We went to the Alaya Shrine, where Lisa talked about a rumour of a ghost of a teen girl that haunts the place. Their conversation was cut off by Philemon (asshole probably lives here), who also said nothing about evil Maia, and instead complimented the party (read: Lisa and Michel) for working as much as they had about their forgotten pasts. He directed us to go to the cavern behind the shrine – you know, the one that was the way to the land of the dead in P1? No big deal!
Inside the cave, Michel remarked on recognizing it from his “dreams,” and Lisa began to strongly imply that the entire party (other than Yukki) had known one another ten years ago. The party then saw the ghost of the girl from the arson flashback. You know… Maya. The ghosts is probably supposed to discourage me from thinking that this is Maya, but it’s so obviously Maya that it would be preposterous for something else to be true at this point. (By the way, this is the real-world reason Maya was replaced by an evil doppelganger during this section, as she would be able to identify her younger self and derail most of this dungeon’s plot in an instant!). Oh, fun fact: after Philemon kicked us out of the Alaya shrine, and before we saw this scene in the cave, we went back to the Alaya Shrine. There, Michel remarked on “we” having a “secret base,” and Yukki remarked on the party members knowing each other from the past, even though the game hadn’t strictly said anything about this! I think the game intended this dialogue to take place after the opening scene in the cave, not after the scene with Philemon!
After killing a rumour demon in the dungeon and returning for our payoff, it was time to get serious. Not far into the dungeon, we encountered a spring of… just horrible-looking water. What an awful effect. Kyle doesn’t agree, but when I first saw it, I thought it was a glitch! The spring somehow caused everyone to experience a flashback. In the flashback, young Tatsuya came to the Alaya shrine more than ten years ago for a festival, and he was wearing a mask depicting a red Super Sentai ranger who was on the air at the time (the game calls them “Justice Heroes,” instead of Super Sentai or Power Rangers). There, he ran into an unidentified black-haired boy wearing a black ranger mask from the same franchise, and they soon met a young Michel wearing the blue ranger mask and a young Lisa wearing the pink mask (for some reason, Michel’s hair is already blue, even though characters have referred to it being dyed in the present, indeed they’ve implied it’s a part of his musician persona?). We’ve already learned about how Lisa used to be bullied by others, but we now also learn some of Michel’s hinted-at backstory, learning that he was as seriously put-upon child and something of a coward, not in the least because his father is physically and emotionally abusive.
The four of them decided to become friends and to meet again in the future, but also to never take off their masks, so that they could be like the Super Sentai team. You know: a franchise known for its heroes knowing absolutely nothing about one another and definitely never spending time together as friends in real life. They decided to call their team… the Masked Circle. In the real world, I decided to supply a: “Dun dun dun!” to this, because the game is being so dramatic and sad about it, as though they were responsible for everything that happened thanks to this alone, and it’s impossible to take it seriously. Oh no, you four created the name of a terrorist organization. Just… just the name. Definitely not the rest of it, which is squarely in the lap of someone else. How horrible of you, to make the name.
…Could we get to the real revelations that are built on top of this, please, instead of stewing on it?
Near to the spring, we found a room full of crystals, where we discovered the pink ranger mask. Lisa implies that she left it here after something horrible happened, and the group abandoned their friendship. It’s not clear to us whether or not you have to collect these masks, as we never missed one, but I presume that you do? Strangely, even though Tatsuya, Michel and the fourth mystery kid (*cough*Joker!*cough*) were given the ranger names based on of common birds (eagle, owl and falcon, respectively), Lisa’s is addressed as an “azas.” Google has no idea what to do with the word “azas.”
A few rooms later and we had a new spring and a new flashback. Here, we learned that the group had a policy of playing rock-paper-scissors to determine who gets to be the boss for the day and determine what they’re going to do with themselves. We also learn the party’s like, almost as shitty to Michel as everyone else, Jesus Christ. He’s bad at rock-paper-scissors, which means they never get to do what he wants, never even allow him to share his interests (like drawing), and give him the worst roles in the games they want to play. Michel actually cries about this in the present. I’m going to point out that he no longer draws in his free time except here and there, implying that they (and his father) bullied it out of him, so it’s hard to believe the devs intended this as comic relief, and yet the party never really clues in to the fact that they were garbage friends to him, so it’s hard to say! It became a point of open complaint from both Kyle and I at multiple points in the dungeon! In any event, Michel’s mask is found next.
Speaking of open complaints, evil Maya is now openly cackling at the party’s despair.
