Review by jesse james

"A challenging game that ranks up as one of the greatest RPGs ever created. Not to be missed!"

Story-original, moody and well-written.There is nothing else quite like it. (10/10)

The story begins when Maya Amano is sent to cover a series of gruesome murders that have taken place at Seven Sisters High School. There, she encounters the alleged murderer, the Joker, who awakens a power inside of Maya. The Joker escapes and Maya must now learn to harness the power of her Persona that has been awakened. As she pursues the Joker with the help of her friends, she finds herself inextricably linked to a dark and brooding tale of the supernatural, alternate realities and forgotten pasts. It's up to you to help her make the delicate decisions that will alter the course of fate and restore balance once again.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is actually the continuing story from Persona 2: Innocent Sin, which was never released in the USA. Both of these games are sequels to Persona, originally released in 1997 (1996 in Japan). While there are many references to events and characters from Innocent Sin, it is not required to have played through Innocent Sin to understand and appreciate Eternal Punishment.

Gameplay-highly complex, it provides a great challenge for even seasoned RPG fans. However, it takes time to get the hang of and can be daunting or confusing for the casual gamer. (9/10)

The character you control throughout the game is Maya Amano, an editor for a teen magazine. Getting around Sumaru City, where the story takes place, is easy enough by navigating through a detailed overhead map of the city and its various districts. Maya can walk or run in 8 directions while exploring dungeons and control is thankfully precise.

Each district has its own mini-mall where there are unique stores and restaurants you can visit. Weapons, armor, accessories and healing items can all be purchased by visiting these mini-malls. You can even order food at the various restaurants in the city that will give you a temporary boost in your characters' statistics. Some stores can heal your party for a small fee while others provide vital information. An optional casino is also available where you can earn coins which can be exchanged for rare items and Personas.

Much of the game is spent in dungeons where you battle demons and, usually, a boss or two at the end. Battling is an integral part of Persona 2. It not only serves as a means to level up your characters, but also the only way you can rank up your equipped Personas.

So what are Personas? These are powerful beings that you can equip and summon during battles. All Personas have a different set of abilities, different elemental affinities and weaknesses, as well as different statistics. When attached to a character, the statistics of both the character and the Persona are averaged out. The character will also exhibit any strengths or weaknesses the Persona may have, as long as that particular Persona is equipped. Personas can only be summoned by using Tarot cards and you can usually summon Personas that are no more than 5 levels above Maya Amano. More and more Personas will become available for summoning as your characters level up. Most Personas become available automatically as the game progresses but many powerful Personas require an additional side-quest to unlock. There are a total of 163 Personas in the game!

While battling is an unavoidable exercise in tedium for many RPG fans, the battle system in Persona 2 is highly unique as employing the correct strategy is of utmost importance in order to reap the most benefits from battling. When encountering a group of demons, you are given a few options to choose from. You can have up to 5 characters in your party and you can command them to contact, attack, flee from your enemies or use an item.

(i) Contacting your enemies: this is one of the most important and challenging aspects of the game. This is because Tarot cards can only be obtained via demon contacting. Using various contact combinations from your party of 5, you can elicit several emotions from a contacted demon. Demons exhibit basic emotions of fear, joy, anger and interest in relation to the contact combination you have chosen. A demon who becomes interested 3 times will give you tarot cards which are essential for summoning Personas. A demon who becomes angry 3 times will attack the party, while one who is frightened 3 times will flee. The most difficult emotion to elicit is joy, but when the demon experiences joy 3 times, it will offer to make a contract with you. If you accept, you are able to ask for money, useful items and vital information the next time you encounter the demon again.

(ii) Attacking your enemies: this allows you to gain experience points and receive items dropped by defeated demons. Also allows your equipped Personas to rank up to Rank 8, thus gaining new spells and increases in their statistics.

(iii) Combat Abilities & Spells: the characters are only capable of physical attacks with weapons. For instance, Maya uses a gun in combat, while another party member uses a sword. Some weapons have elemental properties or are able to inflict status abnormalities. Magic spells come from summoning equipped Personas who can perform a variety of offensive and defensive spells, as well as heal your party from status ailments and revive fallen friends. The various abilities of these Personas can be combined to form fusion spells that have tremendous power. Ending a battle with a fusion spell can result in a Persona growing stronger or learning useful hidden abilities.

