Ok, without further delay, lets continue Persona 2. Last time Miche’s friends had been turned into Shadowmen by Joker, our villain, and we reached the world map.
Michel will stop you from going anywhere other than the mall, where we’re supposed to investigate the rumour of the weapon shop owner. Because of course we’ll need weapons. Sure, Joker is dangerous, but what makes the characters think that they’ll ever need to fight? They don’t know anything about the demons that will pop up later. Moreover, Michel is traveling with us as a party member, and there seemed to be no animosity generated by either Lisa or Tatsuya. Furthermore, I guess none of these characters need to go home either. In fact, these characters never go to school again (not for lessons anyway) and they never seem to go home or otherwise sleep at any point. It’s like the entire rest of the game is frozen in this inescapable after school-time purgatory. Was this intentional? All Philemon said is that rumours would become reality, and that we’d have to fight an evil of some description. Nothing more or less than that. All of this is happening because the narrative demands it, not because the characters have well-defined motivations. The game doesn’t feel organic, and it feels incredibly rushed and clunky. It never explains the most basic of plot points, resulting in nagging, easy to fix plot holes that any competent writer would fix by naturally writing a better story in their initial draft to begin with.
At the mall there’s a selection of options, and oh hey, the Velvet Room is on the menu as if it belongs with regular old Ramen shops. In this game, every party member can enter. I assume that only Persona users can enter, but still, come on. This is the Velvet Room we’re talking about, shouldn’t it deserve a bit more build up? In later games its this mysterious place that only the protagonist can visit, it feels metaphorical and allegorical, it foreshadows future events and it overall feels like its something more than a facility where you fuse Personas- Personas are more than merely an equipment item that you can buy normally in reality.
The Velvet Room itself, however, is alright. For one, it’s actually room, so hallelujah to that. Unfortunately the form of the room doesn’t really have any significance, like how P4’s was an car driving through fog reflecting the protagonists own aimless wandering in search of the truth. Persona 2’s is pretty boring. Igor greets us and tells us that he had been waiting for us at the command of his master, Philemon, making the room feel less mysterious and more a shop. The Velvet Room is a convenience, nothing more. The music in here is actually pretty good, it starts out with the Aria of the Soul track which made its way to later games, but once it ends, a beautiful piano piece starts playing. Honestly, P2’s Velvet Room track is my favourite in the game by a very large margine. The rest of the soundtrack is just so dull. Another thing I like about the Aria of the Soul here is that two of the residents in here are a vocalist and a pianist, so you get the sense that they are playing the music.
However, their artistry is honestly the least interesting thing about the other attendants. There’s Belladona, Namless, and the Demon Painter, and their only real character is the job that they have been ascribed, namly, aiding you. Actually, only Igor and the Demon Painter provide any help. Namless and Belladona play the great soundtrack, but otherwise, your only interaction with them will be when you decide to talk to them. Belladona will have nothing interesting to say, but Namless will occasionally have some interesting perspectives and thoughts on life. For example, he tells us that he plaus the Piano to open up the heart’s of guests. He must ‘confront’ his own heart to produce such wonderful artistry, and wears a blindfold as a result. But, yeah, these three combined have less personality, motivation, and thematic relevance than Elizabeth’s little toe. I don’t even think their designs are as interesting as the later attendants.
We’ll leave what the room actually does for us until later, as right now, there’s nothing we can do yet. I’ve complained enough about this one location anyway.
Going to the ramen shop, we find that Michel’s Dad runs the place, and wants Michel to help out. Not right now Dad, we’ve got ghost shit to figure out. What confuses me however is that his Dad gets angry when he notices that Michel is wearing his school uniform… I mean, that is his school uniform right? Michel’s friends were wearing the same clothes. Why would his Dad be annoyed about that? His Dad wants Michel to take over the store, but surely he shouldn’t be annoyed that Michel is getting an education. Surely he must be paying the tuition fees one way or another, as well. What am I even playing right now, this is so fucking stupid. I sometimes wonder if all of these problems can be pinned down to various translation or localisation errors. But even if that was the case, no translation is this consistently bad. It had to make just as little sense in the original Japanese as well. In any case, there’s nothing we can do here.
There’s a clinic, an item shop, and a weapon shop, but they’re either closed or worthless to us, so lets progress.
