Even with the limited voice acting and basic graphics, Persona 2 still manages to be a very gut-wrenching tragedy.
- Probably the earliest example in the game is near the very beginning, when Eikichi's friends are turned into Shadowmen by Joker. We don't know much about any of the characters by that point, and they never get a chance to be fleshed out, but seeing Eikichi's reaction and just knowing they've essentially had their souls sucked out of them...
- The shadowmen in general are a bit of a background example, especially since you can talk to them in their lifeless states. Most notable is the Masquerade as Kasugayama. The music doesn't help... and neither does Joker's reaction to what he's done once the party beats him back to his senses.
- The game focuses mostly on Tatsuya, Maya, and Jun, but Eikichi and Lisa's stories are pretty damn sad, too.
- Eikichi was a timid, introverted kid who was picked on for being fat, but fell in love with a girl in middle school, Miyabi Hanakouji, who liked him anyway. When he was pantsed in front of her, she dumped him and told him she didn't like fat boys out of humiliation, sending him over the edge and turning him into the skinny, narcissistic punk we know today. However, her guilt over what she did led her to gaining weight herself, and hiding her identity from Eikichi. When he found out who she was, he held no ill feelings for her, but her shame led her to join the Masked Circle. It ends in a Heartwarming Moment at the Scorpio Shrine, but still...
- Lisa was bullied for her race as a child, and found herself faced with a dilemma: her father wanted her to be a proper young Japanese woman, but her peers treated her like a foreigner even though she was born and raised in Japan, even assuming she could speak English. With everybody trying to define her, she started to rebel, learning Cantonese and engaging in drug use and compensated dating. In truth, she's just as directionless as Tatsuya, and clings to the people around her to give her a sense of support. And when her friends finally wisen up to her issues and they have a chance to renew their friendship, they get turned into shadowmen, leaving Lisa alone with her guilt for using them to bolster herself.
- There's a lot of buildup behind the mysterious Masked Circle, and what its connection is to Joker and the main party. About halfway through the game, it's finally revealed what it really is. The truth? The original Masked Circle was a group of lonely children who played at the Alaya Shrine together—the main party, who knew each other as children but suppressed their memories because of how horribly it ended: they locked their Big Sis—that is, Maya—in the Alaya Shrine along with Tatsuya on the night it burned down, and assumed them to be dead. And Joker? The last of the kids and the leader of their group, and the only one who didn't forget what happened—which he never got over to the point where he was vulnerable to corruption from the Big Bad, and thinks they actually killed Big Sis. So, in short, you've been fighting your sad, lonely friend who's had his memories altered beyond recognition. And then you stop to think about why the Masked Circle has such obvious similarities to the main party...
- A lot of the flashbacks themselves are really painful, all things considered. Even as kids it's clear they had issues, but they're having fun like normal children. Normally this might be a Heartwarming Moment, but considering what happens in the rest of the game... and of course, there are concretely sad moments like Maya announcing she has to leave. Sure, the kids' response might have been a bit extreme, but when you take into account that Big Sis was something of a surrogate mother to them, it's sort of understandable, given how fucked up they are. Naturally, the party is very distraught when they learn what they did to make Joker so angry.
- Speaking of Joker, there are a few moments from his fight that stand out:
Joker: Jun...? Who... am... I...? I'm... I'm... note
- Queen Aquarius throwing herself between Joker and one of the Longinus mechs to save his life doesn't pay off until later, but once you realize what their relationship is, it's painfully clear that she had just undergone a My God, What Have I Done? moment once she realized her son had become Joker, and despite how she treated him, she still was willing to die for her only son. And when he realizes who she was...
- When the party confronts him with his identity:
Jun: Tatsuya... You had that... all this time...?
- At the start of both fights against him, Tatsuya flicks his lighter. It's really interesting to look back on all the times he used that animation in scripted events once you know its significance, but this probably takes the cake. And after the battle:
- Joker's transition to Angel Joker is pretty painful too, mostly due to the fact that he's unwilling to fight anymore and literally forced to transform by Nyarlathotep while Tatsuya desperately flicks his lighter. The music during this scene doesn't help, either.
