Here I sit, at the end of our first session, and before I go to bed, I force myself to stay awake another few minutes, because I know I have to open the Journal with: “Oh dear.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. Welcome to Persona 2: Eternal Punishment.
Let’s get back up to speed. Persona 2: EP picks up right after the events of Persona 2: Innocent Sin, but god forbid I be allowed to say just that, because the game has such a complicated release history. Check the first post of P2IS for full details, but in short: Kyle and I have no choice but to play the PSX original version of EP, released in 2000 (we played the digital version via the PSN on PS3), as EP’s PSP remake was never localized into English. As we go along, keep the release history in mind: international fans had to play this game with no idea what happened in the original game, and some of them certainly never knew the original game existed to begin with! And that’s unfortunate, because wow, this is far from a stand-alone sequel. As in, “How did they even have the gall?” But they had the gall to create the original English version of P1 on the PSX, so why not?
P2EP pulls from both P1 and P2IS, so I should maybe summarize them in case you’re coming here from scratch. P1’s plot is a lot less involved at a macro level. An evil corporation called SEBEC, run by a man named Kandori, strapped a perpetually ill girl named Maki into a magic machine and used her to create an alternate world powered by her ideals. Taking control of a fractured and autonomous aspect of Maki’s personality, Kandori used this fictional reality to empower himself as a god, seemingly manipulated into doing so by his Persona (a supernatural manifestation of his psyche), which appeared as the Lovecraftian Outer God, Nyarlathotep. Luckily, the player party saved the day with their own Personas, guided by a god-like figure named Philemon, but had to do mop-up by defeating the remaining fractures of Maki’s personality.
P2IS went something like this: in the island town of Sumaru, rumours began to come to life, and the player party (Tatsuya, Maya, Lisa and Michel, as well as P1 character Yukino for a while) discovered that this was being manipulated by a former childhood friend named Jun, now gifted with supernatural powers and going by the alias “Joker.” Joker tried to exploit people’s ideals, establishing a pattern wth P1, his ultimate plan being to use rumours to create / “revive” the ancient Mayan underworld, Xibalba, which could be empowered to grant him any wish. Unfortunately, he made the apparent mistake of summoning a rumour-army of robot Nazis (yes) including a rumour Adolf Hitler (yes), who ultimately ended up seizing Xibalba in his place. After getting Jun back on their side, the party confronted Hitler, only to learn he was never a rumour demon, but Nyarlathotep again, apparently the evil counterpart Philemon. The two were trying to test humanity with this scheme, and Nyarlathotep ultimately won their bet by killing Maya to activate Xibalba and wipe out all life on Earth. Luckily, the party lingered and recreated humanity by changing the timeline so that they were never friends to begin with, though they had seemingly reunited in the final scene.
Good, we all caught up?
Eternal Punishment begins… with me feeling relieved, as I gradually discover that most of the character names were carried over intact from Japanese original to English PSX! They didn’t change them! I was certain they were going to change them! As far as our first session is concerned, it seems the only names that were changed are either minor or were related to the original Revelations: Persona translation of P1 on the PSX, including a few weird hybrid cases. For example, Ms. Saeko Takami, the homeroom teacher from P1, was known as “Miss Smith” in Revelations: Persona, and is now named “Saeko Smith.” Less drastic but still interesting: Yukino, who was named “Yuki” in P1, is still “Yuki” in the PSX P2EP… except her friends call her “Yukki,” her Japanese nickname, something the game announces with a perfectly straight face, as though it were possible to tell the two spellings apart by ear! Long story short, I’m not going to have to put up with alternate names after all, at least not until P1 characters show up to do… whatever it is they care to do, in which case we can all get together to have a confusing laugh.
Enough of my bullshit. P2EP actually begins with Tatsuya, the protagonist of P2IS, who looks like he’s gone through a ringer. A montage suggests what’s happened to him, and you gradually confirm the facts as things go on, but I’ll cut to the chase since it is possible to tell what’s going on if you’re in just the right frame of mind. It seems that meeting Maya at the end of P2IS caused Tatsuya to recover all his memories of the events of Innocent Sin, and he’s taking it… very poorly. He heads to the Alaya Shrine, where he was once nearly burned to death, seemingly to confront that very memory. Or should I say, “Araya Shrine?” The PSX localization probably spelled the word way as a carryover from Revelations: Persona, but it’s not out of the question that a confused localizer might have done it of their own accord in other circumstances, thanks to the Japanese-to-English L/R swap, so long as they didn’t realize that “Alaya” is a real word from Buddhism. See? Now it makes sense that I started with localization concerns instead of the actual opening scene, doesn’t it? By the way, from here on out, I’m going to indicate when the PSX translation of EP uses a name from the PSX Persona 1 in this fashion: Alaya Shrine (“Araya Shrine”).
