Out of leads, Maya decides to track down rumours, which leads to an utter bullshit sequence where you have to speak to Kozy’s coworker (the rumourmonger from earlier) to gain access to a new district, and then do a circle through every rumourmonger now in the game to learn that… none of them know anything. Suffice to say, we got a few things done while this was going on. Firstly, we came across a scene where a group of strangers crowded Lisa, and then started strongly implying that Lisa was being advertised as a new breakout idol along with her two best friends from the start of the game. The party just… does not clue into what they’re saying, even though everyone in this scene and later scenes all but says it straight-up. It’s really… really pathetic. By the way, I say “Lisa’s friends,” but Lisa kept dropping hints that she had some sort of falling-out with them, even to the point of wanting nothing to do with them. Naturally, Kyle and I figured this was a lead (one such Lisa-is-an-idol-sequence took place next to a rumourmonger, so directing you to “all rumourmongers” would make an adequate hint), and went to see Lisa’s friends! But no dice: despite repeat mention that Lisa’s friends would be at a certain arcade (one you could turn into a casino with rumours), there was no sign of them there at the time. It’s like the devs were saying: “You will talk to all the rumourmongers and you will like it!”
In the new district, we went to the city’s police station, only to learn that Tatsuya’s brother worked there as a detective! His name was Katsuya, and like Maya’s father, he hadn’t been mentioned previously! His introduction box remarked that he has a grudge against arsonists, which had us confused, because we had misread an earlier line of dialogue as saying “Katsuya Suou” was an arsonist, namely ten years ago when the Agaya Shrine burned down. Ed. The line had actually said “Tatsuya Sudou” was an arsonist, and by the time we had gotten here, we had forgotten. We must have just jumped on the nearest “lookalike” name that resembled Tatsuya’s and assumed she was referring to his brother! Whoops! I shouldn’t have taken the fact that we have video recordings as an excuse to stop taking notes! Serves me right!
Katsuya wasn’t much immediate help, but while we were in the station, we met a kid who was able to help us find another rumour demon sidequest. I mean… the kid was eventually able to help us. Turns out you have to talk to the kid twice and it didn’t occur to us. As for the demon, she was a real pain, basically full boss quality, which is impressive for a gag demon that’s basically an old woman living in a dresser, no joke. Her hideout was an optional dungeon: a factory, which had been shut down under mysterious circumstances and had multiple numbered, locked doors. The only section we could currently access was Door #1, so it’s clear how this dungeon was going to play out, especially once you learn what was inside: the dungeon was used to house old demons in case you wanted their cards or Pact items. Basically like the two optional dungeons in P1, but with some signs of plot and a hub structure instead of an inconvenient linear layer structure.
A few other notable stops, all of them in the new district. First off: Yukino and Maya’s place of work, where we learned Yukino has a crush on her mentor, an older man who only sees her as an apprentice and coworker. Next: Maya’s apartment, a disaster of a mess, and mention of a cleaner roommate who has yet to make an appearance. Oh, and no big deal about our number three: the adult Maki Sonomura from Persona 1, who was wearing with a nearby therapist! She was basically just here as a cameo, at least for the time being. Last of all, the rumourmonger in this region was a woman who identified herself as a “genie,” and also served as a “fortune teller” who could give you a random buff. I don’t know what to say about that. After all those stops, we got a dragon persona named Longma, and it was time to get on with the plot.
After the party gave up on the rumourmongers, they decided to go back to the Detective Agency. Kyle and I had already done this, but it didn’t advance the plot until after you do the pointless lap ’round the rumourmonger circle. Thanks to Tadashi, the party finally clues into what was going on with Lisa and her friends: her friends had met up with a big-name music agent thanks to Joker (their agent being another of Joker’s gifted), and Joker arranged for them to become big-time idols. They had advertised their debut with a poster of themselves and also Lisa in silhouette, intending to goad her into joining them. Again, this was all totally obvious by this point. The party agreed to go where the two new idols were filming a music video to interrogate them. That just so happened to be the arcade from earlier, and of course it had been turned into a dungeon.