- Jun's My God, What Have I Done? moment after he's returned to his senses and remembers everything he did as Joker, especially considering that he immediately starts doing everything in his power to atone. Which makes it especially painful if you say that you hate him at the Leo Shrine: he says that he deserves your hatred, and gets down on his hands and knees to beg you to allow him to stand by you just so he can set things right. The rest of the party treats this as a What the Hell, Hero? moment—even Lisa, his supposed rival in love, is horrified.
- Pretty much any time cool, upbeat Maya breaks down, usually when dealing with fire or the death of her father. It's clear she hasn't gotten over the trauma of either, and she's really not as positive and collected as she claims herself to be. And then you get into the full implications of her shadow in relation to the former, and the implications of her never having accepted the part of herself that isn't entirely over it. As a bonus tidbit, she's stated to have been severely burned by the fire, to the point where she won't ever try out scuba-diving because she's too self-conscious about being in a swimsuit. Even the official manuals say she's acting happier than she really is.
- At the beginning of the game, Tatsuya seems like a standard silent protagonist, maybe a bit on the brooding loner side, but the game shows him to be a very damaged individual and very much his own character. Even as a kid he was on the silent side and had few friends, and what friends he did have he lost due to the events at the Alaya Shrine, which traumatized him, eight years old at the time, into forgetting everything that happened. His daddy issues aren't elaborated on until Eternal Punishment, but it's still very clear how lonely he is. No wonder he couldn't let go of his friends at the end of the game.
- Yukino's reaction to Fujii's death is painful enough, even if we barely knew him, just because of how badly she's been worrying about him and the extent to which she loses her cool. However, it's even worse if you allow her to stay behind and succumb to her grief. Shadow Yukino gets to Anna first and throws them both off a bridge, effectively resulting in the death of Yukino's own ego.
- Hell, even a lot of the minor characters in Persona 2 have surprisingly depressing backstories. Case in point: Anna Yoshizaka. She was a star athlete who fell victim to a hit-and-run, permanently crippling her and effectively shattering her dreams. In her despair, she summoned Joker and became part of the Masked Circle, and depending on whether or not you bring Yukino to Caracol she might die. One of the tie-in novels elaborates more on her character, but it hasn't been translated.
- Jun becoming Joker because of what happened with the original Masked Circle was sad enough, but then the rest of his backstory is slowly revealed, and the final dungeon is just one long Break the Cutie for him. He was a weak, frequently bullied child who loved his father and was verbally and emotionally abused by his mother, an actress and former beauty queen who blamed Jun and his father for ruining her career, and spread terrible rumors about her husband. Jun himself ended up being picked on for his "uncool dad" and responded by telling everyone how cool his dad was but shunning him in front of people, which played a hand in his father's (likely) suicide. His mother more or less abandoned him after his father's death, and to this day he hates cup ramen because it reminds him of his lonely childhood. The bullying eventually reached the point where he snapped and began tormenting them with his Persona, and meanwhile Nyarlathotep began taking the form of the cool dad and used his pain over what he thought happened to Maya and his guilt over how he treated his father to turn him into Joker. Right before the final battle, Nyarlathotep taunts him by saying that all he wanted was his father's forgiveness and his mother's love, before resurrecting and summoning them just to kill them right before his eyes. He understandably freaks the hell out.
- A few other moments from the final dungeon stand out:
Flashback Jun AND present Jun: ...I wish... I wish you were my Mama, Big Sis...
- During one of the flashbacks, Lisa's mother arrives to pick her up, and Maya asks Jun about his mother. His response is absolutely heartbreaking.
