PERSONA 2: ETERNAL PUNISHMENT / Atlus / Playstation
Eternal Punishment was clearly made right along with prequel Innocent Sin; it's really one giant game split into halves (and sold as two separate retail products.) It shares a whole lot of art assets, sound, and music, but that's not the major problem with it. The major problem is that the same design philosophy is present as in Innocent Sin; a design philosophy that gives you an interesting story, characters, and setting as well as great atmosphere and music, but has an outdated grindy/trollish mentality toward the gameplay that's stuck somewhere between the Wizardry games and Dragon Quest. As you spend the vast bulk of the game blundering around boring low-detail dungeons with overly jacked encounter rates and fighting tedious, cheap battles, the story and atmosphere only become worth pushing through all of this for if you're the biggest of Persona freaks.
The game really doesn't require playing Innocent Sin first to enjoy, but I guess I can't expound on that without massive SPOILERS. If you did play Innocent Sin, you're back in Sumaru City yet again with the same cast of characters, and it's as if the events of that game never happened (for the most part.) Of course, everything comes together as you go along, but you'll begin the game with Maya now the lead character, and Innocent Sin hero Tatsuya only seen brooding and wanking off in some shrine somewhere. The city is beset by rumors that if you call your own phone number, a rather silly-looking serial killer called the Joker will appear to off the person of your choice. While researching a story for the teen magazine she works for, Maya finds that this actually starts happening, Personas are awakened, etc. etc.
The game largely puts you through the same locations talking to the same people that you did in Innocent Sin; I actually don't have a problem with this, as everything is shuffled up in an interesting way, and the setting of Sumaru City is unique and interesting enough to handle it. The problem here, as with Innocent Sin, is the archaic battle mechanics and dungeon design philosophy, but it's even worse in this one. Innocent Sin was relatively easy up until the final 25% of the game or so, where it suddenly jagged to "complete bullshit" levels; Eternal Punishment pretty much starts off at "complete bullshit" and never lets up.
When this criticism comes up, hardcore fans of the game always start up with "LOL U JUST WANT A FF WHERE U PUSH ATTACK TO WIN YOU HAVE TO THINK IN PERSONA LIKE ME IM SMART OLOLOLO". That's not the issue. Managing Personas, considering all the variables attached to them and employing them wisely is not the issue; that's really the game's one gameplay strength. The problem is that the game is so grind-focused it's ridiculous. Dungeons feature huge stretches of open, dead space with encounter rates that average every five to ten steps or so. No matter how wisely you equip and use Persona, you're inevitably going to have to run in stupid circles for hours at some point to take on the bosses who are like 10-15 levels above your party and spam bullshit spells constantly.
Persona's battle design really isn't very bright beyond the Persona concept; their idea for generating difficulty is simply having common enemies spam spells that disable you, and then giving every boss a spell that both hits everyone for big damage AND disables a bunch of people too, and not giving you access to items or spells that can block or prevent these particular status effects from happening. This happened in IS but it didn't hit game-crippling levels until the late stages of the game. Here's it's the norm from jump street. This isn't good or clever game design, it's just leaning on the same cheap trick over and over and over and over again.
And then there's just trollacious bullshit like the Hula of Misfortune spell that certain common enemies cast, which reduces your money supply by 1/2 in a game where money is only had by long hours of grinding and everything costs a goddamn fortune. If one of these little shits pops up halfway through a long dungeon and gets one of these off you'll probably have to reset and re-do. Or locking you in dungeons with no warning. Or an absolutely wretched side-quest that involves stepping on every inch of space of in dungeons to map it, including stepping on trapped floors. Or the incredibly obscure, time-sensitive requirements to access many hidden side-quests and items that you'll never possibly find without reading a guide in advance.
Too much Grindan, too much bullshit. These two games wouldn't make me so upset if there wasn't so much potential here, but squandered by a team that apparently knew how to do story, characters and atmosphere but were clueless in basic RPG mechanics and player interface. Oh, and the text translation of the English localization is pretty good, but the voice acting is just atrocious all around.
* Gameplay Video