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.)
Since you’re encouraged to go through the entire dungeon this time, it’s a bit more likely that you’ll discover the rest of the Wang Long compatibility puzzle given to you by the talking flowers. Kyle and I were wondering what form the actual puzzle would take. We understood that the talking flowers were giving us info on which “dragon” was attached to which month of the year, and we noticed there were at least two “compatible” dragons for each month and at least one “incompatible” one. The actual puzzle (which we had to backtrack to find after reaching the end of the dungeon, though that’s not really our fault, because the last “hint” flower is actually past the big “puzzle” flower) involves a flower asking you which it’s compatible with on a shortlist. Unfortunately, I couldn’t work it out, the info Kyle and I had only gave us one of the puzzle flower’s compatibilities and it was the one that wasn’t on the list. Maybe it was info we missed from somewhere else in the game, I don’t know. We ended up just cheating and got a powerful synth item for our trouble.
After making it to the concert hall, we saw Katsuya arrive on the scene, do a few needless action dives, and ultimately still get surprised by Sneak, who reveals himself as promised. It turns out it’s the chief of police, Togashi, who’s decided to betray the NWO. He explains that the NWO are also cultists who worship a god named Gozen. He then appears to change subject and starts talking about a samurai mummy found in town a few years ago, which is that skeletal centrepiece in the NWO’s opening scene at the start of the game. What’s funny is: the scene never actually says this is Gozen in this scene. It’s obvious just by basic principles of juxtaposition (and is later confirmed by other scenes), and and so I’m not going to take the piss at it, but it did start to get silly after a while, what with Togashi outright abandoning the name “Gozen” and starting to use something else instead! Specifically, Togashi says the mummy is that of the town’s namesake, Kiyotada Sumaru, ruler of the island circa “the Civil War.” Once again, this leaves me with very little to work with, as Japan has had multiple Civil Wars. I think they mean the Sengoku Period in broad, given the mention of the Shogunate and the look of the armour, but don’t know Japanese history well enough to be certain (even if it is the Sengoku Period, I wonder if the original text was more specific, because it was a long stretch of time!).
Confusion aside, Sumaru/Gozen’s mummy has magic powers and is cursing anyone that gets in the NWO’s way, and the faithful are starting to hear voices in their heads. Togashi then outlines the bad guys’ generic “destroy the world” plan, which includes a duology title drop: “The eradication of Sin by Punishment.” The NWO’s motives aren’t actually very interesting, though they do try. If you’ll indulge for a sentence or two, the game is trying to parallel the bad guys wanting to “wipe out sin” against Tatsuya trying to wipe out his (unspecified, arguably nonexistant) sins from the previous world by preventing their recurrence. Unfortunately, I find the comparison doubly weak, since not only is Tatsuya not responsible for anything he claims to be responsible for, but the NWO’s side is just so much late-90s JRPG villain drivel, just stuffing to fill the plot until Nyarlathotep shows up and gives the narrative’s actual antagonistic counterpoint. It’s harder to give a fake-out villain the critical spotlight, because the spotlight – the narrative spotlight – is precisely what they lack by definition, and these guys just don’t deserve the effort! Maybe their motives are Nyarlathotep’s in miniature, but it won’t be better than that. And if neither side’s motivations make sense (Tatsuya’s or the NWO’s), how can I compare their motivations in any depth?
While I may discard the motives, the NWO’s methods should be discussed in detail. Togashi reveals that Wang Long has its roots in a system of twelve leylines that run around the world, leylines that the Wang Long fortune tellers refer to as “dragons.” He addresses the lines as semi-sentient, and reveals the NWO are trying to pull a Dirge of Cerberus (or vice versa, since this game came first) by convincing the governing forces of nature that life is too much of a shit-shape to continue, and then crossing their fingers and hoping the dragons wipe out life on earth (unlike Dirge of Cerberus, that final step isn’t part of the system and doesn’t sound like a guarantee). That’s why they’ve been gathering Kegare, sin, in huge quantities. By the way, they mostly seem to be done that step at this point, as the entirety of Session 3 has included 0 Jokers, and I’m not convinced they’ll be showing up later on! I’ll be disappointed if the Jokers disappear before the end, since they’re a major part of the continuity with P2IS, but if I never see Old Maid again it’ll be too soon, so… maybe it evens out!
