It’s silly to think every December would turn out the same, right? Instead of watching a crazy amount of anime, I’ve been busy playing video games. Without going into detail, I played some games that lead to starting Persona 2: Eternal Punishment for the PSX. I didn’t expect I’d wind up getting into it, but I did, and then Christmas turned out like this.
I’ve never beaten more than one or two JRPGs, despite playing and owning tons of them. This was caused by a combination of my short attention span and my having been terrible at RPGs in the past. The only RPG I can remember completing was Tales of Symphonia. I reached the final bosses of Shadow Hearts Covenant, Golden Sun, and FFI, but could never beat them. I’m hoping to turn the tide now, because my attention span is way longer and I have much more free time. So without further ado, here’s a review of Shin Megami Tensei Persona 2: Eternal Punishment in the format of Baka-Raptor’s “Unbiased Reviews.”
Five Things That Sucked
1. The Voice Acting
It’s little consolation that the dub is so bad it can be enjoyed “ironically”—such is in no way preferable to a Japanese voice track, which Atlus has a perplexing habit of dis-including in their games. At times, I thought I’d gotten used to the terribad acting, but then a character who hadn’t spoken yet would get a voiced cutscene and I’d feel my face contorting in pain. Of the main cast, none is worse than the usually-silent main character, Maya. She has no dialog in cutscenes, but plenty of godawful battle quotes (like, “whoop-ass completed!” and “ciao!”), all delivered while seemingly drunk. At least her probably-actually-drunk best friend Ulala is more enjoyably over-the-top, with battle quotes like, “don’t underestimate me, you **** bastard!”
Yes, the game censores its own dialog at times, with amazing results. At one point, a stalker with a chainsaw says, “I’ll **** your **** and **** it with ****!” to which Ulala replies, “I’m gonna **** your **** head off!” At least these lines seem purposefully silly. So do the voices of the more insane baddies, which are very “violent 90s OVA”-style performances. Far less humorous is the single worst voice in the game, that of villain Ishigami Chizuru, who for some unfathomable reason has a terrible Russian villain accent, even though she’s clearly Japanese. (But she’s a mystic! It’s supposed to sound mystical!)
At least most of the guy characters are passable (with the exception of Tatsuya, who reminds me of Chris from Garzey’s Wing), though it might be because of whom they’re up against. Mid-game, a (Japanese) fashion model named Ellen joins the party, and she’s given a completely indecipherable, vaguely-European-but-not-really accent, along with the worst battle quotes in the game (such as one finisher, “stupid!”). The performance is uncredited, so maybe they knew just how bad it was.
The Japanese version had Takehito Koyasu, Morikawa Toshiyuki, and Nakata Jouji. Man, we got gypped!
Grinding is always the worst part of playing an RPG and has a lot to do with why I rarely beat them. The rhythm of going through a dungeon, then a town, then seeing a cutscene, etc. would be perfect were it not for the fact that most RPGs require more than just fighting enough monsters to complete a dungeon—instead requiring that you stick around to level up for the next dungeon (or spend time in extra dungeons and training areas). Arguably, a game would have no challenge if you could just waltz through all the dungeons in a linear fashion—but the only challenge here is one of patience.
Persona 2 puts a lot of effort into spicing up combat with its elaborate battle system. In each random encounter, there’s the option of fighting with or communicating with demons. In the latter case, it’s a game of trying to make the demons either interested enough to give you cards used to summon personae, or appeasing them into being your friend so that you can later get rare items, spread rumors, and get blank cards from them. If you only had to play straight through dungeons using this system, then it would have a fine rhythm, but in reality it just means you have to do even more fighting in order to get all the things you need from battles.
