Persona 1 – High School Grudges

After the sequence, the party found themselves dropped off in the school’s “Old Gym.” Mark rushed to Maki’s side while Sorrow just sort of stood there, watching his unconscious “friends” with disinterest. After confirming that everyone was alright, the party turned their attention to the subject of the “Old Gym,” explaining that it had been demolished six months ago (you might remember Maki’s confusion about the new gym from earlier). Maki said that they’ve “gone back,” and they discussed the possibility of time travel for a while. Maki brought up an unfamiliar name at this point, Yosuke, and by the magic of plot contrivance, a girl rushed into the gym and said that Yosuke had just been attacked by the girl in black, who was apparently a regular sight here in… urm… the past? Something was clearly wrong.

At this point, the party discussed how Yosuke went missing two months ago (four months after the gym was demolished, if you’re having trouble keeping up) along with a girl named Chisato. Maki ran off, giving the others a chance to discuss some things she had been doing strangely. Talking to Nanjo, for example, gave us a summary of old information, plus the fact that Maki should have been hospitalized six months ago and so the no one should have come looking for her in the gym! Furthermore, the date seemed to be the same as when we left, not six months ago, and there was no hole in the school wall.

The party figured out the mystery rather quickly (although mostly in between scenes with no outright announcement of their conclusions): we were in some kind of alternate dimension. This was admirable, since the average game would probably drag out the mystery for hours, just so the player could work out the twist on their own and probably did at the start. Although I have to say, the party was really bad at keeping their cover once they had worked things out. They began to refer to characters as being “this version” of a person, often to their face. “This version” of Miss Saeko was silent, “this version” of the vice principal was suspiciously nice instead of cruel. Another girl was rich instead of poor. Even former party members like Yukino seemed to have alternates.

Around here, I should probably mention a peculiarity with this game’s dialogue sequences. Generally, when you enter a conversation zone, you can speak to anyone present including your party members. However, your party members will almost always comment on the conversation you have with NPCs in the room even if you haven’t had it yet! Because you have to walk around the area, and because the controls are so awkward, you’re almost certainly going to talk to whoever’s closest first, not whoever’s new, so this always leads to odd situations. Just another oversight in this game’s already loose and frankly sloppy design.

Finally, we tracked down Maki and Yosuke, and Yosuke outright admitted that he was from “the original world,” and he recognized that we were too! How frank! At least the writing holds up when the design doesn’t. Yosuke had been bandaged after his attack, and explained that he and Chisato had both been dragged into this other dimension. Yosuke said that he, too, thought he was in the past at first, pinpointing the changes to a year ago, not just six months. There were more drastic changes, too, that proved it was really an alternate dimension: “The police station turned into a forest, and the hospital is a castle.” Lastly and most importantly, he said that Maki looked like she does now, healthy and happy, and he confirmed that the Maki travelling with us was the Maki from this world, not the original. Maki confessed, and claimed to have simply woken up in our world after falling asleep in class here. That meant that our dimension’s Maki is still trapped in the hospital back in the original world!

Yosuke explained that the girl in black kidnapped Chisato, and right on cue the girl attacked the school again, appearing in the central gardens. She also reorganized the school into a dungeon, forcing us to get to work.

The first thing Kyle and I did was to head to a newly-created Velvet Room in the dungeon to create some new personas. We made an Urvashi, an ice Persona and Hindu Apsara, for Nanjo; and a Phaleg for Mark, a demon from the Arbatel of Magic, though he couldn’t equip it quite yet. Kyle and I were then nearly mauled to death by human-headed bird demons before we could reach the save point, which would have set us back a ways, but we thankfully clawed our way out alive.

The demons in the school were an… interesting sort, including ghostly basketball players and toilet ghosts. It quickly became our habit to have Mark flirt with the toilet ghosts, not necessarily because it worked, but because it was funny. We’re professionals.

Part way through the dungeon, we finally filled the gap in our party by running into Reiji, who had been teleported here by Kandori but was rescued from the void by a girl in white, presumably the one from the start of the game. Maki asked if this might be “Mai,” but didn’t elaborate. Now that he had joined the party, Reiji proved incredibly useful. His talk options were great for demons and his Death arcana Personas were often unique to him. Unfortunately, his melee attack were powerful but incredibly low-ranged unarmed attacks. His starting Persona, Bres, was a Celtic fey who proved fairly powerful for a starter.

The demoniac school took one of its cues from the original Wizardry by stocking its halls with pit traps that would drop you to the previous floor (I’m fairly sure these debuted earlier, but became common here, though I may be mistaken). Thanks to the pit traps and being turned around in general, we must have lapped the school four whole times, though I suppose it did us a fair share of grinding in return. When we finally made it to the end, we found ourselves in the school courtyard, where the girl in black summoned her pet monster: a giant, cartoon-rat-shaped battle tank named “Tesso,” complete with unique theme song. This battle went on for a loooong time for an enemy that was barely able to hurt us, which says a lot about P1’s wretched balancing issues.

