Because I wasn’t sure if we’d get another convenient Battalion teleporter leading back to the city even closer to the final boss, we decided to go and visit the game’s last Theatre mission right away, even though it was marked as Level 70 and we were below 60. We figured that if it was like the original two missions, we’d be fine, and if it kicked our asses we could just leave. We needn’t have worried – it was easy even at our current level, if you can believe it. Much shorter in terms of story, too. Let’s take a look.
This story is called “The Persona Thief,” and I suspect it was written/developed by a different author than the person who did “School of the Heart,” because there are major stylistic and scripting differences between the two. For example: “The Persona Thief” prefers to have the characters narrate directly to the player, sometimes describing some real trifles. You might see a scene where Lisa says, “Let’s go talk to that person,” followed immediately by a fade to black and Lisa narrating, “We decided to go talk to that person,” followed by the characters talking to that person! Holy shit! I get the impression that the developer in charge also didn’t care to program characters to move around, because this sort of narration tends to happen when someone would have to move from place to place. One side effect of this mode of story-telling is that Tatsuya barely feels present in the story, since everyone else gets such an inflated amount of screen time. Like “School of the Heart,” your fifth party member doesn’t appear in the narrative – Jun, in our case – though now that Yukino’s left the party, we finally know why: they had to account for either party combination!
It seems that everyone (or at least, all three speaking party members) had a dream with a message from Nameless, the pianist in the Velvet Room, who had not done anything of importance prior to now. Nameless has been having a creative drought lately, which is worrying, since he represents an aspect of collective human creativity! He chooses to address these lapses in musical terms, calling them “rests,” i.e. the musical notation for a pause. To point the party in the right direction, he somehow magically gave Michel a student handbook belonging to a “Tamaizu Nirasawa” from Karukozaka High School, a fictional school presumably in Honshu, as we later get a reference to Mt. Fuji being nearby.
You know, this makes me wonder: did the level editor only have assets for creating school dungeons, or were these two scenarios just set in schools coincidentally?
You get to walk around the school yard, and in an unfortunate bit of luck, I progressed the plot with the second person I talked to and probably missed a lot of exposition. Oh well. The gist of it is that a lot of people are becoming despondent and distant, and after a certain amount of time, switch over to becoming violent instead. The NPC I had talked to early ended up being one of them, and attacked Tatsuya in a cutscene. To the party’s surprise, the school authorities ended up apologizing to them, as this is seemingly one of several incidents of spontaneous violence and they’re hoping to bury it. For some reason, they don’t freak out when Maya shows her press pass, and allow the party to continue their investigation so long as they pinky swear not to tell anyone. There’s also a gag about the school using a dirty mug as a passcard, it’s kind of weird and doesn’t go anywhere.
We finally run into Tamaizu Nirasawa in this section, and learn that he’s a conspiracy theorist who thinks his notebook was stolen by “enemies” working against him in secret to protect the secret of their “orbiting quantum plasma cannons.” As a consequence, he doesn’t particularly care to talk to you when you give it back, and runs off, all of which happens in narration.
The party ends up overhearing a fuss in the school gym, and they discover that a student rock band is practising there, fronted by one Haruo Weyland, one of Michel’s musical rivals. During the concert, the party spotted a demon (whom Lisa mistook as “a student cosplaying as a demon!” for crying out loud) with its hand on one of the audience members. The demon asked us to leave it alone, as it “only” wanted to take the student’s Persona. This was a Lucifuge, a demon we had befriended on the Silver River and had never actually fought, meaning we were in for a surprise when we actually game to blows for this forced encounter. He was immune to all of our magic and even to Maya’s pistols for some reason. It was a bit of a pain to figure out how to hurt him!
Like in “School of the Heart,” this scenario has a few regular enemies that are beefed up to become “midbosses,” and this was the first of them. Lucifuge is actually from fairly late in the game compared to the enemies you fight as random encounters right after him. It’s almost as though he’s a gate to keep out weaker parties, only for the devs to tone down the challenges after he’s gone?
Weyland must have spotted some of the fight, because he sees Michel afterwards and calls an end to the practice (note that whoever was in charge of this sequence didn’t bother to remove the demon from the scene after the battle, and it only disappears after practice is ended entirely!). The party investigate the student as the others clear out, and discover him to be as despondent as the others. Wait, so everyone who’s been suffering from the weird mood swings had a Persona? That’s a lot of Personas in one place, don’t you think that’s a stretch?
Weyland headed out the room as fast as possible, and the party decides to follow and talk to him. No sooner are they out of the gym when they’re pulled into “the nether-realm,” just like in “School of the Heart.” Now that the term “nether-realm” is recurring, I suspect it was originally “Makai,” aka the recurring SMT dimension that’s called “the Expanse” in English these days. A recurring element (“nether-realm”) by two unrelated authors in a project (P2IS) that didn’t use the term at all is weird, but if it was recurring series terminology? That just makes sense!
“The Persona Thief” loves it some mazes, and this first maze was the easiest, because if there’s anything it loves more than mazes, it’s pitfalls into lower sections of existing mazes! These pitfalls are marked with traffic cones, but the traffic cones can be somewhat misleading, albeit in a good way, as they didn’t remove all challenge (or at least as good as old-school dungeon crawl dick moves can ever be). Since all pitfall traps are 2×2, a traffic cone marking a 2-width hallway is self-explanatory, but ones in the middle or near the edges of a room can be trickier. We fell into at least one hole because we misread a cone, and avoided a mandatory hallway at another point because we misread another cone as blocking that hallway off!
