We regained control of the party, and confirmed that yes, Ulala was now several levels behind the rest of the party and wasn’t level-averaged back to the curve. We gave her a replacement Persona (one of the ones we had picked up just for the hell of it during the past four hours). At this point, we decided to follow the walkthrough more closely, so that we would be better prepared if EP pulled any more stunts like the last one. The walkthrough informed us about two rumours we might have overlooked if we hadn’t checked it, one of them because it’s actually in the first room of Zodiac.
We went in and discovered that there’s a new entrance hall to the club, and I’m not sure why it exists, as there’s literally nothing there (Ed. and never was!)? But anyways. We met Anna in the dance hall, who confirmed the kidnapped Jokers were being held in the back. At this point, Maya took the liberty of telling Anna that Tatsuya was the one that saved them all at the clock tower. Anna talks a bit about their friendship, and says that Tatsuya talked about “[Atoning] for [his] sins” before he disappeared. Odd, Tatsuya was probably the most innocent person in the entire original party, so I wonder what he’s talking about! Long story short, Anna confirms the kidnappers spoke Chinese, making everyone feel confident that the Taiwanese mob was behind the kidnappings. Anna asks you to save Noriko. She doesn’t comment on the fact that Noriko committed a double homicide, just that Noriko and Tatsuya are the only two she can carry a conversation with. “Present company included,” Kyle said in his Anna voice, when Anna ended the talk on the spot.
The rumour we were here to pick up was much like the original Club Zodiac rumour from P2IS: it’s a rumour to complicate the dungeon layout in exchange for better prizes. We took the swap, and also paid off several rumours we had picked up during our grinding that wouldn’t have helped us to topple Ulala. This included opening some specialist shops (if we had known the specialist armour shop sells products that boost evasion, we might have went for it before the boss fight with Ulala!), setting up another sweepstakes, and planting a rumour demon in Cuss High. I’m surprised how few Rumour Demons there are in this game compared to the last one!
Lastly, we also set the rumour to turn the ramen shop lady into running a missing persons agency on the side. This is a series of optional missions that return big money (10-20k for even just these starting missions) in exchange for finding an NPC based on a limited description. Unfortunately, part of the process involves spelling their name on a name entry screen, a long and – if you got one of the names wrong, like I did – irritating process that would be way faster in Japanese than with alphabet characters, but oh well.
Since we had a walkthrough open, we got a famous Easter egg that apparently no one knows how to actually earn fair and square! There’s a girl in the game who asks you your month of birth to give you a Wang Long fortune, but for some reason asks you to spell it out. If you instead tell her you were born in “HASTURCOMEFORTH” (“Hastur Come Forth,” Hastur being a pre-Lovecraft member of the “Lovecraftian” pantheon), the woman will act strange and someone will later mail you the King in Yellow item (a reference to Hastur’s debut story), which will allow you to summon the Persona later in the game, once you get to a high enough level to do so.
It took a while to finish the “manhunting” missions for the ramen lady, so at this point I decided we’d just find the rumour demon and call it a night. After all, the rumour demons typically showed up in the first few fights after you enter the proper dungeon in Innocent Sin. Unfortunately… EP was going to break with that pattern. In fact, the game seems to have thrown out the easy numbers in exchange for the bullshit ones, which lowers my respect for it even more. Half an hour later, we still hadn’t found the demon, and we had started to befriend the demon that was supposed to give us the Aques card, out of spite. Heck, even that demon didn’t show up enough for us to complete the process! Half an hour! Kyle was almost asleep on me, so that was it.
One session in and I’m already in a bad mood. While this is hardly Persona 1 or Mega Man X7 levels of “bad,” this session dove way past the Marathon’s other second-to-bottom tier entries, like Mega Man X Command Mission, FFIII DS, and Dirge of Cerberus. The quality drop from Innocent Sin is stunning and very little of it has to do with the older interface. The best I can say is that, despite my fears, this game largely hasn’t stumbled into the unpleasantness of P1 or even P2IS. Maybe it will even keep it up, although frankly my hopes aren’t high after the past two games. If anything, my big fear is that missing the Donation Box secret way back in dungeon #2 might come back to bite us, because what has EP shown but a willingness to punish the player for not doing obscure crap?