Something about this dungeon annoyed me, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I went through it without thoroughly exploring. I think I wanted to go back to the overworld before getting serious for some reason that I no longer remember, but didn’t, and somehow that translated to my dumb ass just walking past all the optional paths to the end. We ran into a number of cultists in this dungeon, who, being human, couldn’t be negotiated with for cards (although you’d think we could negotiate with them for safe passage or money, SMT usually allows that!). They were all wearing themed zodiac masks, which revealed that the remaining two executives of the Masked Circle would be Taurus and Aquarius themed. Each cultist type was also elementally aligned: Leos were fire, Scorpios water, Tauruses earth, and Aquariuses air. That might sound silly (“Aquarius = air”), but it corresponds to the elemental alignment of actual western astrology, so it’s western astrology that’s silly, if anything. In any event, my weird-behaviour-that-I-can’t-even-explain-in-hindsight made this our fastest dungeon on record so far at only twenty minutes, and I have little to say about the dungeon, even though it showed a lot of potential with rooms based on different arcade cabinets and activities!
The party got close to the idols by signing on to be extras in their music video, after which Lisa’s friends revealed that they knew she was there. I should probably introduce these two at long last: there’s Miho “Mee-ho” Ogishima and Mami “Sheba” Shibata. They tried to talk Lisa into working with them and their (evil) agent, Sasaki, but she blew them off, both because she genuinely didn’t want to be an idol and because of their weird, yet-unrevealed falling-out. Oh, and their evil agent, that’s probably a factor too. The girls told Lisa to meet them at the record label if she changed her mind, since they would be doing a radio interview there. Since they were our only lead to Joker at the moment, this turned out to be the next dungeon.
Before hitting the next dungeon, we summoned a Jack Frost Persona (hello, mascot!) as well as the Angel Persona.
The record label was actually more like the world’s biggest CD store, which feels like a relic today (a CD store is one thing, but a five-storey CD dungeon with CDs on every inch of the walls, well!). You have to navigate most of the dungeon on foot, at which point you discover the world’s biggest CD store has the world’s most useless elevator: it just leads to dead ends (some with treasure) and only two floors with genuine ways forward! Ugh, whatever, this dungeon went on way too long, with multiple midbosses in treasure chests. It ultimately took an hour and a half, which felt like an age after doing the previous dungeon in only twenty minutes!
Once we finally got to the broadcasting room, the DJ tried to rope Lisa into the live interview, and the party coerced her to do it in hopes of getting info out of them. Lisa was immediately asked if she has a boyfriend and she tried to identify Tatsuya as her boyfriend in a big confession moment that Michel ruined (no one reacts to her saying this, by the way, even though… aren’t idols, like, discouraged from dating? Or was that not as harsh and gross in 1998?). Long story short, the producer marched off with all three idols so that they could perform a concert in another part of town. Yes, so that they, including the person who has never practiced singing with them, could perform a concert in another part of town in something like the next few hours. Rock on, demonic music industry.
The new part of town had a few new locations, but the only thing of note prior to the dungeon was the local TV station, where we learned that Brown from Persona 1 was now working as a comedy TV host of some sort (I can’t shake the impression that his exact genre or mode might not exist in the west, and so they had to go vague). Brown’s cameo was especially odd, since Yukino claimed he might have some idea what’s going on, only for him to not even comment on what’s going on? Very strange. The concert was going to be played in Aoba Park, and after paying to spread a rumour that the flowers in the park could talk, we immediately offended one of them and got the entire party poisoned. Negotiation is one a SMT party’s core skills!
