We went to Tatsusozou’s new home, Sumaru Castle, and discovered there was only a single room inside at ground level. There, two Wang Long statues literally spoke to us, finally giving us some insight into the term “Kotodama” (you’ll remember that the game started acting like we already knew what this was basically at the game’s 10% mark and never let up until right now at the 90% mark). It turns out Kotodama is just a kind of prayer in this fictional religion. The statues tasked us to use a series of teleporters, arranged like the Big Dipper, to learn a kotodama that would presumably unlock our way into the castle via an eighth teleporter. The Ursa Major rooms were all designed in a different fashion, but in a weird, last-minute sort of way that gave them either half-baked ideas (a maze with teleporters! Yes! Two whole teleporters!) or just plain short (one of them literally just has you walk up some stairs and then out). Probably the only notable thing that happened to us here was that I was walking back towards town to heal at one point, only to step on a teleporter by accident… where I discovered the gimmick was “you get the kotodama for free but the exit portal is lost.” And fuck you too, gods of coincidence!
The strange thing was that despite each of the lithographs that taught us the kotodama (which were just letters of a single word) insisting that the letters would have to be entered “in sequence indicated by the Ursa Major,” i.e. either left to right or right to left, depending on which language’s reading order you wanted to go with… the actual final word is an anagram, and you only learn the order when you’re about to enter it (although I suppose we could have done that earlier). Worse still, it refers to the lithographs that told us the kotodama by name, and we never wrote that down, so ultimately we just checked a walkthrough. Like hell we were going to replay the entire dungeon just because they hadn’t properly explained their puzzle! The word turned out to be “Perseus,” and even Katsuya notes how weird that is, since it seems to have nothing to do with anything, and is probably just the localization team’s way of converting a seven-kana puzzle into a seven-letter password, similar to the equally iffy Shinra Library puzzle in FFVII. You’ve got to feel for them, and their having Katsuya lampshade it was honestly the best compromise. I’ve frequently complained that I don’t find lampshading adequate (“the lamp is still in the room”) but the localizers’ options were extremely limited here and this was probably the best course of action in the end.
During the hunt for the lithographs, we ran into rooms housing the mummies of the three heroes that had defeated Gozen in the past… urm, the two we had rumour-created, anyways. The third was replaced with a Kegare storage room, which was actually kind of a cool feature to replace this optional content! I wonder if the other two would have also been Kegare storage rooms? The two heroes joined us as prospective Personas, and I do mean “prospective,” as here we come to a second problem: one of them, for some godforsaken reason, is a Fool Arcana Persona, and a four-card one even though the player can only guarantee 3 such cards from Salam. The only way to get the fourth is the usual, horrible, horrible method, and it’s just not worth the trouble! The walkthrough writer adds that they’re not even any good, except for their upcoming special power, and the fact that the princess shares a few rare spells with Izanami, whom we already had. We didn’t even bother to summon them from the Velvet Room.
After entering the word, we went into a room that tried to coax you into identifying a repeating symbol on the floor tiles. The symbol changed (rotated) whenever you hit a “large circle” on the tiles, and Kyle quickly deduced that it was faster to just turn the camera and find the nearest large circle and walk towards it. He was 100% correct. A teleporter then sent us to the top floor.
Weirdly, despite the castle being humongous in cutscenes and on the map, according to the dungeon map, it’s only eight stories tall? They could have easily had it say “Floor 99” or something and nothing would have changed!
Whaaaaaat a surpriiiiiiiise, Tatsusozou has killed his allies, this game has one note for its villains and it’s banging it like a cat at a piano. This was part of a blood sacrifice to wake the dragons. The translation problems I was discussing earlier start to pick up here, with concepts showing up out of nowhere, but I can’t be 100% certain that this scene’s in particular were translation issues, as they also felt indicative of the writing at large. You see, this was the second time at least where someone in the party started to get pissed at the NWO for believing in astrology, and the bad guy starts ranting about how people want fortune telling, and oh, absolutely nothing comes of it even though this is the climax for that “plot.” Writers, you’re aware that fortune telling was relevant for like, two plot development in the entire game, right? And they were nearly half the game ago? I’m talking about Chizuro turning the Joker’s clients into Jokers (shit, remember when Jokers were relevant?), and then the astrology-themed gatherings after the fact that could have been written literally any other way with no change in the script. And that only Elly players saw the former in its entirety? And that you didn’t even remember to include the implication that the Wang Long dragons are rumour-powered, and that they honestly come off as being a real part of Earth’s mythology alongside the army of demons you have storming the city? And if they are real, that means believing in them isn’t unusual at all, and certainly not manipulation like the P2 cast keeps claiming it is? In fact, the existence of demons in this world undermines your message of “religion is lies” at an even more fundamental level! You can’t lean on SMT2’s thoughts on the matter here in an virtually unrelated subseries!
