Heading outside, we discovered Nanjo’s penthouse was actually in a new district, and I mean a new district, as not only was it new to this game, but wasn’t even in P2IS, having been recently constructed in this universe. That meant new shops and new rumours. This resulted in an incredibly busy overworld play-session, and not just in this district! First off, you can create another specialist shop, which we once again did with armour, giving us a bunch of magic resistant armour to supplement our specialist evasion armour from earlier (they didn’t even overlap in terms of equipment slots!). Next, we created a synthesis shop, though the only way to make use of it this early in the game is to have earned some high-level synth ingredients from the casino, or to have Retired some incredibly specific, max-Rank Personas. The Sumaru Genie, whom we had restored to her P2IS capacity at some earlier point in the game, was now rumour-upgraded again to also offer “affinities,” which allow you to boost Fusion Spells between party members or, more commonly, reduce prices from a single shop, although until she gets an third upgrade, the shop upgrade only works at item-hawking convenience stores.
Another important stop was to return to Kismet to have Maya meet with her boss and claim that she wasn’t at the bar, as this leads to a secret Persona later on for some reason. Mizuno doesn’t believe you, as she herself was at the bar and saw Maya there, but since she also seems to have seen Maya flirting with Katsuya, she gets distracted and gives Maya a weird lecture about not flirting on the job, using a lot of… uncomfortable flower metaphors.
We also unlocked a major feature in this section that would have long-term consequences, one that might even end up fixing some of the game’s biggest balance problems… in an incredibly boring fashion. This was the services of a man named Salam, a vaguely middle-eastern, ridiculously-rich man that we rumour-coerced into having a prized map collection (before that, his collection was vague, and honestly sort of creepy in how he kept trying to urge Maya to go to his penthouse to see it). Now that he’s interested in dungeon maps, he was willing to trade occult artefacts for them, namely tarot and spell cards. Unfortunately, filling out each map is a task and a half. First off, you have to speak to him before each dungeon to take the job, or else you can’t get started, although you can usually just go back out to find him if you realize you made a mistake. Once you’re officially on the job, you can trap your mapping progress via the map screen (…loading…). Any map tiles you can see on the map screen are marked with a special icon, and you have to get close (within one tile) of each icon to mark it onto your map. This essentially quintuples the time you spend in each dungeon, weaving about and fighting extra fights. If you miss even a single square (including the insides of elevators on each floor), you don’t get credit, although the game thankfully tells you when you’re done. I would have appreciated if they told us when you were done with each individual floor… but I would have appreciated a lot of changes with this system and I’m only listing the thing about individual floors because the code would have nearly been in place for it and it would have been a simple improvement.
The biggest prizes Salam has on offer are randomized, high-level spell cards, but the first dungeon you visit (with Elly, anyways) doesn’t even have the decency to offer one! Nevertheless, Kyle and I resolved to do the map quests, because after two and a quarter old school Persona games, “bored out of our minds” is still better than “unable to proceed and forced to grind aimlessly and use walkthroughs for specific spell combos, all while bored out of our minds.” God, there’s a tagline for you. Persona 2! It’s Better to Just Be Bored!
Last up, the game introduced some new rumours that I’m going to call “random rumours.” After you pay for these rumours at the detective agency, there’s a fifty-fifty chance of them going one of two ways, and besides an easily missed hint in the “spread rumour” menu (“I don’t know how this is going to spread…”) the game doesn’t warn you about this ahead of time. There were three such rumours in this first batch. The first was relatively harmless: the ramen lady “realizes her dream.” If it goes bad, nothing particularly notable happens, but if it goes right, she’ll add a powerful new dish to her restaurant menu, not really all that interesting but still one of the better food options available. The armour shop gets a rumour with a fifty percent chance of killing the owner (she’ll be replaced by her sister from the previous game, with no particular harm to the player), but a fifty percent chance of selling a single piece of super armour for around 200 000 yen. The weapon shop also gets a rumour that leads to a super gun (for Maya or Katsuya) if you get the good version, though if they get the “bad” version, there is a certain upside: prices skyrocket, but two new luck-increasing drinks are added to the bar at the same location, a relatively unusual food bonus. Nevertheless, we chose to save-scum our way to the gun. The last fifty-fifty rumour came from the Nekomatamata, who announced that Trish “changed her mind” about her prices (both her healing prices and ice cream prices), either reducing them (slightly) or raising them (doubling!). There was no easy way to test Trish’s fifty-fifty split in the next dungeon (in either plot line), but thankfully, the walkthrough we were skimming recommended we wait until the dungeon after that, which puts Trish close enough to the entrance to theoretically get there without even a single random encounter, making the rumour easy to test.
