Written by Eric Layman
Category: News and Other Musings
Published: 03 March 2013
The PlayStation classic Persona 2: Eternal Punishment finally made its way to the PlayStation Network last week. Atlus sent over a code, presumably for reviewing purposes, but I felt there was something odd about using our modern(ish) rubric to evaluate a game in the exact form that it arrived in over a decade ago. Eternal Punishment isn’t, however, unworthy of discussion.
There’s some weird history behind Persona's lineage. Following the 1997 PlayStation release Revelations: Persona, Persona 2: Eternal Punishment was the second Persona game to come stateside. When it was released in Japan a year earlier, however, Eternal Punishment was born a follow-up Persona 2: Innocent Sin. Both games came with the Persona 2 label, but were essentially opposite sides of the same coin. Less savvy North American gamers were ignorant to this fact, but still managed a beloved appreciation of Eternal Punishment anyway.
2007's Persona 3 and 2008's Persona 4, despite being very different from their predecessors, thrust the Persona brand back into the limelight. Atlus responded by issuing an updated version of the first title in the series, Revelations: Persona, for Sony's PlayStation Portable in 2009. More than a traditional port, the PSP iteration restored significant content that had been cut out of the initial release, updated some of its music, and gave it a fresh (and somewhat less racist!) localization. With 2010 came a PSP iteration of Persona 3, dubbed Persona 3 Portable, ensuring Atlus' Persona series had found a welcomed home on Sony's portable machine.
Later in 2011, Atlus delivered a fully localized and somewhat updated version of the proverbially long lost Persona 2: Innocent Sin to the PSP. Resurrecting a niche title, attaching a first rate localization, and delivering it to a content-starved machine was a brilliant move on Atlus' part and gave a whole new generation of fans an easy (and legal!) way to play a forgotten classic. Finally, Innocent Sin had come stateside.
Naturally, when a similar PSP revamp of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment was announced for the Japanese market, the North American Atlus faithful were waiting with baited breathe. Unfortunately it started looking like that particular iteration of Eternal Punishment would never make it over here. Atlus has stated vague, "unusual circumstances" surrounding its appearance, or lack thereof, but the writing seems to be on the wall: (1) It's 2013, (2) the PSP software library (despite an attractive digital presence for Vita) is pretty much dead, and (3) the financial success of a retail PSP release is doubtful. Take your pick, but it's probably a combination of the three.
Releasing a the original Eternal Punishment as a PS1 Classic on PlayStation Network seems like a safer bet, and that's exactly what Atlus did. It lacks the modern amenities we were granted in the updated ports of Revelations: Persona and Innocent Sin and it doesn’t quite mesh with Innocent Sin’s updated localization, but it's fundamentally content-complete and makes good on the dream of owning literally every Persona game on one portable console.
Well, sort of. As of this writing Eternal Punishment can neither be downloaded on nor transferred to a PlayStation Vita. It can only be played on a PlayStation 3 or PSP. This is a huge god damn bummer, but SCEA claims to be working on it and it will very likely be updated in a few weeks. Update! It's now transferable to Vita! Then, my friends, then we can have the PSP iterations of Revelations: Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, Persona 3 Portable, Eternal Punishment as a PSone Classic, and the Vita exclusive Persona 4 Golden on one portable device. That in itself is a machine for the ages and the collective pinnacle of interactive entertainment known as Persona (please note possible hyperbole).
Oh, right, the actual game. I've put an admittedly shallow ten hours into Eternal Punishment (and employed my PSPgo for the first time in three years), and, yeah, it sure is Eternal Punishment. Those only familiar with Persona 3 and Persona 4 may be in for a rough transition. Early Persona games, with their penchant for demon negotiation and dungeon crawling, were closer to traditional MegaTen games than their more accessible later entries. They were remembered more for their narrative, a high school setting is still relatively unique in gaming, rather than their gameplay. It's still fun and engaging, but as I noted in my old review of Innocent Sin, somewhat out of step with modern design sensibilities.
Innocent Sin seems attractive; it's the long awaited opposite half to a cult classic, and it comes with a few bells and whistles to ease it into the 2011 landscape. While I adore the soundtrack and can appreciate the effort put toward a great localization, actually playing the game made me feel like I was trapped in some of the worst parts of 90's era game design. Interesting systems are in place but it’s slow, aimless, and, and most of it has done much better in Nocturne or newer Persona games. Of course this is a known quantity to the Atlus faithful who will buy (and love) Innocent Sin anyway, but I'd caution an approach from a newcomer.
Those words got me annihilated on forums! What I didn't understand at the time, and still don’t really get, is why it upset people. Persona fans knew what game was and likely didn't require analysis from a critic. It’s for everyone else who may not know what they’re getting in to. Eternal Punishment follows the same playbook. It doesn't arrive with the tender loving care of its made-over predecessor, but it’s also $30 cheaper at $9.99. If you can accept Eternal Punishment's understandably dated systems and pacing, you'll find a game that's just as engaging, deep, and rewarding now as it was a decade ago. $10 is fair trade for a great game – provided you know what you’re getting in to.