God this plot is a mess. Whatever, whatever. Here’s your summary: fortune telling is evil, except that it’s not, except that… and then the writer fell asleep at the keyboard. That’s it. Let’s start flinging fireballs or something.
The Wang Long dragons awake, but presumably don’t knock the Earth off its axis right away, because people keep acting like everyone on the planet is safe for basically the rest of the game? They do make a big mess though, which leads to another ugly CG with heavy use of late 90s CG, and even heavier use of blur effects to hide the general lack of detail when things get blown up. What a backslide these poor CGs have had. It still does look pretty good for the era, but the stylish 2D CGs from the start of the game have aged much better in my mind.
At this point, Gozen (or more likely, Nyarlathotep) transforms Tasusozou into a “Detested Hunter,” which I suspect is P2EP’s interpretation of the Hunting Horrors from one of Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep-related stories, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. For some reason, Katsuya took this as an opportunity to talk about how he was going to cleanse Tatsusozou’s “dirty sins,” even though the game at large had been throwing up the idea that cleansing and punishing sins was like… something bad guys do, you know? You can see how I might still suspect there were translation issues at work in this scene’s problems (in fact, for a second translation issue: the game starts singularizing the Wang Long dragons as “Earth Dragon” at this point, even though their are clearly multiple?). Anyways, the Detested Horror wasn’t that hard, honestly I don’t have anything remarkable to say about it as a boss.
You won’t be surprised to learn that such an unremarkable boss was followed by another. Yes, it was time for Gozen to revive, and it was funny how Tatsuya reacted to this new threat, a giant monster, as though it were irrelevant, a speed-bump Nyarlathotep was throwing up before he’d deign to say hello in person. Gozen himself actually didn’t seem to be under direct control of the Crawling Chaos, and honestly seemed confused to be revived as a weird, insectoid-dinosaur demon, and one of his battle quotes even seemed to be asking us to kill him, although the voice clips in this game are so low quality that I can’t say for certain (it took nearly two dungeons of Ulala summoning her Ultimate Persona for us to deduce that the unique voice clip Ulala was using when using the Persona’s special attack was actually the Persona’s name, “Astoria”).
Gozen himself is a huge problem, mostly because he’s a sort of “punishment boss,” albeit one that the majority of players who got this far have probably faced. You see: if you can reunite the three heroes, including all the optional, missable steps and the four fate cards, their special combo attack can instantly kill Gozen as a special effect. For everyone else… well, strap yourself in. He resists nearly everything but Ice, and while it’s true that Maya’s Ultimate Persona has ice, it’s a rare element overall and sure enough we hadn’t brought someone to fusion spell with Maya. We paid the price with an incredibly long battle, eighteen minutes in all. The best part was when we were at the end, just about to line up a new Nuclear combo spell for the first time, which would go on to serve us well in the final dungeon. Now, throughout the session we had trouble learning new combo spells, to the point where it was almost a running joke, with someone always getting electrified or frozen or killed when we were figured everything was a sure thing! So imagine our annoyed delight when Gozen interrupted our spell by casting his own, which reflected off a party member and killed himself.
Now that Gozen was dead, Nyarlathotep finally decided to show, but not before pulling his own move: he pulled the entire flying city into a pocket dimension, and kept the party in his home dimension, the Jungian Collective Unconscious. The Black Pharaoh shapeshifted between the forms of our party members, and told us that there are “three poisons” that empower him, actually a hint for the next section of gameplay: Anger, Ignorance (not as relevant as the others, as you’ll see) and Vengeance. This is where the game starts piling on with the idea that Nyarlathotep is the evil in every individual human, what with him constantly taking on everyone’s forms, and it only gets more obvious with time.
At this point, Nyarlathotep summons three victims: Michel, Lisa, and Jun. The walkthrough writer point out something I hadn’t realized: earlier in the game, the NPC at the Alaya shrine actually mentions that these three disappeared into a “black vortex” at one point, but because they weren’t named specifically, I didn’t realize she was talking about them! Nyarlathotep them reminds Tatsuya about the deal: if these three remember the old world, the new world ends. He wants to play a game: we go through his final dungeon and his final events, and we see if the three have to remember. After this scene, you can talk to Baofu, who has finally broken his cool and is talking to himself to reassure him of his identity. It’s nice to see that this is finally having an impact on such an implacable guy, it had a nice effect.
If I sound suddenly complimentary, it’s because this dungeon (officially called the Monad Mandala) was easily the best part of the game, not that it had been an easy journey to get there, and coming translation problems notwithstanding (oh, lordy). The Collective Unconscious was basically a bunch of rainbow symbol platforms over void, the kind of traditional “final dungeon” that comes to mind when someone says as much, but actually hasn’t been all that present in the Marathon so far? Final Fantasy has mostly favoured dull variants on castles and caves. The fact that the Monad was basically a traditional paper maze was a point against it in my books (there were a few doors that sometimes had guaranteed fights, but only against random encounters), and the number of magic-immune enemies that were seeded in enemy groups just to bore us was a little irritating, but mostly, I liked it! One of the only puzzles in the dungeon was a so-called “invisible wall” that was actually translucent and looked like a skull on a playing card. Kyle got a laugh out of the text that turned it off: “The invisible wall disappeared.” As he put it: “The invisible wall is now… invisible.”
