Review by Alessar

"A Dark Reflection of our World Comes Alive in Persona 2 - Eternal Punishment"

Persona 2 is a classic RPG with some very big twists. The game has a much more sophisticated feel than most RPGs. The setting is modern day Japan and the main characters are mostly twentysomethings who stumble on a madman who's somehow tapped into supernatural powers.

But wait. He KNOWS them and knows they're also ''Persona users.'' And he's got a grudge! Something's gone very wrong with reality and only the mad ''Joker'' and one mysterious boy seem to know what -- and all ''Deja Vu Boy'' will say to the characters is to stay out of it...

In Persona, the characters have been given the ability to manifest the various heroes, monsters and gods of mythology by the mysterious being ''Philemon'' who seems to be the guardian of the human collective unconsciousness. The ''Personas'' are summoned and linked to the characters and function similarly to Guardians in Wild Arms 2 or Guardian Forces in FF8. Each persona, except for a few truly unique ones, eventually manifest 5-7 different special moves (mostly spells, a few are special physical attacks). You can use items to boost a persona's attributes or give it an extra spell. There are a lot of different personas you can eventually use. They're sorted by class using the Tarot deck as the categories, and then they have levels. The higher the level the persona, the higher its attributes, and the better its spells. Characters can summon personas only up to 5 levels higher than they are. Some of the personas are exotic creatures you'll never have heard of, but some are mythological big guns. Odin. Athena. Quetzalcoatal. King Arthur. Cerberus. Isis. The ''Four Gods'' of Fushigi Yuugi fame. It's a pretty good selection.

Equipping a persona causes the character's attributes to be averaged with the personas (usually the persona's stronger... but not always) and gain the persona's various attributes, such as ''Strong against Fire, Voids Holy, Weak against Water''. The characters can then cast spells by manifesting their personas, which start at ''rank 1'' and as they're used they gain in rank (to 8) unlocking those various spells and powers. You can easily swap personas in and out of combat, and store some out of the party. Also, once personas have reached rank 8 they can still improve with lucky random ''mutations'' that increase their stats or unlock hidden powers.

The gameplay is very similar to older RPGs. Certain regions of the city, certain parks, malls, and schools, have become infested with demons as a result of the phenomena occurring. These areas are the dungeons, and as you explore you'll even find item boxes. But just when you think this sort of thing is old and boring, they add two things to liven up combat and keep it from being repetitive. The first thing is ''fusion spells,'' secret combos you can perform by having your personas cast the right spells in the right order. The right combo of innocuous spells can unleash board-clearing devastation. (And who doesn't love excessive smackdown??) The fusion spells are also the key to the mutation system.

The second thing is negotiating with the ''demons.'' You see, in order to summon Personas you need magic tarot cards. And the demons carry the cards (actually the term ''demon'' refers to all supernatural creatures including faeries, ghosts, angels, mythical monsters and yes, traditional demons). You can talk the demons out of fighting you, into giving you Tarot cards or items, or giving you valuable information. Each character in the party has a specific negotiation skill; for instance Maya Amano (the designated main character) has interviewing skills and her roommate Ulala tells fortunes. But you can have up to three people trying to negotiate at once. Some combinations are duds, but others do something unique. If you have Ulala and Maya contact a demon, Ulala will challenge Maya to a beauty contest and draft the demon for the judge! Demons have personality traits and the contact methods have a fairly consistent range of results. So it takes some real strategy to figure out how to sweet talk that arrogant, foolish, and bluff Magician type demon out of his loot.

The game is absolutely chock full of secrets, hidden items, events that you can play a couple different ways, and some fun minigames that truly *are* optional. The packaging says its a 50 hour game and I suppose it *could* be if you strictly went right through it as fast as you could and used a strategy guide. The graphics are good, not stunning but easy on the eyes and pretty clear. The character designs and visual style of the game are very unique, sort of a neo-modern hipster/swing look. The BGM is techno, a *good* techno that's not too intrusive yet helps you feel the pace of the game. The game has a built-in incentive to replay it: you can carry your tarot stock and any unlocked information (such as fusion spells) into a replay game. There’s also an extra dungeon available if you replay the game in the right way...

I do have two criticisms of this game; the first is the spell naming system. The same names that have been used in other games in the Megami Tensei series (of which the three Persona games are a subset) are used. The names are clever and there is a pattern to them, BUT, there is not a central reference to list and explain them for you. In my opinion, the manual should have listed at least a few samples to make the naming pattern clear. Once a character has a spell, its effects can be seen but the problem is when a potentially summonable persona has a spell you’ve never seen before and you don’t know what its for.

My second criticism is that the combat system defaults to an automatic mode where each character repeats their previous action endlessly. Once expertise has been gained, I can see using that to save on button pushing, but for a starting setting I think it was a major mistake. Single turn, on the other hand, is a bit more tedious as you not only have to select actions, you may also have to re-order those actions. However, it is much more flexible. Still, switching the setting is quite easy, as long as you know you have the option. An important explanation in the manual about combat is easily overlooked, so allow me to say this: Pushing the Circle button cancels out of both normal and single-turn combat, immediately, and thus allows you to pick new actions.

In conclusion, I found Persona 2 to be an engrossing game and played it for well over a hundred hours. I purchased it right after its release and paid $50 for it, and I don’t regret my purchase at all. By the time you are reading this review, it will probably be a little cheaper. It is an excellent game, and will challenge you in ways that other RPGs have not in the past.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 02/20/01, Updated 02/20/01

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