At this point, the game splits between the Elly dungeon and the Nanjo dungeon. I’m going to cover our actual playthrough of the Elly dungeon, but when we reunite with Nanjo and he gives his summary of events, I’m going to hop over and actually describe the alternate scenario in detail based on online resources.
But before we move on, let’s talk about these Fifth Slot characters and how they play in combat. Elly is voiced by Amanda Winn Lee, same as Ulala, although she doesn’t seem to be able to affect a consistent accent for the character if you ask me. Elly’s starting Persona, Nike, now looked like a jet plane, which is up there with Yukino’s Vesta getting a unicycle wheel for weirdness points. On the other side of things we have Nanjo. Unfortunately, no one seems to have leaked his voice actor. Looking at the wiki, Nanjo’s Aizen Myouou Persona looks positively normal in comparison to Vesta and Nike, but I later learned something I had overlooked in P1: Nanjo’s ultimate Persona is actually the spirit of his late, heroic butler, Yamaoka! Yamaoka returns as Nanjo’s ultimate in this game, and he did get a bizarre remake. In P1, Yamoaka took the form of an angel-like figure. While I haven’t looked up any other EP ultimates, I figured I’d give Yamoaka a peek, since he’s not in our party. In EP, Yamaoka’s still got a halo, but now he’s a mecha-winged butler with a 90’s style VR visor and a jetboard. I’ll tell you this much: in death, he’s still cooler than anyone will ever be in life.
On to our first adventure with Elly! We went to Sumaru TV, the local TV station, where Chizuro would be giving an interview on a talk show. Elly used her connection with Brown from P1 to get inside (you’ll recall Brown is some sort of TV comedian celebrity these days). Yukino was also here to say hello. Brown said Chizuro would be in her dressing room, and said that he and Yukino had learned (although I doubt they had evidence) that Chizuro’s previous interviews about Jokers and Joka had been secretly scripted, implying it was all a setup. As they were chatting, a black cat arrived and began to watch the party. Initially joking, I said the cat was a spy, but we soon learned that it almost certainly was a spy working for Chizuro! In fact, as time went on I came to believe the cat was Chizuro herself, having magically transformed somehow, although this was ultimately proven wrong. Ignoring the cat, Katsuya stressed caution, pointing out that while Chizuro was certainly serving the NWO’s interests, that doesn’t mean she knows anything about them or even that she’s being used, so they can’t barge in and start opening fire. We were left in control at this point.
Before going in, we picked up a rumour about a weird murderous ghost that the game didn’t explain. It turns out she’s another Japanese bathroom ghost, not unlike Hanako from P2IS, although according to the urban legend, this one gruesomely rips off your legs – in later games, she is even armed with a dismembered leg, although in this game she only has a scythe. Unlike our past bad luck with EP rumour demons, this one showed up early on. Returning her item gave us a set of Incense Cards, which – right move or not – we chose to surrender to the spell card shop at Time Castle so that they could be purchased in the future, instead of using them at once.
