Chatting with demons.
Maya Amano is a reporter for the teen magazine Coolest, but she isn't covering Jonathan Taylor Thomas or Hanson. Coolest is after hard-hitting, meaty news stories, and Maya has been assigned to the story of the year.
A string of bizarre murders have taken place at Seven Sisters High School. The death toll is mounting. Fear grips the city and the presence of evil abounds. Rumors point to the "Joker's Curse," a demonic ritual that fulfills your dark desires of bloodshed.
Apparently, calling yourself on the cell phone summons the evil Joker, a psychopathic killer demon. Really? I tried calling myself and got my own answering machine. But the very next day, I got a massive paper cut. Never again will I mess with forces I can't possibly comprehend.
The situation isn't so straightforward, and as Maya delves deeper into the mystery, she discovers a parallel world. A world of Personas...
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is different than everything you're used to in an RPG. For starters, it's set in modern day reality. Make that an evil modern day reality.
The story takes awhile to grab hold of you, but when it does, it's disturbing and interesting. But as a whole, the game lacks a certain sense of cohesion that makes a full-bodied game. The combat system is a bit awkward, there are translation and localization problems, and the graphics and sound are dated.
When Maya and her crew encounter an enemy, you can choose to battle. The combat system has you setting the commands for all the characters at the same time, assigning each character a task and an order in which to fight. After you've prepared your strategy, you send them off to battle. Sit back and watch, or if things are starting to get hairy, interrupt to change your strategy. The feel takes some getting used to and is a little less proactive than a character-based RPG should be.
'Personas' are essentially the magicks of this game. You call upon these persona beings and gain access to their powers. Each character can be equipped with a persona - the more you use your persona, the more powers it gains. I like how the personas are leveled up based on usage rather than enemies defeated.
Battles aren't everything, though. Not only can you kick some demon tail, but you can also strike up a conversation with one by contacting it. Some demons are fairly good tempered, while others are just lonely and need a friend. Most of them, however, would like to see how you'd look without a head.
The contact system works by selecting one or more of your characters to break the ice. If you select Maya, she'll try to 'interview' the demon. If you select the detective Katsuya Suou, he'll try to 'interrogate' the demon. Select them both, and Maya and Katsuya will try some group therapy.
The demon will respond accordingly with four emotions: happy, sad, angry, or surprised. After the initial approach, the demon might ask a question or two. Basically, you need the right combinations of approaches and correct answers to keep that demon in good favor. Anger it and the demon might just will a paper cut on you. Sometimes the combinations seem a little too easy; more variations of the demon questions would have been welcomed.
Keep that demon on good terms for long enough, and eventually you get a reward. A happy demon might try to strike up a contract with you allowing you to get money or items from the demon the next time you meet. Sad demons run away, and angry demons will bring the house down on your head. A surprised demon will yield the important Tarot cards. Different tarot cards can be used to summon additional Personas for your characters.
There are story branches within the plot, dependent upon choices you make in the game. Through a "Rumor System," you can make choices that will affect character reactions and situations.
Sometimes, the writing in the translation and localization seems stilted and unnatural. All of the environments are very Japanese, but not in that Incredible Crisis kind of light-hearted way. I wish more could have been done to balance the Japanese quality for the American audience.
Persona 2 has its own unique artistic style. I guess I'd describe it as Asian Gothic... or better yet, Asian Goth. Honestly, these characters don't look like they get much sun. Now all they need is some bad poetry and their Goth-ness will be complete. The overall look is pretty good, but something I still don't quite get is Maya's outfit - two hearts conspicuously placed on her shirt.
However, this artistic style is filtered through the limited game engine. The environments are 3D polygons, but they look bland. The characters are small bitmaps. The game just looks really dated, like it came off the PC Engine (Turbo Grafx 16), a system that had many distinctively Japanese games. The animation cut scenes look good, but the gameplay is where you spend most of your time, eh?
The music is Japanese pop. There are some good tracks in there that set the eerie mood, as well as some nice audio touches like the vocals in the convenience store or the lone piano in the Velvet Room. Still, the electronic instrumental sounds only feed the dated feel.
Hooray! There's some voice in the game. Some voice clips are a little hard to make out, but as a whole the touches of voice here and there plus the occasional scene that involves longer dialogues add to the whole experience.
Persona 2 is decidedly different from what you are used to in an RPG. You'll either eventually take to it or you'll just be put off by all the unfamiliarity. There's a true sense of creepiness to it - the ever-rising number of casualties really gets under your skin. It sure got under mine.