After the battle the school was returned to normal, and Yosuke appeared to introduce us to a fellow classmate who was investigating the two worlds. It turned out that this was a social reject named Tsutomu, who the party recognized as “Devil-Boy,” an occultist from their world with a very different personality. Tsutomu showed us a strange black door that had appeared in the school library, then told us that we’d have to do something about Kandori to set things right, and then finally said that Philemon had given him those orders at the Alaya Shrine. Maki decided we should search their first, and Yosuke gave us a request to look for Chisato while we were out.

Once outside, Kyle and I headed to the mall and blew all our money on armour, only to finally discover an open weapon shop in this game now that we were bankrupt! Still fuming, we headed out and we examined one of the defining features of the town: a magical wall that had been cast between the west and east halves of town. It seemed that there might be a way through the wall via the subway, but a monster was guarding that route, and there would be no getting out that way.

Another odd thing we found in town was an old lady, who was dirt poor in this world but rich in the original world. Mark relayed a rumour that she got rich raiding the ruins at the north end of town. This was all very strange stuff, because the ruins are actually just a place for you to fight old enemies to get their cards for fusion, and has no treasure in it besides the usual enemy cash. Why spell out that the ruins are good for one thing (money) but make them good for another (cards)? I really get a vibe from this game that more exploration elements were supposed to exist at some stage in development, but were never added.

Finally, we went to where we were supposed to go: the Alaya Shrine. There, Philemon approached us as a butterfly and told us to find the “Expel Mirror” to help deal with the demon in the subway. Nanjo mentioned he had heard of the mirror, and Kyle and I felt we had too, but we weren’t able to remember where and only found it by trawling the town a second time. We eventually stole it from the historical society. The girl in white (whom Maki called “Mai” a second time) appeared in a vision and told us not to do it, but we stole it anyways, because we’re the heroes.

Before heading off to the subway, Kyle did a tour of the north end of town, even visiting the Mikage Ruins. He later went to the mall and sold some of his precious horde of middling healing items (Rattle Drinks in this game) to buy a gun from the weapon shop. As we’d later discover, Persona 1 follows the SMT model of selling only guns, and never melee weapons. In SMT, you’re supposed to use demon fusion and enemy drops to get better weapons, but in Persona you have to sacrifice max Rank Personae (a fairly long process!) without any clue if they’ll turn into a useful item or something else! Since melee weapons weren’t even very good to begin with, we quickly got discouraged using them at all, and relied entirely on those that came from random drops!

One such lucky drop occurred in the subway, where Maki got an area attack bow and arrow weapon that’s equipped to the melee slot for some reason. This ended up stuck on her for the literal rest of the game. Oh, it wasn’t powerful for long after the subway, but then again, her short-range pistol was useless from end to end, and since we never got a better melee drop for her, the bow encouraged us to stick her safely in the back row.

ZEROthefirst has also given Maki a bow, as you can see here

The subway was dominated by one-way paths (essentially conveyor belts), including one prominent path that returned you entirely from the far end to the start of the dungeon. This was designed to facilitate travel from the far side of the magic wall, though I suppose you could also see it as a trap if you went in early, like poor Kyle did. At the end of the dungeon we met up with the boss we had been warned about: a Deep One-looking fellow named Yog-Sothoth Jr., obviously this was supposed to invoke one of the two sons of the Outer God from The Dunwich Horror, though neither particularly looks like this (well, one of them doesn’t “look” like anything, but that’s neither here nor there). Despite threatening us with his father’s wrath, Yoggy himself never made an appearance in Persona 1.

After the battle the girl in black appeared, now openly identified as “Aki.” She was disappointed in Yog-Sothoth Jr, and threatened to “make us play a game” and “fight a cute girl” next time. We got an idea of what she meant when we made our way to the other side of the wall and discovered that the mall there had been occupied by a group run by “the Harem Queen” and had been renamed “the Black Market.” Unfortunately, the magic of the Harem Queen trapped us inside the mall, so we were forced to stay in there with her distorted worshippers and Maki’s suddenly cagey behaviour. We learned that the Harem Queen was a painter and that everyone was afraid to do anything but compliment her paintings, and that she was kidnapping the “good-looking men.” Thankfully, the Black Market was still a market, and we used it to buy some powerful Mage Killer ammunition for our guns, which caused Silence and were so satisfying that we kept them for nearabouts the course of the game!

