We return to our Marathon Look-Back for the PSX era and its continuations with our Top and Bottom 5 Moments. While a lot of these “moments” can be intentional parts of the stories or gameplay of their respective games, this is ultimately about the experience of playing, watching, or (in the case of Before Crisis) even reading about these products, which means they could also be things that happened organically as a result of the game, or in one case, even a faulty walkthrough! Have a look!
Well, it’s that time again: time to look back at a long period of gaming spanning several years in both development and playtime. The last time we did this, we were covering the NES, SNES and GB eras, plus their direct continuations. The games we’ll be covering this time are all the PSX-era RPGs and their continuations, basically everything we played after FFVI and up to the present day, including six Final Fantasy games (seven if you count Before Crisis), three Persona games, two Final Fantasy movies, and one Final Fantasy TV show. This is proximate to our last look-back in terms of products (our last Look-Back covered twelve Final Fantasy games, one OVA, and the undersized FFII Soul of Rebirth and FFIV Interlude), but represents way more blog posts overall. The Directory was really getting unwieldy. Admittedly, as Kyle comments in one of his reviews, all these spinoffs and sequels are going to make this something of a FFVII-centric post, but it’s how it’s gotta be.
Floor four brought us into Baofu’s past. While not immediately evident (it wouldn’t be until the epilogue), we were in a graveyard, where an evil version of Baofu’s starter Persona was strangling his late romantic and professional partner, Miki, to death against a tree. Thankfully, this was metaphorical rather than a flashback: it seems (and this scene would have been way better if we had learned this earlier) that Baofu blames himself and his Persona (as an extension of himself) for Miki’s death at the hands of Yung Pao, and we were seeing a visualization of that guilt next to her very grave.
The decision branches we have left in the plot all feature a common theme: stop your party member from being angry or seeking vengeance. Two of Nyarlathotep’s three poisons, remember? This partially factored into Katsuya’s decision point (although it isn’t evident from the dialogue options, which might be a translation issue) but didn’t factor into Ulala’s at all. Still, it is what the game’s going for, and it will confirm as much if you get them all right, with Ulala explicitly complaining about it after the sixth floor. Ulala’s complaints aside, I’m not sure I’m exactly happy with Persona on this. It’s a very “anger is evil” attitude and that’s stupid and dangerous. Anger is an emotion same as any other, one that has to be understood and not shamed into fucking repression. This is so stupid and dangerous that even, god help me, Final Fantasy Unlimited Season Fucking 2 agrees with me. And if you’re dumber than FFU, with only a token line from the career complainer (Ulala) to suggest you intended to say otherwise, then you’re in a ditch, my friend.
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, or possibly a mantra. 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!
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 manage 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 doldrums of repeated plot in the slightest.
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 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 for its purposes, but it looks outright hideous. Secondly, the game tries to mix its great 2D (a close-up of Kandori) with its simply passable 3D, and it looks baaaaad.
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 all that grand. 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 (pictured) named Nata, who appeared 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.)
At this point, the group overhears a broadcast saying that “several seminars [are] being sponsored by international celebrities,” supposedly on the subject of purifying Jokers. One such seminar is taking place at SMILE Hirasaka (“Smile Mall”), hosted by Ginji “Prince Taurus” Sasaki. No alternate universe redemption for this guy! Curiously, after this scene, Baofu remarks on how strange it is that NWO is collecting kegare not just from Jokerized humans, but also from normal humans, something we won’t learn they’re doing until we investigate these seminars! He also wants to know, “What about the ‘pure’ humans?” a concept that hasn’t come up at all, although maybe he’s just extrapolating? Geeze, what’s with these lines?
Returning to the world map and to our actual playthrough, we’ve lost a few minutes of footage here, but I made sure to make a note what we had done soon after I noticed the problem, so I think I’ve got it all covered. We cashed our first map with Salam, and also got the next blank one, which curiously comes in two parts (Smile Map A and Smile Map B), even though the dungeon doesn’t have two parts? I’m still confused about that detail. Even the walkthroughs don’t mention it! It doesn’t help that the blank maps don’t even show up in your inventory! We also went manhunting (one such search appears after we turned on the recording) and checked out some prospective new Personas, although we didn’t get any. The entire party was maxed out on their current Personas, and we really had to give Elly a backup for Nike, but there just weren’t any good ones in our level range! Also, Baoful’s Hel had mutated so often that I wasn’t sure we wanted to drop her for any reason.
The party went into hiding. It wasn’t clear how much of what happened actually ended up on the talk show camera, but you can be sure someone called the cops, not to mention Chizuro getting away to report to the NWO. They returned to Nanjo’s suite, only to find that someone had broken in and murdered the faceless NPCs in his employ (one has to wonder why they didn’t wait for the party). Nanjo is already here, and is too much of an emotional mess to do any deduction. The party initially suspects that Sneak might be the one responsible, and that he may have led them to Nanjo just to expose his base of operations, but that seemed unlikely to me given that their meeting with Sneak was so far apart from the massacre, both physically and chronologically. In any event, the party retreats to Baofu’s hideout in the same district. Here, Nanjo gives a summary of his scenario, and in Nanjo’s storyline, Nanjo players will hear Elly’s version of events. So that means it’s time for me to check someone else’s playthrough to see the other side of the coin!
Because it’s just this one post, I’m going to fill our screenshots with general gameplay pictures rather than secure a source for Nanjo’s screenshots.