Tatsuya’s mask shows up before the next flashback instead of after, or at least that’s the order we found it. Here, evil Maya talks about how people are obligated to accept apologies, “no matter how hurt or angry they may be.” Hey, that’s a good point, and it’s one I’ve seen a lot of people talking about in the real world in the past few years, especially in how it allows the guilty party or even serial abusers to get away with their actions under the social contract that their apologies have to be accepted. Kind of disparaging to see Persona 2 treat this dangerous and abusive social contract as something only a literal demon would speak up against (Yukino almost realizes Maya is a demon because of this, as though it’s was the most evil thing she’s said yet!), but after Persona 1, my standards for this series were already in the dirt, so I can’t claim to be particularly disappointed with it this time around.
Next up, we found Trish, which usually signifies that we’re near the boss room. It was late in the night, and Kyle was starting to nod off, but the dungeon had been relatively straightforward, but Kyle insisted we clear it before we wrapped for the night. Unfortunately, the very next room was one of the worst in the game so far, full of invisible pit traps that would force you to fall to a lower level that was full of damage and poison traps. Excepting a few general cautions like hugging the walls, the pit traps are basically a matter of luck. It took forty minutes for me to get out of this two-storey puzzle. Forty. Minutes.
The next flashback saw the party finally meeting “Big Sis,” who was naturally the girl from the flashback / ghost we saw earlier. Again… this is obviously Maya, but keep pretending for as long as you need, game. The flashback kids befriended Big Maya, but never learned her name beyond “Big Sis.” They even got her a mask, although the devs never bothered to add it to her sprite (we find it in the next room, in any event). Big Sis then invited the kids to play the Persona Game, finally explaining why the party has Personas. The thing is… well, when I first saw this scene, I thought it was extra clever, as it made me think that there was a ten-year gap not just between the flashback and the present day, but between P1 and P2, since the Persona Game was in vogue during P1! That would make Yukino around 27, which seemed plausible. But it turns out that P1 was only three years ago (one year longer than the gap between real-world releases), and the flashback was even earlier! The idea that the Persona Game was popular at two distinct periods of time, seven years apart is a bit of a stretch!
The next thing the party finds is an empty mask box. This is presumably the box that held the mystery kid’s mask, and he presumably came to pick it up at some point between then and now. Evil Maya remarks on how the mystery kid must have felt, being the only one to remember why they abandoned their friendship and their masks, showing so much insight that I imagined she must be Joker in a magical disguise, which became my leading theory for the rest of the dungeon. Not the case! (I had actually come up with a different theory around the time Evil Maya was first introduced, and that theory turned out to be correct, but I had forgotten that theory somewhere in the past hour!).
Finally, we reached the final flashback. Big Sis revealed that she was going to move at the end of the summer, and the kids felt betrayed. The kids tried to come up with ways to force her to stay, like their rule that everything the “boss” says has to happen, but the boss was Tatsuya that day and he refused, being more mature than the others. At this point, the kids turned to the mystery kid, who is finally identified as “Jun.” Lisa comes up with a pretty… unfortunate plan, and Jun agrees: they should force Big Sis into the Alaya Shrine and lock her there overnight. In the present, Michel admits he wasn’t even sure why he thought that would work, just blaming it on kid logic. He felt both foolish and devastated in hindsight. When Tatsuya fought back, they locked him in too. To everyone’s misfortune, Sudou the arsonist came that very night and nearly killed the two, at first by accident and then seemingly by intent. While the three eventually learned that Tatsuya was fine, as he ended up in the news, Lisa and Michel spent the next ten years believing they had killed Big Sis, and repressed the memory. Tatsuya presumably had a similar experience, given that he hid his mask like the others, but since the guy never talks, it’s hard to say.
Lisa now believes Big Sis is alive, but also that Big Sis is Joker. Why would she think that, you ask, when Jun is an overwhelmingly more appropriate suspect? Oh, because King Leo said Joker was “beautiful as a goddess.” Yup, that’s right: Lisa is not only so grief-stricken that she immediately jumps from “beautiful”, to assuming he meant Big Sis, but so grief-stricken and heteronormative that she hears “beautiful” from a man and can only assume that Joker is a woman. I just can’t believe… I mean, P2 is sitting here on the cusp of the bishounen revolution, utterly unaware that within the space of a year or so, the idea of a Japanese game saying “this man is beautiful as a goddess” will be utterly unremarkable, and not the sort of thing that would cause a major character to make a major error in judgement that sends the party on a fucking hours-long tangent.