A lot of my grinding troubles came from following along with Yushiro’s strategy guide on GameFAQs. Had I followed everything he said to do, it would’ve taken easily 100+ hours to beat the game (as opposed to my 60). This is in part due to side quests, secret items, etc., but mostly due to the amount of grinding he wanted me to do before heading off to each dungeon. Here’s the kind of scenario I sometimes faced:
– I need the persona Peri. To get this persona, I must mutate it from the persona Kerpres. Kerpres is level (making shit up) thirty-nine, and my highest-leveled character must be at most five levels lower in order to summon him, plus I need 130 Strength cards. My highest-leveled character is thirty-three and I have thirty Strength cards, so I need to grind until I level up and gather more cards.
– Now that I have Kerpres, I need to make him mutate into Peri, which can only be done by using Kerpres as part of a fusion spell at the end of a match. However, Kerpres is only Rank 1, and he doesn’t know any spells that can be used in a fusion. I must now grind to get his rank up, which can only be done by using him and his currently shitty spells in battle. Once he’s learned a spell which can be used in a fusion, I have to grind for hours, ending every match in a fusion spell, hoping to get a mutation, which can happen to any of the three personae used in the spell, and might just increase their parameters or teach them a new attack, or even give me the wrong mutation ability. With enough luck and persistence, I might get the mutation ability and be able to mutate Kerpres into Peri. However, Peri is level forty-four, and takes 150 Sun cards to summon, so I have to do a little extra grinding to summon him. Once I do, I have to rank him up, because he also starts out with shitty spells, so now I’m grinding him up to Rank 8 so that he can learn the spell that I need to do the fusion that will end every battle in the next dungeon in one move.
– The OTHER personae in that fusion are Il-Dana and Izanami. To get the special card to summon Izanami, I need to walk around an optional dungeon for an hour to get her rare encounter, beat her, then be at a high enough level and have enough cards to summon her; then, I have to get her to Rank 8 as well. As for Il-Dana, his special card was in a chest in a hidden room in the gigantic maze-like dungeon that I just finished, so I better hope I remembered to get it before taking on the boss. But that should be okay, because I must’ve mapped the whole dungeon in the dungeon mapping side-quest, making sure to fall into every trap and re-trace my steps again and again to mark everything. I would’ve had to so that I could get the special attack card I needed from the quest giver to use in this bitchin’ fusion spell, which there’s a one in ten chance he’ll actually give me, so I better save before I talk to him and reload until I get the card I want.
None of this is exaggeration. These are the guide’s instructions, and sometimes he’d assume that all of the tasks were accomplished in his boss strategies. Since I wasn’t going to do all of that work, it was hard to determine which alternative personae to use in each dungeon. I’d get one or two of the hard ones, then have the ones that I was supposed to be trying to mutate but gave up on and went into the dungeon with what I had, naturally not able to do the super-fusion that would’ve annihilated everything.
That all said, I probably did the maximum amount of grinding that the game expected of sane players, since I never had much difficulty. I Game Over’d less than a dozen times, mostly against difficult bosses while still hammering out the strategy to beat them, and rarely because I was under-leveled. Regular enemies in any dungeon would only be a challenge if they had cheap one-hit-kill moves. I guess this means that the grinding I did was all “worth it” (Yushiro’s favorite phrase), since I certainly hate struggling through a dungeon even more than I do grinding. But I still would’ve taken struggling over going all-out the way Yushiro preached.
What the fuck was the point of these besides totally ruining the map-making side-quest? I made painstaking maps of two dungeons after the side-quest became available, and then all of a sudden every dungeon had an assload of traps. To complete a dungeon map, you have to actually fall into every single trap. As of the very first trap I fell into (while not even doing the side-quest), I officially abandoned map-making altogether. Instead, every time I entered an area with a bunch of traps, I would save constantly, then reload my save whenever I fell in. It was way quicker and easier than running back up through the floors.
4. The Bomb Shelter
An expansive series of caves underneath a school, the bomb shelter was the main side-dungeon in the game, otherwise known as “the grind zone,” since it was the only place to grind intensively in-between dungeons. After each dungeon, another area of the bomb shelter opened, but it was just the same fucking thing only with demons from the last dungeon. The linear corridors were scattered with pointless HP and poison traps (I never understood these throughout the game because you have to be careless or retarded to hit them), and the only item in each area was a map of the area itself. If the areas were really massive and labyrinthine the maps might be a big deal, but they were small and easy to navigate.
