex-best friend who discovered this glitch.

When selecting a magic spell, press the R1/2 and L1/2 buttons while the cursor hovers over the spell.

To illustrate, let’s start with Katsuya’s basic Persona attack, “Agi,” that costs 3 SP. Press the R1/2 and L1/2 buttons, and you’ll notice Agi will switch to its stronger spell, Agidyne. Keep on switching until you access other spells...and even enemy spells!

You’ll also notice that as you shift through the spells, a certain code appears on the upper right screen. Each code corresponds to the spell’s name.

Six Advantages of This Glitch:
-You can cast stronger spells at the cost of 3 SP;
-You can cast Armageddon to instantly kill all enemies. Boss monsters are susceptible to this spell, too;
-Leveling up is easier (You’re like God with the Armageddon spell);
-You can speed through the game;
-Saves your time;
-You can cast enemy spells, such as Joker’s “Old Maid”.

Five Disadvantages of This Glitch:
-You’re labelled as a “Cheat”;
-The challenge is gone;
-The game hangs as you try to access stronger or enemy spells;
-The game infrequently hangs whenever you try to cast “Old Maid”;
-You cannot access stronger spells when you’re looking for the 100km/hr Hag at the CD store. If you’re heavily dependent on Armageddon, this glitch spells trouble for this dungeon since you’re forced to use your brute strength.

I don’t know if this glitch works with the PSP port.

If you’re the type who wants to play the game for the story, please do use this. If you want to be challenged without feeling robbed, please don’t use it.

9. Glitch #2: How to teleport and decrease your chances of enemy encounters

This worked for my EP PSX version. My ex-bestfriend also discovered this glitch. I can’t exactly recall the special buttons.

Either press the “Select” or “Start” button. Either button you press should show you the area’s floor map. Drag the cursor to the location where you want to teleport to. Press start again.

Voila! You have learned how to teleport!

Three Advantages:
-Fewer enemy encounters;
-Helps you beat the timer in the Burning Museum part of the game;
-Saves you time.

Two Disadvantages:
-You can’t use this while looking for the 100 km/hr Hag side quest;
-You find no reason to explore the entire floor area by foot.

I don’t know if this glitch works with the PSP port.

If you’re the type who wants to play the game for the story, please do use this. If you want to be challenged without feeling robbed, please don’t use it.

10. Japanese Paranormal-Horror-Occult-Mythology-Jungian Psychology Power-of-Friendship Experience in a Japanese-Based Setting

These are the hallmark signs of a Shin Megami Tensei game. Can you imagine if Squarenix (formerly Squaresoft) created a Final Fantasy game like this? What if Namco-Bandai made a Tales series game with this in mind? No? Never? It feels wrong?

What endears me to the second entry is how it blends the paranormal-horror-occult with Japanese-Greek Mythology, Jungian Psychology and the theme of friendship. I can never find another JRPG like this (unless you tell me).

Most JRPG worlds are reminiscent of Medieval or Industrial Europe. But a modern-day inspired Japanese RPG with a mix of the occult? Couldn’t they have published a manga version for this entry as well? Persona 1 had one, but its story pales to this entry.

It’s true that it’s not the best Persona entry for most Persona fans. Either the story doesn’t really stick with them, or they just prefer good old high school drama mixed with action. But I hope that by pointing some of the entry’s finer qualities, you can give the game a second glance, and go see what’s it all about.

1 comment:

  1. I think this game has the best version of Area of the Soul (at least for the original PS1 version, the music seems to take a nosedive starting with Persona 3 anyway IMO), but I haven't actually played it. The rumour system sounds like it could be interesting. I found the conversation system was usually kind of boring in other SMT games that I've played since most demons didn't have unique responses.