Having really enjoyed the story and character interaction when I played Persona 2: Innocent Sin last year, I was quite excited to continue the story in Eternal Punishment, Persona 2’s second ‘part’. It was originally released (in Japan and North America only) in 2000, and a Japan-only port was released for the PlayStation Portable in 2012. The 2000 version was released digitally in North America via the PlayStation Network in 2013, but it’s not straightforward for Europeans to acquire a digital copy legally: it’s not available for download via the European store.
I had to go to some trouble to play Eternal Punishment and, unfortunately, I can’t really say the experience was worth the effort. The story picks up from where Innocent Sin left off, covering the fallout of the ‘deal’ that was struck by the main cast at the end of that game. The story deals with similar themes as those explored in Innocent Sin, and for the most part it has the same kind of creepy, occult atmosphere, once again transposed to an apparently contemporary urban setting. But Eternal Punishment’s dialogue and exposition suffers from a perfunctory, careless localization. The translation from Japanese may be technically and grammatically correct, but there is no style or polish, and no grasp of idiom. For example, in a boss fight against someone called Sugawara who has been turned into an eldritch abomination, you’ll see that the enemy’s name is simply ‘Was Sugawara’.
A big part of the charm of Persona games is their compelling stories and tragi-comic character drama, and the bad script means that Eternal Punishment is off to a poor start. Although Maya Amano returns in this game, replacing Tatsuya as the main protagonist, Eikichi, Ginko and Jun do not feature prominently in Eternal Punishment, and their replacements seemed second rate to me; although this could be in part due to the poor localization. Tatsuya’s older brother, the twenty-something detective Katsuya Suou, is a passable comedic ‘straight guy’, but there isn’t enough energy from the rest of the party. In particular, the hacker, Baofu, who is probably supposed to come across as cool and mysterious, is portrayed instead as a nihilistic ‘edgelord’. Some of his interactions with Ulala Serizawa, Maya’s roommate, felt somewhat dated in their misogynist overtones. While a better translation may have given the game’s events more texture and sophistication, as it stands, for the most part it falls flat. It’s a shame, not least because the characters (in their 20s) are a bit older than those normally encountered in JRPGs, and there’s scope here for something much better – especially with the set-up from Innocent Sin.
Neither is Eternal Punishment able to compensate for it’s underwhelming narrative and script through its gameplay. The dated, frustrating gameplay of Innocent Sin was my main criticism of that otherwise excellent game, and it’s the same with Eternal Punishment. The game mainly consists of exploring a world map, from where you visit locations for dialogue and to purchase items and recruit Persona; and a lot of dungeon crawling where you’ll fight a succession of random, turn-based battles. As before, during battles you can engage demons in conversation, and try to earn cards from them which you can spend to recruit powerful new Persona to use in battle. It’s important to level up your Persona, and recruit new ones, as otherwise you’ll find yourself unable to defeat the game’s myriad bosses.
There’s no getting past the fact that Eternal Punishment is a difficult game. Bosses often spam powerful attacks that affect your entire party, and can also cast status effects that remove your ability to defend or heal, sometimes ensuring defeat. The game practically forces you to min-max your party, going out of your way to recruit exactly the right Persona (which you’ll only learn about from magazines or the internet); or, you can abuse a quirk of the game’s turn-based combat which allows you to attack and defend in the same ‘turn’. This makes getting through boss fights possible, even if they take much longer. But even then, you’ll have to do a lot of grinding if you want to get through this punishing game. I eventually gave up, over 30 hours into the game and in the penultimate dungeon, when I was fighting a boss who healed himself for 800 HP every time he acted; and his actions could cause status effects for your entire party. The only way to defeat him was to have enormous burst damage, which would have meant painstaking work to acquire rare Persona, or grinding random battles for 10 hours+. Instead I decided to look up the ending of the story online, and move on. I don’t regret my decision.
Eternal Punishment has characteristically good music for a Persona game, and the character portraits are well-drawn. The sprites are chunky and appealing, but most of the environments are predictably bland and repetitive. At least there’s a map function, but it’s of limited help, and walking through dungeons while being interrupted by endless random battles remains a frustrating chore. There are minor attempts to streamline the gameplay by comparison to Innocent Sin, such as the fact your characters only have one way to interact with demons, rather than four. You can also do ‘group’ interactions where your party members act out a small scene. These can be briefly entertaining, but considering that you normally just want to rush through combat as quickly as possible, there’s limited incentive to experiment.
Like Innocent Sin, Eternal Punishment features a respectable amount of voice acting, but it’s not good quality, and reflects the primitive state of the art in 2000. It can be entertaining at times, but it’s generally very hammy, and simply bad, rather than ‘so bad it’s good’. Some of it is downright bizarre, such as the Chinese astrologist who inexplicably speaks in a strong Russian accent. Things like this are indicative of a localization that was done without much love or care, which is a shame, because the story of Persona 2 is an interesting one, and Innocent Sin in particular is a memorable game. But if Atlus ever decides to revisit Persona 2, they have work to do in improving Eternal Punishment’s story and English script. Because as things stand, this is something of a series low point, and even committed Persona enthusiasts are probably well-advised to give this a miss. One for JRPG purists only.