Set in the fictional metropolis of Sumaru City, Innocent Sin follows a high school student named Tatsuya Suou. Eternal Punishment switches focus onto Maya Amano, a young magazine editor. Both characters have near-death experiences which transport them to the realm of Philemon, an astral being who exists outside of the waking world. Philemon grants them the ability to summon a Persona, an alter-ego which manifests as a mythological figure.
Unlike other Atlus' older games, which are traditionally restricted to a first-person viewpoint, Persona 2 is seen from a third-person perspective. Several game elements, particularly the characters Philemon and Nyarlathotep, are drawn directly from the writings by Carl Jung and H. P. Lovecraft. The subtitles to both games are references to the Russian novel Crime and Punishment.
In keeping with the occult theme of Megami Tensei, gameplay in Persona consists of either fighting demons, or interacting with them. The game is displayed via an angled third-person perspective which can be rotated in 8 cardinal directions. Characters are represented by animated bitmap sprites, and the player navigates the player character through a 3-dimensional field map. The main traveling party can hold up to five people; whenever the party is in a "safe" area (i.e. a room with no demon encounters), each party member can be conversed with. In dungeon mode, the other party members vanish, and will only reappear during battle sequences. The player can trace their steps by using the Auto-Map, a basic floor plan of the current dungeon. As the lead character moves around, the map will automatically mark new areas.
In addition to standard equipment, each party member can equip one Persona apiece. In doing so, that character combines his/her attributes with the Persona, along with its innate strengths or weaknesses. Characters will also be able to cast any magic spells that are available in that Persona's attack list. Alhough each party member starts out with a default Persona, they can obtain new ones at the Velvet Room, a ghostly ballroom which is accessible from every district of the city. To acquire a Persona, the party must gather Tarot cards by enticing demons during battles (see Contacting demons), then exchange those cards in the Velvet Room. Demons will only offer Tarot cards that belong to their own respective class.
When a new Persona is obtained, it starts out at Rank 1. By summoning the Persona in battle (casting spells), it will increase in Rank and learn new magic. A Persona's Tarot class dictates which character will have a high "affinity" with it. A Persona equipped on someone with good affinity will consume less SP (Spirit Point, a substitution for Magic Point) than on a character with bad affinity.
The Rumor system, which ties into the plotline, is an important function in Persona 2. The player can collect/exchange rumors thorough the game by interacting with Rumormongers, non-playable characters who inhabit nearly every district of the city. Once the party hears a rumor, it will not take effect until they visit the Kuzunoha Detective Agency to pay a visit to its boss, Todoroki Daisuke. For a fee, Todoroki will spread the rumor, which will result in it becoming real. Rumors usually involve stores becoming fronts for black market weapons or armor, but the effects can vary depending on random chance. The party often has a choice of two or more possible outcomes for a single rumor.
Battles in Persona 2 are initiated by random encounters; this switches the action to a battle screen, where party members physically attack, use Persona Magic, defend, or run away. The grid-based battle system from Revelations: Persona is abandoned; instead, party members and enemy units act in the same phase of a turn, rather than being restricted by their placement on the field. The party earns yen from battles, which is needed to buy goods in the city.
The "Battle" command initiates the fight once the player is ready. The battle sequence is based upon the commands entered in the strategy menu. If Battle Mode is set to Normal, battle rounds will occur one continuous sequence, which only ceases if the player cancels it. If set to Single, the Strategy menu reappears at the start of each round. Using the menu, the player can change the actions of the party, adjust the sequence in which each party member will act (at the expense of waiting until the slower characters have moved), and switch to another Persona. When a character loses all their Hit Points (HP), he or she is knocked out. If all characters fall in battle, the game ends and must be restored from a previous saved game.
A secondary function of the Strategy menu is to align characters to trigger a Fusion Spell. When two or more party members a certain sequence of spells, they will automatically summon multiple Personae to generate a powerful attack.