At the outset, you can’t even get back to town, not that we ultimately had any reason to do so. You have to get to the end of the first maze, which includes a deeply irritating one-way door that kicks you back to the start! After that’s finally over, we got our first cutscene. Like a combination of Mt. Ifune from this game and the Zodiac Temples from P2IS, the event rooms in this dungeon were strictly formulaic: flashback showing a personal insight, then being taunted by your clone, followed by a decision point from the player/Maya. One nice touch from these flashbacks is that there are even two brand new character sprites to reflect the time gap! This first room taught us that Katsuya had grown up wanting to be a patissier, but had been pressured by his father to become a detective (or possibly moved by his father’s mysterious death? Nyarlathotep later implies that having to raise Tatsuya was a factor in his decision). While this explains his past reluctance to talk about his thoughts on being an adult, this goes weirdly nowhere. It’s true that that’s a lot like a lot of the empty revelations from P2IS’ Zodiac Temples, but Katsuya basically never even discusses this revelation, and it basically disappears into the narrative ether, not even having a presence in the epilogue like a lot of the others.
Instead, Nyarlathotep reveals that Katsuya has a crush on Maya, but has been avoiding saying anything because he knows Maya is more attracted to Tatsuya (ironically, I’ve since learned that as far as the game’s creator is concerned, Tatsuya ends up with Jun, so this is all a little misdirected in hindsight!). He tries to coax Katsuya to kill his brother to get rid of him as both a rival and a burden, but if you do the dialogue choices correctly, Katsuya says that that was Nyarly’s worst possible move, as he’d never hurt his brother. He shoots his duplicate instead. That ends the scene, Ulala teasing Maya about having two men in love with her. Erm… supposedly.
That was where we set down for the night, with the final four hours squeezed into the next day. After each door, you get a chance to unlock a door to a “Rest Station” complete with portal back to town, although you have to both find an obelisk that unlocks the door and the door itself. While I believe we unlocked and even found most of the doors, we didn’t even bother to enter them after this first one. I did go back to town to talk to Salam about one last job just to get the bulk of the mapping out of the way in case we changed our mind, but we never did. We also stopped off in town to buy upgraded armour from a shop we had saved via rumour (as its district had been left behind when the city took off into the air!).
During this sequence, we missed a scene (possibly available earlier?) where if you go to visit the “Time Castle” back in town, aka the store where you can duplicate spell cards, you learn that the owner is actually Nyarlathotep, helping you as a way of advancing his “game,” explaining his uniquely occult mode of business better than any theory I could have come up with!
I’m going to continue into the first few minutes of what we played the next day just to round out the word count for this and the next post. Next up for the revelations was Ulala. This was a weird scene. The flashback had her and Maya going drinking, only for Maya to be distracted, both by her memories of “Déjà vu Boy” and being exhausted from work. Ulala complained about her love life, and Maya just slept through it. To Kyle and my surprise (even though we teased Ulala when she asked why men weren’t interested in her by making fun of her terrible anime hair), the game was clearly of the mind that Ulala came off worse in this scene, as though complaining about her lot in life was somehow worse than falling asleep while your friend tries to confide in you. This was all part of the game’s “bootstraps” mentality, as your dialogue decision later in the scene is to lead Ulala to decide that it would be better for her to work hard like Maya to make her better life instead of complaining, but frankly I never got the impression that Ulala ever wasn’t working hard? I mean, since one of her hang-ups is having trouble with men… how could she have so much trouble with men if she wasn’t trying really hard to date? I’m mid-way between “what the fuck is going on” and “fuck you, Persona,” and I think I’m going to leave it in between. This is the dungeon I like.
Now that you’ve seen two scenes, the third floor and third scene is actually a fight against the two clones in exchange for Michel’s freedom. If you get their dialogue trees wrong, Michel remembers the past universe (I guess he also wakes up in the process, which he doesn’t do if you get the decisions right), causing both the clones and the final boss to power up. All-in-all the clones weren’t a hard fight. They had their Ultimate Personas and so did we, and I even cautioned Kyle that we might want to switch to Hastur and the Celts so that we wouldn’t have overlapping elements, but the overlap barely mattered. Maybe it might have if they absorbed their native element, but instead they reflected it back at a caster who was immune to it, and that’s not even worth changing your tactics to avoid. After the fight, Philemon arrives to rescue Michel, showing no sign of being weak like he had been at the front of the game. That opening scene is never explained, as a matter of fact, and the writers seem to have forgotten about it? God, drop more of them, will ya?
We’ll wrap this up next week.