Persona 2: Innocent Sin – Tick, Tock, Crash

Since we’ve got Maya in the party, I’m going to voice a complaint. Most of Maya’s in-battle quips have her being cocky and bold, only for them to intermix the line, “I’m sorry…” as one of her battle win quotes! Sometimes they play virtually right next to one another! “You’re done for! [one battle later] …I’m sorry…” Holy crap, devs.

You waste a lot of time revisiting rooms, smashing clocks, and eventually talking to the teachers in the staff room to get the last of them. Ms. Saeko is happy to see Yukino, of course, and Yukino makes a comment about not being smart enough to be a teacher herself, as Ms. Saeko was a big inspiration on her. Unfortunately, destroying the clocks doesn’t seem to work, and Lisa soon realizes they missed the biggest emblem-clock of all: the one in the clocktower. Unfortunately, principal Hanya gets on the PA system at just that moment to tell everyone to stop destroying school property, and everyone outside the party instantly obeys him, utterly reversing their previous take on the matter. At least this finally confirms that Hanya’s popularity is supernatural!

The party makes to go off to the clock tower (to “clean” it, they say, so not to rouse the ire of the hypnotized students and staff), but learn that the key is missing, leading to a long but mostly senseless diversion to the janitor’s office. From this point, it was a simple charge up to the tower to finish up… until we realized, part-way through the process, that we had probably lost some missable content. We’ve almost certainly missed more since, but I didn’t want to lose the very first example on my plate, so I suggested we restart to our pre-boss save to give it another try. Considering we only had only missed one thing, you might be surprised it took us over an hour to do it, but that’s because we made the mistake of checking the walkthrough for other missables, and that encouraged us to do some early arcana farming. Urm, whoops. Granted, we also went shopping and checked out a certain new feature while we were on our way, but otherwise this little “side-trip” chewed up an entire hour of gameplay just fighting and conversing with random encounters!

What was the point of our side-trip? Someone in the school mentioned an old school urban legend about a ghost named “Hanako,” after the real-world ghost legend of the same name. Trouble was: it hadn’t occurred to us (or at least to me) that we’d have to spread the rumour before it would become true, just like with the weapons shop. Guy was already acting like it was an already active rumour, you know? Once the rumour is spread, she appears as a random encounter boss inside of Sevens. This mean you have to leave the dungeon early, because, like I should have learned from Persona 1, the dungeon locks you out once you clear it. Then, you go to the detective agency and pay them 3000 yen to spread another rumour. Yes, they’re charging you now, they’re a business after all! Though by the looks of things, they’re only going to make a few hundred bucks from you over the course of the entire game (once you convert yen to dollars), so they could probably be spending their time on more profitable ventures. While we were on the streets, we shopped for armour, which included hats and chain mail shirts for the entire party. According to NPCs, armour is fashionable right now. Which must be why absolutely no one is wearing it! Between the rumour and the armour, we were now bankrupt.

The new feature we unlocked was the Theatre, which originally included a level editor in Japan. This was removed during localization (devs didn’t want to host the server in other regions, I’m sure), but a few (three) Atlus-created scenarios were included and are unlocked as you go through the story. Sadly, Atlus never localized some other scenarios they personally distributed online, including one three-parter from P2’s original scenario writer. You’re also still allowed to earn meaningless “Titles” associated with multiplayer mode if you’re willing to replay the three included missions a ridiculous number of times! Naturally a Japanese fan would be able to earn it by playing a variety of custom levels, instead. Unfortunately, the pre-set scenarios were horribly out of our level range (the lowest was Level 30, we were below 10), so we didn’t check them out at the moment. I’m not sure why they’re unlocked across the story if they’re not level-appropriate… is it a spoiler concern? In any event, they don’t give you any rewards besides regular combat rewards (EXP, cash, cards, items from Pacts), so no rush.

At last, we killed Hanako – who turned out to be a new version of Persona 1’s toilet demons, rather than a ghost that comes out of a toilet as in urban legend – collected our prize, and finally got back to the clock tower, ready to replay what I had already done. But first, the narrative: the party gets to the clock tower, only to encounter the ghost of the teacher that died there, who insists that “time… must not be set free.” Despite this looking like a brief cameo, the teacher gets a character portrait, so I imagine we’ll be seeing him again in the future. At this point, the ghost vanishes and Hanya arrives on a higher platform (no way to reach it, of course), along with Joker.

