At Zodiac, we ran into a loose plot thread: remember the girl from the track team who wanted to find her missing sempai? Well here they both are! The girl we had spoken to earlier was basically unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but the older girl, Anna Yoshizaka, is worth naming. Her NPC teammate told her that Anna “can’t keep that up that up or it’ll ruin your health even worse! Then you’ll never run again…” But it wasn’t clear what she was talking about? The P1/P2 overhead sprites may not have been detailed enough to make out Tatsuya’s lighter, but they’re detailed enough to see that Anna’s sitting down, not dancing or doing anything that might harm or even strain her legs. We can clearly see Anna’s hands in this shot, arms crossed and definitely not holding anything – say, drinking, smoking, or doing drugs. Hell she’s not even “hanging out with a bad crowd,” because she’s literally on one side of the room on her own. The phrasing doesn’t even seem to imply that the NPC girl was saying, “You have to go back to school and track or you’ll fall out of practice,” either, she’s supposed to be doing… something! I’m out of after-school specials, Persona, so tell me: what horrible, life-ruining activity is this teenager supposed to be doing to herself?
(Ed. Coming back to this from the end of the game, and even after seeing a few scenes involving Anna from Eternal Punishment, my best guess about this weird scene is that there was a localization issue, and the NPC is simply trying to say “Anna, please come back to school and track club.” Unfortunately, the localizers tied her up in a stilted double negative: “Anna, please stop doing the thing where you are not going to school.” Unfortunately, later scenes throws this for a whirl, so I’m not certain, but this feels closer than my other guesses.)
Anna ignores her former friend, who eventually storms off, and Yukino goes over to Anna to say: “Don’t do this. Trying to be something you’re not isn’t cool.” Anna asks who the hell she is, and Yukino just says not to ignore the advice people give you. What, like from strangers? Just any advice given to you by strangers, who have never even met you? I’m talking about you, Yukino, I hope that’s not too opaque for you. I’m with Anna when she says “That’s stupid,” and gets up to leave, because what Yukino is saying is so broad it’s basically spread beyond its limits.
At this point, some Cuss High students come over to make trouble, stalling when they see Michel but ultimately standing up to him. They tell him that a new kid, Hiroki Sugimoto, has taken over as Cuss High’s “Leader,” and that “The Leader is stronger than the Boss.” Boy, sometimes you can really tell when a linguistic quirk didn’t translate, can’t you? Like, I don’t know what it is, but I can see its imprint in the couch cushions. It’s not an awful fix, you can just tell it was fixed, is all.
Michel can’t believe this Hiroki someone became a big deal, and uses his Persona to scare one of the boys into revealing the Leader is a “secret lounge” in the back, and that he has Kozy with him, whom he identifies by her full name, Miyabi, making Michel realize his ex is there, even though he still doesn’t know his ex is Kozy. Michel then ran off without the rest of the party, and we had to do the bloody dungeon without him.
And yes, this nightclub has a dungeon, and a pretty stylish one as RPG dungeons go! Just outside the door, we learned an inert rumour that the second floor of the dungeon was maze-like and had treasure. I still hadn’t clued into the rumour system’s vibe quite yet, but thankfully Kyle had, and he had to direct me back to the Detective Agency to spread the rumour a few minutes later. We aren’t sure what the second floor would have been like without the rumour, but I guess now we’ll never know.
A lot of enemies in this dungeon were zombies which, in SMT tradition but in breaking with Persona 1, are never willing to negotiate with the player. Thankfully they weren’t alone, but many of the demons that would talk to us were too high a level, and so refused to Pact with us the way P1 demons would refuse to give us their card (unlike P1, you can get cards from these, since the systems are detached!). Serves me right for talking through most of the demons at Sevens instead of grinding, I suppose.
Not much to say about this dungeon overall, even with the upgraded second floor. As we went, we learned that there was some sort of “gathering” going on at the back of the place, and that all the invitations had been sent in a bizarre fashion, like secreted into the guests’ lunch boxes. The guests also mentioned having to wear masks, specifically special masks with three dots and a circle already. Long story short: it turns out the masks were the invitation, something the game doesn’t explain properly, and this led to confusion when a guard later asked us for our ticket, but we could only find some spare masks! We were pacing around for a while before we checked a walkthrough!