Tatsuya walks in and is met by an old woman, possibly one of the shrine’s attendants or caretakers… possibly. She only sees him for a moment before she deduces what happened to him and hints at it with far too much insight. She also makes a short speech about humans being inherently sinful, and she’s not the only faceless NPC in the game to do so, which I’ve taken as suspicious, although it might just be that everyone in New Universe Sumaru is just really into this exact philosophy in a sloppy writer’s flourish. Early in the woman’s curious deductions, there’s a pause, which I initially took as the game’s way of implying that Tatsuya filling her in on what happened in his silent protagonist ways, but we soon learn that Tatsuya is no longer silent! He ends the scene saying something about a “sin that cannot exist.”
At this point, we cut to “Somewhere,” where a ritual is being held in a room with a star-shaped glyph with what looks like a Rutherford model of an atom in the middle. There are eight people, several of which I can now identify at the end of Session 1, so to avoid spoilers, I won’t be pointing them out! The figures are gathered in front of a ceremonial fire set before a traditional, Japanese shrine. The shrine itself has a glass case and, inside the case, a samurai helmet, with what looks like a skull inside! …A skull with a full moustache and beard! Iiiiiiii should probably mention that the visual is too indistinct to be certain of the details, because the “bearded skull” thing seems a touch unlikely, but go ahead and prove me wrong, Persona! The eight are joined by a man with white hair and a walking stick, who announces that they’re here perform “the Ritual of Kotodama,” and he asks someone named Gozen to proceed, although the group then begins the ritual as a unit, so unless their group is called “the Gozen,” I can’t attach this particular name to a specific NPC. Despite the ominous music, nothing overtly sinister happens on-screen, no demons or evil plans or what have you, and we soon cut away.
Now, as it happens, the curse of the silent protagonist has not been banished altogether just because Tatsuya can talk. I’m sad to say it was merely transferred, like an infection, to our new protagonist! We learn this as we lurch across town to the offices of Kismet Publishing, publishers of Coolest magazine, where we take control of Maya Amano, who has been plunged into silence. Kyle quickly took this as a hint at a change in the formerly rowdy Maya’s personality, implying that she actually is quieter in this life, which he took in kind with her newly redrawn sprites, which seemed, in his words, “guarded and closed off.” “Guess being stabbed by the Spear of Destiny might have messed you up,” he added. Impressively done, if correct!
Maya arrives at the office, and “Yuki” hands her a letter with no return address. Opening it, it turns out to be a threat (probably made out of newspaper clippings) saying “You’re next” and signed “Joker.” This means nothing to AU!Maya, so she throws it out and goes to a meeting with her boss, Mizuno. The game takes the narrative box as an excuse to bluntly point out that Mizuno hates Maya (comedically done) and to mock Mizuno for not being married at 30 (scum).
After scolding Maya for her recent work (which seems to be about a subject we’ll hear about in a moment, though I’m not certain), Mizuno assigns Maya to write about the Joker, who in this universe is a violent serial killer! But because Mizuno is being spiteful, she makes sure Yuki won’t be assigned to the same job, leaving Maya to cover this major story alone, where she will assuredly fail and allow Mizuno to fire her (we soon learn that Yukino is a freelancer, so doesn’t have any permanent assignments, power, etc). To rub salt in it, Mizuno turns out a previous request Maya made for time off this afternoon.
Heading out of the office, we talked to NPCs and learned that a new kind of fortune telling has exploded in popularity in Sumaro. Known as “Wang Long” fortune telling, the style is described in a really loose fashion to spare the game the complexities of actual astrology, but it bears a superficial resemblance to Western astrology, with its signs (all dragons of various colours or properties) assigned to birth months, and even having romantic compatibility between the signs. Being born in July, Maya is a “Dragon of Light.”