Besides grinding, the only reason to come here was for rare encounter demons which gave cards for what would usually be one of the best personae for the next dungeon. I only bothered finding one, since I needed to run around grinding for a god damn hour anyway, so may as well stick around until I find the stupid rare demon. The popular method of finding rare demons is casting Estoma, a spell that limits encounters to demons of your party’s mean level or above, and then running around in circles casting it over and over for a god damn hour.
Another thing: there are boulders in front of the doors to areas two and five. To remove these, you have to locate and spread “demon rumors” among the demons in the area. Seriously, fuck demon rumors. The process of gathering and spreading them is so arduous and involves so much chance that it’s totally not worth it. Moreover, there are doors to areas two and five in the areas bordering them, so all you have to do is find those doors in the aforementioned easily navigated areas. Cast Estoma, walk through, done. Hours of rumor-spreading saved.
5. The Final Boss
Full disclosure: I did not beat the final boss of this game. I made an attempt, failed, and opted to watch the game’s ending on youtube so I could move on. In my opinion, the emotional climax of Persona 2 occurred at the end of the fourth-to-last dungeon (Mt. Iwato), and after that point I was basically finished with the game. I was past the point of no return for trying to obtain the strongest persona for each of my characters, and I had no desire to do any more grinding or spend any more time with the game than I needed to.
I considered listing among the “things that sucked” the lack of alternate strategy guides on the internet. As stated above, Yushiro’s strategies became useless to me because I hadn’t gone and done 100% of everything in the game—all it was good for was knowing which elements the bosses were weak or resistant to (not a huge deal). Since there were no other complete strategy guides, I ended up winging it through the last three dungeons, expecting that I’d find myself needing to grind excessively… and instead finding that I was plenty powerful enough to blast through everything.
The final dungeon was actually pretty fun, and I was kicking ass right up until the two-part final boss. Part one went as easily as anything else in the dungeon, whereas part two was fucking impossible. Nyarlathotep’s final form has 18k hit points, and dealt enough damage per turn that I needed four of my five party members on almost constant assist tactics. My one main attacker dealt only 200 or so damage per turn. At the rate I was going, it would’ve taken 75 to 100 turns to finish the battle, and there was no way I could last that long. I came into battle with an absurd number of healing items, and I exhausted all of them in the course of a forty-five minute battle that I probably only half-finished.
I’m not interested in having to grind my ass off just for one fucking fight, especially when I could handle everything leading up to it without any problems. Nyarlathotep wasn’t even an interesting villain to begin with and fighting him wasn’t gratifying at all. Christmas has come and gone, and I have four new Shin Megami Tensei games to play. Maybe I’ll make another attempt at some point, but I doubt it.
Five Things That Rocked
1. The Characters
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is that it features a cast of adult characters in their mid-to-late twenties, as opposed to the other games in the Persona saga which all center on high schoolers. This includes Persona 2: Innocent Sin, the predecessor to Eternal Punishment, which featured Eternal Punishment’s lead character, Maya, as the adult character in the group. In Eternal Punishment, Innocent Sin’s lead character, Tatsuya, is the youngest character, at eighteen. (No surprise, Innocent Sin was way more popular.)
Despite being the youngest, Tatsuya was the character that fascinated me most, precisely because he was surrounded by adults, and also because (that guy) HE IS KAMILLE. He looks like him, acts like him, and is every bit as angsty and stupid. What separates the game’s treatment of a Kamille from that of Zeta Gundam is that the characters in Persona are just normal people—not battle-hardened, opinionated soldiers. The cast of Eternal Punishment mostly feel sorry for Tatsuya and want to help him, taking on a group parental role over him. But the connection really came into being when Maya Bright-slapped his Gundam ass for my favorite scene in the game.
