Snow Queen Quest
Going into the Snow Queen Quest, Kyle and I prepared for the worst. Knowing we had needed the Ultimate Personas in the main quest, we followed a guide to getting the others in the SQQ as well. The guide called getting the Ultimates “one of the hardest challenges in all RPGs,” but frankly, it wasn’t that awful once we had advice. Certainly easier than beating the main game, or the SQQ for that matter.
By the way, our screenshots here are SEBEC screenshots from ZEROthefirst’s Let’s Play, since he didn’t cover the SQQ. I can’t remotely blame him.
The SQQ branches off the SEBEC route after you return to the school with Sorrow, Elly and Mrs. Sonomura. This small party gives you an ample opportunity to grind, so that’s exactly what I did between sessions. I grinded and also grabbed all the recommended cards the walkthrough had given me. The most important step was to get Sorrow to level 21 (at a point in the game when he should be in single digits or low teens at best) and the Lilim Persona, which was immune to almost all the monsters in the SQQ. We were delayed only by a last-minute change in plans, when we decided to grind in the casino to earn special stones to give all our key Personas powerful area attacks. With that, we were more than well-equipped for the grand finale. That Mrs. Sonomura was bleeding to the death at the time was no concern of ours. We’re the heroes.
The SQQ begins with you learning about a play the school used to perform annually until rumours came along that it was cursed: a play based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. After going way, way, way, way, way out of our way to find the mask of the Snow Queen in an old storage shed (turns out there was no way we could have done this by accident!), we watched as an evil spirit possessing the mask sought out our teacher, Miss Saeki, who had worn it during her days as a student for the play’s final performance.
The Snow Queen (the demon in the mask, I mean) then turned the school into a palace of ice, summoning three powerful Towers from which she somehow aimed to dominate the world. I wasn’t quite clear on the specifics, but maybe that’s why I’m not an ice demon. Also, she froze Miss Saeko.
The first objective here was to track down your party. Your mandatory party members are Sorrow and our old buddy Yukino, who was with us at the start of the SEBEC route but can’t actually be recruited for the rest of the SEBEC route! I observed rather quickly that Sorrow rarely appears in cutscenes in this mode – I mean, even less than usual – with Yukino seeming to take on the leadership role in his place. It was as though this were really “Yukino’s game” instead of his, and Sorrow only seemed to be there as the player’s cameraman! I’ve played a few games that played around with the idea that “the viewpoint character is not the main character” and I have yet to find one that really seems to work? I hear FFX has a good reputation as one such game and I’m hoping it will wow me when I get to it. I also hear that FFXII has a horrible reputation as one such game, and I’m excited for that as well!
The remainder of the party is made up of any combination of the following characters: Nanjo, and then the three optional SEBEC characters, Brown, Ayase and Elly. We followed Marathon rules to “recruit everyone” by ignoring Nanjo and picking up a party of everyone we had left behind before. Recruiting the party was not as clear-cut as we expected, and involved fighting another boy in the school who was, urm, drinking all the stockpiled milk? Look, it’s a long story about a fat boy having to eat things because the writers decided that fat people behave like cartoon stereotypes, showing a level of respect for other human beings that I’d shame in an eight year old, much less an adult. And come to think of it, the Harem Queen thing was an “evil people are ugly” storyline so dusty and misogynistic it might as well have come out of Grimm. Whatever, I’m not in the mood to treat with this games’ story after the “ill people just aren’t trying hard enough” bullshit from the SEBEC storyline.
From this point, the plot becomes about you storming the three towers, trying to recover shards of the Snow Queen’s magic mirror. You need 8 of the 12 shards to get the best ending (curiously, there is no prize whatsoever for getting all 12!). Anyone looking for the Ultimate Personas will want to watch the way they approach the quest, as well. The three towers are clearly designated as Easy, Medium and Hard by the game, and you can’t leave a tower after you enter. If you take the towers in reverse order (Hard-Medium-Easy), you get more Ultimate Personas. Kyle and I tried to clear the Hard tower first a few times and failed, then got cold feet and went with Medium-Hard-Easy, which would get us the the third-highest yield of Ultimate Personas (the second-highest is Hard-Easy-Medium), but we shouldn’t have done so. We gained almost no levels doing the Medium-difficulty tower, so the fact that we beat the Hard tower after the Medium implied that we could (and should) have done it first. Rats.
