Persona 2: Eternal Punishment – The Water Dungeon

p2ep-00127

“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.

p2ep-00130The party gets on board not long after Tatsuya, and we come to the scene where they’re gunning down soldiers. The game even gives the soldiers pools of blood to die in, an almost shocking subversion of the “Banon problem” I keep having to put up with in Final Fantasy, where the good guys do “clean” violence and only the bad guys do “messy” violence. Who’d have figured!

The Nichirinmaru was the longest mappable dungeon so far. At first it all seemed quite reasonable. It was boat-shaped, it had an elevator with access to several floors, we eventually found the “right” path and turned back to map the “wrong” ones (which is leagues better than turning away from the “wrong” path to accidentally map the “right”!), and I think if it had ended just a few rooms after those sections, I’d remember it as being an okay dungeon. But it did not end there. Ye gods, did it not. After a certain point, the resemblance to a boat just surrendered and died, and we got mazes and pit traps straight out of the 80s, not to mention loads of backtracking when we missed the “wrong” path later on (in one instance, we overlooked a one-way backtracking shortcut, and that’s on us, but in all other instances it was the game’s fault). The entire dungeon took three and a half hours to complete. By the way, I couldn’t initially get you that number for you as I was typing the very first draft, because I was doing so the day after we played. Why is that significant? Well, the dungeons in this session have been so long and superfluous that I actually caught up to the program that was reformatting our video footage as I was typing! I had to wait another forty minutes for it to finish before the recording was finished converting so that I could get the final number! Argh, this game!

p2ep-00129Three hours into the dungeon and thanks to a defecting soldier, the party learned that Tatsuzou was abandoning the boat via helicopter. We and Tatsuya arrived at the same time to confront him, and after some generic blathering about “erasing original sin” (which was at least more interesting and specific than the other clichés these villains have been spouting), we ended up having to fight multiple X-1s, three against the party and one supposedly fighting Tatsuya in the background. Still no big deal, hell, even easier thanks to the last three hours of mapping and thus grinding. Naturally, the bad guy escaped. Tatsuya stormed off, shouting at Maya for coming here against his warning. The party decided they shouldn’t leave, however, as they had heard about Kandori and Chizuru heading to the ley line and still hoped there was time to stop them. Yeah, sure, after another hour of mapping we’ll get started on that, maybe, I’m sure they won’t get far!

After some more mazes, we found another submarine (Tatsuya somehow piloted an upgraded model of the X-1 underwater, raising a lot of questions. What is a “nerve tank” anyways?). You know, as I remarked to Kyle at the time, this was all giving me Perfect Dark vibes. The Pelagic II mission in Perfect Dark has you boarding an undersea research vessel, needlessly structured like a maze, to steal a submarine the bad guys left behind, so that you can go an underwater ruin after them! And since I have leftover bad blood from the Pelagic II missions for having a hard speed run time to unlock one of the game’s bonuses, I think that made this entire experience here in P2EP all the worse, you know?

p2ep-00133The party headed down to the next dungeon, with no option to go back to town. On the upside, this serves as an excuse for why you don’t have an assignment to map this place, which the developers probably did because it would take a fucking eon. You see, this dungeon was all about traps, mostly pit traps (starting with a clever gimmick where the party thinks they’re almost at the boss just a few minutes in, and then they fall through the floor!). To map the dungeon fully, you’d have to trigger every one of its hundreds of traps! Just completing the dungeon as-is took forever, since we had to loop back through the majority of the dungeon each time we fell into the traps! Trish basically became our best friend (preposterous as that may seem) because we had to visit her over and over (the major pit traps drop you near her), and she was barely selling healing for way lower than usual. With the help of our half price rumour, she was barely charging more than a single combat’s worth of money for each healing, which means even her full price wouldn’t have been that awful!

Thankfully, I eventually checked a walkthrough and learned one of the dungeon’s big tricks: once you do fall, map the area. Anywhere with an obstacle on the lower level can’t have a pit trap, because there’s nowhere to fall underneath them! The game actually uses this for a major puzzle towards the end of the dungeon, it’s quite clever to walk through a trap-filled room by checking the other level of a map, loading times notwithstanding!