There’s a guy from the detective agency trying to buy weapons from the shop owner, however it seems pretty clear that she doesn’t sell weapons. Yet. Talking to the shop owner gives us access to the Kuzunoha detective agency, a fairly important location. SMT fans may note that the Kuzunohas are a prominent family in the Devil Summoner series, them being a long line of detectives who can also summon demons. Most notably, two games in the Devil Summoner series star Raidou Kuzunoha the XIV. Kuzunoha hasn’t really been prominent in any of the modern SMT games for a long time though, not only because Atlus is much more modern-Persona and Etrian Odyssey focused nowadays, but also because their only other recent SMT game was a mainline game, which never featured the Kuzunohas in the first place. I have no idea what caused the company that used to churn out games so rapidly during the PS1/2 eras to slow down so significantly immediately after the release of Persona 4 in 2008. Maybe the new generation meant that they had to start making new art and programming assets from scratch?
We tell the chief of detectives about Joker, and his character introduction tells us that he does indeed summon demons, he does Devil Summoning on the side, apparently. It’s a shame that no actual demon summoners actually help us poor persona users out on our quest, because that would be really helpful. This is why Atlus games should probably stay out of continuity, Demons can invade only so many times before you start questioning how modern life even continues to function in a post-demon world. The modern Persona games just about pulled it off, but it was looking potentially bleak a few years back.
Sorry, I’ve been going off on a lot of tangents. Since rumours are coming true, we decide to spread the rumour about the ramen shop owner selling weapons. Which is ridiculous since the rumour had already been spread, yet it didn’t become reality. But ah, we have to spread it ‘officially’. Spreading rumours is very serious business, you guys. I once had to wait for eight weeks until I was permitted to tell my friend that our classmate may secretly be a fury due to some gossip I had overheard in the National Vague Untested Information Bureau. Or NVUIB… which is an anagram for VI BUN? I feel like eating a very important bun now.
So we spread the rumour and instantly the ramen shop owner starts selling weapons. So basically we have the power of a god now. I mean, this rumour stuff is serious business, seriously. We just rewrote a major portion of someone’s life just to get her to sell weapons. We’ve altered the past, completely overwritten free will, and we’ve probably caused a huge amount of other changes to have taken place butterfly effect style. I mean, she was apparently a spy now, so who knows how many governments and wars that she has singlehandedly swayed just because of our one rumour? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU HAVE DONE? No. This potentially interesting idea is never explored, in fact, no one seems to care. The whole rumour thing is the plot point that I absolutely most despise about this game, in fact, I think it’s the worst thing in the game as a whole. The whole idea of rumours coming true not only makes no sense while being morally bankrupt, it’s also never explored in any depth. Better writers could probably explore some wonderful ideas here, how societal perception affects reality, how you become what society says you are, the morality of overwriting free will or manipulating the media for your own needs, all lots of interesting ideas. In Persona 2, however, the rumour thing is just a plot device that allows the writers to pull out whatever stupid thing they want out of the proverbial magic hat. And I mean stupid, you’ll see. This power also leaves major, major plot holes- why the villains or the heroes don’t spread useful rumours, like, the villains could say ‘I hear rumours that these people called ‘persona users’ will die tomorrow’ or ‘I hear there’s this sword which can kill anything, even a god, in one strike. Apparently only this ‘Tatsuya Suou’ kid can use it, weird, huh?’ Anyone could do anything with this power, but it only ever gets put to use when the writers want it to. Reality should have already collapsed in on itself by now. The universe should have exploded. How could the writers overlook such basic information, usually bad writing comes when the writer tries to over explain their universe, not when they under explain it!
We return to Sevens to find that the clocktower has started moving again, and apparently tons of students and faculty are still at the school. Go. Home. Get a hobby or a social life, get some food and rest and sleep for christ sake. Rumour is, bad stuff will start happening when the clock starts moving again. Apparently, the emblems on the uniforms also does… something to your face, though apparently removing the emblem doesn’t help either. So what’s the point of the emblem curse? I don’t think it comes up again.
By ‘bad stuff’ what they actually meant was ‘demon invasion’ and honestly this particular demon invasion happens to be yet another stupid plot point introduced by the game. This is a demon invasion. Remember Nocturne? How normal Tokyo was obliterated, all life eradicated, leaving only a wasteland filled with ghosts and monsters? In Persona 2, life continues on as normal. Yep. Nobody cares. In fact, the demons don’t even have an effect on the story, only the gameplay really. They exist in their own dimmension really, not even the main characters talk about them. I think about 99% of this game’s story could have been told without demons or Personas. I’m dead serious, the the demons only really serve to waste your time. There’s no relevance to them, no emotional impact… you pretty much go from place to place, and only the bossfights factor as important gameplay. As for the demons… maybe the idea is that, like shadowmen, they’re invisible to non-persona users? That’s how it worked in Devil Summoner, and I didn’t exactly like it then either. They just don’t affect anything, I’d still consider their implementation poor even if they did explain that the demons were invisible.