The other leading characters are entertaining because they all fail in such massive ways. Baofu is my favorite, because he tries so hard to be a “cool guy,” and “adult,” and a “manly man,” and he fails so fucking hard because of it (ghostlightning would love this guy). The game is aware of this, and the characters are constantly making fun of one-another and calling each-other out on how fail they are, whether or not they’re aware of how fail they themselves are being at the same time.
Towards the end of the game, the characters start getting more and more wrapped up in themselves and what’s going on, saying more and more cheesy and wannabe-heavy lines, which would’ve been totally annoying if not for the fact that almost always there was one character to stand aside and go “did Ulala seriously say that?” or, “look at Baofu, trying to act all cool.” It was a perfectly stricken balance of allowing characters to be cool, but also humanizing them and showing that they don’t just fail a little, but in really big ways.
2. The City
I enjoyed the city life aspect of Eternal Punishment a lot more than the dungeon or combat aspects. Sumaru City felt alive, and everything that happened in the game had a distinct effect on and relevance to the city. After every dungeon, all of the NPCs would have new dialog, and I made a point to spend an hour or so talking to everyone after almost every single dungeon. It made me feel more connected to what was going on than the main storyline ever managed to.
The coolest part of all this wasn’t just that everyone had changing dialog, but that they could interact with one-another. Everywhere I went in town, my party members would be standing around, and I could talk to them, either hearing their thoughts on the plot, or what’s happening in that specific place at the moment, or see characters and NPCs reacting to one-another.
Some of the minigames enhanced this even further. The “man-searcher” game involved finding people around town and revealing their name (someone called “Boy” you might reveal to be “Sakata Gintoki”), which made them seem more inter-connected and more like people. Then there was the Sumaru Genie’s “affinity readings,” wherein you answer a series of questions and the genie matches your affinity with someone in the city based on your answers (with something like sixty-four variances). This brings me to…
3. The Designs
A lot of things in this game reminded me of the Boogiepop novel series, and the designs were first to do so. They’re very late-90s anime (no surprise, since the game came out in 2000), trying to look “urban” but without overdoing it too much (just enough). The main cast, while stylish, actually didn’t do much for me design-wise—it was the NPCs that I really enjoyed.
My favorites were the fast-food cashier girl who talks like a ninja, and the Rumor-Lovin’ Bartender whom I’m fairly certain was hitting on my (female) lead every time I spoke to her. Towards the end of the game, when Sumaru City gets launched into space(!!), the part of town where Rumor-Lovin’ Bartender operated was destroyed. I was very relieved to learn that she’d survived, having jumped town thanks to the rumors she loves~
4. The Premise
The driving force behind the game’s story and most unique gameplay elements is that in Sumaru City, rumors become reality. As a core premise, this was a really cool idea, especially when you get to see its effects by spreading rumors yourself. Most of the effects are very straightforward, but the interesting part is seeing the people in town sharing the rumor and discussing its reality. The rumor system also carried into battles, with potential effects on the attacks of demons and personae, but I didn’t get involved with that for reasons stated above.
5. Music and Sound
The Persona 2 games are strangely and sadly two of only a few Shin Megami Tensei games without a badass Meguro Shouji soundtrack. Nevertheless, the game has plenty of excellent music that brought the dungeons to life much better than the drab visuals did. I know I’ll be able to recognize some of these songs years down the line.
Also notable was the game’s highly gratifying sound effects. Super attacks tended to sound like Fucking Super Attacks, with all the grandeur that should occur when I bring the hammer of god down on a group of enemies. I also loved that almost all of the enemies had voices, all of which spoke in strange, warped Japanese that Atlas left alone, perhaps knowing that most American players wouldn’t know the difference. If you do know Japanese, though, it’s more of a treat when the enemies squeak “dame da zo!” as they die.
