Review by Dan of 76
"An RPG like no other"
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is the realized sequel to Persona 2: Innocent Sin, in America we were given the latter part of the the sequel to the cult-hit Persona: Revelations but not the former, and widely considered inferior chapter. While many, as well as myself, consider P2:EP to be a great game that didn't reach a large enough audience, it's nevertheless still understandable. P2:EP is a very involved game, it doesn't share the flexibility that many wide-spread games usually do. P2:EP requires a lot of stock in time, a lot of patience, and unlike many RPGs, you really need to watch yourself. As far as the regular console RPG is concerned, I'd wager that P2:EP is probably the most difficult one I've ever played. While this level of difficulty, involvement, thinking and time consumption may appear to a gamer more challenge oriented, the regular gamer would more than likely pass it up. However many people also say that P2:EP's lack of an audience is also partly to be blamed on it's distributors for not pushing the game right. I subscribe to both beliefs. One way or the other, this is a great game, and people that should know about it don't know about it.
I've always said that gameplay is the most important feature in a game, as that is the essence of a game, and nothing better exhibits addictive and original gameplay to me than P2:EP. Somewhere in my first run of this game I managed to aptly kill my social life, and yay, it was fun. Thankfully, this is the only game I found that could ever do that.
So what makes the gameplay so spectacular? Just about everything, and I mean everything. P2:EP incorporates many features into it that aren't found in other series or games. Let's start off where the title leaves us, persona. To those new to the series, persona is otherwise Latin for ''masks'', in this game each character may assume a different persona. Personas are essentially a set of spells, they can hold anywhere from two spells to eight, commonly, they hold about five or six. Personas not only allow certain characters an array of spells, but they also determine what elements the character is weak to, strong to, immune to, and what they reflect. In addition, personas also cause an impression on a character's stats, this in turn could make a character stronger physically, maybe allow them more luck, etc. They're a heavy part of the game, and there's a lot to personas (making your own, mutations, special personae, etc.) but if I were to go on about them I'd probably make this review too long. Believe you me, when I said this was an involved game, I meant it.
In battle, you're allowed many features, and comparably, P2:EP has a very different battle system than most. You may allow your characters many things, they can do the usual-- attack, defend, cast a spell (or in this case, summon a persona to use a spell), use an item, or change out a persona. Other abilities in battle are different, there's the fusion spell feature, which casts a huge spell of some type when characters in a certain order perform a certain spell individually. Fusion spells can involve two characters for small ones, and very rarely, and hard to obtain, are fusion spells which may involve the whole group of five. A small, but very helpful feature in the battle system is the ability to re-arrange your fighters at whim. Unlike other games, P2:EP has no concern as to placement of fighters, rather when they attack. You may be able to re-arrange fighters at any given time, but it's not always without consequence. The arranging of your fighters also determine when an enemy or enemies may attack. For instance, putting the slowest character first will almost always allow the enemy to strike first. Probably one of the most useful features is a very simple one, but not seen in other games, it's the ability to cancel your attack at any time before it is performed by an individual. For instance you could allow three people to attack while you programmed five of them to, but cancel and go back to the prompt. This doesn't affect order of attack, it continues on as normal, but you're stopping to make plans.
P2:EP carries on a traditional feature in battle, the ability to negotiate with your opponents. Most commonly negotiating allows you to profit in tarot cards, (used to make persona) money, items, as well as other things. Rarely, the demon finds it funny however to hit you and run away. The negotiating system is simple, demons have four moods, happiness, sadness, interest and anger. The negotiation may end in any one or two moods depending on how you play your cards. Ending the demon in a negative mood overall usually causes a status effect on them followed by an attack, ending the demon in a positive mood overall usually causes you to be rewarded and that demon leaves the battle (which you may continue if there are other demons, or you may talk with the rest). Each one of your characters has a single negotiation tactic, but you may use up to three out of your five party members to devise different negotiation tactics to sway your enemies. Depending on the order you choose your members depends on what they end up doing.
Battles in the game are overall plain fun. However you have to go through A LOT of them if you want to get anywhere. It's not as simple as going through a dungeon, getting to the destination, fighting and leaving. If you thought you had to level up a lot in other RPGs then you don't know how much leveling up you have to do in P2:EP to ensure a victory (although if you're a very good strategist you can beat the game on a relatively low level). While normal battles are still fun, boss battles in this game are the most fun boss battles out of any RPG I've played, and they only get better the farther into the game you get. Boss battles in P2:EP require a certain amount of planning and thinking that I've yet to find in another game (which has left me spoiled). The boss battles can actually really get you into the game, and they can last a good deal of time. Not only are the boss battles very well thought out, but very hard to boot. Dungeons are usually hardly any indication as to how difficult the boss of that dungeon will be. Gameplay in P2:EP is a review in itself. This section is only a hint at how crazy in-depth the gameplay can tend to be. (I didn't even get to the rumor system...) This is what I mean by the game being involved.
