I played Persona 3 for a month and clocked 120+ hours and was still not tired of it by then. It took me more than a month to beat Persona 2: Innocent Sin at 48-49 hours and that felt like a complete drag. I was really excited when Atlus announced that the 1999 RPG would come to North America for the first time, but it ended up being a disappointment. I couldn’t get attached to any of the characters, and the plot was actually pretty good, but I just finished MuvLuv Alternative so P2 pales in comparison. I know I shouldn’t compare the story of one of the highest-rated eroge to an old RPG, but if something leaves an impression on me then I end up unconciously raising my expectations for a while. Anyways, I couldn’t enjoy P2 for numerous reasons, but my major complaint is on gameplay and speed.
Persona 2 is centered on Tatsuya Suou (renamable), a cold, silent guy who is naturally popular with high school girls because females of that age in fiction seem to like them troubled anti-social dudes. He goes to Sevens, and there’s a rumour circulating around that the school’s emblem is cursed and it’s disfiguring people’s faces. He receives a letter of challenge from Michel at Cuss High, a less-than-prestigious school with delinquents, and his white-but-speaks-Japanese-and-Cantonese stalker Lisa (also know as the hottest girl in the school) drags him there. Rumour also has it that you can call the Joker and wish for something, but if you don’t wish quickly enough then you turn into a shadowman. That rumour is true and Joker seems to be seeking revenge against Tatsuya and turns 3 of Michel’s lackeys into shadowmen. Tatsuya, Lisa, and Michel then awaken to the power of Persona and decide to go around town investigating rumours that are coming true and about Joker.
This is where the majority of my complaints will be going. First of all, the difficulty. I played on Hard, and they might as well have named that Easy. What happened, Atlus? I like you because you hit me and kill me, not because I want a walk in the park. I’m willing to bet they did some “rebalancing” to lower the difficulty, but damn this is an insult. The final boss did damage to SP, which would’ve been an actual challenging battle if it weren’t for the fact that it liked to spend turns damaging my SP in the single digits. I felt no accomplishment after beating the game. There was exactly one boss fight that actually felt like one, and that happened halfway through the game where I was 12 levels lower than it.
I wouldn’t be complaining too much about the difficulty if battle was actually fun or quick or not the main point (like the Atelier series). P2 has a ridiculously slow battle sytem, and that’s from someone who loved the system in Trails in the Sky. Navigating through the menus with unresponsive controls at a snail’s pace is not fun. The battle animations aren’t visually impressive (and I wasn’t expecting a game from 1999 to be), but they take damn long and there’s even pauses during the sprite movements. This game seriously needed a skip animations function, or the 10x speed option from Hexyz Force. The combat here is slow and easy, and random encounter rate is high. It felt like FFI which was also easy and had high encounter rate, but at least that game was relatively fast and took less than 20 hours.
I liked the maze-like dungeons, but some are just outright boring (like the school) and I was tired out by the end. Demon negotiation was interesting at first, but I got tired of that too by the end. You summon Personae through cards you obtain from negotiation, and THERE IS NO FUSION. Persona fusion was one of my favorite parts about the Persona series (heck, the entire SMT series), but it’s not present in P2 so that made it lose a lot of point with me too. SP use is also Persona-dependent, which I don’t have much complaints about.
On the more positive side, walking speed is great and I like dem fusion spells. Auto mode is also a godsend since I just set to heal->spell->spell->spell->spell during the boss fights that are long and slow but easy. I go play a visual novel or browse the net or even play another game as I let it run on auto.
The story in P2 is not bad, it’s actually pretty good and quite different from P3/4. It’s on the better side as far as RPG plots go, but it can’t save the painful battle system. I also thought that it began off strong, but less enjoyable after a certain person leaves and Nazis come running into town. If they remade P2 with the turn-press system and Persona fusion (and speeded things up as well as made it actually hard), it would’ve been a really good game.
I could not get attached to the characters, which might be why I didn’t like P2. I’ve come to realize that I put a higher value on characters than plot, which is why I loved the later Persona games with their social links. I’m not gonna complain about P2’s lack of social links because you can develop characters even during the main story (Radiant Historia and Trails in the Sky come to mind for RPGs with characters I like that developed through the main plot), but I honestly could not feel for the cast. The silent protagonist doesn’t work as well here because Tatsuya has an established personality but no lines, and it doesn’t feel like the player at all. There’s no law/neutral/chaos paths, nor are there social links/stats that let the player make choices on who to befriend and what to be good at.
Lisa/Ginko is annoyingly clingy, and her Cantonese is strangely spelled. I actually kinda like Michel because he’s lol, but there wasn’t enough for me to get attached to him. I didn’t find Maya all that interesting as a character, but I do like her for her high magic. I liked Yukino’s personality, but there wasn’t enough time to get to know her. P2 would’ve benefitted from social links, since that could have developed the characters more. You’d think there’d be more character interaction in a 50 hour game, but most of that time was wasted on sluggish battle animations. I was too bored from the gameplay towards the end to care, and just wanted the game to be over with.
I shall refrain from criticizing the graphics of a game made in 1999. Atlus wasn’t exactly known to have top-notch graphics. Also, what’s the point of getting Soejima to do new character design if you’re not gonna USE them during conversations? You only see the new character art in the status screen, which isn’t enough for me. I like the guy and bought 3 artbooks relating to him, so this is unfortunate.
Music is decent, although I couldn’t find a piece that I really liked. The regular battle theme annoyed me and I liked the ending theme, but that’s all I recall. I played the game muted while doing something else most of the time, so I can’t say too much about the music. The battle voices don’t sound very clear, and there’s not a lot of voice-acting outside of battle. I’m not too big on voices when it comes to North American PSP RPGs these days since the market here isn’t exactly healthy.
I wanted to like Persona 2. I really did. I heard great things about the plot and how it blows the later games out of the water in the story department, but it was overhyped for sure. The plot was good, but I couldn’t like the characters enough and it couldn’t save the gameplay. The battle system did not age well and I didn’t do many sidequests because I didn’t enjoy fighting demons enough. If Eternal Punishment comes out for the PSP, I’ll probably still play it once for the plot and to support Atlus (I still love you), but I’d much rather have Persona 3 or 4. I won’t be doing a second playthrough of P2 a second time because that’d feel like a 50 hour chore (moreso than Atelier Rorona, which is actually a series of fetch quests that seemed like a chore, but I had fun due to alchemy). Please, “rebalancing” the difficulty is NOT something Atlus should do.