Persona 2 - Eternal Punishment - Reader Retroview  

Memento Mori
by Solon

50-80 hours


Rating definitions 

   Among the huge amount of mainstream modern RPGs that are on the market, there will always be those that stand out of the ordinary. The Shin Megami Tensei series is a perfect example (at least in the west) of such games. All SMT titles have settings you'll have a very hard time finding anywhere else, as they usually take place in present time, mixing daily life with black magic, demon summoning, strange rituals and similar stuff. At the same time these games often bring up subjects that are likely to appeal to the player in a different way than most other games do, which helps the player to recognize themselves more in them. This is a review of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, a spinoff from the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, which hit the shelves back in 2000. Despite its title, it's actually the third part in the Persona series, as Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin were released before it.

   Those who are already familiar with the previous Persona games will instantly recognize themselves when they boot up Eternal Punishment, as this title is a direct sequel to the previous two. Most of the characters from before will be present (with new ones too, of course), but this time the protagonist will be Maya from Innocent Sin. You will be thrown into her daily life as a reporter, on a day when she is about to head out on an interview about a couple of mysterious killings that have occurred in the city lately. Rumor has it that a character called Joker (who fans of Innocent Sin should be familiar with) is behind the incidents. When Maya and her friend arrives at the place it doesn't take long before the Joker actually shows up to "greet" them. Due to shock and fear over what's happening, Maya's and her friend's Personas are released from their bodies in order to help them fight, and thus the story kicks off for real. This is the start of a story filled with bizarre events, questions about life and death, the result of our actions in life etc. The plot has a deep, mysterious touch that doesn't flicker for even a moment throughout the entire adventure, and its dark, bizarre scenes is what really keeps the game going.

The Personas awaken The Personas awaken

   Naturally, there is a lot more to it than that. You will be battling a lot in Persona 2, as the game stays true to the roots of Shin Megami Tensei, the king of dungeon crawlers. Fortunately Persona 2 has a deep and interesting battle system that will leave you experimenting for hours and hours, which is pretty much essential for this type of setting. While you can attack normally with guns or swords in battle, you will use your various Personas most of the time to defeat your enemies. Each Persona comes with a set amount of spells or skills which it will learn the more you use it. Now, to acquire new Personas, you have to talk to the enemies you face on the battlefield. If you manage to say something interesting enough, they will give you a bunch of cards, which are used to summon new Personas. In each part of the city the game takes place in, there is a special place called the Velvet room (which was present in the previous two games as well). In here you can summon your new Personas by using the cards. Just any card isn't going to do it though, as all the different Personas are of different types. For example, the Odin persona requires Emperor cards, while Shuzaku requires Temperance cards. If you think it sounds like a hazzle to find the right enemies to get the right cards, there's an alternative solution. When speaking to demons, if you know what you're saying you can convince them to join you by signing a contract. While these demons will still fight you in battle, they will give you "Free Cards" as well as the usual cards if you gain their interest the next time you face them. These Free Cards can be turned into any type of cards in the Velvet room, which helps a lot when trying to summon new Personas.

   The actual battle mechanics are surprisingly well executed. In the beginning of a battle you get to put in one command for each character, after which you press confirm and the battle will start. However, unlike in most other games, you can cancel this process at any time after you've confirmed it. While the turn that's currently in motion will finish, the rest will be canceled and you'll be back in the sub-menu to insert new commands. This is very useful, especially in boss battles where your situation can change rather quickly.

   Additionally, you can use this command menu to set up your commands in a specific order. This is obviously useful in a tactical manner, but also serves as a method to discover new combo attacks, or "Fusion spells" as they are called here. These are powerful attacks (or buffs) that use up two or three of your party's turns, but are pretty much bound to sweep the battle arena clean.

Philemon's classical chamber Philemon's classical chamber

   As most readers can probably tell by now, Persona 2 has quite a large battle system that requires a lot of experimenting. And once you sit down with it, you will realize that there is even more to it than what I have told you here.

   As far as an awesome story and a wonderful battle system go, a game will remain soulless without a solid soundtrack. Don't fret though, Persona 2 has this as well. Even with the lack of Shoji Meguro who helped the team with the first Persona soundtrack, the team consisting of Toshiko Tasaki, Kasaki Kurokawa and Kenichi Tsuchiya does an absolutely fantastic job with the music. Most tracks are very dark and heavy, which gives the various dungeons and cut-scenes quite a different touch. Fans of the series who were worried about the Satomi Tadashi Pharmacy song not being present in this title don't have to worry either; it's there, and in many forms at that.

   Looking at the graphics, Persona 2 lands somewhere around average. It's not ugly, but it's not exactly extraordinary beautiful either. There is practically no difference between the graphics in Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment, but both are a big step up from the first game. The biggest problem in this section is that the dungeon design can become rather dull after a while, especially if you get stuck. Most dungeons only have one or two textures, which quickly becomes tiresome if you know you're gonna stare at it for the next five hours.

   While that can be overlooked, there is but one thing in Persona 2 that had this reviewer really bothered: the translation. To say the least, Atlus' localization of this game is actually quite bad. I've spotted numerous spelling errors, and some sentences that just didn't make any sense at all. And while there isn't much voice acting present, you'll be quick to press mute once a character starts speaking. This, and the fact that there is a bit of a slowdown while browsing some of the menus are probably the biggest problems Persona 2 suffers from. Needless to say, they can easily be overlooked considering how gorgeous the rest of the game is.

   There have been lots of complaints lately about how easy games, and especially RPGs, are in general these days. While Persona 2 isn't exactly hard, it does pose a lot more challenge than your average RPG. Some leveling is likely to be required at some places, but it shouldn't be a problem for most players. There's a huge amount of side quests and optional dungeons for the ambitious gamer to complete, most of which will give you rewards that are well worth your time and effort. Unlike most other RPG's, sidequests in Persona 2 aren't all placed at the end of the game. Instead, you can start (and complete) a lot of them whenever you want, which generally makes them feel much more worth it, as you'll actually make good use of the things you earn. Basically every time you return to the city after completing a dungeon, there's new stuff to do in every part of the city. You have the ability to spread rumors around town, which within time actually become true and work to your advantage. Most rumors lead to updated inventories at the various vendors, or to entirely new shops opening up. There are also rumors that are important for the story, which depending on how you spread them will affect the outcome of some of the future scenes. All in all, without sidequests the game should take around 50 hours to complete. Should you want to complete all it has to offer, you're in for at least 80 hours. Probably more.

   Looking at the PSX era, Persona 2 is way up there with the best. Its dark, original setting will attract players tired of the old, clichˇ-filled RPGs who are looking for something different. Something more mature. Something that'll stay with them for a long time, and perhaps change their views on RPG's forever.

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