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Persona 2: Eternal Punishment
Score: 84%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Gone are the first-person dungeons of the original Persona (at least, the original one here). In its place are full 3D environments, a la Xenogears. The camera can be rotated to any of eight positions, which is nice, as sometimes it’s hard to see just what you’re walking around with the “default” camera angle. The characters are still sprites, which actually works in the game’s favor, as the lanky character style just wouldn’t work terribly well in full 3D. And the character portraits that appear whenever anyone of import is talking are excellent. The Megami Tensei series sports some excellent character design, and Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is no exception. There’s not a cookie-cutter character to be found, either in design or in personality.

The battle graphics are another story. Every battle takes place in some sort of alternate dimension, with a view-field of roughly ten feet. Whenever characters walk off-screen while you’re chatting to another one, you lose all sight of them until they come to beat you up again. It’s still sprite-based, although there are a few polygons here and there. The spells are interesting, if not particularly impressive, and the battles are perhaps just a little too funky.

The same cannot be said for Eternal Punishment’s music. Solid, hummable, and at times downright spooky, the music tracks in this game are uniformly excellent. There were a few that annoyed me, but most of them I genuinely liked, and a few I wanted to hear more than once. Most of the music that plays in the Velvet Room, for example, is excellent. The voice acting, on the other hand, is spotty at best. Most of the lines are painfully overacted, although quite a few of the characters are actually almost on the money (the main character, Maya, and the various police-types). The battle taunts are a bit annoying, although it’s funny hearing the f-word bleeped out in a video game. Heh. It’s neither the best nor the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard -- strictly middle of the road stuff.

The same cannot be said of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment’s gameplay. Unique, intriguing, and hard as hell (almost to the point of unplayability at times), Eternal Punishment places you in a game world unlike any other in video gaming, dealing with a dark version of our own reality and the happenings in that realm.

You’re Maya, head of a popular teen magazine. Your boss isn’t too fond of you, and she sends you off to find out about the Joker, a murderer who can be contacted by dialing your own number on your cell phone. The inclusion of the words “teen magazine” and “cell phone” should tell you that Eternal Punishment doesn’t take place in your standard fantasy world, and that’s true -- it’s closer to White Wolf’s “World of Darkness” than anything else. It’s our world, only demons run about freely and there’s a lovely childhood game called “Persona” that has a bad habit of bringing out the beast in people.

Eternal Punishment is heavily plot-based, and although the translation falters occasionally, as a general rule, it’s pleasantly solid. It’s set in a Tokyo-style city, though, so don’t be surprised if a few of the concepts, actions, and motivations aren’t quite what we’d expect them to be. It’s simple enough to handle, though, and Eternal Punishment has bucket-loads of story that’s impressed on you as the game goes on.

The battle system in the Persona series is highly unique. You can fight, which is common, but you can also talk to the various “enemies.” By choosing the right people, the right tones, and answering questions correctly, you can persuade the demons to become your friends, give you items or hints, or even some money. This is necessary if you plan on progressing any distance in the game -- the new Personas that you can get with the cards from making friends are much stronger than your starting ones, and the game gets really hard fast.

There are also a few other unique features of Eternal Punishment. For example, there’s a rumor mill that you can give rumors too, and said rumors become true. This can alter parts of the game, and often carries the plot along or gives you new opportunities to do things. And the whole Persona summoning and creation thing is pretty unique in the world of gaming as well.

Besides the sheer difficulty of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, though, there often feels like there’s something missing. Those in the know realize that this is actually the second part of a two-chapter sequel: the first part, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, was never released here in the States. While the game certainly stands on its own, there are a few things that happen that make more sense if you know what happened in the first game. It’s a shame that so few Megami Tensei games have come out in the States; hopefully Atlus will be kind enough to bring Innocent Sin over as well.

There are a few issues, though, mainly with the battle engine. It’s a real pain to target a different enemy than the one the computer auto-selects, especially if you’re trying to raise your characters’ Personae ranks. And at times, there feels like a little too much randomness and not enough strategy in the battles. But these are relatively minor gripes -- until a boss squelches you in a matter of seconds.

Hard. Amazingly hard. At times, impossibly hard. Some of the “random” encounters in Persona 2: Eternal Punishment are harder than last boss fights in other games, and the bosses are often pure torture. You’ve got to level your characters like mad, and more importantly, you’ve got to level your Personae like mad as well. Don’t be surprised if you throw your controller down in frustration when you hit the upper floors of the Sanitarium, and you’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg when it comes to difficulty. I think it’s perhaps a bit too much -- people use to the easier games like Final Fantasy VIII, have enough problems with the recently released Final Fantasy IX. Eternal Punishment’s difficulty level makes it really only for the hardcore RPGer, which is the group Atlus needs to target least -- they’ve already got all the fans of quirky RPGs.

Game Mechanics:
The controls in the game are simple and intuitive, and the inclusion of an auto-map is a major boon, especially in some of the more confusing “dungeons.” The battle system is not as intuitive, and it requires you to do more button finagling than I’m particularly fond of when you want to target a different enemy. The game also throws a few too many overpowered baddies at you from the get go, and never relents -- you almost never get a chance to keep up with the Joneses, so to speak, and it can be frustrating. The menus, on the other hand, are easy to navigate, easy to understand, and easy to use.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is a good game. It’s also very hard -- too hard for anyone but the hard core gamer. It’s unfortunate, really, as the world of Persona is intriguing enough for everyone to find something interesting in. And for those who don’t mind a frustrating RPG, there are a whole lot of cool things to be found in Eternal Punishment. But for those of you who don’t have the patience for a difficult game, make sure you rent it before you buy -- it may prove a little too steep of a curve to really enjoy. Fans of the quirky and difficult shouldn’t hesitate in the purchase, though. Hopefully, enough will sell to convince Atlus to bring over (or at least try to bring over) a few more of these types of games.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

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