It took us a while to get used to the new mapping system, and Kyle passed the controller back to me before things got really hairy, so we both got a turn to embarrass ourselves by leaving single squares exposed in weird corners and shit. On the way, we came across two other guests that were scheduled to appear on the same talk show with Chizuru, and this rapidly became contrived: it seems that Chizuru, the members of Muses (Lisa’s idol group, Lisa making her first appearance here) and Junko Kurosu, an actress and Jun’s mother, were all going to appear on the same show!
Lisa doesn’t have any voice quotes in this session (indeed, she barely talked, apparently worried to death about her crush, Tatsuya, after he disappeared following the blimp incident, not that she knew the circumstances), but I should get it out of the way that she’ll apparently later be voiced by Lani Minella, the already overworked voice of Maya and Jun.
Once we finally arrived in Chizuru’s dressing room, it was time for the dungeon to really get started. The party spotted the cat here, and after the first of several times where the game played a meow sound effect but the text said “Purr,” the party found the world turned greyscale. The only source of colour, beside the player characters, was a Japanese-style paper charm on the door (which wasn’t there before, for the record). Elly, our occult expert, examined it and said that Chizuru had set a trap, putting us in a “Kimon Tonkou formation,” supposedly an illusion spell based on feng shui. It’s worth noting that feng shui really does have magical connotations like this, although I bet the Kimon Tonkou is fictional. Long story short, they were trapped in an alternate reality, and would have to pass through eight pre-marked “gates” in the nearby area, in order, if we wanted escape. Luckily, Elly knew the symbols that marked the eight gates, a series of solid bars and divided bars arranged in sets of three. She was a little too gleeful about the whole experience.
Boy, two traps basically in a row, huh? Noriko and now this? The next dungeon doesn’t have much in the way of “foiling the NWO” either, and it gave me a feeling of having accomplished very little during session 2, for all the plot may have progressed. That’s not a huge complaint about the plot, mind you, just the unfortunate way that these sections ended up being framed by our start and stop points for the day.
The walkthrough writer we were reading (Yushiro) puts it best. Nanjo players get two dungeons, but Elly players get one long dungeon. Passing through these eight gates while mapping would take two hours, and that’s with the help of a walkthrough. That’s not the worst dungeon length we’ve seen in 90s Persona, but bear in mind that we’re still in the first half of the game! After finding and passing through the first gate, we encountered the cat, who spoke and talk about the “True Terror” of the Kimon Tonkou waiting in the wings. Sure enough, things get worse once you encounter gate #2, you discover the situation is more complicated than it seems, as the gate refuses to let you enter. Elly suggests we find Brown’s dressing room to collaborate with him through his mirror of all things. This gives you the clues you need to solve the puzzle for yourself, but it’s possible to return to Brown every single step of the way to have the puzzle solved for you, one step at a time, if you’re having trouble solving it yourself. This would probably add an hour to the already lengthy dungeon, so you can see why we chose to rely on the walkthrough instead of our own wits, just in case!
Still, the puzzle is relatively easy: it turns out that the Kimon Tonkou world is actually a mirror world, so Elly’s symbols should be mirrored left to right to get the actual “gate” order, and gate #1 was only correct because it was symmetrical! Write them down and mirror them yourself, and you can work out the actual order. Better, each “gate” has been applied to one of the TV studios in the same order Elly suggested (gate #1 is on studio #1; Elly’s incorrect guess for gate #2 was on studio #2, etc), so you don’t have to track the studio numbers on a third list! Still, even following a walkthrough took forever. Just to put salt on it, this dungeon has a chest that it turns out you can only get in a small window between returning to the real world at the end of the dungeon and fighting the last boss, which we didn’t realize was going to be a thing! We figured we’d be kicked out of the dungeon immediately after returning to the real world, like usual!
