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.
The party finally arrives at Mt. Iwato, which Elly compares to the Alaya Shrine caves from her hometown. While the dungeon only partially resembles its original self from P2IS (enough that I recognized the layout of the final few rooms), it was somewhat modified and that ultimately threw us off. The walkthrough writer made a big fuss about the dungeon being annoying because you need to step in a lot of traps to map it, but the damage floors barely hurt us (the game would employ more dangerous damage floors in a later dungeon, so I don’t know what was up with these ones) and there were only a few pit traps to fall in, a lot of them not far from the stairs leading back up! Honestly, I’d put it at the bottom of my mapping nuisances list overall, comparable to and probably even beating the treadmill-and-pit setup of the P2EP Abandoned Factory. The dungeon also had a few doors that lead to hidden rooms containing your ultimate Persona items, barely hidden at all compared to past games, though as both the walkthrough and wiki point out, they aren’t as strong as they were in the past (despite being much higher level!).
Tatsuya led us to the first (still hideous) pool, where a memory appeared in front of us without any prompting. It turned out to be one of Elly’s, despite her being relatively unconnected to Tatsuya and his motives, which I think is a good lead-in. Naturally, the Nanjo version of this scene is different, the last major difference in the two campaigns. The two scenes actually run back-to-back even though they’re from entirely different campaigns, so I’ll discuss Nanjo’s scene first. It’s the last day of high school for the Persona 1 cast, and Sorrow, Nanjo, Elly and Maki are meeting to say their goodbyes. They comment briefly on Brown and Mark being absent, with no mention of the others (including the virtually erased Ayase). When Matsuoka, who has apparently already entered Nanjo’s employ, shows up to collect him, Maki suggests they make the pact to accomplish their dreams, and it’s weird that they set up this pact in Nanjo’s storyline, considering it means more to Elly than to him? It’s not like they don’t mention the pact in her part, it’s just… why is he hung up on this memory? If you talk to Nanjo after the flashback, he remarks on a male character “open[ing] his eyes” to his own potential, though frankly it’s unclear to me if he means Sorrow or Matsuoka.
Elly’s scene follows after Matsuoka drives Nanjo off, where Sorrow reveals to his two remaining friends that he’s leaving town. This is apparently a big shock to both of them, even though Sorrow was like… dating Maki at the end of P1? Or something? God, who would have thought a silent protagonist would be so bad at communicating? Maki tries to raise everyone’s spirits by talking about how Elly recently won an audition for a modelling job, and this segues to her and Sorrow making the promise that Nanjo set up in his version of the scene.
From this point out, all the remaining flashbacks are from Tatsuya’s memory, so buckle yourself in as we relive P2IS in brief. I can appreciate how important this would have been to the international audience, but bear in mind that the devs had planned to do this relatively early on their home market! In fact, Atlus has never really designed with the west in mind, certainly not before P3 became a smash hit, so the most generous way I can take this is that these scenes were for Japanese players that never played P2IS… even though that doesn’t improve things in the slightest for those who had! Argh, let’s move on!
We first revisit the scene where Tatsuya, Michel and Lisa initially met up with Maya and Yuki, and then return to the present, where everyone expresses confusion at this alternate meeting. Tatusya, finally fed-up with everyone’s genre blindness, gives up on these flashbacks breaking down the walls of everyone’s ignorance and outright tells them that they’re dealing with an AU situation. Sure, uh, that was just the whole point of this immersive flashback experience, but go right ahead and skip it, Ta-chan! About the only interesting fact here is that Tatsuya claims to be in a more complex personal situation than we imagined. Instead of being the same person in an alternate life, he claims that he’s the soul of the original Tatusya somehow impressed on the Tatsuya of this universe. This is a major hangup for him at times, as he feels like he’s violating this other Tatsuya, making me wonder if this was the “sin” he keeps claiming to have committed.
