Our first encounter in the dungeon was the Helpful Slime from the original game, who does the conversation tutorial again. Guess I’m opening this post with mechanics, huh?
Conversation with demons is much the same in this version of the game (although Pacts are called Contracts, ala SMT), with two major changes. First off, everyone has only one interaction they can use solo, instead of four. I suspect this was also the case in the PSX version of Innocent Sin, because it makes way more sense with the team-up conversation system than the version we got on the PSP, where everyone already had 4 options each and the team-ups seemed superfluous. Unfortunately, this does often catch you in situations where there’s literally nothing you can do to manipulate a demon to a particular mood. One thing that does feel like a change is that team-ups now produce different interactions depending on the order you select members, which took us a while to grok to: Maya -> Katsuya is not the same as Katsuya -> Maya! Secondly, the emotion grid isn’t visible in the PSX version. That’s only screwed us up once (it was me, for the record), so I can’t say it’s been all that awful, though I would rather have been available.
Footnote, but whenever the game gives you items in this game, it refers to them both by their name and their category, so a Medicine isn’t just “Medicine,” but “Item/Medicine.” I bring this up because all cards are referred to as “Trt./”. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize that stood for “Tarot,” thanks to the silent second T!
Combat is also different, but in a way that makes a lot of the game’s breaks with genre standards make a lot more sense than they did in the PSP version. In base settings, the PSX Eternal Punishment and presumably the PSX Innocent Sin are in auto combat mode by default, which is why the P2IS felt so comfortable in auto mode! It wasn’t a failing after all! Granted, this system does make using items or one-time spells a big chore, but it always lists the character who’s acting and whoever will be acting next, so that you know when to hit the button to disable auto mode and to give new orders. Unfortunately, everything is buried under more menus than I think was necessary. To get someone to use a single item, you have to cancel auto, then hit “Strategy,” then hit the character, then the item, then arguably switch up the turn order to move them where you want… You can turn off Auto mode, of course, but that’s just a different set of headaches. I think, if I had modernized the battle system instead of whoever actually did on the PSP, I’d have kept the auto-combat default but added a quick-fire setup for common actions like healing.
At this point, just throw in the fact that there are new combo spells and different combinations for old ones, and we’ve covered combat!
There are a few more points where I could compare the two games, so let’s get that out of the way. I haven’t been comparing the aesthetics of these two games so far (the PSP version of P2IS and the PSX version of P2EP), but that’s because they’re very similar-looking games. Except for screen resolution, the only difference between regular gameplay is that the PSX game can’t seem rotate the camera during scripted sequences early on, and snap-cuts to new camera angles instead, which gives me whiplash. But later in the game, it can? This is probably another example of the devs developing the feature later on and not being able to go back, as seen in some of the FFL games and also FFVII.
The GUI was modernized in the remake, and good for them, because suffering through the PSX game’s original GUI has been a choooooore. The PSX game had the first fifteen (rather ramshackle) years of JRPG development to inform its GUI, where the PSP games had twenty-five-plus. While I won’t talk about all of the problems I have with the PSX GUI (as they are numerous but often trifling), I will scorn a few highlights. While you can at least find your character level on the PSX main menu (something that you can’t in the PSP version of P2IS, for some reason), everything else is worse. Even just changing your Persona involves going not to a Persona menu, but to the “Data” menu for each character (most other RPGs would call this “Status”), and then hitting Triangle to bring up Personas, and then hitting another button to swap them. Each step in the process involves about four seconds of loading. Equipment is similar. The games also don’t allow you to quick-fire spells from the main menu if they belong to Personas that aren’t currently equipped (something even the PSP version of P1 allowed), though other games in the series are also guilty of this – it’s just worse when the alternative is nearly a minute of loading and menu-digging to swap a Persona in and out!
Back to the plot. Heading to the staff room, Ulala was starting to stammer that she had done something with the “Joker curse,” quite possibly that she herself had called a hit, not realizing it was real and probably just having a (rather dark) gag. This didn’t pay off for a while, so long that Kyle and I only vaguely remembered this early hint by the time it became relevant. Still, we remembered it enough that, by a certain point, we had both even worked out her target, though I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to pinpoint that quite as accurately, especially since I’m going to be fast-forwarding over her incidental dialogue while I write this. In short, I feel the game was probably too heavy-handed about this plot point, when it could have been a half-decent twist.