At the end of the floor, we ran into Weyland again, who revealed that he was a demon summoner ala SMT, who uses his guitar to as his demon summoning device (COMP)! This prompted the game to make a number of jokes about the original SMT games, and also about how the two series have little fan crossover and so fans often don’t understand the other series’ mechanics. Weyland summoned a total of four demons to fight us, and at first it looked like they’d attack at once. That would have been about par for our high level 50 characters, but nah, we just had four fights in a row, a breeze. It turned out that Weyland wasn’t a very experienced devil summoner, since he soon ran out of demons and didn’t seem to understand that this had happened!
Weyland confessed, claiming that he was having a creative slump, and hoped to steal other people’s Personas in hopes of using the Personas as embodiments of creativity, essentially plagiarizing his classmates’ brains for material, as he puts it. The party tries to get him to let the Personas go, but he refuses and runs off, saying “Nirasawa-sempai” would help him, the conspiracy theorist from earlier, Weyland’s upperclassman in terms of years, but decidedly not maturity. We caught up and learned that Nirasawa had created the demon summoning guitar, and said something about a grand project and “an archangel” that required him to get to the roof. The archangel even spoke up and summoned an “elite fighting demon” to stop the party, a demon that just so happened to be weak against nearly every element in the game. You might recall Belphagor, the toilet demon, having a similar set of weaknesses. Ever since P1 but going double in P2, Kyle and I have taken to referring to enemies that are weak against all magical elements as “Chariots,” since the Chariot arcana seems to have the trait almost uniformly. It started as a neutral observation, but over time it morphed into an insult, because Chariots make terrible Personas and not particularly interesting opponents! At least Belphegor was paired with Akari/Ixquic, who had an opposite set of weaknesses and made for a genuinely interesting boss fight. Most other Chariots aren’t so lucky, and often come in groups of only their own kind, dying in a single wave of spells! We just don’t know why the games keeps making enemies with that many weaknesses, is anyone seriously trying to play P2 with only their weapons?
At the end of the next floor, we met another midboss and also got a new mechanic: after dying, the midboss began to shout what I could only describe as computer code (although the story is never 100% clear on them being code, describing it as “bizarre words” instead), causing the random encounters to power up across the dungeon. This means the enemies stay harder even after you fall through a floor to a lower part of the dungeon, meaning you never want to fall down more than once! Nice trick, because one midboss and dungeon section later, we actually had to go down a pit. The pit was clearly marked, but there was another right after it that looked almost as tempting. I considered going down it, and I’m glad I didn’t, because it turned out the plot was just around the corner!
We ran into Nirasawa again, who explained his big scheme (to us as well as to Weyland). His archangel was actually using the brains of his fellow students as a giant bio-computer, and needed their Personas removed since they were causing interference. The calculation would be done at 3 PM, just a few minutes from now, and Nirasawa had to get to the roof to receive the results. It was then that Nirawsawa revealed that his archangel was calculating… his dating compatibility with an unnamed crush. Okay, so now it’s clear someone else is in charge, because this just can’t be our main villain.
After chasing the pair to the roof, we were confronted with the archangel, who identified himself as Kushiel, aka the “presiding angel of hell” from the occult Second Book of Enoch. Kushiel is a relatively obscure SMT demon, having only appeared in SMT2 prior to this. He said he was really trying to punish mankind, and was using the fact that rumours were coming true in Japan to bring Nirasawa’s theorized “orbiting quantum plasma cannons” to life, and then to use Nirasawa’s bio-computer to fire them and wipe out mankind! Luckily, the day was saved by Weyland, who had been having a change of heart after hearing Nirasawa’s original stupid plan. He broke his guitar, freeing the Personas, and then began to livestream himself singing a song about how you can’t rely on rumours to find an ideal future. Somehow, this broadcast became popular in only a few seconds, and this caused the power of rumours to just shut the fuck down right in time. I mean, it’s hardly impossible that the livestream might blow up like this, but is “relying on rumours to find the ideal future” really the attitude that caused this situation in the first place? And didn’t Weyland just stop the plot of Persona 2 as a whole in its fucking tracks?
Kushiel panicked, and began to slip up in his grand and highfalutin language, which other angelic demons never do. The stick up their ass is as ubiquitous as the wings! Maya called him out as a fake, and we learned that despite claims to the contrary, Kushiel really was just Nirasawa’s Persona going wild thanks to Nirasawa’s out-of-control imagination. We got into a fight, and he wasn’t very hard, being vulnerable to both our Almighty-aligned Hand of God and to the Light-aligned Heiroglyphein. Some angel!
Maya gives the two of them a light punishment for what they did, Nirasawa gets rejected by his crush, and the story comes to a bland end. After this, the three (speaking) playable characters show up to break the fourth wall to playfully order the player to enjoy the game or else Nameless will be sad, since this is just a remake and Nameless hasn’t appeared in a Persona game since Eternal Punishment. That’s literally what they’re trying to say, fourth wall and all. So weird.