Long story short, now that the NWO has soured the pot, they just need to set the dragons “free” by breaking some key mystical sites and everything will go to pot, basically tossing the planet like a baseball off its usual orbit, with all the extra spinning that implies. The NWO plans to escape death by raising Sumaru on top of a spaceship called the “Torifune,” which they created via rumour, just like Jun did with Xibalba in P2IS. As it turns out, it actually is just Xibalba from P2IS, and I guess it was renamed for metaphorical reasons? (It’s the name of Izanami and Izanagi’s flying ship, but I don’t see how that relates? Ed. In fact, I was so confused by this and the way the wiki article on the subject is written that I initially mistook this for a radical and bizarre localization change! Thankfully, EP later clarifies that it was a conscious change, even if it doesn’t explain why!)
You know, I remarked to Kyle that I was really hoping this session would finally have Eternal Punishment break out of Innocent Sin’s mould and do its own thing, but it by-and-large hasn’t, except for a little lean in that direction towards the end of the session. Kyle pointed out that, of course, the game was being similar to Innocent Sin on purpose, and it was probably building to something, but we agreed that this was far from the best implementation of the idea of “repeating a previous entry in a series” that we had ever seen. For a more positive comparison, see my coverage of some of Kingdom Hearts’ entries……… well, some of them.
At this point, who should arrive on scene but Captain Shimazu, still loyal to the NWO. He reveals that Togashi was the one who killed Katsuya and Tatsuya’s father after their father discovered Togashi was burying evidence on the younger Sudou (King Leo), to appease the elder Sudou (Tatsusozou). Togashi admits to the murder, and explains that his guilt over the murder was a heavy motivator in betraying the NWO. Tatsuya takes this extremely well… so well that he almost seems more impressed by Togashi turning over a new leaf more than he seems upset about his father! At… least the man believes in reform!
Togashi tries to defy Shimazu by saying that the truth is out (as though Shimazu couldn’t stop things by killing Katsuya right here and now), and Shimazu says that it doesn’t matter if the truth is out because this works as “advertising” for them and reinforces their rumour magic? …What? If you’re talking about this specific conversation, you know Katsuya already knew about half of this information, right? And isn’t about to go off to tell others? And if they’re talking about the way Togashi’s previous leak (the one about Nanjo and Elly) led to the party spreading a rumour at large, that barely did more than put a name to an anonymous face to a problem that people were already aware of? Does rumour magic just need you to go tell one person one vague thing, and then you can call it a day? I’ve already said the detective agency is undercharging, but are they just walking five steps away to say six words to Bob in the office next door?
Shimzu shoots Togashi (which puts a real crimp in the first theory, the one where Togashi telling Katsuya specifically strengthens the rumour magic!), but then the rest of the party arrives and holds him at gunpoint. Shimazu initially drops his gun, but he gains the upper hand when he calls in six members of Japan’s anti-terrorist Special Assault Team unit. Katsuya ends up breaking the standoff by opening fire, quite out of character for the man, which is probably the game’s way of showing his heightened emotions in this situation… not that they bothered to in any other fashion, even with the murder of his father on the table. Oh well.
Shimazu speaks here, like other bosses in the past, and is the last voice actor I can credit in this production. That’s because he’s Dave Wittenburg, same as Katsuya, essentially taunting himself! By the way, the first time I saw Captain Shimazu’s name on IMDb, it was during the writing of the P2IS, so not only was I unfamiliar with his name, but I was doing my utmost to avoid spoilers, only skimming the list at best. As a result, I misread the name as as “Captain Sumaru” (the name of the town, which is the same between games), and, unable to come to any other conclusion for the name, assumed the island had a superhero running around! You know, like Captain America, Captain Britain, and (even better) uncountable parodies in the style a “Captain Sumaru” would certainly embody. That still seems exactly up 90’s Persona’s alley and I’m kind of disappointed I was wrong! This being the 90s, I also figured he’d be Super Sentai themed. God, this idea is getting better and better. As I waited anxiously for this amazing plot twist I dreamed up to happen, I realized that since Dave Wittenberg voiced both, the superhero-I-had-actually-made-up might be none other than Katsuya. Yes, our stuffy cop friend was actually moonlighting as a flamboyant, sentai-style superhero! It’s perfect! I imagined he had a cape. This is the greatest idea I have ever had, and every minute I spend blogging instead of lobbying Atlus for its creation is a loss for humanity as a whole.