One of the teachers gave us the key to the clock tower, saying it was his responsibility to search the school for the killer, but you know… murderers. While the game had actually made a few hints that the janitor had the clock tower key (like in P2IS), these actually prove to be a red herring. Not that Kyle and I followed up on them anyways, since we had explored the school in a systematic fashion, and nuts to shortcuts (real or fake) this early in the game! Speaking of avoiding the short road, I wasn’t even gathering cards at this point in the game, since returns were so tragically low. Enemies at this point were dropping low single-digits for their cards, when we could certain expect double digits by dungeon 2! Honestly, you get 3 cards per successful conversation in this dungeon, but 10+ in the next, it is not worth asking in the first dungeon. Suffice to say, we don’t see jumps like this again (I mean, a 3-5x multiplier in one step?), which makes this a one-time thing, but one to be mindful of. While I stand by this decision, I’m afraid it put us in a bad mindset, as we didn’t swap out our Personas for far longer than usual. True, there are other factors that led us to putting off a change in Personas, but the decision cost us so heavily that I have to start looking for the causes.
Once in the clock tower, the party discovers Anna and Joker on the Inaccessible Causeway With No Doors. Joker announced that he was looking for Anna as his “partner,” which she took to be him implying that she had hired him, which she insisted she hadn’t. He said that that wasn’t the case, but actually had to do with the “Other Side,” i.e. the fact that they were fellow admins in the Masked Circle in P2IS. Katsuya makes himself known, and Joker summons a troupe of tier 2 demons to hold us off, as the first “boss.” Yeah, this didn’t last long. Unfortunately, Joker ends up knocking out Anna, and then he once again knocks the party out with a sleep spell. They’re saved by the arrival of a mysterious figure, who turns out to be Tatsuya. Tatsuya even does them the trouble of using his off-screen powers to get Anna into an accessible area. Man, the guy’s an NPC for one dungeon and he can already noclip?
Maya wakes up in time to see Tatsuya, and he isn’t messing around. He passes her a Sevens emblem (complete with on-screen visual of the emblem, despite the emblems being unseen in P2IS) and tells her to go to the detective agency and to spread a rumour that the emblem will keep her safe from Joker. Wow, that sounds like a game breaker, don’t you think? Depending on how you phrase the rumour, it could save anyone who has one. You’d think there’d be a running subplot about people in town hording Sevens emblems, but to my surprise, there isn’t! Spreading this rumour should be nearly the end of Joker’s killings! At least a major plot point!
We do a time skip, and the cops have finally secured the scene. Here, we meet Captain Shimazu, he of the giant forehead, big boss in Sumaru PD’s… and this is the actual name of his department… “bizarre serial murder case division.” Ye gods, are things really that bad in Sumaru? That sounds like the kind of designation you’d hear in a comic book universe, not a supposedly realistic one! Are you sure you didn’t mean to say he was head of “special investigations,” or “major crimes?” Even fucking Gotham City uses “major crimes!”
Shimazu and Katsuya talked, and we learn that besides addressing Joker as “#501,” they’ve also been addressing him by a code name, “Old Maid,” after the card game. Katsuya makes his report, and it seems he’s so by-the-book that he even tells his boss about the supernatural elements of his day, causing the captain to blow him off! Well, what did you expect? Shimazu takes him off the case, and leaves him with the parting words, “like father like son,” something he’ll allude to frequently. Remember that we learned little to nothing about Tatsuya and Katsuya’s father during P2IS, despite “fathers” being a major recurring element, but it sounds like something is in the works!
Ulala and Maya intercept Katsuya, and Ulala suggests they spread the rumour like “Déjà Vu Boy” instructed, Ulala insulting Katsuya’s hair at some point. Takes one to know one, Ulala. She talks him into it, and we head off to the overworld for the first time. We weren’t there long when we started to discover some changes. The park near Sevens was closed for renovations, possibly implying that it would go from a one-room, rumourmonger hang-out in Innocent Sin to a dungeon in this game. Michel’s father’s sushi place was here in Rengedai instead of in the neighbouring district, the man himself crediting the move to Wang Long fortune telling. Kenta, the rumourmonger from P1, was still based at the sushi place, though he was now saddled with his original P1 translation nickname…… “Chunky.” Wow. While he didn’t have any rumours for us, I will note that mongers in this game give you their rumours in a strictly linear fashion, instead of allowing you to pick a category. It’s almost as time consuming either way, and there are better ways his could have been done. This game also doesn’t have the neat bit from the PSP P2IS where you “exchange rumours” with the monger by telling them about your preposterous ongoing plot. Instead, your character just acts like you’re telling them something that we don’t get to hear, kind of disappointing. I’m not sure if this is an EP change or if the fuller-featured incarnation was a PSP innovation, but in any event, this is a lot less engaging.