Worse, we’ve made very little progress. I can only guess so much, but judging from a quick count of a walkthrough’s table of contents, we’ve played less than a quarter of the game. I’d estimate that by the end of session 1 of Innocent Sin, we were at one-third complete, so it seems as though the sequel will be around even longer. Come on, game! We all want this to be better! Please pick up the quality so that these extra sessions won’t be as bad as this one!
Session 2, which spans to the end of the Smile Hirasaka / Smile Mall dungeon, began after we played a session of a personal favourite and far better game, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles 4: Turtles in Time on the SNES. Would that the rest of the day had kept to that standard, but oh well.
We can still beat TMNT4 on hard on one 7-life credit, by the way, nearly twenty years after touching it last.
We returned to Club Zodiac, the dungeon already in progress, and there’s not much to say about its now-modified back rooms. They don’t look like much, but you literally manipulated reality to get them to look that way, so no complaints, now! The dungeon does have a few damage floors, which seem specifically designed to look like vomit, a nice touch for the club setting. I later learned (after we started to rely on the wiki for information on rumors instead of GameFAQs walkthroughs, which never covered them in the detail we wanted) that you can get a Demon Rumour specifically in this dungeon that allows you to clear the damage floors by Contracting/Pacting with a specific demon, but it’s not necessary to clear the dungeon. This system would be making a return later in the session in much more important contexts. Later in the dungeon, we began to encounter Taiwanese mafia thugs as enemies.
We spent most of our combats in the first part of this session trying to get Maia – the Persona – to gain the ability to “Mutate” into Maia Custom / Maia Prime, which happens randomly when you end the fight with a combo attack. Unfortunately, Baofu ended up dominating the procedure, with his Persona, Hel, getting the random reward over and over again across the session, easily a dozen more times than anyone else (although some of that was after we were finally done with Maia). It quickly became a running gag, maybe even a running nuisance, after a fashion.
The dungeon was fairly cut-and-dry, though we’ll cop to not solving its own puzzle without outside help for matters of laziness. You eventually reach the “secret casino” the Taiwan Mafia is running in the back, but you need a password to get in. All you have to do is return to some faceless NPCs from earlier, where Baofu will interrogate them into giving the password, “Panther,” much to Katsuya’s consternation. Once inside the secret casino, both Baofu and Katsuya recognize the “man with scar” from earlier, and Baofu identifies him as Yung Pao, an assassin, and Yung Pao replies by accusing Baofu of killing twenty-five mafia men in response to one of Yung Pao’s murders, specifically the murder of a yet-unspecified Japanese victim. Katsuya isn’t happy about this, but knows this isn’t the time (something I could complain about from a lot of other past party members from a lot of other games! Reeve.), and demands to know where Yung Pao has taken the people transformed into Jokers. Yung Pao distracts from the larger question by announcing that he still has one Joker on site, Noriko, and has her brought in. While Yung Pao initially claimed she was drugged from her capture, this was soon revealed to be a lie, and she and the two nearest Mafioso attacked us. Corey Burton as Baofu shouting, “Get away from that brat!” has been ingrained on my subconscious ever since. It’s a hell of a delivery. It sounds a lot like the Christopher Lee voice he would do in later years (especially after Lee’s death), but still unique enough to stand on its own, partially because Baofu’s always such a shithead. It sounds a bit like the way that Burton would have Captain Hook in KH1 say: “The hold is crawling with Heartless,” but even better.
Noriko’s fight is apparently infamous thanks to her use of Old Maid, but we didn’t have any trouble with it that we hadn’t previously encountered with Ulala, and thankfully we didn’t have to deal with it on such a large scale, losing only once (I suppose that if you only managed to eke past Ulala instead of creaming her like we had to, Noriko would be in position to hit you with similar bricks!). Killing the mobsters in this fight is a matter of choice, as Noriko will occasionally waste turns buffing them if they’re alive, so they can be “helpful” after a fashion, but we killed the mobsters both times, and the second time, Noriko became so wrapped up in kicking us instead of using her powerful attacks that Kyle won handily.
