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Developer:
Atlus Software
Publisher: Atlus Software
Platform: PlayStation
Release Date: December 15, 2000

by Tony Ames




Imagine for a moment a world not too unlike your own. A world made up of both dreams and nightmares. A world where even the most trusting person can never be entirely sure of their friends. A world where you see a kid in the street and can't help thinking you know him, or should. A place where rumors seem to become the truth rather than the other way around. Add to this world the ability for certain exceptional people to summon and wield gods, demons, and heroes in the form of other selves, or Personae. That's more or less Persona 2: Eternal Punishment in a nutshell, and whatever sort of reality it might be, it makes for quite the engaging RPG.


The visual similarities between Persona 2 and the older game of that name are many, but odds are you don't know what that means. Suffice it to say that the game isn't very exciting visually. Normally proportioned sprites aren't something you see too often, and the drabness of games that use them, like Persona 2, is probably why. To be fair, there are some neat designs to the various demons and personae, and the characters have some cute animations, but don't go into this expecting new heights of graphical prowess.


Persona 2 is very different musically. RPGs, as a rule, favor sweeping symphonic scores. Persona 2 instead makes heavy use of techno and rhythm. There's some striking piano work mixed in for fans of more traditional soundtracks, but in general expect a very modern feel to the sound. Granted, the game itself is very modern, so that works perfectly for it. There's also a tiny bit of voice acting in Persona 2, but in general it's nothing to get excited over, aside from maybe giving that extra bit of personality to the characters.


Really, it's the characters that make Persona 2 worth playing. Not that there isn't a story, which can actually be summed up with the introduction of this review, so much as most of it is sort of a front for the struggle between the almost divine, though at the same exceptionally human, beings -- Philemon and Nyalathotep. Each embodies different aspects of the human collective unconscious, Philemon wisdom and potential, and Nyalathotep the darker aspects of human nature. Their natural conflict has taken the form of a bet, a way to measure human potential in a very real sense; if Nyalathotep can convince people to destroy themselves, he wins, and if Philemon can guide people into stopping him, he proves humanity's potential.


Rather a lot of Jung-inspired psychobabble, isn't it? Well, what it boils down to is taking a group of messed up people and helping them face down their imperfections and become 'whole,' as it were. In other words, the game is intensely character-driven. Fortunately, there's a diverse and well-balanced cast to work with. Ulala, a love-wary young woman lost in life. Katsuya, a cop trying desperately to keep order in a society falling apart while puzzling at his younger brother's bizarre behavior. Baofu, a self-made investigator that refuses to divulge much about himself, including his real name. And our heroine, Maya, a cheerful magazine editor caught up in things she doesn't understand, yet finds familiar. The crew plays off each other beautifully, and each in their own way is intimately connected to the front put forth by Philemon and Nyalathotep, creating almost absurd, yet strangely believable, chances to force this quartet to face their darkest secrets and shames.


Not that story is everything, of course. Persona 2 is still an RPG, and with RPGs comes gameplay, in this case a fairly standard turn-based affair. Two things make it stand out; Contacts, which allow the party to interact with their demon 'enemies' for all sorts of benefits (not to mention some highly amusing dialogues that occur), and the game's namesake, the Personae. What Persona a character wields is far more important than the character alone; their Persona determines everything from what spells they can use to their stats and even how they're affected by enemy attacks. You can create the fastest character on the planet, but if they're using a slow Persona, it will only take them so far. Similarly, a character with great defense still won't last that long if their Persona makes them weak to physical attacks. Of course, the opposite is true as well, and a character that's weak and underlevelled can perform just fine if backed by a good Persona. Then again, a single good Persona will only take you so far as well; Fusion spells are a necessity, giving you much more powerful attacks to work with, as well as giving your Persona a chance to mutate, gaining extra spells, a few more stats, and various other effects.


At the same time, there are some minor gripes that come along with the battle system. First and foremost, Persona 2 makes you sink a fair amount of time into raising a Persona to respectable levels; going in without fully Ranking up a Persona is a horrible, potentially fatal idea. This probably comes naturally to many RPG veterans, but the process is slow enough to drag out the game quite a bit any time you need to raise a new Persona. Considering that the game's main draw is the excellent cast, taking this much time to run around and kill things detracts from the plot flow fairly noticeably.


In all, Persona 2 is a large game. With a lengthy main quest, plenty of side quests, replay incentives, and even a bonus dungeon available from cleared data, there's no shortage of things to do and discover. Even with the flaws, Persona 2 has really captured me and earned a hearty recommendation to everyone who likes RPGs.


Final Grade: 85%




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