Maya goes downstairs to meet up with her roommate, Ulala, since the two of them were planning to go to a “matchmaker party” that afternoon (I wish the game had specified the nature of the party in this opening scene, as a lot of Ulala’s lines only make sense with that context, but no, it only appears in an optional room a bit later in the game so far as I can tell!). You’ll remember Ulala from her brief appearance in P2IS, or possibly from when she won a contest for cosplaying as an alien flower out to drink our blood, using only her terrible haircut. Ulala is pissed when she hears Maya can’t make the party, and initially blames her for it, claiming she made up the excuse about having to work. It seems Maya has been flaking on her lately, and might be trying to avoid the matchmaker party because she’s still mooning over “Déjà Vu Boy,” aka Tatsuya, whom she met only briefly during the ending of P2IS, but has been enamoured with ever since. Maya’s failed article to Mizuno seems to have been purely about her own déjà vu, which sounds like just as awful an article as Mizuno was complaining!
Ulala decides that if she helps Maya with her report, Maya might yet be done in time for the party, and the two of them go off to Sevens together, hoping to get the “teen angle” on brutal mutilation and death. Okay, okay, I’m kidding. It’s actually because Joker is once again tied to a magical ritual involving calling yourself on your cell phone, where you order a hit instead of fulfilling an “ideal,” and it’s spreading through the school just like in the original universe. A lot of things in EP so far have been exactly the same as in IS. It may be that that will change in time, but for the time being, this feels a lot like other “replay sequels” like Kingdom Hearts CoM, except this one was planned in advance, before the original was even complete, so… why?
Since Yukino promised to call Ms. Saeko/Smith to make an introduction for Maya, our party of two goes to meet her, only to discover two police officers already on scene. One of these is Katsuya, Tatsuya’s older brother, who is only a sergeant in this universe, not an inspector (one rank lower in Japan). He looks like he walked out of a B-grade seventies cop film. Eavesdropping, we learn that in this universe, Anna Yoshikaza, the erstwhile Lady Scorpio, has become a “delinquent” after becoming the victim of a hit-and-run. While not outright abandoning class like in the other universe, it seems her behaviour is bad enough that the two officers are on her tail as a suspect after the man who hit her was found dead of a Joker murder. Saeko (I should probably just call her “Saeko”) defends Anna, and Katsuya isn’t as harsh as his superior, but his superior shuts him up. The other officer leaves to conduct interviews, and Saeko pins Katsuya down to ask an unrelated question about Tatsuya, who has been away from school – and judging from Katsuya’s response, home – for several days now.
Touring the teacher’s lounge, our party soon discovered that Jun’s father is, in fact, alive in this universe (you’ll recall that I wasn’t sure about during the ending of P2IS), and has cast aside most of his conspiracy theorist leanings. Both of these facts probably has to do with the fact that Nyarlathotep never bothered to bring those conspiracies to life in the intervening years, something evidenced by the fact that we later met Ms. Ideal studying the Naruto stone (as I call it), but noting that nothing was special about it. Maya and Ms. Ideal had a moment of déjà vu, but only in that they recognize one another. The game makes no explicit mention of the fact that one of them had murdered the other in another life.
Heading into the school to conduct interviews, we learned an interesting aspect of EP’s design. Even though the entirety of Sevens existed in P2IS and could easily have been copy and pasted into this game, many of the rooms are inaccessible in EP! But the game does do something interesting with this fact. P2EP has a clever system where nearby doors have their contents described on the HUD (e.g. “Faculty Room”) and if the room is inaccessible, its name will appear, but be greyed out. While I was initially disappointed, I soon learned that this feature allows EP to create dungeons that retain their realistic appearance, without turning into mazes for no reason, as the rooms can still “exist” in the form of these brief descriptions! It’s surprising how this little GUI detail adds to the game, putting it ahead of all those FPSes out there with doors painted onto walls, while not cluttering the game like a fully detailed world might have done!
Because the school has been pared down, there’s far fewer plot hooks for me to summarize at the start of the game this time around. Heck, I’ve already told you most of it by detailing the Joker murders and Anna’s case in particular, as many of those details were only confirmed by talking to generic NPCs. One student told us that rumour has it that Joker was originally active ten years ago (the same time gap between the childhood flashbacks and the present in P2IS). We also learned that Lisa and her friends from P2IS somehow made a deal with the AU Prince Taurus and probably-still-this-U sexual predator, Ginji Sasaki from P2IS, to form an idol group called Muses. Again. This is literally all we’ve heard from Lisa this entire session, so I hope any of her fans are doing okay in these sparse times. Michel from P2IS isn’t going to have any better luck!
