Around this point in the game, we started to hear about Ashura, the fifth fiend who, according to one of the people in the Hell-like False Paradise earlier on, commanded the others. Unfortunately, we didn’t get many details. Indeed, I think we missed the spot where the game goes into the most detail!
This was also the point in the game where the general monsters started to become a threat. In a game with item durability and low stats, moderate damage can become a serious concern over time. Also, the random encounter rate was very high, which I’m not a fan of at all. God help us I’m re-editing this towards the end of the Persona 1 (SEBEC) playthrough and I promise you that my attitude has not changed. We spent most of our time running from fights, and it would have been just as problematic to fight them and put up with the inventory issues involved in carrying enough X-Potions to heal the damage they cause.
We finally stumbled into World 4, and I had a sinking feeling in my gut when, despite our apparent advantages, we ended up in the same shit-hole I remembered from my initial playthroughs all those years ago. World 4 is a post-apocalyptic world dominated by Su-Zaku, the Vermillion Bird of the South, who attacks you as a random encounter that’s mostly invulnerable. You’re supposed to run away, but for whatever reason, the game didn’t let us to run away, and we lost two party members in the fight and and then another one (Rei, which forced us to use a Revive potion) as we limped to the nearest subway station.
(It’s actually is possible to kill him Su-Zaku at this point in the game with the right attacks, and I worked that out myself in the past, but there are no rewards and he just comes back to life. It’s actually really impressive that I did pull that off considering my useless party, really, because the “invincible” Su-Zaku actually has as much HP as the final boss, and with higher Defence, but I was using a cheap tactic at the time).
Inside the subway, we rescued a young woman from another forced encounter with some giant ants or something, which can be murder on you if you’re down too many party members. The young woman, Sayaka, took us to a nearby settlement, where we almost got murdered in another bar brawl, this time with Sayaka’s brother So-Cho. Thankfully, Sayaka broke up the fight before it even started.
(“So-Cho” might be a title rather than a name, judging by a later line of dialogue. Anyone know for sure?)
After finally getting a chance to heal, So-Cho had us go off to find some parts he needed to create a device that would break Su-Zaku’s “force field.” Step 1 was to take a futuristic motorcycle that would help us escape Su-Zaku with regularity (and dramatically reduced the encounter rate with him to boot), and use it to find a lost city or district using the records at a burned-out library, so naturally we ignored the plot and searched the rest of the planet. I’m informed that the geography here mimics Tokyo, implying that this world actually is Tokyo, but I’m not aware of the specifics.
We set out to the library, where our characters ignored our attempts to search the place manually. Our party only found the book when we walked to the correct square and the party started searching automatically. Thanks for offering, game, but how about having them do their automatic search when you entered, instead of waiting for us to walk into the corner? The library directed us to another hidden location, where we found one of the two parts we needed. The second was hidden virtually off the map in a town that was, itself, tucked away at the back of the map to the northeast.
We then checked in with So-Cho, he gave us a room for the night, saying the final part he needed could be found in an abandoned nuclear reactor. Oh, this sounds like a great plan. And we have to keep our limited inventory crammed with the other two parts in the meantime? You shouldn’t have!
The next day, our heroes tried to sneak out to do the mission without endangering anyone (what, really? After a entire world where our characters refused to acting without direct orders? I swear, these world must have been written by different authors), but So-Cho and his biker gang caught us and showed us that we really couldn’t have gotten there on our own in the first place, because we’d have to jump a section of subway track only he could point out to us. So-Cho then said he’d wait at the entrance to us as we powered through.
Inside the reactor, we found the easy way through was blocked by tall… blockades? Spikes? Fuel rods? I have no idea what they were. All the the game had to offer was a line of dialogue saying the button to turn them off was “over there,” and that was just misleading and wrong, as no such button existed anywhere. We had to go around the long way. Besides a fight with a petrifying, blinding eyeball miboss (which went very poorly in our first attempt that forced us to restart further back than we intended), things went well enough.
At the top, we found the reactor blocked by more mystery rods, including a few that had been discoloured by the automatic colouring of the GBC/GBA. That meant we had to interact with them, no doubt, and sure enough, So-Cho showed, saying he had “just caught up” with us. Weren’t you staying be—oh, god, he’s going to impale himself on the spikes. Fuck, fuck he’s doing it. Three times even! And—holy shit! He even jumped on to a fourth set of rods to get out of our path! What a gentleman! Then he gave us the best helmet in the game before dying! I’ve seen a lot of games where you’re given a special item from a dying character, but for some reason it’s never a hat. That’s just the sprinkles on top of this horribly unique sequence.