- The Metal Daddy fight is largely played for laughs. Metal Mommy, on the other hand, isn't. Jun's mother appears and begins verbally abusing him to the point where he starts to fade out of existence. He's incapacitated for the entirety of the fight
- Maya gets one too. A flashback shows her father leaving her at the shrine to go off on the assignment that would kill him. After telling her that dreams can come true if she wishes at the shrine, she gives him a good-luck charm Mr. Bunbun. He tries to cheer her up saying "Mr. Bunbun will laugh at you if you don't stop crying." He then leaves, with the adult Maya, who is looking on pleading with him not to go. The entire team ends up in tears and Tatsuya can allow a Cry into Chest option for Maya. After calming down, she then recites a poem about how the only thing worse than death is to be forgotten. The entire team then tries to cheer her up, saying that they will never forget her again. Cue the ending...
- Many of the conversations about memories and how they define people end up being very much Harsher in Hindsight.
- Of all the unexpectedly sad characters in this game, the most surprising is probably Akinari Kashihara, Jun's father. His conspiracy theories may have been utterly ridiculous, but not only was he mocked for them by his peers, but his wife began spreading terrible rumors about him and his son began shunning him. Additionally, he wasn't ill-intentioned at all in writing the In Lak'ech, but genuinely wanted to help humanity reach Idealian. In the end, it's implied that he was Driven to Suicide, and it's really no wonder when you consider how hopeless he must have felt.
- The ending. Dear God, the ending.
- Maya's death is one of the biggest tear jerkers in the duology, and even gets its own theme. What's worse is that she tells the party to forget her and not to cry just so they won't be hurt, even after her speech about how being forgotten is worse than death. And they all try to stay positive until the very end, even when they're on the verge of tears... Eternal Punishment makes it worse by removing Tatsuya's silent protagonist status. And of course, immediately after, the world is destroyed. Great job, everyone.
- The one way they can reverse Maya's death and the destruction of the world? By creating a new reality where they never met. That's right, in order to save the world, they have to forget everything they knew about each other. Of course, none of them want to, since they're friends who love each other very much, but there's no choice. Their final promise is probably the single most heartbreaking scene in the game. But hey, at least you get to punch Philemon for your trouble.
- Eternal Punishment's tear jerkers aren't ones that directly apply to kids; but will sting and resonate with adults that have failed at finding something they wanted to do or were forced to abandon what they wanted to do. Some examples:
- Ulala's goal is a simple one. Find someone to love and to find a purpose in life. Simple enough; but though she obtained licenses and worked jobs, she couldn't find satisfaction in any of them compared to her successful friend Maya; and her self-loathing got her drunk enough to curse Maya and thus become a Joker herself; though a scene at Monado indicates that she wasn't completely drunk when cursing Maya. She does find her way; but it's a hell of a journey for her.
- Katsuya wanted to become a Patissier (pastry chef); but then his father's disgrace from the force, the need to take care of Tatsuya, along with Katsuya wanting to find out the truth made Katsuya abandon his dream to become a police officer instead. Where it stings is the feeling that Katsuya isn't being appreciated. His superiors dismiss him, his kid brother resents him (He thinks), and he doesn't leave himself time for his personal love life. He's a realistic look at what promotion to parent does to a person, and it's unbelievably hard, yet admirable, to see him hold it together, even if barely.
- Eriko stems from The One That Got Away. Turns out that even though she's on the road to success as a model, she's still hurting because she loved the protagonist from the first game and never told him about it; feeling that he was in love with Maki and vice versa. While she never holds a grudge against Maki for it, Eriko's still hounded by wondering what if she had the courage to admit her feelings.
- The biggest tearjerker of all occurs near the end of the game, when the truth of Tatsuya's sin is revealed. What did he do that was so horrible? He didn't want to lose his friends at the end of the last game, and doomed the new world by refusing to forget. No wonder he'd been isolating himself from everyone for the entire game—it's hard to even imagine the guilt he must have felt (fortunately, his bonus scenario in the PSP version tells us all we need to know). The dub voice acting makes it kind of Narm, but the Japanese version on the other hand...