By the way, between “the gathering” and the Cuss High Leader subplots, it’s easy to blend the two into one confusing mess. The devs must have known it, so the next scene makes it clear several times that the Cuss High students were also called here for the gathering. They were called by someone named “the Lady,” who hasn’t shown yet.
We arrive at the secret lounge to find Michel having the crap beaten out of him by several of his classmates. Kind of impressive of them, considering Michel must have overcome a few dozen demons on the way here only to lose to them! Kozy understandably cowers to one side. We’re just in time to meet “the Leader,” Hiroki, and to see him inform Michel that Kozy is his ex-girlfriend. Michel immediately reversed his position on Kozy, and I’m glad to say that he’d break out in apologies as soon as things stop being violent. Hiroki had a knife in his hands, and used it to slash at Kozy, cutting her face. Thankfully, the cut isn’t very deep – Kyle and I couldn’t even make it out on her portrait, but it turns out we just weren’t looking closely enough! Unfortunately, the game only has one wounded talksprite for Kozy, and had to keep using it for every line of dialogue she had for the rest of the scene. Later, Hiroki cuts Michel with no change to his appearance at all!
Attacking an innocent is the straw that breaks Lisa’s back, and she suggests they go in swinging, but you actually have to leave Michel to it in some sort of “personal reliance” Aesop that’s spread across the entire game. Doing so ultimately leads each character to their Ultimate Personas. The game’s kind of asking a lot of us that we’re going to sit around when a bad guy take a blade to bystanders, but that’s how we’re rolling here in Innocent Sin! Your personal growth is more important than NPCs! Advent Children forever!
Anyways, Michel provokes Hiroki to reveal that the source of his personal grudge against him: Hiroki used to be a bully, and Michel, being a Lawful Bully, pantsed him in retaliation. Michel will later note that they’re both at fault here, and good for Innocent Sin for doing it… the game that just seconds ago left an innocent teenager at the mercy of an armed demoniac for the sake of her ex-boyfriend’s personal growth (also: yes, Hiroki has a Persona, it attacks with its crotch).
Anyways, this revelation, specifically the part about pantsing, is so embarrassing that it convinces Hiroki to fight Michel personally. At this point, Michel exploits a loophole in the magic rumour that put Hiroki in charge of the school to begin with: “The Leader is stronger than the Boss.” All Michel has to do is renounce the title of “Boss,” and he gets to stand on his personal strength, winning via cutscene. For the record: if you do choose to fight the Leader with the whole party, Michel loses his Ultimate Persona later on, but you get a unique boss battle.
After apologies to Hiroki and an attempted apology from Michel to Kozy (she flees the room now that Michel knows her identity), the party decides to interrogate Hiroki. Hiroki passes the buck to Cuss High’s student council president. This leads Michel into a bizarre announcement, saying the president previously tried to recruit him to do his dirty work and must have moved on to Hiroki. And you… never brought him up? You’re fired. In any event, Hiroki also tells us that this gathering was to be an initiation ceremony for people who were granted their ideals by Joker, led by a “Lady Scorpio.” As it happens, she still hasn’t shown, but you can imagine that she might have caught wind of our attack. Hiroki runs off at this point, still clutching his knife like it was duct-taped to his hand, because he doesn’t have a sprite without one!
With no lead on Lady Scorpio, the party went on to Cuss High to track down the student council president. Conveniently, Cuss High was just about to start its annual school festival, so it was open to the public. A lot of the classrooms were being set up for festival events, which was a cute way to lock you out of the rooms. We learned a big masquerade ball was set up in the gym, which was obviously going to be the final showdown, what with the school nurse camped out and providing free healing right in front of it.
At one point during our early meandering, we made a point to track down the cards to summon our old, long-standing P1 Persona, Phaleg, who had just shown up as an enemy (weird detail: despite being a demon in real-world Christian occultism, Phaleg is an angel in P2!).
