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.
“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 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.
Heading outside, we discovered Nanjo’s penthouse was actually in a new district, and I mean a new district, as not only was it new to this game, but wasn’t even in P2IS, having been recently constructed in this universe. That meant new shops and new rumours. This resulted in an incredibly busy overworld play-session, and not just in this district! First off, you can create another specialist shop, which we once again did with armour, giving us a bunch of magic resistant armour to supplement our specialist evasion armour from earlier (they didn’t even overlap in terms of equipment slots!). Next, we created a synthesis shop, though the only way to make use of it this early in the game is to have earned some high-level synth ingredients from the casino, or to have Retired some incredibly specific, max-Rank Personas. The Sumaru Genie, whom we had restored to her P2IS capacity at some earlier point in the game, was now rumour-upgraded again to also offer “affinities,” which allow you to boost Fusion Spells between party members or, more commonly, reduce prices from a single shop, although until she gets an third upgrade, the shop affinities are only available for item-hawking convenience stores.
Another important stop was to return to Kismet to have Maya meet with her boss and claim that she wasn’t at the bar, as this leads to a secret Persona later on for some reason. Mizuno doesn’t believe you, as she herself was at the bar and saw Maya there, but since she also seems to have seen Maya flirting with Katsuya, she gets distracted and gives Maya a weird lecture about not flirting on the job, using a lot of… uncomfortable flower metaphors.
We regained control of the party, and confirmed that yes, Ulala was now several levels behind the rest of the party and wasn’t level-averaged back to the curve. We gave her a replacement Persona (one of the ones we had picked up just for the hell of it during the past four hours). At this point, we decided to follow the walkthrough more closely, so that we would be better prepared if EP pulled any more stunts like the last one. The walkthrough informed us about two rumours we might have overlooked if we hadn’t checked it, one of them because it’s actually in the first room of Zodiac.
We went in and discovered that there’s a new entrance hall to the club, and I’m not sure why it exists, as there’s literally nothing there (Ed. and never was!)? But anyways. We met Anna in the dance hall, who confirmed the kidnapped Jokers were being held in the back. At this point, Maya took the liberty of telling Anna that Tatsuya was the one that saved them all at the clock tower. Anna talks a bit about their friendship, and says that Tatsuya talked about “[Atoning] for [his] sins” before he disappeared. Odd, Tatsuya was probably the most innocent person in the entire original party, so I wonder what he’s talking about! Long story short, Anna confirms the kidnappers spoke Chinese, making everyone feel confident that the Taiwanese mob was behind the kidnappings. Anna asks you to save Noriko. She doesn’t comment on the fact that Noriko committed a double homicide, just that Noriko and Tatsuya are the only two she can carry a conversation with. “Present company included,” Kyle said in his Anna voice, when Anna ended the talk on the spot.