Now trapped and left with no choice but to search for the Harem Queen, Kyle and I located some dugouts nearby that dropped us through multiple trap doors into the Harem Queen’s dungeon. Here we saved for the night and continued on another day, where our first task was to find a way back up to the surface in case of emergencies. That took just a little while (the game wasn’t that cruel) and we pushed on to the rest of the dungeon. This took a few branching paths and pit traps, but we finally found our way to the correct end point. Along the way, we found paintings by the Harem Queen and Kyle and I worked out that the Queen must be Maki’s and Yosuke’s missing friend, Chisato. I don’t feel very accomplished in working that out, mind. At one point, the game says, “This painting is Chisato’s and also the Queen’s,” but the party still wasn’t able to figure it out. It’s not that I should feel proud, it’s that the slowpokes under our control should feel poorly! Curiously, they ultimately work out the truth off-screen, similar to the alternate dimension thing but at a much slower pace. This off-screen revelation also confuses one other line of dialogue. When Mark says they should “get” (attack) the queen, is he aware he’s talking about a classmate? Who knows!

One thing I should mention before I forget it entirely is this game’s way of giving you treasure. Most treasure in the game comes from enemies, but occasionally, if you visit a room in a dungeon, you’ll find some loose boxes in an isometric screen. These boxes are packed with treasure or sometimes traps, which can drop your health as low as 1, some of them dropping it directly to 1. There are no wandering monsters in the treasure rooms, so the question becomes: why bother with so many traps? You could make an argument for putting one trap in a room, sure, but there’s nothing stopping you from opening every box in the room and then healing everyone, so why are some rooms trapped with multiple “set HP to 1” traps? Besides, the cost of healing is hardly prohibitive at this point of the game. My best theory is that the chests were supposed to be scattered about the maze at some point (there are a lot of conspicuous dead ends) but were ultimately consolidated to the treasure rooms… only for their contents to never be changed.

Through the final door, we located Chisato, who had strange moles growing on her face. She explained that “an angel in black” (Aki) lent her a wish-granting mirror, but every time she made a wish she gained another blister or mark. Curiously, she used the same magic phrase Aki did, “Erusaer Tsymmom,” which will turn out to be odd in the end, considering it should have no meaning to her.

Chisato was jealous of Maki and was trying to undermine her in some strange way through her actions as the Harem Queen. Nanjo tried to point out that, since Chisato was from his universe, she wasn’t even targeting the right Maki, but she didn’t care. As everyone insulted her paintings, she wished the party out of the dungeon and we were forced to walk allllllll the way back to the back with no changes, as though we hadn’t spent enough time in there to begin with. We upgraded everyone’s weapons and some of the armour out of spite (considering we might have gotten new upgrades after clearing the dungeon) and got Reiji a new Lilim persona and eyed another one for when he reached Persona Level 29.

Once we finally got into place, Chisato threatened to turn us all to stone if Sorrow didn’t vouch for the quality of her painting. This was a bit of an obnoxious moral choice, since we weren’t actually able to see the quality of the paintings, but I suppose that’s exactly how the devs wanted it. Thankfully, we were interrupted by Aki, who made Chisato a bargain: just kill the party and she’ll fix Chisato’s blisters at the same time.

Since everyone but Sorrow and Maki had been petrified at this point, it was just the two of them against the Queen, who fought us with a face on the back of her head, invoking the idea of a futakuchi-onna. You know, that demon that Mawile is based on? Despite being short-handed, this fight was a joke. Excusing a successful instant kill spell that hit Sorrow, the Harem Queen could only do single-digit damage, prompting one of us to say: “I seriously feel like… we really are beating on a teenaged girl here.”

After the fight, Aki said that Chisato was a guinea pig, though I can’t imagine for what or why, even writing from the end of both storylines. Yosuke showed up for no reason said he stilled loved Chisato, breaking the mirror and curing her? Fuck, I don’t know. Arbitrary happy ending for everyone! As it happens, Yosuke teleporting in to confront his girlfriend/the harem queen does make sense in the end-game, grand sense of things sort of way, but that doesn’t make it any less “boyfriend ex machina” now.

Chisato had only one lead for us: Aki apparently lived in a castle, presumably the one just outside in this universe. After a brief detour back into the Harem Queen’s dugouts, we met Aki at the castle, where she said no one could get in except for “that one in the forest, but she’s too scared.” She then sloooowly opened the door and slooowly got through, while the characters did nothing about it. And this year’s Golbez’s Arm Award goes to… Reiji tried to break the door down himself to get at Kandori but Mark talked him down. The party decided to go back through the subway to the Lost Forest to find a key.

Prev: Persona 1 – Compact Compacts
Next: Persona 1 – Wagging the Bloody Tongue

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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