The party, nominally trying to track down the cat, kept searching each of the studios after they found them, even though it wasn’t required by the ritual. While they were doing this in one of the studios, a man came in after them. This isn’t as surprising as it might a seem, as we’ve met with several other people who got trapped by walking through Chizuru’s dressing room door just like us. Unlike those other victims, however, this one was covered in bandages and carrying a chainsaw. It turns out this man had been stalking Elly in the recent past, and she had used her Persona, Nike, to attack him during a previous incident, leading to his injuries. He was now outright trying to kill her, and engaged us in combat. The first fight wasn’t so bad, but he continued to show up throughout the dungeon, growing more and more injured, and yet more powerful, as time went on, although never so much as to become a real threat. Katsuya even cuffed him after the second incident, but he showed up again having cut off his own hand and replaced it with the chainsaw, Evil Dead-style. Which would have been even more effective if the game had cut off the correct hand, but it got them swapped! Accident, or underplayed, mirror-world hint to what happens later?
Having broken the man’s neck after our third encounter, and yet not killed him, the party was confident that he would not be following them again, although they pondered some of his final rantings about Elly being “the same as him” in regards to an unspecified male figure. We learned the details later on: it seems Elly made a promise with the main player-character of P1, the Boy with the Earring, whom we called “Sorrow.” The two of them would accomplish their dreams – Elly’s to be a model, Sorrow’s unspecified because he’s a player stand-in – and then meet again at some unspecified date. Elly also let on that she had a massive crush on Sorrow, and so one of her stalker’s ramblings became clear: Elly had been “stalking” Sorrow after a fashion, or at least she worried that she was (we don’t know the specifics). Now, I don’t know about Kyle, but for me, the stalker’s supernatural durability had made it evident to me that the version we had fought wasn’t real, but actually a manifestation of Elly’s fears, both the fear of her being a stalker in her own right, and the fear of the real world version of this man up and murdering her. So I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover an illusory Sorrow beyond the final gate. His glowing red eyes made it obvious it wasn’t him, mind. Well, that and one other thing. “How dare you…” Elly said, “…with his face…! This is unforgivable!” Kyle substituted his own continuation: “You monsters! You made him talk! This is unforgivable!”
The fake Sorrow called Elly out as a stalker and a creep, which brought her to her knees. All of a sudden, Katsuya opened fire, seemingly on Sorrow! But the truth was more complicated. It seems that Katsuya, along with Baofu, had never bought that Sorrow was real, but unlike the others he had taken that as his cue to search the rest of the room, spotting the cat on a nearby stack of shipping pallets (the cat is not actually visible to the player), so he shot it. He then decided to give the cat a bizarre lecture at this point about how science has proven curse and illusions aren’t real? Katsuya, one of your party members has just been brought low by those illusions, and you summon monsters who call supernatural flames with your force of personality. Shut up! You won’t be surprised to learn that this is a contrived setup for a later conversation, and shame on the devs.
The cat transformed into a monstrous cat at this point, who we gradually learned was able to reflect most elements, forcing us to use our largely out-of-shape weaponry. Since the cat also opened the fight with a lot of physical attacks and even one-shotted Katsuya with a crit, I decided to make a rare use of Elly/Nike’s buff skills to buff the party’s defence, although either our buffs or dumb luck caused the enemy AI to play with spells almost exclusively after a certain point. Oh well. After all our grinding in the last two hours’ worth of mapping, this was nothing. The party returned to the real world.
While we had been trapped in the alternate dimension, the talk show had gone on with programming as usual… I mean, I guess. They seem to have dressed up the entire set with Wang Long paraphernalia, so it’s hard to say how “usual” this show is. Did Carson ever redress the set into a New Age temple? Why did they even book Junko and the Muses for this episode? Chizuru got up to do a fortune telling, but suddenly collapsed in pain, having apparently lost 3D6 damage after the death of her Familiar. I’m serious, that really seems to be what’s happening. Still, she gets up and continues with her script—erm, totally on-the-spot fortune telling, which was definitely not prepared in advance! Shocking everyone but the good guys, it seems the Joka energy in the world is off the chart, and more people will start turning to Jokers now, and please go to our cult meetings to purify yourself. It’s about as blatant as it could get, despite relatively subtle previous steps in the process. For some reason, this causes Junko to go Joker on the spot! Maybe this has something to do with left over guilt from the alternate timeline, but she never actually says anything about why she might have gone Joker and I really have no choice but to guess!
