Persona 1 – Compact Compacts

Heading to the shrine, we discovered Maki’s mother, Setsuko. Mrs. Somomura tells us that her employers, SEBEC and its CEO, Kandori, had deployed a machine called the Deva System that may be responsible for the changes around town. But that’s not why we’re actually here. No, the game has actually brought us here for another chat with our good buddy Philemon, who’s here to give us some vague warnings about the upcoming split between the SEBEC plotline and the Snow Queen plotline. The original North American release subtly changed Philemon’s dialogue to make it about the options you’ll take to the good or bad ending, which was clever work for such an otherwise less-than-graceful localization, but the fact that the speech is parked just before the option to start the Snow Queen quest and only after a choice that affects the ending (your response to the nurse trapped under the vending machine) reinforces that the SEBEC/SQQ split was the original intent.

The party took Mrs. Somomura to the school, which had been effectively barricaded by the students inside (thanks in part to it being a walled building like some Japanese schools). After getting past the guards and taking Mrs. Somomura to the nurse’s office, Mrs. Somomura filled Ms. Saeko (the homeroom teacher) in on what had happened, and she asked us to tell our classmates not to “fill in” the hole at the back of the school, since Mark and Nanjo might end up trying to enter there. Passing on this message would advance the plot, but anyone who wanted to do so could talk around school to start the Snow Queen quest instead. Since we didn’t want to do that even by accident, Kyle and I all-but sprinted to the hole in the wall!

Sorrow is left alone for this stretch of the game, marking Yukino and Elly’s permanent departure from our party (this temporary lack of party members is largely so that the Snow Queen quest and SEBEC quests can hoist their respective parties on you). Once you arrive at the hole, you’re allowed to go through it to commit to the SEBEC plot. Once you choose to do so, who should arrive through the door (coming from the school?) but Maki, who is looking in fine health, despite… well basically everything. There are about a half-dozen reasons this is suspect. Ayase even says it’s weird how happy Maki is. Ayase is convinced Maki is a demon, but one of Maki’s friends says that she must be the real Maki, because she has Maki’s favourite compact. Better get used to that, because Persona 1 is unusually centred on compacts. It’s not so bad once you realize they’re breaking some crusty old RPG tropes in the process, but there are times when you’d think the game was about to knock on your door hawking for Avon

Nanjo comes in through the hole, just as expected (nice when everyone is following the same script, isn’t it?) and after a moment of being shocked by Maki, he explains that he and Mark went to the police station to fetch weapons and he got himself captured, and even worse he was carrying a SEBEC security card at the time too, and obviously it would be nice to have that. God knows when they found it. I may just be missing something obvious but this part of the plot really confused me the first time through and I can’t say if I lost track of the card because I was confused or because it was never explained! Thankfully Nanjo had retrieved some guns, so you’re able to equip them to your new party: yourself, Maki and Nanjo. If you speak to Maki, she says something curious about a “girl in black,” and doesn’t try to explain her behaviour.

Just outside the school walls, Maki gets even more confusing, stating that she doesn’t know what a “police station” even is. As Nanjo tries to explain, Maki also notices the school’s gym and says something about them “rebuilding” it. This seems kind of random, but it can be explained: despite it being (barely) mentioned up until now, the gym really was rebuilt six months prior, and it happened while Maki was in the hospital. But wait: Maki insists she was never in the hospital! While Kyle and I were convinced she was some kind of demon, Nanjo begins to suspect that Maki is suffering from Convenient Video Game Amnesia. Ah, the tragic spread of that horrible ailment, when will we find a cure?

Since it would be over-complicated to have Maki running around with no Persona while everyone else already has one, she naturally ended up in a fight with a ghoul for basically no reason and received her starter Persona, Maso, a Chinese goddess of fishermen and the sea. Naturally, Maso was also a healer, because even in a cast of half women, the central heroine has to be the default healer, god forbid. No one seems to question her getting the Persona without the ritual, and given the obvious game mechanics-related reason for her doing so, that isn’t as surprising as it might seem. It’s an unspoken agreement between the player and devs that we not call attention to an artifice like that and simply carry on to the police station.

I have almost no surviving notes from the police station, save that this was where Kyle and I began to negotiate with demons with earnest, in hopes of getting their cards for new Personas. The trick was getting a demon to cooperate, which involved guessing at its personality from various “Traits” (an entirely unreliable system, a great mess) or just plain trial and error. Our running joke soon became: “Mark: seduce them!” because Mark’s commands had better luck than nearly anyone, seducing or dancing his way into many a demon’s heart.

Of course, first we have to get Mark back in the party. We found him in the police station cells alongside Brown, who had gotten himself locked up around the same time. We let them out and both joined the party, just in time for demons disguised as cops to come in and attack. Brown – inexplicably armed with a partisan – watched as the party summoned their Personas to defend themselves and was able to summon his own as well: Nemhain, an aspect of Irish war goddess, Morrigan.