Ironically, I had been reading another story with a similar setup (possessor in a guilt spiral over possessing a certain body they may or may not have a “right” to) not two days earlier! What are the odds! If you must know, it was the original Batman and the Outsiders series from the 1980s. Not entirely because of Young Justice season 3, but I may have rushed to the end of volume 1 because of it, so… you know.
Tatsuya uses a memory of King Leo as a segue and means to describe the body of P2IS’s plot, just to get it out of the way. He clarifies that Leo, this world’s original Joker, isn’t in the same position as his own dimension-hopping self, despite the similarities. Leo only knew about the previous universe because “he” (Nyarlathotep) told him about it. This seems like a lot of words to explain a distinction of no consequence (except as an introduction to Nyarly), but once you learn how Tatsuya remembers things at the end of the game, it will make sense that a guy who died in the previous universe wouldn’t have been able to do the same, and I guess that mattered to someone on the dev team. I still think that if I had been head editor, I would have passed on it. Maya’s connection is also different than both of the others, but that’s obvious to the player (especially a P2IS player) and warranted an explanation a little more. One nice detail in this scene is that, if you talk to Elly after the fact, she wonders if Tatsuya’s alternate selves are similar to Maki’s from P1. Unfortunately the game doesn’t make a bigger deal out of that, but the game is already straining to carry the baggage from from P2IS that maybe it’s for the best.
Flashback three is Tatsuya’s prop for introducing Nyarlathotep, and his telling you that he figures the Outer God is responsible for the NWO as well. Once again this prompts Elly to talk about P1 and how Nyarlathotep was a Persona in that era (both Kandori’s and one of the ones you could summon yourself). Now this is a detail I wish they could talk a bit more about. How did Nyarlathotep factor into P1? Why make the connection if you don’t plan to expand on it?
Moving on from Elly, this scene was also the first of several in the final stretch of P2EP that showed signs of inadequate localization. In this case the problem was innocent, and I’m not sure why I latched on to it, but in hindsight it was a sign of things to come: Ulala derives what’s going to be a very important fact about Nyarlathotep: he lives in all human souls, from a throwaway detail in Tatsuya’s speech, a passing and clearly metaphorical statement about Nyarlathotep being a devil figure that he throwaway describes as “the shadow that lurks deep within man’s heart.” The specificity is important to the late game’s metaphors, and Ulala drew it from a trifle in this translation. I know, I know, it’s not a perfect example, but I did spot it at the time and discussed it with Kyle at the time, and it’s going to keep happening, becoming broader and broader as time goes on. I swear at least a third of this session’s most important lore bits appear without proper setup in this translation. I’ll try to find better examples as we move along.
In the final room, Tatsuya flashes back to Maya’s death and how everyone gave up their memories of the P2IS world by remaking it to make the P2EP world. It’s here where Tatsuya finally gives us new information, although it’s not initially clear where it came from (although the game does do enough, in my mind, to make it suspicious!). It seems that if the P2IS party regains their memories of the past world, they won’t just be traumatised (which is all Tatsuya seemed to be defending them from before), but the world will literally end, because their loss of memories are part of the bargain that reformed the planet.
Wanting to spare Maya from more, he asks the entire group to buzz off. If that sounds strange (surely she must remember everything now, he literally described her death!), it’s because it should, and the speaking party members (i.e. not Maya) point out that they’ve basically tricked him into telling them everything. How he didn’t realize it had all come out, I can’t imagine, but like I was just saying, the translation is starting to fall apart as we get more complex. Furthermore, many games are developed with the nagging fact that less players will see things from later in the game, and that can sometimes result in a gradually weakening level of quality as the storyline moves on. When we chose to have Maya try to comfort Tatsuya, he voiced more of his concerns about taking over the body of “this” Tatsuya. During a lull in the conversation, Elly did as I had predicted (Kyle had not!) and offered to leave the party so that he could take over. Unusually, because Elly’s current Persona wasn’t exclusive, it got dumped into the party’s common pool, and we had to swap a Persona out of our list so that it could stay with us after Tatsuya joined with his Apollo!