Our first objective… which we put off for as long as possible… was to head to the student council offices to speak to the president, Yasuo. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there, but his subordinates were. This group seemed to have turned on the pres in the past few hours, claiming he had turned into a “megalomaniac.” They pointed us toward the basement, which turned out to be either a WWII or Cold War bomb shelter. There, Yasuo led us into a trap with the help of a walkie-talkie, and then revealed that the shelter was rumour-cursed such that no one could find the exit (as it happened, we had already learned that rumour upstairs, but still). While the party knows someone escaped with the help of a mirror, they broke their only mirror when Michel and Lisa have a spat. And you can’t use the broken shards… why?
The bomb shelter dungeon (filled with literal student and soldier zombies, delightful), was really quite obnoxious. We cleared the whole thing in our first pass, including a monster-in-a-box and our first encounter with Trish the Medical Insurance Fraud Fairy from P1, who now updates her prices as you proceed through the game so that she can shakes you upside down to empty your wallet with just the right amount of force. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t find the exit, just as told. We ultimately had to check a walkthrough. The trick is: you have to complete the dungeon’s loop from front to back three times. Which… isn’t a puzzle at all. It’s just a nuisance! Kyle and I more “got bored” with the dungeon than “failed to solve it!”
After three passes, the party sets down for the night, and Tatsuya and Maya get to talking, each revealing that they had special keepsakes. Maya’s is an old stuffed rabbit, Mr. Bunbun, which bears the same pink heart on her chest as Maya’s outfit (her default “Sexy Suit,” and yes, that’s really what her inventory calls it). Tatsuya’s, meanwhile, is his lighter, which is engraved in English with the phrase: “What’s most important can’t be seen with one’s eyes.”
When Tatsuya later fell asleep, we learned he received this gift from a childhood friend, who is not identified so I’m just going to call him “Joker.” Because he is… so… obviously… Joker. They did not even try. We’re doomed from moment one: the first words out of his mouth are how he and Tatsuya are alike while looking into their reflections in glass, a comparison Maya already said about Tatsuya and Joker! After making this comment, young Joker decides to offer Tatsuya the lighter, which was given to him by his father. In return, Tatsuya gives Joker a gift from his father, a watch. Joker then insists that they’re going to keep “our promise” forever. At this point, we have an apparent non sequitur when a drunk man named Kaoru – apparently a stranger – comes out and teases the kids about arresting them. It’s clear the two kids are afraid of him, but for the time being, this purpose of this meeting is lost on me. Joker just complains about adults who forget their dreams.
When Tatsuya wakes up, Maya decides to work out a loophole in the rumour about the inescapable shelter. Long story short, she deduces that you can’t see the exit with your eyes, but you can see it indirectly. It doesn’t have to be with a mirror, but they can use Yukino’s camera instead. Yukino seems to imply that it’s a digital camera, which is a hell of a thing (but not unbelievable) for a professional photographer to be using in 1998! I’ve got to climb up this nook, so I looked it up and it seems we’re talking about cameras with just over 1 megapixel, so feel free to compare that to film cameras.
Long story short, the door is right next to party, because forcing you to do another loop of the dungeon would be a real dick move.
Cuss High’s festival is over when you get up, meaning they’ve set up streamers and are closing down the events they were previously setting up, still very clever. The party accosts the student council members who sent them to the bunker, and soon has them caving and admitting to setting up the trap with Yasuo. You’re then directed to the masquerade dance if you want to find your man. To my surprise, there isn’t actually a fight at the masquerade, but you do find Yasuo turning several of the dancers into shadowmen with a copy of Joker’s crystal skull, this skull being blue (by the way, yes: the game uses the term “shadowman” even when referring to women). Anna Yoshizaka is also present, though she flees when spotted, but believe me, she’s hardly my priority. How about we focus on the guy stealing souls right in front of us, eh? Bad news about that, by the way: Yasuo seems to have lost control of the skull, so the party charges him. They quickly discover that the skull was only draining people wearing masks that were distributed at the gate (copies of the ones from the gathering at Club Zodiac), and Kyle complained about the party not yanking masks of the dancers as they went. Because they didn’t, several people are turned into shadowmen right in front of our eyes! Yasuo left via stage right, which confused us, as the game actually wants you to follow him by going back out the way you came, through the entrance doors, which are opposite the stage entirely!