The plot of each of the towers revolved around your schoolmates and teachers, but I’m not going to be introducing all of the school cast in much detail, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that one of them was the female protagonist of SMT: If…, aka “Persona 0.” Remember, this game is a sequel! Two of the three towers were timed, though the timer wasn’t a huge threat in the Easy tower. The Easy-difficulty Tower was Hypnos Tower, where another former Snow Queen actress was trying to sleep away her past life, and was forcing others to sleep as well with her Persona, Hypnos. The Medium-difficulty tower was Nemesis Tower, where there was no timer, and the mistress (another Snow Queen actress) tried to get us to abandon some friends during the dungeon exchange for an easier fight at the end. Rescuing your friends instead gets you Mirror Shards. The Hard-difficulty tower was Thanatos Tower, where your Persona powers will be locked down if you get knocked to 0 HP! This was serious threat and made the experience even more frustrating than it already was. Were there a few thrilling stories involved? Sure! But I didn’t record any because I was at my wit’s end with this contemptible game!
There! Three dungeons, the vast majority of the second game, in one paragraph. I’ll say this much: it was actually maybe a better experience than the entire SEBEC storyline. I really did like it better! More engaging dungeons, with special gimmicks, good plots and micro-plots. But I was just… so tired of this entire experience. I have a whole document of notes I never even touched because I’m just so tired. Maybe one day I’ll come back and extend this section, but I doubt it. Persona 1’s grinding-centric gameplay and creaking, insufficient level design, plus the odd slap to the face from the narrative like “Sick people aren’t trying hard enough” and “Fat people, ammirite?” earn it the present Worst Game in the Marathon slot from me, taking it from FFIII.
Not that any of this makes me any happier about FFIII, mind you.
Just to show you how badly it went, we confronted the Snow Queen with the mirror and freed Miss Saeko, fought the evil mask, only for the Snow Queen to reveal herself as Miss Saeko’s jealous childhood friend (we had guessed this, so the surprise gave us no extra motivation to keep playing the game). Her Persona, the Night Queen, was the real demon. (The MT wiki tells me that the Night Queen is the goddess Nyx, though I’m not clear where they got that information. Maybe it was in the Japanese script? It makes sense, though: Hypnos and Thanatos are both mythical sons of Nyx. The third son of Nyx is Moros, who has only ever showed up in Persona 3). We went after the Night Queen up her final dungeon, reassured by a walkthrough that Sorrow would be invincible thanks to Lilim and the Night Queen’s poor loadout of spells… only for the Night Queen to drop us with a series of physical attacks, the only thing Lilim couldn’t defend against.
And then we gave up. That was it. We couldn’t take it anymore. We have never given up on a game before, not in eight years, but we gave up. Not Mega Man & Bass. Not Mega Man X7. Not FFIII, which I hated. Not Mega Man X Command Mission, which we both hated. To make matters worse, Persona 1 took up so much time that I actually had to scale back operations on this very blog (by skimming down from twice-a-week Marathon Journal updates to once-a-week) to make up for the damage it had caused to our schedule. We should have given up ages before and it will be some time, if ever, before I ever come back.
Unfortunately, the damage caused to the Marathon was already done. Persona 1 chewed up time that could have been used to play an entire extra game, and the Journals fell on the wayside because I was just so tired of the whole garbage experience. If anyone came to this Journal hoping to see me write about the story’s deep narrative, I really do apologize because I wanted to do that, but this was one game where the mechanics actually hurt the narrative instead of enhancing it or simply blending into the background. An empty, boring dungeon-crawler experience where every attempt at tactics was thrown out in favour of base grinding. There it is in a sound bite. Here’s another: mechanically antiquated and morally antiquated, I never want to see this game again. Considering the damage Persona 1 did, while Kyle and I both look forward to Persona 3 and 4 in the future, we look forward the two Persona 2 games with fear.
This retrospective’s screenshots come from ZEROthefirst’s Let’s Play of the PSP release of Shin Megami Tensei: Persona at YouTube.