After the fight, Baofu and Katsuya started venting their spleens at one another. Baofu said a lot without giving us the context necessary to understand it: “They’re hunted in Taiwan for being impure. No matter how many are killed, people should be grateful.” We eventually returned to the Velvet Room to bury the Joker Persona in Noriko, surprisingly taking Anna with us. I mean, it’s not like she doesn’t have a right to be there, I’m just surprised she can be there, although I suppose she had a Persona in the alternate universe and maybe does here, too. Katsuya surprised everyone by letting Noriko off relatively light, refusing to press charges against her until exposing the conspiracy at large, and putting her in police custody instead. Noriko’s still a murderer, mind, for all she’s otherwise a victim, and the game doesn’t pretend otherwise.
At this point, Katsuya gets a surprise phone call. Again… in the subconscious. The anonymous caller asked us to meet him in Aoba Park and swiftly hung up, identifying himself only as “Sneak.” Baofu then needlessly explains that the word comes from “sneaky,” which suggests a needlessly literal translation of something that was more complicated in Japanese. The party agreed to go check it out.
At this point, we found ourselves with a lot of cash, and decided to dump some of it on the Lucky Cat statue in the detective’s office, as instructed by a walkthrough. After a whole 100 donations totalling 100 000 yen (Kyle kept track of the count), we discovered the cat wasn’t actually a machine like the equivalent Lucky Dog machine in police HQ. No, the statue was just a statue, and its “speaker” was a Nekomatamata demon living in the agency’s bathroom, apparently friends with Tamiko, and she had just conned us out of a thousand bucks. I’m not sure if this is a SMT If… reference or what.
Now that she had been exposed, the demon was willing to offer her services as a special rumourmonger (she was not willing to return our cash). Each of her three rumours added a new service to existing shops, and each service could be upgraded in some capacity at a later date, rendering these early options not quite as valuable, for all they were prerequisites. One shop would give us a boosted relationship with certain demon personality types (a label that had been nothing but fluff text prior to now), one shop would give a boosted encounter rate with various demon arcana, and the last of which was an upgrade to Trish, causing her to sell ice cream for a small fortune, the only way to get meals into the latter halves of many dungeons.
Our next stop was Bomb Shelter side room number two, which could only presently be accessed via side room number one. Kyle found the map for the room right away, but we couldn’t find this room’s Sachiko’s letter for shit, and had to load up a map from the internet to find it! Which is funny, because the map is way better hidden than the letter! While we were online, we also learned that a rumour would allow us to clear the rock blocking direct access to room one by Pacting with a specific demon, the Minotaur. Unfortunately, we only ever learned the rumour to clear the block in front of room five (by Pacting with a Shoggoth), and while I’m not going to complain about that, we never did find the rumour for room two! We were honestly here for quite a while, and even came back to grind later during dinner (doing something unimportant so that one of us could be in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV) and still had no luck finding the rumour! For that matter, we also couldn’t find our old friend Sakya, the local wandering midboss for this region (mistakenly translated to “Shaka,” turning the founder of Buddhism into a Zulu king!). Since we literally ended Innocent Sin still using Sakya, this was tremendously disappointing, so don’t be surprised if we ever go back. Thankfully, we did unlock Mai-the-Persona’s mutation into Maia Prime, so we ended up leaving happy enough, if not in 100% satisfied. After heading out, we picked up the Jack O’ Lantern Persona for later, which will become relevant towards the end of the session.
