It’s no secret there is a divide within the entirety of the Persona franchise. A large and vocal majority came with the releases of Persona 3 and Persona 4, with even more coming in after the recent release of Persona 5. Of course, as the names of those games suggest, they are not the beginning of the series. For that, you have to go back all the way to September and November of 1996 to the release of Revelations: Persona in different regions. Both versions of Persona 2 would come even later with Innocent Sin coming in June 1999 for Japan and Eternal Punishment in June and December 2000 for Japan and America. One of the big reasons that people have a hard time going back to the first three games is that they are different than the games that would come later. The battles, demon negotiating, dungeons, and lack of social links make the split in the series a large divide. If you were like me and somewhat disappointed with Persona 5, perhaps now is the time to take a look back and see exactly what makes up the earlier games and in particular, Persona 2 Eternal Punishment.
Twenty years ago, Revelations: Persona was seen as an outlier in the market of JRPGs. In GameSpot’s review of the game in February 1997, Jeff Gerstmann says of the game, “In most areas, Persona is a truly different RPG. Instead of relying on silly medieval themes, it takes place in modern times.” Despite its issues and the very strange localization which Americanized character names, Revelations: Persona is a fun story. The best way to play the game is of course the PSP remake that came out in 2009 which shifts the game and its localization back to the original Japanese styling. The sequel would come four years later which can be a lifetime in video games. The one hitch is that Persona 2 Eternal Punishment is the latter half of the Persona 2 duology, which means that American fans were only getting half the story, but Eternal Punishment in its original release does a good enough job of conveying the events of Innocent Sin which is important for one of the big themes of the game, empathy. (For more on the early Persona games, check out episode 10 of the Seasonal Anime Checkup OVA which is Part One of our Persona Retrospective.)
While fans of Persona have expressed that they wished that either of the fighting games or Persona Q were canonical crossover JRPGs in the style of Persona 3, 4, or 5, Persona 2 Eternal Punishment (and to a lesser extent Innocent Sin) had already done that over ten years ago. Eternal Punishment not only features party members from the first game, one of two characters will become playable party members in this game as well. The connection to Revelations: Persona leads to the twist that one of the antagonists from that game has been brought back from the dead, which causes yet another clash between Guido/Takahisa and Nate/Kei if you do not choose Ellen’s path. (I’ll use both versions of names from here on out due to being familiar with the localized Revelations: Persona names.) Nate/Kei and even Mary/Maki want to understand why exactly he has returned and after you fight Guido/Takahisa, Mary/Maki will express how she wished to talk to him once more. In Revelations: Persona, for those that don’t know, Nate/Kei is the one that delivers the final blow to Guido/Takahisa, killing him and Mary/Maki was manipulated by Guido/Takahisa which leads to the events of Revelations: Persona happening. The fact that these two characters are sympathetic towards one of the villains from the previous games is surprising given how sometimes the Persona games are written. Instead of wanting to try and bring down Guido/Takahisa yet again, Nate/Kei, Mary/Maki, and the other Revelations: Persona characters want to understand why he would want to work with a group trying to bring down the world again after supposedly wanting to change in the previous game. They want to help him instead of fight him, even though eventually they have to do just that. It adds a great deal of layers to characters that have already been established, especially Mary/Maki who you would assume would want nothing to do with what happened after the first game, but after going into a career path of therapy, wishes to help a person who did terrible and awful things to her in the past. These changes to the original Revelations: Persona characters not only add to their stories themselves, but even just their updated designs reflect how they have grown. Between Mary/Maki’s new shorter hairstyle and Nate/Kei’s ridiculous getup that shows his transition from rich asshole to rich guy who wants to change things for the better, visually and storywise the characters are given opportunities to grow. Nate/Kei’s arc essentially follows the same path that Togami from Danganronpa goes through as well.
It’s not just the characters from Revelations: Persona that show empathy in Eternal Punishment, as Tatsuya also has a lot of emotions to deal with. The “punishment” that Tatsuya feels is that he is the only person that has memories of the events that transpired in Innocent Sin. Due to this, Tatsuya feels the burden of wanting to make sure everyone is able to live their lives without getting into the same trouble that they had to deal with in Innocent Sin. He constantly is trying to refute Maya and her party from getting involved and also makes sure that Jun, Lisa, and Eikichi are also not reawakened to their Personas. Tatsuya is very sad and distant through most of the game. Despite his brooding demeanor, he truly wants his friends to be safe, even if that means them never remembering him and having to take down the New World Order by himself. It takes all the way until near the end of the game for Tatsuya to even consider opening up to Maya’s party about what happened in the Innocent Sin world line. However, the end of the game also shows how Maya’s party is able to welcome Tatsuya into their ranks by giving him an avenue to finally take some of the burden off of his shoulders that he was unable to do. It is also a stark difference with how Eternal Punishment is adults coming together to help some kids, while the latest entry is the complete opposite, except for the end.
With Eternal Punishment being the game out of the duology that in the timeline eventually leading to the rest of the canonical games, it is an important part of the series. It is unfortunate the PSP remake was never localized and brought over which could have led to a greater interest in this game specifically. One thing that has been thought of is that perhaps Revelations: Persona and both Persona 2 games should be remade in the current Persona engine. It is a good idea, though it might not be as simple as that. Especially with regards to how the battle system works in the early game and having everyone able to constantly switch Personas, combo moves together, and the demon negotiating system. These games could not just simply be plopped into the current engine and automatically work as Atlus might have to create a new engine that could handle all the systems that the early games would need. That amount of work and the unbridled popularity of the later games lead precedent to why Atlus has largely ignored the early games and their history, which is very unfortunate. Going out and playing these games can be a tall order for some people and that is completely understandable, so instead perhaps watch a playthrough of the games online if you are at least interested in the stories they tell. That way, we can shrink the divide between the games in the Persona series and also maybe show Atlus that these games have not been forgotten in the slightest. Just prepare to get emotional for the Revelations: Persona party reunion at the end of Eternal Punishment if you do end up going through all the early games.