The Definitive History Behind Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (2000)

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Eternal Punishment

Halfway through writing Persona 2’s script, Tadashi Satomi had an epiphany. He felt that something was missing from the original draft of Innocent Sin, a critical component that just couldn’t be ignored. Another viewpoint on the dire turn of events that play throughout the game was needed according to Satomi. However, this couldn’t work as just another addition onto Innocent Sin’s already full plate. What he envisioned could be told in an entirely separate title, a sequel to the sequel if you will. Showing his plans Kouji Okada and later the higher ups at Atlus the greenlight for a second Persona 2 was quickly given and as soon as Innocent Sin was released development soon went underway. Thankfully nearly all the pieces were in play for the sequel. The engine, the combat system, the setting, it was all there. The only thing they had to do was fill it with Satomi’s creative work. They wanted to go all out and not just create some half-baked sequel that capitalized on Innocent Sin’s success, no they wanted to craft something much more poignant then that. Their new theme surrounding the title would be paramount to its continued prosperity. And so, for their narrative they took the next logical step, turning the story’s focus away from the troubles of youthful teenagers towards the adults of the world and how they must face the harsh reality of everyday life. Unlike the high schoolers of Innocent Sin, the adults of the sequel would have already come close to find their true selves, especially with the pressures of the real world looming over them; making it a prime place for fantastic storytelling. And, interestingly enough, all the main characters of the sequel were subtly set up during the events of the original, lending a far greater impact to their appearance then if they came out of nowhere. Characters both new and old would return to tell Satomi’s impactful tale, one that was meant for adults more so than anyone else. A fitting title would be needed for such a game and Eternal Punishment seemed to meld with the project quite nicely; in ways that were both clear and obscure at the time.

The Adult Perspective

To fit in with this new viewpoint they switched the protagonists around, changing perspective from Tatsuya Suou to Maya Amano; making her the classic silent protagonist in the process. As Maya is the main character now the game starts out with her job as a writer, with her being sent by her agency to investigate the mysterious Joker phenomenon befalling the Seven Sisters High School. Events then play out similarly to Innocent Sin with Joker out for blood once again and Philemon returning to guide the characters through their own paths as Persona users. But what is with the repetition? Why does it seem like the events of Innocent Sin never happened?… Well they didn’t as Tatsuya and his friends erased that timeline to save Maya’s life, resulting them in them having never met. The mysterious Joker and a now personable, and slightly crazed, Tatsuya are the only ones who remember the events of the previous timeline and are eternally punished because of it. The new Joker wants others to remember what had happened, undoing all that Tatsuya and his friends had done, while Tatsuya hopes to prevent this from happening. This fight between the present and the past is the crux of the story. Whether characters let go of their pasts or let it drive them towards oblivion, that is what made Persona 2: Eternal Punishment truly compelling.

Switching the perspective from a group of troubled youths to adults already set in their ways proved to be a breath of fresh air for the franchise not only in storytelling but also in design. Kazuma Kaneko had always been confined by the standardized outfits that the protagonists had to wear, having to come up with various accessories and noticeable visual quirks to help them standout from the crowd. Now he could go wild with his designs, crafting characters that never would have worked in a Persona game before. Some characters that returned were designed to be similar to the way they were before such as Maya and the returning protagonists from the original Persona, Kei and Eriko. For the rest, Kaneko took a more creative approach, layering their outfits with the hidden troubles that define these people. Many were minor characters such as Ulala Serizawa, Maya’s roommate; a drunk woman with extremely bad luck with men. Plagued with self-confidence issues and glowing with jealousy for her friend, Kaneko designed her outfit with a spider web pattern, symbolizing her feelings of being trapped. Katsuya Suou, Tatsuya’s brother, was also crafted in such a way. The pinnacle of straight-laced, law abiding justice, Katsuya is depicted as a man of the law through and through even when the world demands otherwise, with his sharp design reflecting this. Tatsuya also received a face lift and redesign from their previous effort. Given real spoken lines and an enigmatic personality, Tatsuya was made to be a brooding yet passive figure, resolving to stay out of conflicts to keep reality from being torn asunder. The duality of either seeing his friends again or destroying the world, this is the crux of his narrative; one that is told clearly from just one glance of his design. And lastly there’s Baofu, a mysterious man with a mysterious past, he was designed to be a mystery for players to unravel as they went through the game, and a dangerous one at that. All of these characters were vastly different from any past Persona title, tackling issues and personalities that an ordinary high schooler just wouldn’t have. The storytelling possibilities, design opportunities, and intriguing worldview was just too good to pass up, and Eternal Punishment was one of the first RPG’s to do so.