p2ep-00134But don’t let my cheeriness convince you that this was a fun time. It was otherwise a complete chore, even with a guide at hand. I say “arguably” because we actually had one of the luckiest break in Marathon history while puzzling out the early stages of the dungeon. You see, the undersea ruins has a hidden treasure room, and the walkthrough had warned us about it up-front. The walkthrough told us that the only way to get into the treasure room is to pact with the demon Aeshma and to ask her about demon rumours. She’ll eventually (randomly) give you the rumour that lets the demon Leviathan break the door, similar to the rocks in the Bomb Shelter but only found when talking to this one demon. According to the walkthrough guy, this can take ages, so much so that he actually – and we nearly fainted at this – recommends you go hunting for Fool Arcana cards while you wait, a process so stupid that it deserves to be in the top ten of any list of ridiculous tasks games have asked people to achieve. It’s so long and complicated that I don’t think I should waste time talking about it here. But the two of us actually got Aeshma to give us the rumour in only four attempts (and one of the others gave us another rumour we were missing!). Holy shit! The treasure room is needlessly huge, by the way, and full of HP and SP traps, it took Kyle forever just to walk in and out of it.

Speaking of luck, we also set up the Persona Barbatos to use a fusion spell that’s basically like a Final Fantasy summon via a luck-based process (actually, we screwed up the process at first, but long story short, we got there). While we were at it, we raised and entire crop of new Personas for the entire party, giving everyone access to –dyne-level (third tier) spells! It was a productive day, even a rewarding experience at times, but not enough to redeem the session as a whole. Even when the game was dropping virtual gold out of its Skinner Boxes, it wasn’t paying off its complications, and I think that says a lot about these past few dungeons, if not Eternal Punishment or even P2 at large. The process took four hours and fifteen minutes. Four hours. And fifteen minutes.

p2ep-00135The party finds Kandori, Chizuro and Tatsuya having a showdown at the dragon’s seal. Unfortunately, the bad guys had just now broken the seal… despite seven real-world hours head start. I like to pretend we weren’t the only one having trouble navigating the place! Julius would be proud. Kandori announces that the NWO has also broken the seals on 11 other dragons, the biggest off-screen cop-out I’ve seen since FFIV:TAY repeated an already pathetic series of off-screen events from FFIV itself (the capture of the Dark Crystals)! But you know what, if the devs had made us go to more than one “dragon dungeon,” that would have been just like the redundant temples from P2IS, so what the hell. The two admins decided to fight us, and they end up calling their targets based on who you recruited from P1: your party ends up fighting whoever they fought in the character-specific dungeon from mid-game, and Tatsuya ends up fighting the other. Our fight against Chizuru is supposed to be nowhere near as hard as the fight Nanjo players have against Kandori, especially since Kandori has four of the modified X-1s to help him and she doesn’t (for reasons that will become clear in a moment)! What’s weird is that this isn’t just a fan consensus: Chizuru is worth around half as much EXP as Kandori, and the devs just didn’t bother to balance it! And that’s bizarre, because they easily could have, like… removed some X-1s from his fight?

This second Chizuro battle is a weird one, no doubt about it. Chizuru is strong against magic and weak against physical, but the devs weren’t about to repeat the mistake they made with, say, the Metal Mama fight in P2IS where the player can basically go to sleep by doing nothing but auto-attacks. Chizuru frequently uses a skill called “Card of Protection” to summon four duplicates of herself, which not only attack, but will reflect all attacks directed at them! Unfortunately, casting spells is the fastest way to identify the real Chizuro! To make matters worse, even though Personas normally nullify, absorb or reflect their primary element, all of the new-generation Personas we had created during the dungeon unusually had neutral defences to their primary element, which meant that the reflected spells would hurt us, and bad! It took a few turns for me to work out which of our reserve Personas could both cast group spells and absorb the reflection of their own element. To rub salt in it: by the time I hooked Baofu up to the right element, Chizuro inflicted  the Fury status effect on him, forcing him to doing nothing but physical attacks, and there’s nothing we could do to cure him! Once you identify the real Chizuro, you have to attack the real her with a physical attack to destroy the copies. If you physically attack a fake, Chizuro silently “shuffles” position. Unfortunately for Chizuro, I eventually found other Personas that could help me out. So long as I could outpace Baofu, I would leave him with only one target, the real Chizuro. Even better, Fury boosts your damage output (and it’s a far higher boost than Final Fantasy’s Berserk), so every one of Baofu’s attacks counted. Tatsuya beat Kandori off-screen, and it was game over for the character-specific bosses.

p2ep-00136With the dragon escaping, the dungeon was going to collapse. After the fight, Kandori asked Tatsuya if he could “break the chains of fate,” and Tatsuya told Kandori (as the player already knew) that is basically his only motivation. This seemed to reassure Kandori, and he told us to leave, opening fire when we tried to help him. Chizuru deduced that he “wanted to hear the words… from the boy,” and that was all he had come here to do. That’s a… funny motivation, Kandori, but I guess I can sort of understand it if you think you’ve also been trapped by the chains of fate, or the chains of Nyarlathotep as the case may be. Chizuru then implied she was in love with Kandori, which I guess explains her motiveless complaints about the NWO’s leadership, but is still some pretty shoddy characterization. The two stayed behind and died as the ruins fell in, the party escaping just fine (don’t worry, even though this dungeon was a huge deathtrap, it’s really easy to get out. If they had forced us to do the walking ourselves, we could have been been back to the start inside of five minutes!).

