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SummaryDefeating evil can be fun even after twenty
The GoodEternal Punishment is the second part of a duology started by Innocent Sin, itself a semi-connected sequel to the first Persona. The original titles imply a connection to Dostoevsky's famous novel with their simpler titles Crime and Punishment. For a mysterious reason, Innocent Sin was never released outside of Japan. The whole Persona series, in its turn, is a spin-off of the vast Megaten franchise, represented in its most pure form by Shin Megami Tensei.
For most purposes, Eternal Punishment plays exactly like Innocent Sin, which was clearly superior to the first game in terms of overall balance and polish. The heart of the gameplay is, once again, fusion of Personae - powerful demons in theory, overgrown character customization sets in practice. In truth, I prefer demons as playable companions, the way they were in main Shin Megami Tensei games. However, even in their more modest role of attribute-modifiers and spellcasting teachers, they guarantee flexible character development and constant hunt for more powerful combinations.
This system has become quite well-oiled by now, each demon having an array of diverse spells and modifiers, allowing for dozens of different builds for each character. The whole thing is noticeably more balanced and satisfying than the essentially identical system of the first Persona, with many more variables that play crucial roles in combat, affinities, resistances, and what not - not to mention a consistent difficulty level that ensures a steady learning curve and continuous challenge.
The game also feels tighter and more fulfilling than Innocent Sin. There is a solid amount of hidden Personae, items, weapons, armor, cards, and pretty much everything. There is a huge optional dungeon where you can encounter every monster of the game and get some rare cards and Personae. There are quite a few mini-quests and minigames that only become available if you have previously heard and spread an appropriate rumor: making maps of dungeons, finding missing people, playing poker and blackjack, etc. Although you mostly spend your time in dungeons fighting or talking to monsters, there are also lots of things to do in the city. The whole middle part of the game can be played differently depending on which character you chose to be in your party - you visit different dungeons, fight different bosses, and reveal different parts of the story.
For me, one of the game's definite highlights was its character cast. Japanese game designers stubbornly keep forcing us to play as teenagers. It is very tiresome to be cast into the role of yet another angst-filled high school student or child prodigy from a remote village who has just been "chosen" to wield a sword three times his size and go kill the big baddie, even though a local homoerotic muscular blacksmith would seem to be more fit for the task. Innocent Sin also had a pretty annoying teenage cast. Fortunately, we've been spared puberty-related melodramas in this installment - most of your party members are grown-ups.
The good news is that they are reasonably realistic and at the same time unusual enough to provide dynamics and chemistry to the group. Those characters don't just stand there and remain the same throughout the game - they develop feelings and form relationships to each other, which are often ambiguous and anything but simple. In fact, the inner relationships of the group plays an important role in the story. Of course, there is the obligatory "kill the bad guy, save the world" part, and a couple of cardboard villains who want to destroy this rotten world and summon the sealed power of ancient gods, etc., etc. That said, the plot itself is quite dramatic and can be understood without having played Innocent Sin before.
The modern-day setting is another aspect of the game I thoroughly enjoyed. While browsing the streets of the big city, shopping, talking to people, you always feel at home. More importantly, the mentality of those people, their goals in life and their superstitions are typical for modern times. In fact, an important part of the story is based on the modern people's inability to live without rumors and superstitions and their readiness to accept any doctrine that comes from above.
The BadJust like its predecessor, Eternal Punishment isn't very impressive visually. Many locations are unfortunately bland, and even though there is some nice variety in dungeon themes, much of their design is uninspired. Like in Innocent Sin, dungeons aren't particularly exciting and may border on tedious.
The animated cutscenes are sweet, but short and infrequent. I would really like to see movies at certain points of the game when an important event required cinematic arrangement. Instead, we had to view all this drama from an awkward isometric angle, presented by small characters with wooden animation.
Similarly to the previous installments (and most other Megaten games), Eternal Punishment is confined to a single large city divided into several districts. I certainly prefer traveling to distant lands and enjoying exotic sightseeing; but I could live with one urban area if only it were reasonably interactive and seamless. Unfortunately, much of the navigation consists of moving an abstract geometrical shape over a map, which is as unexciting as it sounds. Worse than that is rough linearity, Achilles heel of Japanese RPGs. Player characters will routinely refuse to explore dungeons out of order, spouting pathetic excuses at every corner. Like other representatives of its genre, this game would have been much better if it had a less disjointed world with a coherent design and continuous exploration.