A Refined Sequel

Even though the story was revolutionary for the time, the majority of the games other features were just hold overs from Innocent Sin. Battles were just a supped-up version of Innocent Sin’s combat system, the many rumors you could spread had a few new effects, and nearly all the Persona’s from the previous title made it in. It just felt like a perfected version of Persona 2, with all the odd kinks that may have slightly hindered the system before being thrown out entirely. The development team had a great many ideas for Eternal Punishment could be, too much at one point. The gameplay, sadly, just wasn’t one of them. The main focuses of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment’s development from the start had always been story, design, and music.

Building off of Innocent Sin’s excellent foundations, Toshiko Tasaki, Kenichi Tsuchiya and Masaki Kurokawa continued their work as the games composers. Alongside new tracks, many classic ones returned for the sequel. A particular favorite of Tsuchiya’s was Maya’s Theme, a tune that the main Persona fan base had taken a particular shine to. It was a multifaceted song that had variations of both the upbeat and the dour variety. To many it was a song that was just as important as the theme of The Velvet Room, the series magnum opus in music composition, so particular care was given in its re-composition for the sequel. More importantly for them, Eternal Punishment was the first Persona game to have a proper opening; a fact that was more vital than most people would realize. Composed by British singer-songwriter Elisha La’Verne, with background music by T.Kura, the opening called “Change Your Way” was written with the games premise in mind. Eternal Punishment could prove to be a dark and sadistic game at times, however, La’Verne wanted to put a positive message behind the openings theme, as at the core of the story is something that any of us can relate to. For inspiration, she drew from the homeless of London that she had always seen on her walks throughout the city. They appeared unable to improve their situation, however, she thought differently, believing that you can always find a way out of a bad situation even if everything feels hopeless. The developers were motivated by this concept, so much so that they incorporated it into the deepest depths of their story as the simple foundation for it all. This is where the title, Eternal Punishment, truly came from as even though the characters felt punished for their actions there was always some way out of their predicament no matter how bad the situation was; they just to accept themselves for who they were. And didn’t that just fit in perfectly with what Persona was trying to say?

Damnation or Salvation?

Either way, there wasn’t much time leading up until release. Eternal Punishment had been developed in nearly a year from concept to fruition, so it might understandable that there wasn’t much riding on the games success. But Persona is one series that loves to prove its naysayers wrong, and prove them wrong they did. During its week of release, it topped the Japanese sales charts by selling over 106,000 copies. Then its prosperity continued. As the weeks flew by it continued to stay in the top of the sales charts and by the end of the year over 200,000 copies of the games had been sold. Not bad for a sequel that could have just been a cash in. Atlus had wanted Eternal Punishment oh so much more than that. To show how much they truly believed in this project they actually greenlit it for a North American release. This time there would be no censorship, no blatant pandering to the country’s set of tastes. It’s Japanese roots would be laid bare for all to see, a stunning turn of events for both Atlus and American video game localization in general. The company was becoming a trailblazer for the future of Japanese video games in America, encouraging developers to allow their Japanese sensibilities to become apparent and putting their faith in gamers and believing they could handle seeing another cultures work. Some sidestepping had to be made with the names and faces of already established characters but, for the most part, the localization was finished without any hiccups. The only real problem was that people would be missing out on Innocent Sin, however, since Eternal Punishment takes place in a timeline where the events of that game never happened this never really came up in development or localization. America would just have to sit out on the events of Innocent Sin… for now.

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment is quite the oddity. A project based on the simple whim of wanting there to be a second perspective on the story at hand, it should have never turned out to be as great as it was. A mature story unrivaled for its time, instead of taking the easy route the developers used the project as an experiment in storytelling, where their franchise could go, and what it could eventually end up becoming. And the results were staggering. A narrative that broke the foundations of the genre, Eternal Punishment was filled with characters that any adult could relate to and any teenager could see themselves ending up as. Twisted at times yet heartwarming when the moment called for it, the narrative could be complex while its foundations was nothing but straightforward. No matter how perilous the predicament, no matter how tough the challenge, no matter how dire your circumstances may be there is always a way out of it. You just have to believe in yourself. However, belief can only get you so far in video game development. The times, for Atlus, were changing. Shin Megami Tensei could no longer be ignored. Persona could no longer be the company’s poster child for greatness. It was time to put the series out to pasture. Years pass, and the franchise lays dormant with no one willing to start it up once again. That is until someone knocked at Atlus’s door. Someone that had been the pillar of the franchises origin. Someone everyone had forgotten about.

Kazuma Kaneko Artwork





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