But if everything that had happened so far hadn’t already convinced you that this was a bad idea, the next room probably would, as not only did it involve wading into the coolant tank, but taking a thing out of the reactor with our bare hands (I’m not sure why I’m surprised) and then being ambushed by the security robot while still inside the coolant. Oh, did I say “Security Robot?” I actually meant “Warmech, video gaming’s first Superboss, originally from Final Fantasy 1 where we didn’t encounter him.” Warmech, or “Machine” as the game called it, was a fair fight this time around. One shouldn’t be surprised to learn that we power-chugged our way through the potion shop after the battle until our Humans had Strength 99 just to make sure nothing would be a fair fight ever again. Our poor habit of missing attacks during the approach to Su-Zaku had us pumping Agility to 99 after the fight with him, as well.
The game is not very helpful in telling you were to go after killing Machine. When you return to town, everyone is dead, Su-Zaku having come in during the biker gang’s absence. Satisfied that the world has been wiped out, perhaps (even though the other town still exists to the northeast), Su-Zaku has left the surface to the other monsters and gone to hide in a skyscraper in the northwest, though you have to work that out on your own. Even getting to the skyscraper proved troublesome, since it’s perched atop some rocks that look like they’re impassable, though they’re actually just impassable to the bike and can be crossed on foot. Very confusing.
The Skyscraper was probably the longest dungeon in the game barring the Tower, and even went into its basement, where we finally found Su-Zaku on the roof of the last subway train in existence. This car was populated by creepily sedate passengers, including another eyeball monster that attacked us after we interrupted their sitting quietly and respectfully in their seat. At the end, we discovered Sayaka was still alive, being held by Su-Zaku because it was the 80s and that’s how video game women worked, apparently. We used the completed device, called “Erase99,” to clear up the force field. How we assembled it despite not knowing anything about future technology, you’d best not question (though it’s hilarious how some of its parts were still in our inventory, like IKEA leftovers. “Don’t worry about it, Sara, they’re probably just extras.”) The fight against Su-Zaku also a wash in our favour, but this had less to do with levels and more to do with our sweet, sweet Dragon armour. Burn us now, you overgrown, phoenix asshole.
We actually did tend to So-Cho’s body this time, and Sayaka said she was taking over as “the new So-Cho”. Well, good luck with that, last human being on the planet. We left her to die and went on to the final climb up the Tower.
There were actually a few interesting things on this last section of the Tower: two we visited and one that we missed. The one we missed was a false paradise where everyone thought of Ashura as a hero, according to a walkthrough. The first interesting thing we did find was a series of books, which spelled out the telling message “ASHURA” “IS” “CONTROLLED” “BY” and then a book we couldn’t read for whatever reason. Obviously we were missing the magnifying glass from Link’s Awakening. Interestingly, in Japanese, this room is very different, featuring names of other heroes and their “high scores” getting through the tower, with the final book (your own) yet unwritten. Also, there was a secret room was behind one of the shelves, housing a Flare tome we only really used in the final boss fight.
The last find was perhaps the most interesting: a world (I can’t really call it a “false paradise,” but one could argue) built like a bomb shelter, with three corpses around a table and monsters running loose, quite unlike the False Paradises. In the depths of the bunker was another corpse with a note that talked about nuclear holocaust, radiation poisoning, how he hoped his kids (the ones around the table) would live on, safe in the bunker. The game then snuck a Nuke weapon into our inventory, without even informing us that we had it, as a creepy surprise for later (assuming you don’t put off looking in your inventory for so long that you forget you ever came here). A surreal, terrifying nuclear fear from the latter-days of the Cold War.
……We’re going to blow something up so hard with this.
Towards the top of the Tower we found our friend in the hat and suit, who sort of pointed out the secret passage to Ashura by standing next to it (to be honest, I’m not sure how I found it back in the day, as our friend doesn’t mention it). There was a pit trap in the final approach, but after we had learned its location and walked around, we found Ashura himself. Though it took a few restarts to get to him, since the minor enemies in the area were vicious. It’s funny how minor enemies can do that but the bosses couldn’t.
Ashura – a multi-faced, multi-armed fellow – tried to bribe us to make us his new Fiends (well, he didn’t quite say it that way. He really just offered us the four worlds if we agreed to work for him. But it’s the same thing). Our characters refused and he fought with us, but it was not really much of a challenge even at this point in the game. I really wish I had more jokes to tell you, folks, but these fights just don’t last long enough for me to joke.
Past Ashura, we found a door presumably leading towards Paradise, but as we stepped towards it, a mysterious voice spoke out, saying something about another challenge for us. The trap dropped us all the way down to Base (oh, ouch!). There was one last climb to complete: all the way back to the top of the Tower, all the way from the bottom.