I'm not particularly too crazy about the sound. The soundtrack in itself is a great soundtrack and fits great for the game. Unfortunately there are few themes that you'll find really catchy or remember later on. (anyone will tell you the Tadashi Satomi drug store song is probably the best song in the game-- er, songs) However, all the music still provides to develop a great atmosphere about the game.
The actual sound effects in this game are also not too great, but at the same time, they're not bad at all. The sounds are assigned greatly, but many demons of similar type use the same sounds, so it doesn't get a great mix-up. There isn't much to say about the sound effects, because they really aren't anything too special.
You will have to prepare yourselves for the occasional bad voice actor. Occasional would be an understatement, almost all of them are bad voice actors. These special dialogue scenes are still pretty fun to listen to, but sometimes they can be gut-wrenchingly bad. And unfortunately there's no bad dialogue that you'll learn to love. (''Barry, where's Barry?'' comes to mind) Despite this, the occasional spoken bits in negotiations are somewhat of a larf, depending on who it is. Victory cries from the character to strike the final blow are fun too, everyone (except those Suou brothers) has some end-battle dialogue that's fun.
There's no complaints on the design of this game. Everyone has their own opinion, and I've never heard of anyone object to the beauty of the art in the Persona games. We have Kaneko Kazuma to thank for this, he's the artist of the Persona series and designed almost everything in the game. The only reason I give the graphics a nine out of ten is because the sprites are of a very low resolution. This is understandable as there's a lot in this game, but nevertheless, a pixelized sprite is still not going to look great.
Environments are great. Dungeons are designed without flaw and look spectacular. P2:EP uses a rare in-game graphical format, even rare on Playstation, and incorporates 2-D sprites into 3-D environments. P2:EP does this and does it well.
If P2:EP lacked a great gameplay system I might still play it just to see the game's graphics. You won't find art like this in any RPG, that I can assure you of. It's a bit much to explain just how awesome all of this art looks, so it's something you will have to look at for yourself. Thankfully we're given not only a good 12 FMVs throughout the game (including an intro), but in buying this game we also recieve a bonus disc with an impressive animation made for the predecessor, Innocent Sin that's over two minutes long (not to mention the music during this animation is probably one of the, if not the, best tracks in either game).
Unfortunately I can't go higher than ten. Well, I could, but it would look ridiculous. Simply put, P2:EP has the best storyline out of any game I've ever played. If the beauty of the game and the addictive gameplay don't motivate you enough to play through, then the story will. Most RPG plots tend to focus on a single idea, this isn't a bad tactic, infact focusing on more than one major goal is a bad idea. Unfortunately most other RPGs just don't build up enough on their story lines to make them original enough. Some do build up, but just mess it up and make the plot look ridiculous. P2:EP weaves a storyline that is very character oriented and provokes you onto wanting to see more. The story is a very dark one, but it is set in modern times-- something you won't find in many RPGs which tend to usually be set in some stereotypical fantasy land or medieval times. P2:EP sets itself in a technological setting, while at the same time focuses heavily on the demons as well. This makes for a grandoise marraige of two themes quite unsimilar.
I'd go into the storyline more, but it's quite complicated and I wouldn't want to give anything away. While this is indeed the latter part of the second Persona story, it does a fine job standing alone, and you needn't have any knowledge of either of the two preceding games in order to grasp this story. Granted, one may appreciate P2:EP a little more after playing the first game, but it's by no means crucial.
You can't go wrong with this game. I said it killed my social life for a while and this is why. Because of the replayability this game has. A person can get through this game in less then 50 hours their first time around, infact, less than 40. This still makes for a very long RPG. There's a lot more to do than just the story path you're given. Side-quests aplenty! Not just a few sidequests, but a whole lot. In addition, there's many secret items that are attainable at many or any point in the game. Plus you can busy yourself with other little tidbits, games and features around this game. At one point about a third-way into the game you're required to recruit a fifth member, you have to pick one out of two characters who are returning from the first Persona game. Whoever you choose determines where you end up going next, and certain dialogues restricted to that character only. After playing through the game twice, once with each character, you're given an extra dungeon. Add on another six to twelve hours onto your clock, first time through it took me eight. And the EX Dungeon is a lot of fun! Well worth it if you like the game, plus it allows you to discover and use even more items, items that will affect a new game, namely new personae.
I'm one who likes to sink my teeth into a game and really get into it and give myself a challenge. If you're anything like me, and you love to see, hear, and play something new and different, then this is probably the best thing you can find in the RPG department.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 11/25/03
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