The only sucky thing about the games soundtrack was that only one fucking battle song played throughout the entire game, with the exception of the final battle. This lead me to eventually start playing music over the game, so that I wouldn’t hear that fucking song in my dreams.
Five Things I Was Indifferent About
1. The Plot
Eternal Punishment’s plot takes a very long time to start opening up, and when it does, a lot of the drama rides on the shoulders of the previous games in the series, Revelations: Persona and Persona 2: Innocent Sin. It’s understandable that the plots of Innocent Sin and Eternal Punishment are densely connected, but it just means that a lot of things held less weight for me, having not played either game. I suspect that even if I had, though, it wouldn’t have held that much weight, because Eternal Punishment doesn’t seem like a satisfying conclusion to Innocent Sin (though it does seem like a satisfying “years later” to Revelations: Persona, to however minor an extent).
The plot is loaded with arc words out the ass and is more than a little contrived. Most of what’s going on is revealed very quickly in dialog-heavy cutscenes, and I sometimes didn’t realize exactly what was going on until I started hearing it back from people in town. More importantly, though, I just didn’t care. None of the villains were interesting in the slightest, and their motivations were nonsensical if defined at all. Even the motivations of the characters, besides Tatsuya, don’t take much form until Tatsuya shows up, after which point everyone besides Baofu’s motivation is “help Tatsuya.” Tatsuya’s motivations, meanwhile, carried over from the end of Innocent Sin.
Overall, I’d consider the plot a disappointment, as I was much more interested in what was happening at the start when things were more intense and inter-personal than I was when stuff got “epic.” A set piece that should’ve been truly amazing, when Sumaru City got launched into space, was so under-done that it came across as weak, and that really sums it all up.
2. The Battle System
As detailed above, Persona 2 has a highly complex battle system, and it’s a necessity to explore a lot of it, but I never got all that into it. Mixing and matching spells and persona to make combos and perfect a game plan could’ve been fun, but it was too much of a hassle to go about summoning persona and raising them to learn the necessary skills. The contact system had a lot of interesting results, but the conversations with demons tended to be too nonsensical and repetitive to remain entertaining. By the final dungeons, I completely gave up on playing mix and match and simply stuck to a working formula that I used in every match for the rest of the game.
While the character art was great and on-screen plenty of the time with all the talking I did, the in-game sprites were hideous—especially in battle, wherein a lot of their poses just didn’t make sense. The shops and places around town were nicely designed, which they had to be, seeing as I’d be in all of them a *lot*, but dungeons were mostly drab, boring, endless corridors of repeating textures. None of this bothered me for the most part, but all of it was unmpressive—especially knowing that a lot of the visuals were carried over from Innocent Sin.
4. Mini-games/Side Activities
(Including minigame dungeons, which I spent almost no time in.) There weren’t a lot of mini-games in Eternal Punishment. Mostly there was gambling in the casino, a lot of which was boring. The only game I had fun with was black-jack, which I could play with four characters on computer AI and laugh at them for failing or be proud of them when they won. However, even making huge bets, I could never gain coins fast enough to justify the amount of games I’d need to play to win any prizes. Of the other side-activities in the game, I mostly just did the man-searches because they gave huge payout. Early in the game, I’d been hurting for cash until the man-searches opened, and then I never had money troubles again.
5. Secret Crap
This game has an assload of stuff in it that there’s no way you could know about unless you either spend hours upon hours experimenting with every conceivable possibility, or use a strategy guide. It’s for this very reason that I tend to keep a guide on-hand while playing RPGs. It’s not even a matter of wanting to get everything (as obviously I elected not to), but I like to at least know what I’m missing out on if I decide not to do secret stuff. All in all, I feel like I wasn’t missing out on much with any of the secret crap in the game, except for maybe beating the final boss. Considering I watched a video of a guy taking 15 minutes to beat it with a party of characters whose hit points all numbered 999, and who had 100 hours on the game, I’m pretty satisfied with my decision.
Final Grade: +