A slime greets us in the first random encounter and tutorialises us on the convoluted demon negotiation system. While negotiation is a welcome staple of the SMT franchise, P2 decides to make the system much worse and really, really boring. In other games, you can talk to a demon and they’ll ask you some questions, and they’ll ask you for stuff. Give a good answer or two and give let it take what it asks for, weather that be cash, items, or HP/SP and there is a pretty good chance that they will join you. Some parts of the system are random, for example you might give a demon some money, and then they’ll just leave with no compensation. However most of the time you can usually rely on the same demons to ask mostly the same questions and they’ll respond the same way to the same answers, depending on the game. In Persona 2, you have a set amount of actions dependent on the character. Demons respond differently to these actions, which will cause an ‘emotion gauge’ on the top right to build up. They may have an angry, happy, eager, or scared response to your actions. Rise one emotion up three times and something special happens. If angry, they’ll attack. No benefit. If scared, they run. Whatever. If happy, they become your ‘friend’ which has various benefits, but it does not mean that that demon will join your party. Generally, you want to raise eager, since that will cause them to give you some tarot cards, which can be exchanged for personas at the velvet room. The same demons respond in the same way to the same actions, but the set up makes it much harder to memorise which demons respond to what, since you don’t have any cues with which to remember the correct actions. Furthermore, when demons interrupt you to ask questions, your answers don’t matter whatsoever because they have incredibly random responses. Meaning that you could be doing everything right but fail because you give a series of angering responses to a demon. It’s the most luck based negotiation system in the franchise. Yes, sometimes the negotiation system can have funny lines, but since negotiations are such a frequent and repetitive task, you’ll eventually end up hearing the same jokes again and again. Having to raise an emotion three times is also really, really tedious compared to other systems, and there’s no instant gratification. You don’t get a new demon or a new persona now, you get it later when you eventually return to the Velvet Room. And we’ll talk about why Persona ‘fusion’ is bullshit when we next return to the Velvet Room. An absolutely horrible system. Thankfully, being on easy difficulty, I shouldn’t have to bother with negotiations that often. Because the Persona system in this game is, yes, a pile of wank, you can get through the game with very low leveled Personas.
The actual combat itself doesn’t do anything special. It’s turn based, and you have basic attack commands and special moves using your equipped Personas. As is standard to SMT, enemies and allies have various elemental weaknesses and resistances which you can exploit for more damage. In this game though, the element system basically sucks. Damage is pretty much the only thing affected. This is fine for games such as Pokemon where enemies and allies alike are much more fragile, meaning that the damage modifiers make can mean the difference between life and death. In Persona 2… not so much. Unless an enemy nullifies an element, it doesn’t really feel like it matters what you hit them with. Enemies will do such pathetic damage to you that it really doesn’t matter what your Persona’s elemental attributes are, either. Other games in the SMT franchise such as Nocturne use what is perhaps my favourite turn based-JRPG mechanic of all time- the press turn system.
The press turn system gives you icons dependent on the number of enemies or allies in battle, usually meaning four for allies. This determines the amount of turns the party as a whole has. These icons can be ‘halved’ causing them to flash if an ally passes their turn, providing an incentive to wait out a turn, as it can let your first party member take two actions in a turn. Hitting weaknesses will also create flashing turn, giving even more of an incentive to keep hitting your enemies weak points, moreover, you can loose press turns if an enemy nulls the element you’re attacking with. These rules all apply to the enemy, as well, encouraging you to cover up your weaknesses. Modern Persona games don’t have this system, instead, hitting weaknesses will give you extra actions and knock down the enemy. Persona 2 doesn’t have a system like this, so the only real strategy is to use your highest damaging attacks while healing. It’s an extremely brainless battle system, although there are some nice features.
For one, although we don’t have everyone yet, you will have five playable characters in total, and in battle you can use all these characters. It can be strange how in other games, you can have a huge roster of characters, but you’re only allowed to use three or four of them at a time, raising the question of what the rest of your party is doing. I like that everyone can be used at once. Being able to change turn order is also a nice feature, as is the fusion spell system. Again, since the system is pretty brainless, fusion spells don’t really add much in the way of depth, but the cut-in portraits and the flashy animations are satisfying to watch. Fusion spells also use up multiple party member’s actions, so there is, theoretically, some depth to be found in weighing your options between using one big powerful attack, or several smaller but more flexible commands, should you ever need to, say, heal.
The last thing I want to mention about the battle system right now is that after battle, your SP completely heals, which is probably the worst decision they could have made. Part of the challenge of dungeon crawling is that SP is a precious resource, you can choose to win battles now with powerful skills, or wisely save them lest your SP pool run dry and leave you helpless in future encounters. It forces you to play more carefully, more smartly, always planning ahead. Persona 2 will always let you use your most powerful skills, and SP never really becomes a concern, even in the slightly longer boss battles.