After a while, we finally discovered Principal Hanya (“Harding”) in the middle of harassing Anna in the school courtyard. The game got a good gag here (one that would have gone over the heads of any English fans at the time) by duplicating Hanya’s introduction from P2IS, except where P2IS said Hanya was hated at St. Hermelin, “but at Seven Sisters he’s looked up to,” P2EP bluntly says, “Here, he is also hated.” I’m delighted that joke kept its impact across two localizations spread decades apart. Curiously, the man still had his hair, despite P2IS telling us that Joker gave him his hair in that universe. I suggested that he might be wearing a wig, and sure enough, we later learned that he was!
Anna had someone sticking up for her. Remember the NPC girl that had looked up to / basically had a crush on her in P2IS? She’s here as well, but now has a talk sprite. As a result, I should probably give you her name this time: Noriko (she apparently doesn’t warrant a last name). By the way, EP almost openly states that Noriko does have a crush on Anna in this version, which is surprising from a 90s localization, especially one as hacked to death as the two PSX Personas’. For an example of the script being “hacked to death,” consider the way that the PSX localization translates Noriko saying “oneechan” literally to “Big Sis,” and it does so in an indescribably childish manner that it removes all romantic vibes in an instant. Deliberate, sloppy, or just me? You be the judge!
Hanya is at his worst here, basically saying that the only reason he hasn’t expelled Anna is because she was doing good on the track, but now that she’s dropped out of the track team, she’s “useless.” Hanya does help us out a bit as players by telling that Tatsuya and Anna, fellow delinquents, are friends in this universe, which is a neat detail both ways. For Tatsuya, I’m glad he has a friend after all the others were erased from time, and Anna only had one friend in the other universe so this is double! Anna makes the mistake of fuming, “I’m going to kill him,” as she storms off. Meanwhile, two NPCs (one of them Noriko) talk about Anna in regards to the Wang Long astrology system, saying she’s in “her time of Joka.” Remember that, though mind that it’s going to take a very long time to pay off. Another NPC does exactly what P2IS did by implying that Anna (and Tatsuya, this time) is doing something bad with her spare time but not what. Drugs? Sex? Cock fighting?? Pick a delinquency, I can’t take this a second time!
The game made it obvious that we were supposed to follow Hanya to his office, and we did so, only to find the man sprawled out dead on the floor, twisted in an unnatural pose! Moments later, Katsuya entered, just as coincidentally, and set about securing the crime scene and identifying the signs of a Joker killing. Katsuya started to ask the party some questions, only for Anna to step into the middle of things, since the principal’s office is fucking grand central station all of a sudden. Anna panicked and fled, causing the others to chase her one after another. They didn’t get far.
After heading into the hall, the party and Katsuya are cut off by a demon (later identified as a Hellhound), with no sign of Anna. This universe’s Joker then appears from behind them, wearing a ratty paper bag over his face as a mask, looking not unlike the Boogie Man from Uri’s Strange Men series of adventure games over a decade later. To everyone’s surprise, Joker says he has a contract to kill one of the three, though he doesn’t necessarily specify who. Instead, he starts talking to Maya (possibly, but not necessarily, identifying her as the target?), saying that he knows about her from the “Other Side,” that she has a Persona, and he even tosses her the starter pink pistols she had in the other game. He then summons a very large demon that looks like a midboss, though it turns out it’s nothing more than a starter enemy that was drawn way tougher than other members of its bracket (slimes and pixies).
Katsuya shouts out, identifying Joker as “Criminal suspect #501.” Do… cops actually do that, addressing suspects (not prisoners) by number, like some kind of pre-emptive Javert? I just don’t know with Katsuya, and I’m seconds away from having the context I need to explain what I mean, so let me advance those few seconds before I return to my complaint. Katsuya tries to arrest Joker, so Joker has the demon attack Katsuya. This attack causes a feline Persona to awaken from Katsuya’s unconscious: Helios the sun god. Katsuya is one of our playable characters! And now that you know that, I can complain about him! Katsuya is a weirdo, sometimes acting like a parody of a police officer thanks to some truly faulty writing. For example: all his voice clips are about “arresting” demons, after which he pumps them full of lead and then acts like he arrested them and is about to take them to “the station.” Stuff like that. You see what I mean? He’s like an accidental parody, and that makes it hard to gauge lines like “Criminal suspect #501!” When Michel, our rock and roll star, asked the demons if they wanted his autograph in the previous game, he was having a laugh. Katsuya… god!… if Katsuya saw a laugh he would arrest it.
