At this point, the group overhears a broadcast saying that “several seminars [are] being sponsored by international celebrities,” supposedly on the subject of purifying Jokers. One such seminar is taking place at SMILE Hirasaka (“Smile Mall”), hosted by Ginji “Prince Taurus” Sasaki. No alternate universe redemption for this guy! Curiously, after this scene, Baofu remarks on how strange it is that NWO is collecting kegare not just from Jokerized humans, but also from normal humans, something we won’t learn they’re doing until we investigate these seminars! He also wants to know, “What about the ‘pure’ humans?” a concept that hasn’t come up at all, although maybe he’s just extrapolating? Geeze, what’s with these lines?
Returning to the world map and to our actual playthrough, we’ve lost a few minutes of footage here, but I made sure to make a note what we had done soon after I noticed the problem, so I think I’ve got it all covered. We cashed our first map with Salam, and also got the next blank one, which curiously comes in two parts (Smile Map A and Smile Map B), even though the dungeon doesn’t have two parts? I’m still confused about that detail. Even the walkthroughs don’t mention it! It doesn’t help that the blank maps don’t even show up in your inventory! We also went manhunting (one such search appears after we turned on the recording) and checked out some prospective new Personas, although we didn’t get any. The entire party was maxed out on their current Personas, and we really had to give Elly a backup for Nike, but there just weren’t any good ones in our level range! Also, Baoful’s Hel had mutated so often that I wasn’t sure we wanted to drop her for any reason.
Next up, we headed into SMILE not to clear it, but to see if we could land the coin flip to get Trish to reduce her prices via rumour. Thankfully, this only took two attempts. But during our first attempt, we ran into a demon called Picollus, who was equipped with the spell Hula of Misfortune. This was a basically harmless spell in P1, but was out of control here in Eternal Punishment, where it halves your on-hand yen! That’s a truly old school dick move, reminiscent of the food-stealing Gremlins from Ultima that the Picollus resemble. Worried out these things, we dumped a lot of our money on new armour, and even into the Lucky Dog statue at Police HQ for a synth item, purely to have less money to steal. Thankfully, we were able to ward the Picollus off for most of the dungeon (during our actual attempt later on, I mean) by chatting with them instead of fighting. No. Matter. What.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Like I was saying, after manipulating Trish’s brain like Playdoh (we’re the heroes), we went to the Bomb Shelter, where we now had access to Room 3. This went over much better than Room 2, as we found the map, letter and even the puzzle-related billboard (although not sure if we need the latter in Room 3’s case) with no trouble whatsoever. And since the wiki had informed me that there was no way to get the demon rumour that would open Room 2 in Room 3 (only Rooms 2 and 4), we didn’t even bother to chat with the baddies. In, out, quick and easy. Perfect run, and thank you to the wiki for being more comprehensive on rumours than the walkthroughs have been!
At this point, I decided to follow a strategy from the walkthrough to earn some Minor Arcana Personas. Minor Arcana Personas are rarer, and so despite their name, stronger, than the Major Arcana Personas you spend most of your time with. You have to get them from mutations, which can only occur randomly when you end a battle with a fusion spell that includes the Persona in question. Personas convert into Minor Arcana Personas once they get the right mutation and you select the option to change at the Velvet Room, and the Persona they change into is based on their level. Following the walkthrough’s advice, we tried to set ourselves up to get a mutant for Katsuya using Culebre (“Kerepres”) as a medium, and Ulala via Jack O’ Lantern. As the process is entirely random, only the latter succeeded, giving Ulala Chinese “Lucky God” Shou Shen (“Nankyoku Roujin,” for some reason) for a Persona. I can tell from the wiki that this is an interesting one: while weak to physical, Shou Shen is strongly resistant to all other elements, and can eventually mutate to learn the unusual skill Summon Spirit, which allows you to actually employ Summons of a sort via Fusion Spells. I haven’t looked up Kerepres’ mutation, Yebisu, and won’t until we actually get him (or give up on getting him, either/or).
