Now unfortunately, this is where my notes – already inadequate – collapse entirely, giving me almost no clue as to which note belongs to which part of the game. I know I promised I would do better with my note-keeping but—oh, what can I say? This game just grated on me from about this point on and was so indistinct from map to map that there was no sense commenting on much of anything.
The Lost Forest found us reaching one of the most important parts of the game: when you finally make contact with the girl in white, and furthermore set yourself well on the way to one of the game’s two endings. As you can see, it was a fantastic place for my note-taking to belly-up and croak.
You meet this little girl, Mai, inside a gingerbread house at the heart of the forest. Noticing a resemblance between Mai and Aki, the party asked about it and Mai confirmed that Aki was an evil clone of her. The party then discussed Mai’s compact, which resembled Maki’s. Mai explained this was another wish-granting mirror, which she used to make this alternate dimension in the first place. But now it was relatively powerless, because Aki took half the compact, presumably when she was created. Mark asked to borrow the compact, but apparently Mai was afraid of the consequences that came from coming out of hiding.
This brought up the first of three question and answer sessions where the answers would – on top of other moral choices made throughout the game – decide the player’s ending. Thankfully, your party members will complain if you get any wrong, and then give you a chance to resubmit, so it’s not so hard to get them right… though Kyle and I just used a walkthrough. Not only will getting them wrong get you the bad ending, but it will also get you a boss fight against Mai’s teddy bear, so, you know… that.
After getting the compact half, we returned to the castle via the subway and where we realized that the only way in would be to use the compact half as a key, surrendering it to Kandori and Aki in exchange for access.
At the end of the castle, we met up with Kandori and Aki in what looked like a graveyard. I learned after the fact that this scene involves Reiji even if you don’t have him in the party, but that’s neither here nor there for our playthrough. Aki used the compact to summon a mirror that, in turn, summoned a pyramid known as Deva Yuga into the real world, destroying part of the city in the process. Kandori claimed this mirror would give him power beyond the Deva System and the compacts, and he summoned a boss to distract us, as video game villains tend to do. This was Saurva, in Zoroastrianism one of the Daevas that served Ahriman, but sadly, without any notes I have no particular commentary about him as a boss. Most of the bosses from this section sort of bled together as “unremarkable,” anyways.
Eager to find a way back to the real world to chase Kandori, Maki suggested we go to a Haunted Mansion, since there were rumours about people being “swept away” from there. Granted, in a world full of demons that’s probably not the most likely explanation, but hey, I’m out of ideas too.
While I recognize the general need for the party to return to their original dimension, I’m not sure there was much need to insert an entire extra dungeon just to justify it. We got scenes with the scientists from SEBEC HQ, who had been stranded here too, but that was about it. Kandori could have, let’s say, “pulled them along with him” through the Chaos Mirror, for example. As it is, the Haunting Mansion feels like all but filler, where they could have just handed us a portal back to the real world in friendly territory somewhere. If the boss at the end were moved elsewhere, it wouldn’t be anything else!
Around this point in the game, Reiji was starting to dominate the party, heads and beyond its most powerful member. Or as we say in Marathon parlance, “it’s starting to turn out like a Team Golbez, you know?” His punching skills were so good that they outranked everyone’s default weapons, and he was leading the rest of the party by three, even five levels at any given time thanks to his landing all the killing blows.
Beyond the door to the boss, we ran into the demon Hariti, a Pakistani ogress who had been set to guard the rift to the original dimension. Yet something strange was up: the demon spoke with the voice of Maki’s mother. It was up to the player to decide whether or not to attack her, as though this were some kind of hard decision. What’s the worst she could do if we don’t attack her? Attack us? Naturally we stood down and Maki’s mother reverted to her regular self, the original Mrs. Sonomura (as Mark explained there was no Mrs. Sonomura in this dimension).