Hanya does some villainous monologuing for a while, explaining that he gained his mind control powers (and even his hair) from “Master Joker,” and it seems he now expects others to follow Joker too. He’s not the complicated villain here, so let’s focus on Joker instead. Joker repeats the bit about time being unfrozen, so at this point, if time freezing and unfreezing doesn’t become important outside of the school after all this repetition, I’m going to have to have words with the writers. Joker then identifies himself as “the Giver” compared to Tatsuya’s “Thief.” Oh yeah, you’re just fucking Santa Claus. He then says that he won’t let Tatsuya “destroy my dream again.” And then after giving that impassioned speech… he leaves. Video game villains.

Principal Hanya stays behind to stop you from breaking the final emblem, armed with a huge wrench and his drill-like Persona. He gets a voice actor and a few lines when combat starts, as will several other human bosses later in the game. Unfortunately I don’t have voice credits for most of these minor bosses (with a few exceptions) so Hanya will have to go uncredited, and please just take that as a given for any bosses I fail to mention in the future.

The battle nominally takes place on top of some of the clock’s giant, horizontal gears, but thankfully this didn’t have any impact on battle (in fact, the game’s efforts to keep the battle on top of these gears on the battle screen led to some weird graphical glitches that probably wouldn’t have happened if they had just used the regular combat system!). We quickly discovered Hanya was weak to Fire, so during my first attempt (an hour ago), I set up a few Fusion Spells. I haven’t mentioned those yet, but they’ve been unlocked from the beginning. Persona 2: Innocent Sin allows you to arrange your party members’ combat order at the start of every turn. I’m not sure if restructuring the turn order costs you initiative (i.e. if enemy turns come sooner that round) or what. If you arrange things so that your party casts the right spells in the right order, you get the option to use a Fusion Spell. These have to be discovered through trial and error, a lot like the “Bands” from 2D versions of FFIV: TAY, or a similar technique in Phantasy Star 4. My original strategy was to use Blazing Burst (Agi+Agi) followed by a mix of other spells, but by the time we finally got to replay the fight, we had stumbled across the even more powerful Towering Inferno (Aqua+Magna+Agi). Thanks to our splurge on armour, both fights were so easy that Hanya couldn’t even hurt us, so I actually sat through the fight on auto mode after a while! Hey! That’s how we tried to beat the SQQ, so why not?

After the battle, the party found themselves no longer on the gears, but Hanya remained on one? In any event, the gears started to collapse. I wouldn’t have been all that surprised if he had ended up knocked down with the rubble, but that’s not how Persona 2 wants to play it. Instead, Hanya’s gear is the only one that doesn’t fall, and then he jumps out through the now-destroyed clock-face to fall four storeys and survives, presumably thanks through his demonic enhancements (Ed. actually, the real reason is far more complicated and based on player actions, and we’ll discuss it later!). At this point a student comes in and asks if Hanya survived, and a walkthrough told us to say yes, as this apparently has something to do with someone’s ultimate weapon?

Oh, by the way, Maya makes a big fuss about how she thinks Joker looks like he’s crying, even though that’s not how he appears to the player, as though she’s seeing an entirely different visual. She also remarks on a connection that she senses between Joker and the Tatsuya, implying that Joker is some dark reflection of Tatsuya. Again, none of this is shown, so either Maya is literally seeing something else that we’ll probably get a look at later, or this is just shoddy writing hung on… “she’s probably got a lot of empathy, I don’t know.”

The monsters remained in the school as we walked out, but after checking nearly every NPC for updates, we went out the front doors and were locked out, so score one point for our reset to get the toilet ghost! Our next objective was to meet up with Kozy to check on her research, but on the way we stopped off at the two Rumourmongers we had identified by this point to make use of their services (there’s one per region). Mongers will give you… let’s call them “inert” rumours, which you can then bring to the Detective Agency to activate. Most of the early rumours had to do with turning even more innocent shopkeepers into weapon and armour dealers, of varying qualities and prices depending on the rumour. One thing the game didn’t tell us was that shopkeeper rumours can’t be swapped: you pick one and that becomes that shop’s permanent level of quality and price. I think this is quite odd, as you do have to pay for these rumours to spread, so all they really had to do was slap a bigger price tag on changing the rumour, and make sure sell prices are too low to exploit. Unfortunately, we set up one shop with middling wares before realizing how the system worked, but promised not to make the same mistake again.