We were unable to summon our Ultimate Personas at our current level, or anything worth palling around with in the interim, so went more-or-less straight to the next dungeon after our mansearches and after landing the game’s last variable rumour on our first try. Since Kandori had given us a clue about Tatsusozou going underground to find the Torifune, the party concludes that… well actually, they don’t conclude anything! The walkthrough wasn’t helpful either, telling us the name of the location but not which of the city’s half-dozen districts it was in! It turns out you have to go to the subway station in the Narumi district, where the party straight-up hijacks a subway care to find the NWO’s excavations (for some reason letting Maya drive? They should have made a joke about her not being to steer). Here, the party asked some inevitable questions about their ulternate universe selves, with no remarkable results, followed by Tatsuya abruptly asking Baofu about what it meant to be an adult. Discussions on what it means to be an adult basically became a running theme for the rest of the game, with Baofu and Ulala having little positive to say about the experience, Maya being the mute protagonist, and Katsuya having little to say on the matter, for reasons we would only learn towards the end. Well, good luck with that, Tatsuya!
However, after we reached the dungeon, we decided to go back to town on a walkthrough’s advice. For some strange reason, the game only unlocks the next set of Bomb Shelter rooms after you start this dungeon, rather than after you end the previous dungeon like you’d expect? At the entrance to the Bomb Shelter, we ran into Yasuo, the class president who had tried to kill us in the alternate universe, who was now only here to talk about a rumour demon. This would be the last notable bit of optional content we participated in with this session, and I’m of mixed minds as to how it affected us. You see, the rumour demon showed up straight away once we reached the new Bomb Shelter room, but then used its secret technique, Prophecy, which kills the monster but drops all your equipped Persona’s Ranks back to 1. And because it was a randomly appearing rumour demon in a game that refuses to let you find the rumour demons, I urged Kyle to save before we learned what had happened! Now, in a broad way this didn’t hurt much: most of our Personas had been switched over rather recently, so the only one who took a hit was Izanami, whom we had been grinding all the past dungeon… but remember that Izanami turned out to be a giant waste of time, so doubling her time in the party probably wasn’t for the best!
To throw salt on it, we forgot to return for our prizes for completing this quest and didn’t get them until way later, and I wish that we had, because they were extremely valuable: accessories that increased the Rank EXP of Personas, the Mutation rate of Personas, and the MP cost of spells. Without these items, we would have never had our end game party, and if we had picked them up when we were supposed to, things could have been so much better!
After searching the Bomb Shelter room for the usuals, we got back to business in the subway. This was our last-ever trip to the Bomb Shelter, so for the record: the prizes for completing the dungeon’s big puzzles include a synth material to make a legendary weapon, and also a ring that you can later use to recruit series superboss Alice as a Persona, not that we would have ever been high enough level to do so!
Despite the walkthrough writer’s claim that the subway dungeon would be straightforward, we found it to be rather maze-like, with Kyle even getting lost at a point. After finding the previous dungeon easy when he found it hard, I think we’re falling out of step with this walkthrough guy, here! Thankfully you don’t have to map the place (it’s the follow-up dungeon you have to map). This dungeon marked the start of the game’s recurring use of magic-immune casters to disrupt group attacks (but with more variety than P2IS ever had), forcing you to tediously menu-dive to swap your strategy every single combat, something I could live without although I recognize that without it, the game really lacks in tactical difficulty! I suppose I’d have more sympathy if these problems weren’t rooted in the gameplay being terrible, but we do what we must. The army started to fight us here in bulk. They were a “refreshing” sight, since we could easily wipe them out with our setup, even though our Personas had been reset to Rank 1. They also gave huge chunks of EXP in comparison to the local demons. True, they had an attack that was basically the most dangerous in the dungeon, but they only used it at random, and it barely ever happened!
Since the cutscenes pick up in bulk at this point, we’ll have to continue in the next update! This matches up with a real-world break we took at the time, so it probably feels more appropriate to me than it does to you, but… sorry!