Tatsuya tried to blow the party off after they reached port together, but Baofu got him to stay by way of turning the tables on Katsuya for spying on his background earlier in the game. It seems Baofu had since done his own off-screen spying, and learned that Katsuya had been “saving money from his paycheck for [Tatsuya],” but he doesn’t specify what for, which kind of took the wind out of it. Katsuya is Tatsuya’s guardian, right? I mean… I should hope he’s saving money for Tatsuya, at least to feed and house him, to provide for emergencies! Even setting aside some money for college isn’t as shocking as they’re implying this reveal is supposed to be, given Katsuya’s personality, even though I suspect that’s what they’re trying to imply. The party dogged Tatsuya to reveal his motivations for running around as a lone wolf, ranting about fate, and he directed them to go to the Alaya Shrine so that he could explain.

p2ep-00138At the start of this session, I promised you that this would end with some running around, and, well, here we be. While we followed part of the plot in the middle, I’m going to describe it last to make for a better cliffhanger (I’m finding that a lot of my posts since I started this “written after the session” format have ended with dull shopping, and want to improve on that). We cashed our map, bought some new armour, worried about whether we should buy even more armour, because I was starting to suspect that Tatsuya might join us by replacing Elly, just like how Jun replaced Yukino in P2IS, so should we really buy her new equipment, especially if it was gender-specific (as many of them were)? We also got a sweet bonus armour from a rumour demon quest we had completed on the ship (god knows we were there long enough to find any rumour demons), which we gave to Elly… cautiously. Maya had the super-armour being sold at the shop from an earlier purchase, so we were looking pretty sturdy!

While we were wandering around, we talked to Maki from P1, realizing we had probably missed her introduction speech like we might have done Reiji. We had! On a repeat chat, she talked about how regretful she was that Kandori had died without a chance to reform, stemming off from that brief mention of regret during the Nanjo storyline.

p2ep-00139One of the things we did at the end was to go to the shrine, as I saw in the walkthrough that it wouldn’t be a long meeting. Maya responded to the Alaya Shrine by having a flashback to the previous universe and her nearly dying in the Shrine as a teenager in that universe. Tatsuya flat-out told the party that there’s another universe out there, but didn’t say anything more. Instead, he decided to go to the nearby mountain (dubbed Mt. Mifune in this translation, possibly due to space limitations?) to show them there in the magic pools and all that. Repeat, repeat, repeat. As I said to Kyle at the time, “Next time we play, we get to learn stuff we already know!” It’s kind of weird, considering P2EP was never designed to be released as a standalone, but we’ve come to a portion that’s demonstrably better in the original western release, because that audience would be genuinely learning or confirming new facts, instead of dryly repeating facts they already know! What an angle!

At this point, we parked in front of Cuss High to go to the Bomb Shelter at the start of our next session, and we set the game down for the night. But something happened after we went to bed! It’s a bad practice of mine to edit Journal posts just after they go up, in addition to all the editing before they go up. And as it happened, we had been hanging out on a Saturday, and after midnight one of my early posts for Innocent Sin went live on the blog. Lo and behold, I went to edit it… and made a discovery! The post was this one, which includes the flashback of Tatsuya and Jun exchanging gifts, when suddenly a bizarrely unexplained man appears from a nearby bar, says a few words to them, and walks basically straight out of the game. Remember him? We had been so confused by this at the time that when I showed Kyle my discovery the next day, he mis-remembered it as being “that detective” (I should have asked who he meant specifically), but no, it was never a detective. A lot of squinting – and more importantly, a look at his name – marks this as Innocent Sin’s only in-person appearance of Baofu, aka Kaoru Saga, former prosecutor! An interesting way to cap off a deeply uninteresting day of gameplay.

Wrap it up, P2. Wrap it up.

Prev: Persona 2: Eternal Punishment – We Fought the Law
Next: Persona 2: Eternal Punishment – Be Kind, Rewind

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