The actual boss fight involved Shimazu and four members of the SAT. The Persona 2 duology has been exploring almost all possible ways you could do a group boss fight, and here’s another one: it’s a boss fight with minions, but the minions are actually quite strong, and the boss is only a teensy bit stronger. While we had spent most of the dungeon using the three-person Tidal Wave fusion spell to kill enemies, the SAT were strong against it and frequently threw grenades (while… chanting?) to put us to sleep. Since losing even a single member of the trio to sleep would cost us our spell combo, it wasn’t worth using and we switched to individual spells. Unfortunately, the SAT had a special skill called “Aimed Shot,” which could cause instant death, and there were a few times when all four of them would use it in a row! Thankfully, Elly’s Persona deflected bullets (and was simply immune to Aimed Shot), but poor Ulala spent over half the fight dead, since the SAT seemed to pick on her special. Oh well, we pulled through.
With Shimazu and Togashi both dead, we were out of leads. Baofu suggested we go back to his “lair,” but you’ll remember that we had advice from the walkthrough not to go straight away, and headed to the next of the game’s bonus dungeons instead, Seedy CD. Seedy CD opens with you meeting Ixquic/Akari, basically just here as a quest-giving cameo, who gives you a rumour about a demon in the upper levels. But like I’ve already said, there’s bad news: the demons themselves have strung up a rumour that Personas can’t be used in the dungeon! You have to attack the old fashioned way, the way Kyle and I have left on the back shelf for basically the start of Persona 1. Thankfully, the enemies were really quite weak, but the rumour demon never showed for us, and according to the walkthrough she frequently escapes the fight when she does show! I later learned that you get a key synthesis item for completing the second mission in Seedy CD, but the only way to start it is to finish this one first. In fact, after reading about it, the second mission seems so easy that it feels like the real challenge is grabbing this first rumour demon to get it out of the way! We’ll have to return to this later, if we do it at all.
Giving in to the plot, we went to Baofu’s lair, where we did a time skip to Baofu getting an alarm that one the wiretaps he had placed on Tatsuzou’s phone was live. Our (mortal) big bad was talking with Yung Pao, the Taiwanese gangster that Baofu seemed to know. Yung Pao wanted both payment and a pre-arranged additional reward for his services: he was looking for someone he called “brother,” and as part of the reward, Tatsuzou said that this “brother” was in the country now. As for the money, the two of them arranged for a meet-up at the abandoned factory, the bonus dungeon from P2IS. Baofu then heads off to follow this new lead, and… no one… follows him? He outright leaves the party in the process? To make things even stranger, when we get to the dungeon, he’ll actually reunite with the party before leaving again? I guess they took him out as a metagaming warning that he wouldn’t be around later? A warning that’s still partially too late? I guess it works to a degree…
Before we left, we got another look at the worship room for the bad guys. All the surviving bad guys were gathered, and now that I’m able to look at these figures with a familiar eye, I can tell that four characters are probably just generic NPCs, but there is one new, named face: General Sugawara, a man who looked very ill. He mentioned the X-1, the “nerve-tank” we had uncovered earlier, and implied that we’d be seeing it soon. After a few words about Gozen (reinforcing that he was the deified mummy), Kandori was left alone and had a few things to monologue about “chaos” before giving a meaningful glance at the mummy. Bearing in mind Nyarlathotep’s name as “the Crawling Chaos,” this seemed like a strong suggestion that Nyarlathotep’s pawn from P1 recognized his former master in the role Gozen was playing in this game. As I told Kyle at the time, I was disappointed they did this, because I had actually been playing a game of “which villain is actually Nyarlathotep in disguise this time,” because the game was being so cyclical that there was no other way this could be played. Oh, I definitely figured it was the mummy, but Kandori himself was my number two guess (like Hitler, he’s a dead man revived as a rumour-demon, so fits the profile), with Tatsuzou in third. But now Kandori’s gone and spoiled my little guessing game!
Katsuya whispered about Baofu with Nanjo, and we left the latter to go to the drop, after quite a few resets to get another one of those randomized rumours to come up our way.
Much to Kyle’s admiration, the party actually manages to sneak in on the meeting without screwing anything up! Against professional gangsters and cultists and everything! Unfortunately for them, there was never going to be a meeting. Four Japanese soldiers and an X-1 stormed in (the X-1 turned out to be a Front Mission-styled, bulky, bipedal mech with a katana!), killing all the gangsters except Yung Pao, who managed to escape. Baofu bolted after his enemy, while the rest of the party just sort of… ran away from the army, as anyone would in the same situation. And so began another slog of mapping. This dungeon was easily the simplest of our session to map, even without Baofu, taking up “only” two hours from start to finish. We made friends with a Shoggoth, hoping to open that passage in the Bomb Shelter, but it turned out we were wasting our time as you can’t actually open the passage until you talk to a Shoggoth in the bomb shelter, and we only unlocked that towards the final minutes of our session! We kept our pact slot locked down with the Shoggoth for a while, too, a huge waste.