It turns out the detective agency wasn’t in its P2IS location either, but was now in Aoba. That means it’s time to navigate the town via the districts menu, and wouldn’t you know it, but I have something to say about this too! The opening hours of EP shuttle you all over the place, but makes the odd decision to keep the districts in their original order in the menu. As a P2IS player, I appreciate this as I remember them more from their location in the menu than by their names, but it’s just another spit in the face of the perpetually confused, international player from 2000. Kismet Publishing was also in Aoba, though there wasn’t anything to be gained by going back at the moment. Hey Mayumi! I got pictures of a twisted and mangled corpse, does that sound like good material for teen magazine Coolest?
During this section, we also heard people talking about the astronomical/astrological Grand Cross, which you’ll recall was mentioned in P2IS. From what they’re saying, we could deduce that EP is set a few weeks further in the timeline than P2IS, and that the Grand Cross is already behind us, not that that changes very much. The game mostly seems to be going to the trouble to reassure P2IS players that the same plot isn’t going to happen again, at least not in the long run!
We finally reached the detective agency, which had been totally redesigned at some point between games, looking far more posh and complete here. It’s impossible for me to say if this is an alternate universe change or a remake change, since I don’t want to risk the spoilers! As I said during P2IS, Tadashi was cut from P2EP, and it’s looking like Tamaki (“Tammy”) will be shunted to the backburner, since she’s done virtually nothing but collect sweepstakes magazines from us since her introduction. She does openly remark on being a Devil Summoner this time, though, so that’s… weird. The whole “introduction to the detective office” scene was rather perfunctory, probably because P2IS players already know the drill, so the long story is same as the short story: the emblem rumour was soon spread and the scene done with.
Tamaki decides to check on the progress of the rumour by making contact with Baofu, the online rumourmonger from the first game that was given a slightly ascended role in one of the Theater bonus scenarios. I should have figured that he got a larger role in the sequel if the bonus scenario went to such pains to include him, but bear in mind that the second bonus scenario did the same with Nameless, the piano player from the Velvet Room, and he hasn’t shown any signs of a larger role in EP! Baofu arranges a meeting at the internet café where you talked to him in P2IS, and even shows up in person, revealing that he knows all about Personas, and has one himself: Odysseus. Baofu is an older guy who spends all his time wearing strange, small goggles. The PSX translation calls him a “Tap Buster,” but I’m at a loss to explain what on earth that’s supposed to mean. It adds that he’s Taiwanese.
Baofu takes the party drinking at the neighbouring pub, and they tell him their story. He tells them that the original Joker rumour was spread by a TV show, but someone seems to have known about it ahead of time: a gentleman named Tatsuzou Sodou, whom Baofu has wiretapped, because Baofu’s also kind of a criminal (I imagine this is what the “tap” in “Tap Buster” was alluding to, at least). Kakuya explains that Sodou is Japan’s foreign minister, and Baofu tells us that his son has been institutionalized following the mysterious Alaya Shrine arson from ten years ago. Sure enough, King Leo’s real name is Sodou, and it seems his arson and arrest played out in a similar fashion in this universe, though thankfully without any victims in the shrine this time (Ed. the Additional Scenario added to the Japanese-exclusive PSP version says there was a victim, but that’s neither here nor there, as I won’t be discussing said scenario).
At this point, Baofu basically barges his way into the party, chuckling that he can’t “let evil prevail.” Maya agrees, and this virtual stranger is in the party now!
Baofu then arranges for the detectives to set up a rumour that the bar they’re in sells weapons, so that we can get that out of the way right off the bat. This convinces the party that the emblem rumour is also working, but Baofu points out that if Maya is shielded from Joker by the emblem rumour, they can’t investigate any more. He uses this to convince her to burn the emblem so that she can meet “Déjà Vu Boy” again. This is shown in an absolutely lovely prerendered, anime CG. All the prerendered CGs in this game are have been really nice so far, by the way, especially considering the era but even in general!