The original Persona was one of the very first games I reviewed on Between Life and Games, shortly after I started the site. It’s time to take a look at its sequel. Truth be told, I am reviewing two games in one here. But considering the fact that Persona 2: Innocent Sin and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment are two parts of the same story, take part in the same time frame, and have identical gameplay, I believe it is quite fair to review them both in one piece. I had no choice but to play two different versions of these games – for Innocent Sin, it was the PSP remake, and for Eternal Punishment, it was the original PlayStation version. But the difference between the two releases was relatively superficial – the most notable thing being the different soundtracks (remixed on the PSP). I would have played the PSP version of Eternal Punishment, too, but sadly that never got translated into English, and my Japanese level is quite far from sufficient for that purpose.
Games: Persona 2: Innocent Sin/Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
Platforms: PlayStation, PlayStation Portable
Original releases: 1999/2000 (PlayStation), 2011/2012 (PlayStation Portable)
Territories: Japan/Japan, North America (PlayStation), All/Japan (PlayStation Portable)
Persona 2 is a really good game that, for one reason or another, is now completely in the shadows of its two incredibly popular sequels. The fact that English speakers only got one half for each of the two parts’ two releases (PS1 and PSP) – and fortunately, one different half for each release – surely plays its role… But frankly, I cannot imagine how Persona 3 and 4 could be much better than 2, while knowing that they maintain a similar setting and overall story theme. I’ll play them soon enough and I’ll see for myself, but the second game will remain in my heart at least until then. Persona is a story about childhood’s end and the beginning of the “adult life”… And the second part of the series pulls this off quite well, with its two parts showing each side nicely – Innocent Sin with its party of high schoolers, and Eternal Punishment – young adults.
All screenshots illustrating the review have been taken by me.
- Solid, if not amazing story about growing up
- Excellent characters with great dynamics between them
- Some “WOW!” moments, like meeting the leader of The Last Battalion
- Demon negotiation is great fun
- You can spread rumours which become reality and slightly change the game’s world
- Dungeons make up a majority of the gameplay
- Grinding is a necessity at times, especially in Eternal Punishment
FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS
The overall theme of the story in Persona 2 is not too different from the first Persona, so I’ll assume this is the repeating theme of the Persona series. It deals with adolescence, and how your life changes as you enter the adult world, getting a real job, etc. In the first half, Innocent Sin, you play as a group of high schoolers, all of them having their own dreams, some willing to pursue them to the end, others being forced by circumstances to give up on them… In the second half, Eternal Punishment, you see how it is for young adults having actually entered the workforce and how close to their dreams the lives they now live are. You will also (naturally) see the strength of friendship in the various relationships formed between the members of your party themselves, as well as with other people in the game’s world.
Of course, while “childhood’s end” is the main theme, it is far from the only subject touched upon. The one thing I probably like the most about Persona 2 is its clever dig at how media influence people’s views, opinions and, ultimately, actions. In the world of Persona 2, rumours that get widespread enough actually become reality. Entertainingly, you can take advantage of this yourself, though sadly not on the grand scale the “bad guys” do. You will suffer first-hand from the gullibility of the average person – perhaps not unlike in the “real world.”
Aside from the aforementioned themes, Persona 2 is also full of references to various religions and mythologies, most obviously with the kinds of demons that you will be encountering as you go through the game. The NPCs around town will help you understand the social dynamics of Sumaru City, and inhabitants of the famous Velvet Room will also be sources of some of the more philosophical notions you will encounter. So will, of course, the two main figures of the overall story going on behind the scenes, or, you could say, on a higher plane. Nevertheless, it is ultimately due to the human strength of will of the protagonist parties to resolve this eternal conflict.
THE MEANING OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP
Persona 2 has some excellent characters. While there isn’t a single one who is particularly amazing, they work so well together. There are wonderful dynamics in the two parties, but, even if some of the people get into fights occasionally, ultimately, they are friends who stick together and prove their loyalty to each other throughout the game. This is another strong aspect of Persona – it may look cheesy on paper, but it’s done well and just leaves the player with a warm feeling.
In each half of the game, you’ll also find the party members of the other half (albeit as individuals, not a team) doing their thing. That’s quite neat – seeing a party member in one part as an NPC in the other essentially adds character background. Furthermore, you get to meet characters from the original Persona, which is a real bonus and very rewarding to people who have played it. Persona 2 apparently takes place several years after the events of the first game, and you see the former protagonists a bit older, with jobs and, in general, slightly different priorities in life.