At this point, Yasuo leads you on a merry chase that ends on the school’s roof (we came across another toilet ghost rumour part-way through the chase, which forced us to go to the detective agency and drew things out even longer), after which he once again tries to lead you into a trap with a walkie-talkie. This time, the party comically discovers him standing in a corner of the roof. This leads to a fight that was basically a total pushover, albeit quite a bit longer than the kind of gag fight you’d see in, say, Final Fantasy, which would last only four or five turns.
Coincidentally, we have a voice credit for Yasuo, as he was voiced by Keith Silverstein, same as Tatsuya. It’s easy to disguise your voice as another character when you barely speak in the product to begin with! …Ugh, these poor voice actors.
After the fight, Yasuo revealed that he was trying to join a secret order called the Masked Circle, who only accept members who give them magical “Ideal Energy,” like the kind Joker derives from his victims. Naturally, two members of the Masked Circle arrive on the scene to kill him for blabbing: first the aforementioned Lady Scorpio, and then a member we’d never heard of, King Leo. If you can’t guess, they’re named after zodiac signs (despite their only being four of them), thus their use of Club Zodiac as a meeting place earlier in the game.
It turned out Lady Scorpio was actually Anna Yoshizaki, and Maya seemed familiar with King Leo, though she wasn’t sure why. Both were masked, and Scorpio mentioned they “bore the sign of the holy cross,” though it’s not clear what he means by that. Scorpio stole the blue skull, and complained about the amount of energy in it, King Leo revealing that this is why “the Exalted One” (presumably Joker) was granting ideals in the first place: so that his thugs could harvest Ideal Energy from his clients after they had more of it.
Leo had words with Scorpio for screwing up the past two dungeon’s worth of missions, and also mentioned an “Oracle of Maia.” Remember: Maya’s Persona is Maia, but literally no one brings this up, and it actually started to get frustrating after a while! Leo told Scorpio to “accept” a certain punishment from Joker, and Scorpio curiously replied by demanding he not to kill Yukino, because she wanted to do that. It’s hard for me to say how Leo’s line led into this, especially because I’m not sure why she even cares about killing Yukino in the first place? I need to repeat: these two have barely met. Yukino just gave Anna some rude advice a few hours ago, and then shouted to Anna at the masquerade. Yukino’s rude, but I don’t understand why this is grounds for murderous rage!
At this point, Scorpio left (to receive her punishment from Joker?), and Leo addressed someone in the party as “Cursed Star.” It’s not clear who, but both Tatsuya and Maya react to the name. Given how Joker keeps thumbing nicknames in Tatsuya’s face, it’s probably him. Leo left at this point, leaving Maya shouting for her father, which was especially strange, as this was the first mention of him in the entire game!
Picking up on something that Leo said to Scorpio, the party heads back to the school’s gym, and discovers that Scoprio turned the survivors into shadowmen while the party was gone. Yukino then begins to monologue about how it’s her business to save Anna from the masked circle. Um, writers? These two! Do not! Know! One Another! Yukino makes it clear that she’s trying to emulate when Ms. Saeko saved her from her “Yanki” lifestyle at some point before P1 (this was briefly hinted in P1, but was never elaborated), but she really… I mean, not only does Yukino not have the social responsibility and right often put on a teacher to intrude into Anna’s life like this, but also doesn’t have the information on which to base this personal crusade? I’m annoyed, but mostly I’m very confused!
Of course, turnabout is fair play: I may be confused by things the characters seem to understand just fine, but they’re confused about stuff Kyle and I understand just fine! For example: at some point during this mission (although I can’t remember when), Maya wondered why the bad guys were wearing masks. Kyle remarked: “It’s almost like they’re hiding their identity behind masks. It’s almost like this has already been said out loud!” We feel detached from this group, I think.