We arrived at the studio in time to find Junko trying to attack Lisa, who was standing there stunned. To Kyle and my surprise, who should hold Junko off but Lisa’s two friends casting fire spells, despite never showing any sign of having Personas or magic in the previous game! At this point, Tatsuya appeared to help them out, hoping to keep Lisa from remembering anything in the process. Another overly literal translation here, by the way: Lisa expresses shock at Tatsuya using her name, which was almost certainly a matter of honorifics in the original language. In English, it only makes sense that he’d call her “Lisa.” She’s a celebrity both from and the talk of his school, after all, of course he knows her name! I could maybe read her as being a little lovestruck and surprised that he knows her, but I have a feeling that wasn’t wholly the original intent. I would have added more context to the line, maybe have her act as though he was acting familiar with her to get the same idea across.
Chizuru said that Kandori had addressed Tatsuya as a “Paradox,” and was going to fight him with Junko at her side, only for the party to arrive and force her to split forces. I was surprised to Chizuru come after us instead, as fighting Junko would have only made sense at this point: she’d be another Joker fight, after Noriko it’s clear the devs have no compunction with boss fights against minor characters, and we never did get to fight her in person in P2IS! I worked out why they didn’t do it later, and I’ll explain then. For now, Chizuru goes after us herself. Chizuru is voiced by Lani Minella trying to do a Romanian accent, which isn’t just a racist voice direction to stick to a fortune teller, but it doesn’t even make sense? She’s Japanese! Chizuru will get into an argument with Katsuya about his speech about science to her familiar, and will loosely imply that she’s an especially long-lived magic user of some sort, but she’s still Japanese! Anyways, she says humanity needs oracles to guide them, adds something about collecting “kegare,” you might remember the term from earlier, and then fights us.
Chizuru opens the fight with an ugly trap for anyone who, like us, left Elly with her starter Persona. Remember how the game was punishing us earlier for using starting Personas too long in Session 1? Here we are again, and I feel confident that this one was deliberately engineered! Chizuru casts a Curse spell at the start of the fight, which Elly/Nike is weak to, dropping her in a single hit! She also summons four Shikagami (Japanese spirits that modern anime have turned into psychopomp figures), each of whom represented one of the four common SMT elements: Fire, Water, Wind and Earth. But there’s a trick to the fight! I assumed that Chizuru would be the real boss and the Shikagami would be irrelevant minor enemies, but it turns out that the real Chizuru has already escaped or was never here, and all we were fighting was a “dummy” that dies in a single hit. My bad guess could have caused us a lot of trouble, as I was going to ignore her until the Shikigami were dead! That all changed when Elly dropped dead from the Curse spell, was revived, and reverted to attacking the default target in the list, Chizuru, before I thought to stop her! Chizuru’s dummy was killed by her own victim!
At this point, the rest was easy. We had fought far worse “mixed element” boss groups in P2IS, and I knew the easiest way to kill them was to pass on the Fusion Spells we had been using all session and to rely on base-level area attack spells like we had been doing back in P2IS. Persona 2’s area effect spells come in “attack all enemies” and “attack matching enemies” varieties, and since we only had the latter, Chizuro’s clone nearly slipped thorugh the loop above. While one of the Shikagami would invariably match the element of the spell and reflect it, the caster would normally absorb the element, so no harm done! …Except for Elly and Baofu, for some reason, but it wasn’t so bad that I had to worry about it for more than a few healing spells. Fight over.
Tatsuya had also won his battle, though he fled the scene after the fact, leaving Junko behind for us to heal in the Velvet Room, which didn’t even happen on-screen, contributing to Junko’s lack of motive and overall poor track record for… you know… actually appearing in scenes?