In exchange for the rescue, Mark joined the party and Brown offered to do the same. However, you don’t have to take Brown if you don’t want to, and here enters Persona 1’s confusing party recruitment system. Essentially: several party members will throw themselves at you at certain points in the game, and if you take any of them, no matter how natural that may feel, you lose the chance to accept the rest. To rub salt in it, the game does not explain this. This means if you want our friend Reiji, we’d have to go through a fair chunk of the game with only four party members, turning down perfectly reasonable applications for help! Brown is usually considered the middle grounder – the Mario, if you will – of the recruitable party members. He’s got an SMG like Sorrow, and I’ve already mentioned his spears

After the long walk back to the entrance, we returned to the world map, where the game gave us our second recruitment opportunity: Elly, easily missed at an optional subway terminal. The final party member is Ayase, who forces herself into your party at the start of the next dungeon if you haven’t set yourself up to recruit Reiji (which we had). If you have set yourself up to recruit Reiji, you’ll have to go without a party member for a while yet. While we never encountered Ayase as part of the SEBEC plot, Kyle and I know her from our SQQ run, where we learned that she was armed with useless pistols (like Maki) and status effect-inflicting whips, along with her Persona Houri, from the Qu’ran.

Finally, it was time to break into SEBEC from the basement level, using the card Mark had secured. In the SEBEC basements, we hit a few switches to activate the way forward, and found the reception desk, where they were not surprised about us breaking in. In fact… there didn’t seem to be any sort of traditional entrance door? They even knew we came in through the basement and didn’t seem all that put out. I’m not sure this sort of surreal experience was intended or just a mistake, you know how I mean?

The dungeon was centred around a five-storey elevator. We’d have to decide which floor to go to first, and since we knew the dungeon would end on the topmost floor (this being a corporate building and all), Kyle and I went straight to the topmost floor under the assumption that it would be a dead end for sure (at that point we would be able to cross the fifth floor out and go down to the others, etc). Imagine our surprise when the route kept going, heading up and down staircases, past multiple save points, shops (typically, in-dungeon shops were added in the remake to reduce the difficulty) and even a Velvet Room (the place where you fuse new Personas), all the way to the boss! I guess that sometimes you actually find things in the first place you look!

Along the way, we were also introduced to Trish the healing fairy, who overcharges you for in-dungeon healing. It’s hard to be mad at Trish, given that she provides an essential service despite the size of her bill. Still, Persona really needed inn costs to go up over the course of the game, and not to be flat across the game – too high to start and laughable at the end. You know how I mean?

Nyarlahotep attacks the party.

At the top of the tower we met up with SEBEC’s CEO, Kandori, who sicced his bodyguard Takeda on us, though there was a curious line hinting at Reiji being in the building somewhere. Kandori made off during the scuffle, though not before Nanjo tried to attack him with his Persona. In response, Kandori summoned his own Persona, Lovecraft’s Outer God Nyarlahotep, and left Takeda to attack the party with his own Persona (unnamed). Takeda’s strongest attack was actually his machine gun (a move called Middle Shot) and his troupe of thugs had it as well, meaning a bad random round could easily have killed us. A real mess.

Still, we killed Takeda, a real human being with hopes and dreams, who will never be mentioned again (we’re the heroes), and found a secret passage to the basement, where scientists talked about a rebellious head scientist. From there, we walked through some darkened halls that did not appear on the map: this was a special mechanic the game uses to hide a small maze within the bounds of the main dungeons. I find them completely infuriating, since you’re still attacked as you try to find your way through it, meaning you often lose your place. Sadly, it’s also nearly the last new, regular, out-of-battle mechanic we will ever see (and I can only think of a single irregular element off the top of my head!), so maybe I shouldn’t be so disingenuous.

…No, still garbage.

As we headed down the back halls, we learned that the Deva System was housed here. The scientist mentioned throwing some other intruder in the Deva System halls, presumably Reiji, given the way he had been acting about SEBEC. We finally caught up with Kandori in the Deva System Chamber, where he was speaking to a scientist named Dr. Nicholai, who had been frequently mentioned by other scientists in the building. Nicholai was trying to dissuade Kandori from doing whatever he was trying to do, and they mentioned that “that young man” had been thrown into “the interdimentional rift,” once again presumably Reiji.

The party challenged Kandori (whoever scripted the cutscene put Maki threatening some obstructing machinery instead), so he and Nicholai slipped into the Deva System to escape. Maki made a comment that she recognized the machine somehow, but that was neither here nor there, as the machine activated and Kandori started screaming. It seemed Nicholai had pulled one over on his boss, and had set the machine to atomize the both of them. We got the option to turn it off, which we did to fulfill a morality sidequest and get the proper ending, but it didn’t work… and neither did Nicholai’s plan! Kandori seemed to be ascending into some new form for a moment, when a voice called out to keep him from dying, and a little girl in black appeared, called one of the men “daddy,” and then teleported us all away, Kandori saying the girl would “take [him] to [her] world.”

Following this, we got a repeat animation of a strange vortex from earlier (when we first met Philemon) made up of urban skylines, gears and perhaps most prominently, a structure that appeared to be a school staircase?

Prev: Persona 1 – Demonic HMO
Next: Persona 1 – High School Grudges

This retrospective’s screenshots come from ZEROthefirst’s Let’s Play of the PSP release of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona at YouTube.

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