Unfortunately, this was as far as Kyle and I could go, as it was the end of the night and the end of our session. Before wrapping up, we spread a rumour that a certain idol from decades past had disappeared in the park and that her ghost shows up there now as a rumour monster. Funny thing about this rumour: prior to hearing the inert rumour, we actually met said idol, still alive, long retired, and hanging out in a nearby restaurant. I was really worried about spreading the rumour, since I imagined it might like… retroactively kill her? But apparently not, as both the person and the rumour ghost coexist at the same time. Thank goodness!
This point marks the start of our second session, which runs from Aoba Park to Mount Katatsumuri, plus the first two Theatre missions.
Straight into the park for our new session. Aoba Park is slightly unusual as Persona 1/2 dungeons go, as it is essentially a huge rectangle that you have to travel through from right to left, with minimal obstacles, no layers, and no subdivisions besides a single gate that divides the dungeon in two for loading purposes… you can even see over the wall to the other side, adding to the impression that this is a big open space! There were some grates scattered about the dungeon that would spout fire at you if you tried to cross over them, but not many, so most of the variety came down to the flowers I mentioned back a few paragraphs, which wouldn’t have even come up if it hadn’t been for the rumour!
We ran into the idol’s “ghost” (“Linda”) early on, killed it and gave her bra to the fan who mentioned her (Maya pointed out that there was no way he could know it was her bra and they probably could have given him any old bra to the same effect!). This returned a “Frei” card, which allows you to teach the spell of the same name to a new Persona. We did so, and this turned out to be a grand idea, as Frei was one of our first group attacks that did damage to the entire enemy force, instead of being split up by enemy type. Since Frei was Nuclear damage to boot, very few enemies were strong against it, although very few were weak to it either!
One problem in Aoba Park was that we pissed off one of the flowers and got the entire party poisoned. Here’s the hitch: we only had two antidotes. Yeah, even though we knew flowers could do poison us because we discovered it at the end of Session 1, we simply hadn’t corrected the problem! Kyle cured two party members and we spent the rest of the dungeon miserable. A few times we considered asking one of our Pact demons for an antidote (since that’s actually how we got one of the two we had in the first place) but we kept our eyes on the long-term prizes of cards and junk. No I don’t care how much your blood hurts, think of the big picture!
We finally arrived at the concert hall, not long after a flower asked us if it could drink our blood. Fuck, buddy, right now, we don’t even want it! It did, by the way, draining everyone to 1 HP in exchange for a few healing items. After that, the party was able to arrange backstage access to the concert by bribing some disenchanted part-time staff into giving us their jobs, which even the NPCs pointed out was unusually convenient. Honestly, the dialogue read the same way you’d expect if our characters had rigged the whole setup and the NPCs were doing unaware fourth wall jokes about it, but it was just supposed to be a coincidence that we found people ready to just… hand over their jobs!
Once behind-the-scenes, we made our way to the stage, where we overheard Lisa arguing with her two friends. It turns out Lisa actually can’t speak English, and everyone’s just been assuming she can because she’s white. Even her supposed best friends don’t know the truth, up to the point where they assigned her an English verse in their song! Lisa mentions frequent bullying in her childhood, which her friends also didn’t notice, but in their defence they try to make it up to her by pointing out that this is still a pretty good career opportunity. Unfortunately, what they’re really trying to say is that she should talk to Joker, addressing him as “Master Joker” and revealing they’re closer to the inner levels of the Masked Circle than they let on.
At this point, the girls’ producer spoke up. The game had been hinting that this skeezeball, Ginji Sasaki, had also been riding Joker’s coattails, but he hadn’t actually put himself in the spotlight until right now. Sasaki was happy to reveal he was right in the midst of Joker’s game, and even knew about Lisa and the party’s first encounter with Joker, when Lisa played the Joker game and three of Michel’s friends were turned into shadowmen. He asked Lisa why she didn’t give Joker her wish when he first appeared (summoning Joker was her idea, after all!), and then claims that it’s because Lisa doesn’t have any long-term dreams. Lisa countered that she used to have a dream, but lost it somewhere, though she didn’t explain any further. A lot of Sasaki’s pitch was typical, real-world cult tactics, pouncing on the ostracized with a message of family and acceptance, but after a point, Sasaki blew it, by basically saying: “Why don’t you replace your dream with my dream of you being a pop music propagandist for Joker, a literal demon-man?” The writers seemed to think this pitch was actually convincing, as the only counterargument they could come up for Lisa was to complain about the shadowmen. Oh, for sure!