Finally, it was time to go to SMILE for real. If you think I was pissed at the last dungeon for taking two hours of our time while still in the early-mid game, just wait until you hear that this next one took in the neighbourhood of three and a half, minus a few trips back to the surface, even forcing us to call it a night in the middle of it! And it was All. Mapping. This dungeon would take a matter of minutes without the mapping sidequest, and if the rewards we got for it (grinding, a Bufudyne spell card, and some zodiac cards) don’t pay off in a big way, I’m going to real sour. Part of the problem is that SMILE is a converted, midgame Innocent Sin dungeon that was never meant for mapping and was already pretty long if you recall our Journal on the subject, so it’s possible that the dedicated EP dungeons won’t take as long to map, but I’m not very confident…
I’m serious that the dungeon would take a few minutes without mapping. Even searching it for treasure couldn’t have taken much more than an hour. All you have to do to clear the dungeon is to go Floor 4 via the stairs by the entrance, and find the Seminar Room, where you get the first cutscene. The door is locked, so Katsuya suggests that an older building like this might have air vents big enough to crawl through. Maya gets a flashback to setting off the fire alarm in the bathroom in the Innocent Sin universe, which includes a memory of the bathroom having an entrance to the air vents. You’re already on the right floor, so you walk over, some stuff happens that I’ll get into in a moment, and then you go back to the seminar door. Or, to simplify: you go to floor 4 and walk back and then forth across it, and that’s the entire dungeon! The remaining three floors and basement are completely superfluous, and the “secret” sections from the Innocent Sin version contain only a single chest, lying right next to the stairs and requiring no further exploration required! What an astronomic waste of time the mapping sidequest was. As I said at the time, “The bad guys are upstairs trying to take over the world and here we are mapping the groceries.” Ironically, one of our manhunts prior to this dungeon had been to find a little girl who had misinterpreted her teacher’s instructions to “observe” someone and was now writing down every detail of everything she saw. The game was clearly having a laugh with her, so it was kind of ironic that it turned around and asked us to do the exact same thing!
By the way, remember the money-stealing demons in this dungeon, the Piccolus? We were in the dungeon so long, and had circumvented the thieves so well, that we subverted our own expectations and built up a horde of excess cash, and Kyle eventually spent it on the super-gun we had unlocked! Why not the super-armour, despite our open dislike of weapons in P1/2? You see, Kyle and I had gotten annoyed of a group of Magician arcana enemies during this session, not to mention the cat demon boss from earlier. The problem was that Maya couldn’t attack them, as we had foolishly given her a Fire-aligned weapon during Session 1. Kyle replaced her gun with the super-gun purely to vent his spleen on the magicians! (Actually, he changed his mind at the last minute and tried to give it to Katsuya, transferring his gun to her, but I noticed his gun increased magic attack, and his magic attack was the worst in the party, so we did as Kyle had originally planned)
As it happens, I have another story about the Picollus! During our interminable conversations with these demons, we Contracted with them to get Free cards. The dungeon took so long that we actually maxed out on Free cards at 999, and nearly maxed on the Piccoluses’ native Lovers cards! Learning this was the last straw for Kyle, who went to the surface, spent some of the cards, and then came back ready to kill every Picollus he found with our now-boosted levels and speed stat, even though it meant using Personas were weren’t trying to mutate for the Combo Attacks to work. Good riddance. I dread having to put up with these things again in the Bomb Shelter.
Right, where were we? The party goes to the bathroom and uses the duct work to spy on the seminar, where Ginji Sasaki was giving a bug-eyed speech in front of a Wang Long dragon-styled statue that was hiding a machine the player can see is marked “JOKER.” There were two large and openly displayed containers of kegare on each side, implying this was a JSM. Sasaki’s speech had to do with people living aimlessly, not having a dream, and saying that fortune telling could fill that void in their life. Urm… okay…? Astrology as a cult, eh? Like, not a thing done by a cult, but the basis of a cult, the central element in an organized religion with gatherings and hierarchy and shit? Was this a thing in Japan in the late 90s? Because I’m pretty sure that’s never been a thing in the west, at least. Part of what’s twigging me about this is that P2 is very clearly anti-astrology, as a part of its anti-“relying on people to direct and fulfil your dreams” in general. P2 is also really terrible and ham-handed at making its points. Take these two ingredients and you might see how we got to the Satanic Panic-esque, “astrology is an organized religion conspiring to take control of human destiny,” by mistake. But I’m going to give P2 the benefit of the doubt and just assume this is their way of SMT-izing a villainous organization, with a generous habit of the game’s signature poor writing.
It’s also possible that this scene has some sort of localization problem making this seem more Satanic Panic-like than it should. My reason for thinking this is that Ulala decides to declare, “This guy’s lost it” after he says nothing more unusual than, “So you’re all bored with your current lives,” at that point in his speech, and I’ve said in the past: a localization problem in one part of a confusing scene suggests localization problems are to blame for problems with the entire scene.
Also baffling is Sasaki claiming Wang Long fortune telling is unlike all those other fortune telling systems out there, because it’s for the “common man,” despite being so complicated that this game literally makes a drag-out puzzle about out of it in Aoba Park. Despite being literally based on western astrology. But that’s just populism being populism.
Sasaki has a man demonstrate the JSM… idol… which leads to everyone in the audience throwing Nazi salutes or something. It’s hard to say with these sprites. Ulala points out that the group seems to be using Maya’s own motto of positivity to ill ends, and I can only hope that isn’t a throwaway line because I think that would be an interesting approach!