In Persona, most demons can be negotiated with, rather than fought. The purpose of the Contact option is to talk to a demon and elicit a response. When the Contact option is selected, a menu appears which prompts the player to choose up to three party members who will talk to the demon; the chosen character(s) then approach the enemy and make an attempt to converse. After their short speech, the demon will react by becoming joyful, interested, fearful or angry. Once a certain reaction is provoked three times, the demon will either offer friendship or be repelled by the party. Results vary depending on who participates; up to three party members can perform a Contact together, usually affecting the dialog.
A demon surrounded by a green light is "Happy"; if at least one party member has reached an experience level equal to or above that of the demon, it will propose to forge a Demon Contract. "Interest" is hinted at by a yellow light and an "!" mark over the demon's head; an interested demon will hand over Tarot cards. A demon surrounded by a blue light indicates "Fear"; if the demon is frightened repeatedly, it will flee in terror. Finally, a demon surrounded by a red light indicates "Anger"; a furious demon will gain a preemptive attack on the party, and it will be impossible to Contact it any further in the same fight.
If the party has a Demon Contract with a specific demon, they can ask it for an item, some yen, a rumor, or to spread a rumor (demon rumors make navigating the current dungeon easier). If the party is too weak in level, the demon will compensate by healing the party or handing over some yen. In addition to their respective Tarot cards, "Interested" demons will hand over Free Tarot cards if a Contract already exists. Free cards can be taken to the Velvet Room and changed to any arcana of Tarot card. Contracts will be broken if the player makes the same demon scared or angry in a later battle.
The story takes place in Sumaru City, a fictional metropolis in modern-day Japan. The city is cursed; any rumor that reaches enough people will inexplicably come true. Sumaru City is navigated via an aerial view map. The party uses the map to visit each district as they become available. Each district has key locations to visit, as well as a shopping mall where the party can converse with locals and visit restaurants or shops. There is always at least one Rumormonger stationed in each mall.
The city is the place to spend yen that the party has earned from winning battles. Most stores feature traditional role-playing game elements, such as a tanning salon which restores Hit Points, or a designer clothing store which sells armor. The "Satomi Tadashi" chain of pharmacies sells basic consumable items and is present almost everywhere.
The silent protagonist of the game is Tatsuya Suou. His path intertwines with those of two other students, Eikichi and Lisa, during an encounter with the Joker, a jester-like antagonist who is rumored to grant the wishes of people who dial their own cell phone number. Anyone who fails to tell Joker their wishes, either because they lack one or refuse to tell, has their "ideal energy" stolen, reducing them to ambition-less shells called Shadow People. Joker tells the three students that they did something horrible to him in the past, and is angered when they do not recognize him. Swearing revenge, he departs, leaving the trio confused and eager to investigate the Joker.
Although this game picks up a few months after its predecessor, it is set in a parallel world where the events of the Innocent Sin did not happen. All of the characters from Innocent Sin are present, but they do not know each other. The central character this time is Maya, who reverts to a silent protagonist much like Tatsuya in the previous game. There are a total of seven playable characters, although two of them can not be recruited at the same time. They are Nate Nanjou and Ellen Kirishima, two returning playable characters from Revelations: Persona.
New faces include Katsuya Suou, a by-the-book homicide investigator and older brother to Tatsuya; Ulala Serizawa, Maya's lonely roommate who has a checkered history with men; and Baofu, a seedy criminal with veiled motives. The final character is Tatsuya, the sole person left who remembers what happened during the previous storyline. The plot of Eternal Punishment provides scattered flashbacks and references to both Revelations and Innocent Sin.
Maya, an editor for fictional teen magazine Coolest, is caught up in the investigation of a bizarre series of murders committed by a serial killer known as the "JOKER". Victims reportedly receive a note stating "You're next!" from the JOKER before they die. While covering an assignment at Seven Sisters High School, a confluence of events brings Maya, her roommate, and a Police Detective together to solve the mystery of the JOKER murders.
Persona 2: Eternal Punishment received a 8.2/10 from IGN.
Although there were reportedly efforts to import the first chapter of Persona 2, Innocent Sin's graphic subject matter may have inhibited its ability to be localized for foreign markets. Examples of this include the resurrection of Adolf Hitler, as well as the option of a homosexual relationship between the protagonist and another male character.