Atlus USA didn’t credit their voice actors even in 2000 (fuckers), so I once again have to rely on leaks to give credit. Long-time readers will spot quite a few familiar faces in this one, making their Persona debuts. Katsuya is voiced by Dave Wittenberg, the voice of Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka Palazzo in the Dissida series, and also the unfortunately-named Yazoo from FFVII: Advent Children. Of course, he’s not the first one to speak – that would be his Persona – but his Persona is not credited. It would make a lot of thematic sense if they had the same voice actors, but I don’t have any evidence that that’s the case!
Ulala suffers through the same process, awakening her Persona, Callisto, one of Zeus’ many victims, presumably to match up with the fact that the narrator has implied that Ulala has been screwed over by numerous men (although hopefully not as badly as Callisto!). Ulala is voiced by Amanda Winn Lee, who would return to the series as Yukiko Amagi in Persona 4, also uncredited until her appearance in the TV series forced Atlus to do it. Unions at work, people. She’s also in a few other SMT games, including both DDS games and also Devil Survivor Overclocked, whoever that is. Of course, you probably know her better as Heather Mason from Silent Hill 3, or even more than that, as Rei from Evangelion, let’s be honest.
Last to be awoken is Maia for Maya. PSX Maya is voiced by Lani Minella, a considerably overworked woman who will be doing four roles in this game alone! You may know her from all sorts of places, including as Rogue the Bat from Sonic, Nancy Drew from the turn of the decade Nancy Drew games, and even the voice of the Koopalings in recent Mario games. Professor Layton fans will also know her as the North American voice of Luke Triton, the one who had to be replaced in Great Britain because her fake British accent was just that far off the mark. Sorry for having to point that out Lani, but it’s too interesting to pass up!
Joker is also voiced during this sequence, introducing us to Kirk Thornton, whom Kingdom Hearts fans will know as the voice of Saïx/Isa. As I said a few years ago when he was introduced to KH2: you probably know him best as Shadow the Hedgehog, but it’s remarkable how much work he’s done in the years since, both in anime and video games. He’s not affecting the cool, calm voice of Shadow or Saïx here as Joker, mind you! Instead, he uses a shrill, higher-pitched voice that’s often cackling.
Joker ends up knocking everyone out with a spell from his unusual-looking Persona, saying that he’ll kill them later instead of now for basically no reason. Maya has a few disjointed flashbacks to P2IS at this point, and of course, the party wakes wake up inside of Philemon’s pavilion (which now has an upper entrance we’ve never seen before, perhaps that will be relevant later?). Philemon appears in only a faded form, and begins to speak, but has long pauses between his words. The intro profile says “He has weakened for some reason.” After his usual preamble, he says that he “underestimated” something, and that “their string of misfortune was too deep.” He then starts to break up, saying something about “tears of blood” and “This Side.” Realizing he’s going to lose them soon, he crams in the fact that rumours are becoming reality in this universe too, and the party wakes up.
(Later in the game – although I can’t pinpoint where, so probably via incidental dialogue – everyone remembers meeting Philemon prior to this event, Katsuya saying he saw it after playing Persona with Tatsuya as a child in this version of events, and Ulala after playing it with Maya.)
Supernatural events aside, Katsuya keeps his mind on his job, and calls in the murder, saying that Joker was on the scene. He then tells Maya and Ulala that he has to track down Anna Yoshikawa as a suspect for Joker’s client in this killing, and asks the other two to stay with him while Joker is still at large. He even allows Maya to keep the illegal guns for safety’s sake, while Ulala announces that she can box to defend herself. Sure, that’s totally the same thing! At this point, Saeko appears and Katsuya asks her to tell the students to take shelter and lock the doors, which renders the school locked up while you explore it as a dungeon, much simpler than the first dungeon of the original, although with only three party members.
Here we go again!