After some manhunting for the ramen lady, we went to Aoba Park for the meeting with Sneak. The park dungeon was no big deal, though just like last time, a rumour gave us the ability to talk to the flowers. This time, they weren’t as fickle as before, but all operated as parts in a larger puzzle. Essentially, you had to use their clues, plus clues from earlier in the game (…which we hadn’t been writing down…) to work out the Wang Long system of “dragons by birth month,” plus their alleged compatibilities and incompatibilities with other dragons. I took notes, but there’s another important fact about the dungeon: you actually revisit it later, and when we accidentally ended it early, the puzzle had to be put on hold.
“Sneak” hid his face behind a high coat collar, though I’d swear he was familiar from somewhere. Kyle thought he might have recognized him from the opening crowd shot of villains that I talked about at the start of the Journal, but I’m not willing to check it for additional spoilers. Given that Kyle suspected he was part of the bad guy inner circle, it should suffice to say that we didn’t trust him all that much. Sneak revealed that Tatsuzou, our mysterious Big Bad, was one of several members of a vast conspiracy called the New World Order. Oh good. The New World Order. An often anti-Semitic, fear-mongering conspiracy theory that has done real-world harm just by being a conspiracy theory. Wonderful. The game is putting a conspiracy that’s often about “evil Jewish bankers” on the same level of antagonist as the WWII Nazis of P2IS. Fuck you as usual, Persona. The only reason the game hasn’t been thrown out of the blog by this alone is that I figure the Japanese devs aren’t aware of the connotations, since they treat with virtually no elements of the actual conspiracy theory except for the name, but yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh.
Katsuya tried to threaten Sneak into revealing all he knew in a curiously suicidal fashion, threatening to arrest the second-stringers we had already unmasked. This would assuredly get us killed, if not in the initial charge of the Light Brigade, then certainly by the remaining conspiracy after the fact. Though given Katsuya’s righteous stubbornness, I’m not sure he realized it! Sneak silenced Katsuya by suggesting that Katsuya’s late father had done the same, which was intriguing, but he said nothing more.
At this point, Sneak gave us photos of two other people he said were investigating the NWO, though he couldn’t give us their names. There was a man and a woman, and ironically I thought the woman looked familiar, even though it turns out that I shouldn’t rightly have been able to recognize her, and should have been able to recognize the man! Geeze, at this rate my suspicions about Sneak look real unlikely, since I apparently can’t recognize faces for shit! Sneak advised we meet up with them somehow.
(Ed. By the way, one little nuisance with this journal was the fact that Word attempts to autocorrect “NWO” to “NOW,” but I wasn’t willing to replace the autorcorrect because I legitimately make the typo “nwo” for “now” all the damn time!)
Ulala had a plan, and it was a stupid one. Like… god, you even get to say as much to her face via a dialog selection box, which will provoke her into fronting the cash required to enact her stupid plan! Okay, here it goes: she plans to spread a rumour that someone key to the mysterious goings-on will show up at the nearby bar, and that’s… it. Even though the rumour is so blatant that everyone curious about the matter, including our many enemies and most of the press, would surely hear about it. But Ulala had a counter-plan for that as well, one that was actually part-way decent, but we’d just have to wait and see it, and that made her stand-alone plan seem stupider in isolation!
In the interim, we got to choose whether to spread that the person who showed up at the bar would be the man in the photos, or the woman. This turns out to be a major decision, as it sets none other than your fifth party member in place! We couldn’t make a decision like that without info, and looked it up. It turns out the man is Nanjo (“Nate”) from P1, whom we saw at the end of P2IS (which is why I should have been able to recognize him, more than the woman, anyways). The woman, meanwhile, is Elly (“Ellen”) from P1, whom we had talked to on the phone in P2IS but haven’t seen since the original game. We decided to go with Elly, and there are a few reasons for that. First off, we had spent plenty of time with Nanjo in P1’s SEBEC route, but only the less-than-player-character-driven SQQ with Elly. Secondly, we had a running joke about Nanjo being a failure during our P1 run, and while that was the fault of our build, we were absolutely going to hold it against him. Thirdly, Nanjo’s a prat. Elly was kind of a prat too, but again, one we were less familiar with overall. Fourthly: I mentioned Nanjo’s Speed Racer helmet, right? You can’t consciously associate with someone who dresses like that, it’s not even possible.