Maya comes up with a plan: trigger the fire alarm in the bathroom like she did in the alternate universe, which would get the audience to clear out the hall so that they can interrogate Sasaki and destroy the JSM (though I should clarify: she doesn’t know these memories are coming from an “alternate universe,” just that they’re supernatural). I suppose she figures Sasaki would stay behind to guard the machine? To add to the illusion, Katsuya and Baofu decide to go burn trash on the seminar side of the air duct, which splits the party, forcing you to navigate back to the seminar hall with only three party members (while the Elly version of events phrases things as though the party deliberately split along gender lines, that’s not the case in Nanjo’s version, where Nanjo stays with Ulala and Maya). We only ran into one battle on our short-handed walk back, and were able to talk our way out of it, so no trouble.
Baofu and Katsuya crawl through the vent to pincer Sasaki, so it’s just you and him. Sasaki shouts about wanting his lawyer, and Baofu tells Maya that she “knows what to do.” I remarked to Kyle that I certainly don’t know what she should do, only for her to shoot the kegare canisters, oh my god. This is among single dumbest things I’ve ever seen a protagonist do, without exaggeration, and yet Persona and DoC have been driving such a shit-train through the Marathon, and for so long, that at this point that I’m not sure it’s going to make my “Bottom 5” list of Marathon Moments the next time we do that! As I’ve all-caps’ed in my notes the past, but now with more enthusiasm: HOW STUPID ARE YOU.
The kegare takes to the air and chooses to infect Sasaki, Jokerizing him. The party’s lucky it didn’t go for them too! He summons four Shoggoths to help him (heavily upgraded after P2IS, where they were slime recolours!), and can reincarnate them if they are killed, although only one at a time. Yushiro’s walkthrough on GameFAQs calls him “pathetically easy” and it’s true if you’ve been following along with his advice, since Sasaki’s weakness to Wind attacks means he’s weak against the very same attacks that Yushiro’s walkthrough prepped us for way back with Ulala. He didn’t even have a chance to use Old Maid with all our grinding, good gracious.
At this point, Elly says they should send all their evidence on the NWO to the public before the baddies coax more people into their front cult. For some reason, Baofu doesn’t say a word, even though he insisted they not do that in an earlier scene (his complaint was that they didn’t have the proof required to cut off the head of the snake, Tatsuzou, and they still don’t). She calls Nanjo and asks him to do it. At this point, who should call but Sneak, once again conveniently after we finish a dungeon! Katsuya immediately confronts Sneak with the massacre at the suite, and as a way of getting Katsuya to trust him, Sneak says that he’ll reveal his identity at their next meeting and even leave himself open to the party for arrest or whatnot if they deem necessary. He arranges the meeting for the concert hall at Aoba Park, meaning we’ll have to cross the entire park to meet him this time, and also that we’ll have our chance to actually solve the flower puzzle! Ulala figures it’s a trap, and Baofu confronts Katsuya about the fact that he may be chasing Sneak purely to find out about his father’s death. Katsuya is either insulted, ashamed, or both, and leaves on his own, leaving us one party member short (probably to keep us from curb-stomping the repeat dungeon with its repeat enemies!).
At this point, we cashed our map, and learned that Salam wasn’t interested in us mapping the park (he says it’s because it’s “just a park,” but in reality it’s to keep from ruining the player’s day by forcing them to map a dungeon they’ve already been through). Fine by us. We also did a manhunt and learned from the walkthrough that there were no new rumours. That was about it for our session, Kyle had to leave around this point. We had done triflingly little: only three dungeons instead of the five from Session 1. On the plus side, I’m now able to understand that I had misread the walkthrough’s table of contents at the end of our last session, so we were further ahead in the game than we thought! We’re now actually close to 2/3rds complete! On the other hand, there are five sections of the Bomb Shelter to go, which is probably a more accurate read of how much “game” is left, after a fashion (since each section contains monsters from a typically evenlysized stretch of the game). But we’ll be done when we’re done. God knows I’ll be glad to see it leave, I am not enjoying this game even as much as its predecessor. What a mess.
While we intend to do Aoba Park next, it’s mostly so we can get Katsuya back as soon as possible. The walkthrough gave some good advice to not follow up to the very next plot point after that, as it tells/spoils us that Baofu will also be temporarily leaving the party when we do so. If we avoid said plot point, we can do a bonus dungeon with all five party members! This dungeon is Giga Macho, the CD store from Innocent Sin (“Seedy CD,” groan). Apparently, we’ll meet Akari / Ixquic here, who asks you to hunt a specific midboss inside. The problem? The demons have spread a rumour that Personas don’t work inside, forcing you to use your stats and weapons, and we are not going into a dungeon like that a) shorthanded and b) without Katsuya, our most needlessly overpowered attacker! So next time on Persona 2, it’ll be puzzle time! Puzzles, and headaches, and mapping. Forever. What a game.