We also bought a few Personas at the Velvet Room. I mean, after all that tarot card grinding, we’d might as well, right? Unfortunately, Persona only appear on the list at set points in the game, so we didn’t have many options to choose from. When it comes to the Personas that are copies of demons, you probably have to find the demon in the wild first, right? But what about the rest? With so few options, we hired two baseline Goombas in the form of Poltergeist and Pixie. When fusing Personas, you can also give them special bonus cards. We didn’t have any yet, but for future reference, it’s possible to give them additional special moves (similar to P1) and higher stats (also like in P1, but requiring special card items instead of throwing in an item from your inventory).

We also checked a walkthrough to learn how to use the absolutely opaque Magazine Sweepstakes system. This works by buying setting a rumour about the sweepstakes’ prizes and win rate (we went with the second-rarest, second-best prizes option – or at least that’s what it said on the label, some walkthroughs have confused the matter), at which point you can buy copies of the magazine at any convenience store. The more you buy, the better your odds of winning. Those steps were all self-evident – the tricky part is realizing that after you have the magazines, you have to talk to Tamaki of all people, who will offer to submit the contest forms for you. At this point, you have to go to a dungeon and fart around for a while (300 steps), at which point you go to talk to Lisa’s father to see if you won (why Tamaki doesn’t mail to the office, I don’t know). The game probably should have had the owner of the detective agency say, perhaps: “Why don’t you get Tamaki to help you with that” after you set the rumour! (Ed. Writing from the future after we’ve played some of Eternal Punishment on the PSX, and guess what! That’s what they eventually did!)

According to walkthroughs, the sweepstakes has something to do with Tatsuya’s luck stat, but we weren’t sure when the game checks said luck stat. Reasonable checkpoints would be when giving the magazines to Tamaki, when hitting your 300th step in a dungeon, or when checking if you won, but the game could easily have hidden the luck check (or multiple luck checks) at other stages in the process to make it harder to abuse the system. As a result, Kyle made a point to throw extra level up stat points into Luck as we went along, almost to the point of a running joke, and we occasionally swapped Tatsuya’s Persona to a luck-oriented one (Pixie, with +99 luck!) at three of the above four steps (when buying magazines, giving them to Tamaki, and checking with Lisa’s dad), just to see if it helped. We were not willing to commit to using Pixie on Tatsuya 24/7, since others had better compatibility with her, and after a while she was simply out of date when it came to combat.

So far, we’ve entered the sweepstakes with a few (first two or three, later a dozen) magazines before every new dungeon but one, and while this probably won’t be very surprising, we haven’t won the damned thing even once!

Moving back to the plot, we had to meet up with Kozy in a new district, but when we got to our meeting place, she wasn’t there. Instead, one of her fellow school newspaper writers showed up in her place. She also doubled as this district’s Rumourmonger, so that’s nice. This new monger first told us that she had done her journalistic homework and had confirmed that a rumour started the emblem curse… or at least I think she was the one to confirm this. At some point during this hour or so of gameplay, the characters switch over from treating the “emblem curse” as a curse created by some schoolyard magic ritual to a curse powered by rumours, and it happens so imperceptibly that I’m not certain this scene can really be considered a “confirmation?” In any event, this is the point where the cast has to have accepted that the curse was based on rumour, so I’m bringing it up. Kozy’s friend adds that someone at Cuss High started the curse, which we had been hearing before now from other NPCs (including Hanya), but the cast now treated as confirmation for some reason? Rumourmongers are infallible, I guess.

Michel is furious at the accusation that one of his classmates could have started the rumour, since he feels he runs a tight ship as “Boss.” He should probably be paying attention to all the NPCs we had met in the past few minutes, all of which were saying there’s a new Boss at Cuss High! Kozy’s friend told us that the students responsible were at a club called Zodiac, so we agreed to head there next.

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