Chapter 23: On a Runaway Train to Certain Doom
Chapter 23 opens by turning back a few minutes, where we see Shotgun place a phone call to an unknown party to take care of Elfé. While this is happening, the game informs us that “there were many who were unaware of the coming crisis.” What, unaware of the giant light show outside? The game shows President Shinra and Rufus as examples, two people who should absolutely be getting a call about this, but whatever, President Shinra’s creepy, evil pride in having his son back is still interesting in its own right, now that the man’s a fully (or near-fully) fleshed character instead of a cartoon. Anyways, this is the game’s excuse for why no one talks about the giant final boss fight that took place not long before the start of FFVII, despite the two of them standing in an office with huge windows, and it is simply pathetic.
We next learn that Tseng’s group has recovered Elfé and reunited her with her father. As a matter of fact, she’s on her feet! Sort of! The two have a brief chat, Elfé dealing with a lot guilt over hosting Zirconiade. Unfortunately, the group is just getting ready to leave when they’re found by some Shinra Grunts, who are apparently also so invested in their current activities that they haven’t noticed a magical nebulae the size of the Burj Khalifa, which by all signs is not a hundred yards from their current location!
After a break for dinner, we arrived at the Torifune/Xibalba, and cut away to the “Control Room,” where Tatsusozou was making a speech. Nothing we hadn’t heard before: punish the world for ill-defined sin, I’m the fake-out villain, blah blah. About the only notable element of the scene was a conversation between him and the only-recently-introduced General Sugawara, which mentioned the latter’s ill-health and how Gozen was apparently going to reward him with eternal life. Tatsusozou then blatantly implied that this would happen via Sugawara transforming into a horrible monster, which went totally over the latter’s head. Tatsusozou is not a subtle villain and I can respect that. By the way, Sugawara, I’m hoping for weaponized bone spurs, you think you can handle that?
At this point, we returned to the party at the gates of the Torifune/Xibalba. Because this game has never seen a scene it’s not happy to duplicate from the original, we get a repeat of the oven room deathtrap from the original game, humorously caused by Tatsuya remembering it happening last time after warning everyone else not to think of anything horrible! Hahahaha… ahhhh…. This isn’t paying off the doldrum of repeated plot in the slightest.
Chapter 22-2: Threatening to Shatter the Very Firmament, Continued
Verdot’s voice from the past reaches out to Tseng in the present, and empower Tseng to somehow take down the robots that nearly wiped him, Rude and Reno combined. After getting everyone back on their feet offscreen, the trio continue their rescue attempt.
Back with our main protagonist, Shotgun is for some reason wondering why AVALANCHE kidnapped Elena. She… already told you this, lady, she’s a witness and they’re just looking for a place to dump her corpse. But it turns out there really is more of it: we cut to the Ravens, who contact Fuhito to inform him that they captured Elena as some sort of pre-arranged objective.
Meanwhile, Sears is running around Wall Market, having apparently learned there’s a way to summon a “Perfect Zirconiade.” “Who knew that there was a way to summon a perfect Zirconiade?” And that I’d learn about it in the Honey Bee Inn! Unfortunately for him, he’s been found by Fuhito, who had previously hinted that he had a loose end to tie up, i.e. Sears himself. It seems Fuhito’s brought Elfé with him in a truck, and is preparing for the summoning. Fuhito demands the doomsday materia that Sears is holding, and Sears rationalizes that there’s no harm in doing so: he plans to summon Zirconiade anyways, and all that really matters is that he be near enough to the materia to break it after the fact. He surrenders.
Session 4 carries through to the end of the game, though it was very close to the line. You’ll have to pardon us for putting optional content on the side like we did, because we gradually came to realize how close we were cutting things and wanted to get the game done! By the way, are we really through nearly two Persona games in a row with no new additions to our tacky Godslayer list? I thought this was a SMT game! (Wandering enemies don’t count. They have to be characters, or at least mandatory bosses!)
We started by going back to the bomb shelter, the second-last time we would do so (while the bomb shelter was “optional content” in the traditional sense, we had cleared the Abandoned Factory in P2IS, and so didn’t give up on the Bomb Shelter until a little later in the session. It probably helped that the Abandoned Factory feigned a shallow level of plot, but the Bomb Shelter had little to say that wasn’t clues to its final puzzle, which we never solved). Unfortunately, despite our best efforts to coax a Shoggoth back to our side to bust open the door from the hub to Room 5, we only ever saw one of them, only enough to restore our Pact but not enough to make a request! We had to go the long way, through Room 4, both forward and back, costing us nearly 45 minutes on one “room” worth of new progress. While we were there, we ran into this game’s version of Izanami as a wandering midboss, no longer with the bizarre pigtails, and got her material card. We would spend much of the session training Izanami only to completely drop her from our final layout. You could say she was the party’s Runner Up, a Persona who would have gotten in if there had been one more slot, as she had an in-combat only healing group spell that was more powerful than Mediarama. Oh well.