*Note: I have heard several complaints that Persona 2 has bosses that are too difficult and that leveling up is the only way to beat them. This simply isn't true. The way to beating bosses is to study their weaknesses and then exploit them with your Personas. For instance, if a boss uses primarily water-based attacks and is weak against fire, then equipping some characters with Personas that are strong against water attacks or have abilities that can nullify water attacks will help tremendously. Then you can make sure you have some fire-based attacks in your arsenal and you are ready to dish out the pain! As long as your levels match the levels of the demons in that particular dungeon, you are MORE than okay. In fact, it's possible to easily beat the bosses even though you are several levels below them. It's all about strategy!

(iv) Rumor system: Persona 2 employs a revolutionary rumor system that greatly affects how you play the game. In Sumaru City, rumor can become reality if sufficient people believe in it. You can use this to your advantage, spreading helpful rumors that enable you to gain access to powerful weapons and armor, or new areas previously denied to you. Some demons will only appear after spreading the appropriate rumor and you can gain rare items from defeating them. You can also spread rumors that will decrease the cost of useful items, or increase the potency of magic spells, or even affect how powerful your weapons are. While many rumors are not essential to your adventure, most will certainly help you in one way or another. For instance, a casino comes into existence if you spread the right rumor and this allows you access to rare items and Personas. But, beware, a rumor may not always have the desired effect and demons can also spread them to their advantage!

(v) Weapons, Armor & Accessories: You can purchase these at shops found in mini-malls in the various districts. Some can be found while exploring dungeons, but the most powerful of these have to be manufactured or won from magazines. If you choose to manufacture your weapons and armor, you have to collect the appropriate rare materials and have a large amount of money to be able to do so. However, you can also win them by sending in magazine entries and keeping your fingers crossed. Some weapons are available only after you've spread the right rumor about them. Many accessories are very helpful in complementing the game and are well worth the time it takes to acquire them.

Graphics & Sound-looks great, sounds good, has catchy tunes but marred by uneven voice-acting. (8/10)

The characters and Personas are well-drawn 2-D sprites that are adequately animated. And other than the 2-D world map, everything else in the game is rendered crisply and cleanly in 3-D. There is plenty of detail in the game and the environments are well done to make you feel like you are truly in a city. While the understated in-game graphics don't scream out at you, they are pleasing and sharp. There is also a smattering of cut-scenes employing computer-generated graphics and animation throughout the game that are truly stunning.

Sound effects have been very well done in the game. Little things like the squeak of an opening door, to Maya typing away on a computer keyboard really add to the already terrific ambience. The sounds during a battle are particular impressive, with an appropriate and realistic sound for each spell or attack, as well as a unique voice for each demon. The voice-acting for the characters, however, are a mixed bag. For the most part, they are good and have really amusing lines. Sometimes, though, it's nigh impossible to tell what the characters are saying and it can get annoying when all you hear is a jumbled mess of vowels. Maya Amano, for instance, sounds like a different person each time she speaks. However, this is a minor annoyance and doesn't detract from the game itself.

Persona 2 has an awesome soundtrack ranging from moody dungeon music, to J-pop, to classically-influenced piano. Everything has been very well thought-out and the music is always appropriate for the scene. Each place you visit has its own style of music and you are frequently tempted to stay just to listen to it!

Replayability-tons of secrets, multiple paths and challenging gameplay easily warrant an encore. (10/10)

Persona 2 is a game filled to the brim with secrets. How much you get from the game depends on how much you invest into it. Even with a guide, it's impossible to experience all that the game has to offer the first time through. Some spells and Personas can only be unlocked during the second time through. There are even secret contacting combinations that are simply hilarious and add to the already decent character development. There are two characters during the game that you can choose to complete your party. Both characters offer different scenarios and background stories. Playing the game twice by going through both scenarios will open up the EX Dungeon, an optional dungeon with powerful enemies, rare items and rare Personas.

To Buy or To Rent?

Because Persona 2 is such a deep and involving RPG, I would highly recommend buying the game, rather than renting it, simply because you would not be able to enjoy the experience if you have to rush through the game. While it is possible to beat the game under 50 hours, it is also possible spend in excess of 100 hours just discovering all the secrets. This is a game that was designed to be savored, with an elegant battle-system and highly complex gameplay. Bear in mind that RPG veterans will probably have an easier time appreciating Persona 2 because of the level of detail, strategy and micro-management involved. This is one of the most enjoyable RPGs I have ever played and is extremely satisfying. I can't wait to begin round 2.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 03/09/01, Updated 03/09/01

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