In the adjoining room, Michel lost his patience and announced that Sasaki’s ultra-smooth, flawless sales pitch was certainly going to seduce Lisa to the dark side, absolutely, no possible way out, how could she possibly resist, why he’s half a mind to sign up himself, and he urged Tatsuya to sound the charge. Before we could make any decisions, the party was discovered by a stage manager, who mistook them for genuine employees and ordered the boys and girls to work in separate areas. Thankfully, the party soon reunites, although this makes me wonder why the game split the party up like this? There’s an upcoming plot branch coming up, so maybe if you pick the opposite choice, you end up fighting with only Tatsuya and Michel for a stretch?
Michel repeats his request that they rescue Lisa from the bad guys, but Kyle and I chose to let her stand on her own, especially since it would get us her Persona upgrade, like we had done with Michel in the nightclub. Honestly, there wasn’t much to it! Michel had to go through a beating during his big moment, but nobody pressures Lisa any further from this point on! The concert starts (note that, despite the manager saying the guys were supposed to provide security, Tatsuya spends the whole set watching the stage), and Lisa sings through it. She even sings her solo verse in an audible voice clip, though obviously it’s not in English. I think it’s in Japanese based on later evidence, but I can’t be certain, because the audio sample is not very good and hard to make out any lyrics over the music (assuming there are lyrics and not some sort of universal gibberish sounds like Simlish – the sample is honestly bad enough that I can’t tell). Does anyone know for sure?
In any event, Lisa makes a speech, outright telling the crowd that she isn’t trilingual (hell, she barely speaks Cantonese), and thanks them for the support all the same. This is probably a fair point for me to mention that the crowd is like, clearly only a dozen people. The devs tried to crop out the empty stands behind them to add to the illusion that there are hundreds, but at a few points they accidentally give you a good look at them, and I’m kind of surprised that the devs couldn’t stick to that one cinematic guideline! Is this a remnant of the PSX screen resolution that they forgot to correct?
There’s another, bigger problem with this scene, however. Remember that solo verse I can’t even make out? According to later dialogue, it was actually supposed to be the words to the Oracle of Maia. You know, the big prophecy the bad guys are working towards? Sort of a big deal? And so far as I can tell, not conveyed to non-Japanese players in any way? Would it have really been asking too much for Atlus to subtitle the sequence? You do get the text a few hours later, but you’re clearly supposed to have heard it here, as the characters go on to make a few decisions based on its contents!
In any event, the crowd is so enthused by Lisa’s speech that they attempt to rush the stage, knocking over Michel in the process. This turns out to be a stroke of good luck, as it allows him to see that there are explosives wired beneath the benches! Maya tries to convey this to Lisa so she can evacuate the crowd in a calm and collected fashion, but she may have overestimated Lisa’s subtlety, as she shouts “A BOMB?” and causes a stampede. She’s lucky no one was injured or killed! Great way to repay your newly-beloved fans!
At this point, Sasaki shows up and reveals he’s one of the inner members of the Masked Circle, Prince Taurus, leaving us just one short of the traditional and cliché “Four Generals” motif. Lisa reacts to this by throwing off her idol costume in a single motion, which goes by so quickly that it took me a few lines of dialogue to realize she was back in her school uniform! Let’s not question the logistics of that.