The dungeon wasn’t all that bad. Within only a few minutes we came to its big gimmick: a set of treadmills and a few ill-placed pit traps. You have to find the switch that reverses the treadmills beyond a door locked with a password, a password based on a date of dubious significance (Ed. it never came to anything, but making it a date was still more realistic than you’d normally find in a game!). If you’re mapping, you also need to ride all of the treadmills no matter how many times they force you to fall into boring holes to reset. Would have taken half the time without the need to map, but even that’s better than I can say for later dungeons…
You know, I’m starting to think 90s Persona is a huge deadweight on this Journal. Not only did the first game cost us several meet-ups with its late-game grinding, but the games have us spending hours just navigating generally unremarkable dungeons, applying the bloated random encounter rate and time-wasting dungeon gimmicks invented to extend the play-time of tiny 80s RPGs to full-sized modern RPGs. This leaves us with an incredibly sparse “content-to-Journal” ratio. I think the sooner they’re behind us, the better.
Baofu catches up to Yung Pao, and there’s a preposterous moment where they both jump out of cover and Baofu somehow manages to disarm Yung Pao of two submachine guns using only his coins, despite Yung Pao firing right at him with both guns! Baofu picks up one of the guns, but the party shows up to confront him before he can fire. Katsuya tries to appeal to Baofu by revealing that he’s uncovered Baofu’s past without his permission, thanks to Nanjo’s unlimited resources! What a friend! It turns out that Baofu is Kaoru Saga, former Sumaru prosecutor, and his girlfriend was killed in an mob-created “accident” when the two of them were in Taiwan five years ago. Katsuya has also deduced that Tasuzou knew about Baofu’s wiretap, and used it to lead the party into the trap he was making for Yung Pao. Further, Katsuya figures Baofu had worked all of this out, and led them in to the trap because he didn’t want to lose the chance to get to Yung Pao first, even if it meant risking the party’s lives!
I’m not particularly impressed by Katsuya’s arguments against shooting Yung Pao. Oh yes, save Baofu from the crime of revenge, Katsuya! Katsuya, the man who opened fire on members of the police force for murdering his father not one dungeon ago. Save him from committing murder, man who in the typical video game fashion has already killed more human beings with his own two hands in the last few days than nearly any other person in history, and is not about to stop now! Pathetic. After shaming Baofu for that, Katsuya also raises the rapidly irrelevant idea of getting Yung Pao to testify against the NWO, as though the world weren’t hours from being hurled into the sun. God, what a speech that turned out to be.
Long story short, the lecture is irrelevant, as the X-1 interrupts proceedings and you fight it. It had some powerful-enough group attacks, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle with Mediarama and ultimately wasn’t a huge threat. Unfortunately, the X-1 shot Yung Pao at some point in the firefight (possibly the moment it barged in), and he was now dying. He passed on information that Tatsuzou was going to release one of the dragons personally in an otherwise unknown ruin under the sea off the coast of Sumaru, and even gave us the name of his ship, the Nichirinmaru, possibly named after a WWII tanker?
After some shopping, including some new Personas, we met up with none other than Reiji in town. As we were Elly players, this was our first meeting, but he didn’t have much to say. We also did some manhunting, including a secret one you can’t actually solve on your own. No, you actually must to pay off the advice guy who hangs out in the manhunting/ramen shop, who will tell you that the person you’re searching for literally doesn’t exist. But does the party give up? Not at all – instead, they use a rumour to create the person in question, who gives them instructions on how to create the Legendary Weapons via synthesis. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the materials yet, but first things first!
At this point, we decided to challenge the game’s third bonus dungeon, a speed-run dungeon at the casino. This dungeon is all kinds of bullshit. You actually have to make your way through it and back (something I don’t feel they spell out very clearly, by the way), and we couldn’t even do the first step on our first try. Save scumming is almost required. There’s actually a superfluous plot in the dungeon: a rumour-demon (that you have to set up before you can start the dungeon) captures Trish’s fountain and you have to help her clear it, which involves some backtracking. Strangely, the boss is actually weaker than most of the random enemies in the place! After you’re done, you get to button-mash for free cash, plus the prize for the rumour-demon. It’s all very strange.