If Ririn’s playthrough can be taken literally, and the clues suggest that it might, Episode 22 part 1 and part 2 are interrupted by an update containing one of the game’s bonus episodes. As Tseng will later make reference to the bonus episode, it’s clear it was released at least before Episode 22-2, though I guess we can’t be positive that it was released after or along with 22-1. Episode Tseng is the earliest playable segment in FFVII’s timeline, occurring in “mu 1997,” the previous era, which the opening narration points out is before Kalm was shelled by Verdot’s incompetent artillery crew. As you can expect, we’ll be exploring that time when Verdot saved Tseng’s life.
We get started in Costa Del Sol, where Tseng, using the sames sprites he’s had this entire game, is investigating the curious kidnapping of an otherwise unremarkable reactor guard. The kidnappers took him onboard one of Shinra’s own cargo ships, and Tseng contacts Verdot to tell him that he’s going to look for the control room. Unlike Tseng, Verdot is not using his current sprite, but the younger one that we accidentally got during the rating sequence of Episode 19 for no adequately explained reason. Along with a few missing wrinkles, young Verdot doesn’t yet have a facial scar.
“Goodbye, Nanjo! We’re not returning this!”
The party decides to borrow a boat from Nanjo to attack the Nichirinmaru, and after some jokes about Maya trying to skipper, the audience got a cutscene that showed Chizuru and Kandori were on board the Nichirinmaru. Chizuru actually seems to want Kandori to take over the NWO, something Kandori thinks has to do with her being a woman, but then doesn’t elaborate on? The fuck? I feel like the localization’s been going downhill this session. Kandori says he doesn’t care about who’s in charge here, and Chizuru talks about how his only concerns seem to be Tatsuya (“The Paradox”) and the party. Gosh, I can’t imagine why that would be Chizuru, it’s almost like one of them killed him or something! I think the actual intent is that Kandori is in tune with Nyaralathotep’s game and realizes the party is what’s really important here, but I think the fact that Nanjo/Elly stabbed him to death in the past shouldn’t be overlooked!
At this point, Tatsuya starts firebombing the Nichirinmaru. Just… straight up. Kandori somehow knows Tatsuya’s responsible even though they can’t even see the explosions from where they are. In any event, he and Chizuru escape via one of the submarines they’re keeping on the ship. This is done in pre-rendered CG, and it’s probably the first one in the game I’d consider “poor,” which is still a pretty good proportion of good-to-bad cutscenes by the standards of the era! First off, there’s the design of the ship itself, which is disguised as a cruise ship… except for the blatantly obvious submarine launch bay in the fucking middle. It’s not just a bad design, but it looks hideous. Secondly, the game tries to mix its great 2D (a close-up of Kandori) with its simply passable 3D, and it looks baaaaad.
Chapter 22-1: Threatening to Shatter the Very Firmament
It seems that this episode was released in halves, and perhaps in an even more complicated fashion that we’ll get into later. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! We’re too shitfaced to get ahead of ourselves. Well, Shotgun is, anyways.
We start the chapter by learning that Tseng still hasn’t been kicked out of Top Secert Turks HQ, and is trying to hack his way to find Verdot’s location. Reno is there, but they’re otherwise alone. It’s now one day to Verdot’s execution, and the other Turks, true to their character from FFVII, can now be found in a dive bar.
Session 3 now, from the return to Aoba Park to… well, actually we dicked around for a bit after the last major milestone, so I guess I’ll say “until Tatsuya took us to the Alaya Shrine.”
The return to Aoba Park is a bit of a bore, and I can’t imagine it ever being much better. The Persona 1 and 2 games are not built in such a way that you can get an interesting experience out of repeat dungeons, though for what it’s worth, other series don’t tend to do much better! We did run into one of those wandering secret bosses that the Persona 2 games have, one named Nata, during our very first battle, so that was nice. Apparently, Nata can actually show up during your first trip and will absolutely rock you, so I can’t help but feel fortunate about how things played out, considering the guy was doing more than half our health with each hit even now! (When his buff was active, I mean.)
Chapter 21: Ready to Head to the Finale
That chapter title might be a little overeager, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, even if it wants us to. As a related, but more general, narrative complaint, I want to mention about how the ongoing, “plot coupon” structure is leaving us with no tension in the build-up to the finale. We’re one plot coupon away from the finale and this doesn’t rightly feel any different from the last few missions, or honestly better than filler in general.