Two small exceptions from the above – the young journalist Maya Amano is a party member in both games (and the player character in Eternal Punishment), and her friend Yukki is actually one reappearing figure from the first Persona (albeit not part of the main quest there), not as an NPC, but actually as a party member again. Speaking of Maya, it’s very hard not to like her. She is a tender-hearted woman full of care for the people she loves… She’s also a journalist, and accordingly a curious person with a strong urge to get to the bottom of the mysteries she encounters. But despite that, I still prefer Tatsuya, Innocent Sin’s protagonist, to Maya. He’s a relatively quiet, but very determined individual, and his role in Eternal Punishment, despite not being part of the main party, is extremely important – and I’d say he shines far more there than as the silent protagonist (because that’s the Persona tradition) in Innocent Sin.
My favourite character, along with Tatsuya, is Baofu, the computer hacker who joins your party in Eternal Punishment. A JRPG fan could call him a “token badass character,” and wouldn’t be far from the truth… But I guess I am a sucker for those. Baofu just oozes cool, and his interactions with others show that it is not just a front. Lisa Silverman, party member in Innocent Sin, is another really great character. She is a Cantonese-speaking white girl living in Japan who has a big crush on Tatsuya and is not particularly shy to demonstrate it. Her father, though, is a living legend. In every sense of the word.
Yet another interesting aspect of Persona 2 is getting to play as Tatsuya’s brother, Katsuya, in the second part. It gives you the chance to see the seemingly lacking (if we are to trust the first game) relationship between the two through the second perspective. As a policeman, Katsuya also does not get along too well with someone often operating outside the bounds of the law like Baofu, leading to many embarrassing fights between the two. I suppose I must also mention the booze-loving friend of Maya, Ulala, who doesn’t have much luck with men, and Eikichi, rock band frontman, and the “leader” of Kasugayama, the rival school of Tatsuya’s Seven Sisters.
Finally, a few words about the villains… “Joker” appears in both halves, but is not particularly charismatic. But one of the main villains in Innocent Sin, the leader of The Last Battalion, is, and you will surely find him familiar… And that fact is quite certainly the most famous thing about the two Personas before the big hits that 3 and 4 became. But my two favourites out of all the villains in the two parts are Eternal Punishment’s Wang Long Chizuru and her friend, who is another figure people may recognise. One of their dialogues with the Eternal Punishment theme of choice (see below) playing in the background is probably the best one in Persona 2.
STREAMLINED AND DUNGEON-HAPPY
The gameplay in both Persona games is more or less identical, with the main differences being between the PS1 and PSP version, as opposed to anything between the two halves of the game. One thing that will surely make an impression is that the Eternal Punishment PS1 version that I played was much grindier than the PSP version of Innocent Sin. I assume that the PSP remakes had their mechanics slightly reworked in order to avoid excessive grinding which is unavoidable on several occasions of the PS1 Eternal Punishment. If you’re like me and don’t fight battles much, choosing to negotiate with demons instead, you’ll soon be faced with a boss that wipes your whole party out with ease… There’s no way around that but grinding. Good tactics help, like in most RPGs, but not when the difference is so big.
The most notable thing about Persona 2’s gameplay is the multitude of dungeons… The game is really: fooling around in town -> dungeon -> town -> dungeon, etc. Sometimes, you need to progress the story by doing things in town, but often (and especially in the end-game), going to town boils down to restocking on healing items and preparing for the next dungeon. Unlike in the first Persona, there are no longer random encounters in town – you roam around freely. Also, in dungeons, you see your main character run around from an isometric perspective, as opposed to the rad first-person view from the first Persona. Still it doesn’t make all that much of a difference – the main thing you’ll be looking at in dungeons is the map. You also know when you are about to open a door to a room where you’ll face a boss – you can hear your character’s heartbeat when you get near one. That’s a great time to save, and you can then load that save and run around fighting random battles to level up if the boss is too hard. The fact that you can save at any time in dungeons is of great help – save points should really no longer be a thing in the 21st century (nevermind that these games were originally made in the 20th).
The battle system in Persona 2 is also simpler than in the predecessor. Gone are the player and enemy positions on the battle map, and the attack ranges that came with them. Anyone can attack anyone now. You have the usual choices of attacking with your weapon or executing an action with your Persona, which costs a set amount of MP. You can defend, too, which is wise sometimes – for instance when fighting a boss who’s in a near-invulnerable state. A neat feature is that the strongest attack of a Persona costs as much to a user as the weakest. MP cost depends on characters’ compatibility with Personas – if the character and the Persona are a good match, attacks will drain less MP.
Most boss battles are accordingly epic, especially near the end-game. I remember beating the last boss of Eternal Punishment with literally my last remaining character sitting on her last few HP. You can’t get more tense than that. Bosses often hit you with attacks targeting everyone, which can be devastating if you’re low on levels. But, aside from the occasional forced grinding in Eternal Punishment, the challenge they offer is mostly fair. Good tactics usually help a ton, as do the special combination attacks your characters’ Personas can perform, but, above all, make sure you’ve stocked up on healing items.