Ulala had the party split into two for her stupid plan. She and Baofu would wait inside the bar, and Maya and Katsuya would wait outside. Both sides tried to talk to one another while they waited for the rumour to kick in. Maya started flirting with Katsuya, which is really odd. You see, Maya is virtually a silent protagonist, and Katsuya is terrible with women, which means that neither had shown any attraction in either direction before this moment, so this basically came out of the blue! I feel like Maya and Tatsuya had better development in the alternate universe, simply because Maya could and would talk! Meanwhile, Baofu walled himself off from Ulala, and so when they got to the stage in her plan where they were apparently supposed to stage a fight (which we only learned about as things happened), she started venting her actual issues with him, leading to her actually punching him. Still, they served their purpose: they distracted the hangers-on hoping to eavesdrop on the meeting (including Maya’s boss), while Maya and Katsuya made actual contact with Elly outside the door.
The group reunited in a fancy penthouse apartment owned by Nanjo, and we met up with both our two new allies. We also met their small group of counter-conspirators, mostly faceless NPCs, seemingly freelancers taking a dangerous job, although also including Nanjo’s new bodyguard, Matsuoka. By the way, the game tries to get across that Elly works as a model now… by having her dress one pith helmet short of a stereotypical British explorer. I don’t personally see the fashion angle here, but the woman hangs out with Nanjo, a man in full cosplay for a long-dead anime, so her perspective on fashion might be a touch skewed. Curiously, her intro profile says that she “works as a model, but…” but the game has yet to explain that lacuna. It may be that it’s a poorly translated allusion to her occult knowledge, but I don’t know…
The party asks what Elly and Nanjo know about the NWO, and Nanjo directs them to Tatsuzou’s secretary, a man known as Guy Shinjo. Nanjo reveals the man is actually Kandori, the instigator and main villain for most of P1, back from the dead! His new name is a deliberately shitty reworking of his birth name in both languages, so credits to the localizers. In Revelations: Persona, Kandori’s name was “Guido,” which has been shortened here to “Guy.” But to make things weird, they also chose to shunt “Guido’s” original last name and to start acting like he was named “Kandori” the entire time, which I’m sure must have been odd to PSX players at the time! In Japanese, Kandori’s given name is Takahisa, and his alias is “Hisataka Shinjo,” “Hisataka” being a hiragana anagram.
The characters acknowledge that Kandori should be dead, and they don’t know how he’s back (assuming it’s really him in the first place and not some bluff). Kyle and I are always comically annoyed when a bad guy gets away from us, a trait that goes back to our exaggerated zeal in hunting for Robot Masters during the Mega Man Marathon, so I’m delighted to say this got our hackles up in murderous togetherness. Friendship.
Meanwhile, Elly has been doing her own research. You’ll recall she’s studied up on the occult in P2IS, has also been investigating the new Wang Long movement in this universe. This seems less dramatically important than a former plot-instigating villain coming back to life, but sure, let’s cover all angles.
Taken together, Nanjo and Elly have worked out that the NWO needs Jokers for some reason, and have deduced that they’re using the Wang Long situation to manipulate people in murderous desperation and jealousy, and thus into position to contact the original Joker (King Leo), after which Wang Long Chizuru turned them all into Jokers via her live broadcast. Seems like it requires a little too much micro-management to be realistic, but since there’s probably some supernatural overlord at the head of the NWO, probably Nyarlathotep (you know how these games go), I’ll roll with it.
They have two leads. Most of the Jokers were taken to a nearby lab, and Guy Shinjo works there. Nanjo’s going to go there on his own. Meanwhile, Elly is going to investigate Wang Long Chizuru’s appearance on a nearby TV program, and we’re going with her. I think the decision to pick a party member should have been moved here, but Atlus seems to have gone with obfuscation for whatever reason, and I guess we’ve got to roll with what we’ve got! Matsuoka gave us a parting threat not to allow Nanjo’s actions to be connected in any way to his family and business, and off we went!