Taurus proclaims that Lisa singing in this concert has fulfilled part of the Oracle of Maia, specifically a part about a “foreign song.” King Leo shows up to say that that’s stupid (it is), but in later scenes, he carries on with the plan as though they were ready for the next step in the Oracle, so I guess he’s going along with it either way? He then mocks Taurus for not absorbing any Ideal Energy at the concert, which he was presumably going to do before blowing everyone up. Or… was he? Taurus then talks about how surprised he was by all the energy he got from this idol concert (sounding for all the world like a Sailor Moon villain), but Leo just said Taurus didn’t get any energy from the concert, so what gives?
When the party starts asking questions, Leo says that they’ll play a game: he’s supposed to “raise” four “pillars of fire” around town, which he plans to do by blowing up major buildings, starting with this one. He adds that there’s clue to one of the locations hidden here at the concert hall. Of course, the bombs are about to go off, so the party doesn’t have long to find it! Geeze, imagine if he had said, “I’ve hidden a riddle here!” but then not actually hide a riddle here, just to see if the party would stick around to be blown up, looking for a nonexistent clue? Thankfully that isn’t the case, but Taurus decides to fight us to delay us further. Lisa makes a bold claim that she’s going to defend her two friends before the battle, which is just setting her poor self up for a fall. Should be fun!
We weren’t able to spot any of Taurus’ weaknesses with our current setup, but he didn’t seem to have any major resistances, either. His biggest strategy was to Confuse the party, which was irritating as there didn’t seem to be a way to cure that status effect (I’ll have to try attacking a Confused party member to see if that works in the future…). He also had a group Earth spell that could really hurt, since two of our party members were weak against it! We tried to lay into him with two combo spells (Heavy Rain and Kamaitachi), but when we lost Michel and Yukki to Confusion, that fell by the wayside. Good thing the boss just plain wasn’t very strong (and kept making the mistake of casting single-target Earth spells on people who were strong against them!), so he couldn’t keep up even with his advantage!
Taurus ran off, but not without some parting spite in the form of draining Lisa’s friends’ energy (he had to provoke them to put on their club masks under threat of revoking their wishes). He claims they have lots of energy, but compared to the whole stadium he offered at the outset, I have a feeling Joker isn’t going to be very impressed. Creepily and also sad, we saw Lisa’s shadowmen friends following us in at least one shop after the fact, still trying to speak to her!
At this point, we left the stage and encountered a three-minute timer before the concert hall would blow up. There was no way to stop the bomb, but we’d have that long to find Leo’s riddle, which would point us towards his next target. The game made something of a running gag out of stashing more bombs in every available container, just to underline that there was nothing you could do (Michel would later call Leo neurotic and paranoid for doing this over and over again in later dungeons). The sequence was harder than it seemed, since you had to find the riddle in a locker, but the game gave no indication that you could search each individual locker in a bank of lockers! Argh, it’s the FFVII bookshelf issue all over again!
The party escaped the building in time, along with Leo’s riddle, and it exploded behind them. Unfortunately, the burning building triggered a pyrophobic reaction from Maya, who shouted for her father and claimed that her hands were burning. At this point, Yukino noticed that Maya had burns on her hand – I’m not sure if the game is trying to imply that they supernaturally appeared during her attack, or if she had been burned in the past and Yukino never noticed over the course of their long-established working relationship (the latter may actually be the more likely possibility, since the supernatural explanation would have elicited a bigger response, even though that leaves us with the problems introduced by Yukino never noticing her friend’s prominent injuries!). Tatsuya was able to calm her down, though I didn’t feel very helpful in this case, since we used a walkthrough to guide us through all this, ah… basic human compassion. Don’t look at me like that! This game is only too happy to screw us with these branching paths, we didn’t want to get them wrong! The party was polite enough not to ask her about her trauma on the spot, though it’s hard for me to feel complimentary when this game keeps hiding backstory from us, even if this is the most acceptable instance so far. Hey Michel and Lisa, you two want to talk about your clearly supernatural common dreams yet, or are you just going to keep getting interrupted in the process?