As mentioned above, demon negotiation is a thing in Persona 2, just like in the original. It’s something wonderful and I was quite appalled to learn that it’s a mechanic that was removed in the much more popular third and fourth iterations of the series. Instead of fighting demons you (randomly) encounter around dungeons, you can choose to talk to them and try to appease them (occasionally getting some laughs or learning some interesting facts in the process). They have four possible states – Anger, Fear, Eagerness and Happiness, which you can affect by talking or performing a gig for them using one or more of your party’s characters. If you make demons angry, they attack you with increased vigour, scaring them makes them run away from battle, and the other two, if repeated thrice, bring rewards. Making demons happy will make them willing to make a pact with your party (which means they’ll help you later on – by giving you cards and/or items more easily, as well as the rare “demon rumours” which can unlock interesting side quests). Increased eagerness makes them give you stuff. Tarot cards are quite important because they are the currency you need to summon various Personas in the Velvet Room.
The Velvet Room features your friend Igor and his colourful companions. There, you can make Tarot cards and summon Personas. Personas and their attacks are often based on demons you encounter. Of course, you never get to fight the most special Personas, just the more common ones. When summoning a Persona, you can also use bonus cards to increase its stats or add an ability to its arsenal. Sadly, you cannot add more than a single ability, so you can’t make an ultimate battle machine. You’ll mostly be looking at the abilities a Persona is capable of learning when choosing which one to summon.
Money is something important in Persona 2 – it seems it’s just never enough. When you reach the end-game, you’ll finally have more than enough money for lots of healing items, but even then you won’t be able to buy many ability cards, or the strongest weapons, as those are absurdly expensive in comparison… As mentioned earlier, you’ll be able to manipulate rumours to your benefit, by first receiving them from a “rumourmonger” (there are a few around town) or a demon (extremely rare), and then going to the Kuzunoha Detective Agency and asking the chief to spread them. Sadly, the options are limited – for instance, you can make a store sell better weapons and such, but you can’t, for example, start a rumour that a villain you’re fighting has become a good guy or something like that. There are some sidequests based on rumours, sometimes requiring you to go through an extra dungeon to complete them. By the way, there is a casino in Persona 2, too, but you need to make it exist via rumours first. Sadly, no clever and addicting game like Persona 1’s Code Breaker this time.
OMINOUS VISUALS AND MUSIC
The first Persona had some strange visuals, whether they were intended to be such or not, and the second one is the same way. When you have demons, it’s only natural some of them are weird and scary (but you have the cute ones, like Atlus mascot Jack Frost, too!), but the artists’ style when drawing characters is also quite distinctive. Persona character portraits are often quite odd at first, then you get used to them. I still find Maya Amano’s looks creepy, especially on Eternal Punishment’s North American box art. She occasionally looks pretty in the game, though. Aside from the designs of people, demons, Personas and such, there’s not all that much of note regarding Persona 2’s visuals. Dungeon backgrounds are pretty dull, and the various other locations you visit around town aren’t much better, either.
Persona 2 music is hit and miss – mostly miss, if you ask me, but the hits that are there are pretty good. The most memorable thing in the game still has to be the Satomi Tadashi drug store music that was already quite notable in the first game. Here, there are several remixes in the different Satomi Tadashi stores across the various Sumaru districts, and the repeating theme is, as Eikichi says, quite hypnotic. Another thing I noticed was that Eternal Punishment went for a heavily techno sound in many of the dungeons, which was an interesting change, as techno was not so prevalent in Innocent Sin. I picked one tune from each game to illustrate this joint review, Innocent Sin’s being the calm on the surface, but ultimately uneasy “Mt. Katatsumuri”, and Eternal Punishment’s being the mysterious “Illusions”. “Illusions” is my favourite song in the whole of Persona 2.
THE DEFINITIVE PERSONA
I need to admit something here – I think that, if I reviewed and rated these two games separately, they’d actually get a lower score each than I’m giving their sum here. But I believe this is fair – they are, after all, two halves of the same story, offering identical gameplay – much like it is fair to rate the four .hack games featuring Kite and BlackRose as a single game. With that out of the way, Persona 2 is a really worthy JRPG experience, and knowing the overall theme of the series, I find it extremely hard to believe that Persona 3 or 4 can really offer any significant improvement in my eyes. While that technically remains to be seen – my curiosity has been piqued and I’ll play them sooner or later, I just don’t see it happening.
Persona 2’s two halves offer a look at the struggles of the individual entering adulthood from two different points of view which are a few important years apart. Of course, the game is about saving your city/the world and such, but that’s just the main plot thread that has to be there to hold the story together. The meat of Persona 2 is in the interactions between your party members, their friendship, and the way they deal with the difficulties they face. The villains also offer some nice points for contemplation, as there is always more than one way to make the world a better place… Ultimately, it may fall a bit short of the quality of the true genre-defining classics, but Persona 2 is a wonderful, memorable experience for RPG fans.