The party wasted time explaining things to Mrs. Sonomura, despite warnings from the scientists that the rift would soon collapse. Sure enough it did, and Mrs. Sonomura had to stay behind to keep the rift open. The party returned to the SEBEC basement, now deep underneath Deva Yuga. There, they found Dr. Nicholai still alive, but now ranting about the end of the world. Kandori appeared and explained that he was beginning to dominate humans all over the world in a similar manner using the Chaos Mirror. He added then that he could do the same to us, implying that he for some reason hadn’t yet.
Deva Yuga had plenty of demons waiting for us, including what my notes describe as an “Incubus penis conga line.” Around this point, Maki began to recover ground on her party members, taking the #2 slot from Sorrow with the help of her Persona, Azrael, whose Holy-aligned attacks kept her doing group damage through to basically the end of the game.
Deva Yuga was huge – and for good reason, since it’s the final dungeon of the bad ending – but the sheer repetitious nature of the game made it no more or less remarkable than any other dungeon in the game. I believe it may have had one of the game’s only switch puzzles (far too late for the game to start trying for variety), which confused us for a while simply by the fact that it existed at all, but it’s not as though my notes become impossible to place entirely through my own fault: it’s that the game gave me nowhere to pin anything!
Finally, the party tracked down Kandori and Aki, and Kandori talked Aki out of the fight so he could engage us directly. Before the fight, he implied that he was feeling dissatisfied with his new power, since he had accomplished all of his desires and now felt directionless. Kandori asked what the party was looking for in life, and they gave some generic RPG answers about optimism and doing the best and friendship. You’ll pardon me if I’m not moved by the same speech for the dozenth time. Sorrow had to reply that he was still looking for his reason for living (you know, for later rewards), and then Nanjo confronted Kandroi, saying he wasn’t a god and that he had simply been guided here by another (presumably his Persona, Nyarlathotep, but I may be misreading things). He condemned Kandori for pressing his fears forcibly (magically) on others rather than dealing with them himself. Kandori decided this accusation was too much, and decided to fight us.
The fight against Kandori was two-staged, the first against the man himself and then, after Nyarlathotep’s intercession, against “God Kandori,” which Nanjo described as somehow being overwhelmed by Nyarlathotep. This big battle went slowly, but inexorably in our favour. I hate to be so terse, but it’s just the way of the game: despite its over a dozen elements, status effects and the like, it’s still a Wizardry-esque numbers slog, and it became harder and harder to care as the game went on.
After the battle, Nanjo asked Kandori about the real Maki, revealing that he had solved the big mystery: the second universe had been born from the imagination of the real Maki inside the Deva System, explaining why it was displaced in time since Maki hadn’t been out of the hospital for some time. Kandori added that Mai and Aki were also parts of Maki, while Chisato and Yosuke had been drawn in by Maki because of their close connection to her. The Maki in our party was the “idealized” Maki, and didn’t believe what was going on, so she ran off rather than confront her real self.
Kandori died, and the party resolved to go after Maki, who we found on a lower floor looking at her real self, with Aki crying in a corner. Maki was mortified that she was responsible for all the death and destruction, and claimed she had done it out of jealousy while living in the hospital. Aki fled, and Maki located the Chaos Mirror in the back of the room and used it to return to the false town. Mark wanted to go after her, while Nanjo wanted to destroy the Deva System before it did any more harm – something that would assuredly kill Maki in the process. Mark punched Nanjo an then gave an argument about Maki being able to “shake” the Deva System (her life support system) if she just tried hard enough.
It’s at this point that the game shifted gears in its portrayal of Maki: where it had formerly been implying that she was sick and disabled, it was now crediting her illness to some kind of moral failing, a narrative that the ill and disabled have been hearing for centuries. And sure enough, once she confronts her failings she stops being sick. This kind of hurtful – even hateful – narrative doesn’t deserve the time of day, but it adds to my dismay at this awful gameplay by pinning it to an awful narrative. But we’re not done yet. Right now, Persona 1 is simply boring and narratively hateful. There’s plenty of time yet for it to be boring and completely hateful, wouldn’t you say?
This retrospective’s screenshots come from ZEROthefirst’s Let’s Play of the PSP release of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona at YouTube.