Also, why did Lisa assume that King Leo would know who she was talking about when she called Joker, “Big Sis,” a nickname that she used for Maya when she was like, seven? Did she assume Big Sis would be so overcome with rage that she adopted a child’s nickname for her as her underworld boss / serial killer pseudonym?
At this point, Evil Maya reveals that yes, Maya is Big Sis, and claims that she is also Joker, a revelation that so disarms the party with the revelation that she nearly kills them with her Persona, an evil version of Maya’s starter Persona, Maia. Thankfully, the real Maya appears moments later to stop her from finishing the job, and declares that the Evil Maya is actually a rumour demon spawned by the “the party are terrorists” rumours from earlier. At this point, the real Joker arrives, and Evil Maya hands him King Leo’s crystal skull, stolen from the rest of the party at some point during the dungeon. Thankfully, Maya at long last reveals that Joker is Jun, and then puts him on the ropes by revealing that she actually is Big Sis. Noooooo, that can’t be! The cliché big sister character who has flashbacks to being at the Alaya shrine and the same hair colour as the girl at the Alaya shrine, and also strongly resembles the girl from the Alaya shrine, was your “Big Sis” from the Alaya shrine?? Impossibllllllle!
By the way, does anyone want to talk about the fucking miracle that happened in how Persona 2 IS was released just months after FFVIII, making it unlikely (given the era) that either inspired the other, yet both games feature a cast that secretly knew one another from childhood and their flashbacks also reveal a critical connection to someone they address as “Oneesan” but they all forgot about in the in-between years, but in the present day the matter is back and driving the entire plot?
Joker has a meltdown at this revelation and screams at rumour-Maya to attack the party. This fight was a wash in our favour. Evil Maya could barely hurt us and we basically let the fight drive by on auto while we waited for her to dry out her HP sponge so that Kyle could finally get his chance to get to bed (by the way, it took nearly an hour after the pit trap room to clear the dungeon, thanks to some accidental backtracking!).
Joker bails during the fight, so the rest of the party gets a reunion with their childhood friend, while Yukino stands awkwardly in the background. They even encounter Big Sis’ “ghost,” whom Maya realizes is a rumour demon, although not an evil one. Ghost Maya tells us that Jun is somehow suffering from false memories, though how they got into his head, we don’t know.
At this point, Philemon teleported us out of the dungeon, but not before rewarding everyone who had gone through character building events with their “Prime Personas.” “Prime Personas” were just the starter Personas with an upgrade and the word “Prime” stamped in front of their name. Reader Albs informs me that Tatsuya only gets his if the other three do. Unfortunately Yukino didn’t have a special upgrade event, and was left without, but don’t worry Yukino, after several hours of the others having their spotlight, you’re going to get your own plot in like… less than two minutes after this cutscene, wow.
Philemon had a few other things to add. He clarified that the “holy cross” Leo had mentioned is the “Grand Cross,” an astrological pattern that the game never bothers to explain, but long story short, it happens when five planets – any planets, really – form a cross pattern. Philemon goes on to explain that the fifth planet is the “Nahui-Ollin” some of the bad guys have been talking about. Philemon implies the star is about to “perish” for some reason. Lastly, Philemon mentions “the Crawling Chaos” off-hand. This is another name for Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep, and implies that he may be responsible for Jun’s false memories. You might remember Nyarlathotep as being Kandori’s Persona in P1.
At this point, the party is booted back to the Alaya Shrine, only to discover that things have gotten… worse. The Last Battalion has manifested out of rumour and is laying siege to the city right this instant, with soldiers, flying mech suits, and spider drones. Philemon has ordered the party to go to a mountain outside town, to visit a place called “Caracol” at its peak, but wouldn’t you know it? The Battalion are going there too! To make things worse: Yukino’s boss and crush was at the mountain taking photographs before they arrived, and we would certainly have to rescue him. From Adolf Hitler. A reminder that our opponent is Adolf Hitler.
Nearly two hours after Kyle was asleep in his chair and the bloody game wouldn’t even let us save and go to bed until we had walked back onto the map. Goodness shit.
(Ed. By the way, now that we’ve learned the party were childhood friends, I want to say that this is why Tatsuya’s default nickname is “Ta-chan.” Only the childhood friend characters use the name, and they don’t start using this nickname until a fair bit after this revelation, so it’s meant to be them reverting to their childhood nickname for him, which would naturally be “-chan”! It’s clever and cute!)