The Masked Circle
These are the longest-lasting enemy group in the game, who you’ll be romping with for almost all the game’s plot. The Masked Circle is a doomsday cult, led by the Joker, who seek to gather enough ‘Ideal Energy’ to destroy the world and drive humanity into a new golden age in space. Yeah, the rumors allow pretty much anything to happen. Those who make their wish with the Joker find themselves first forced to be a part of the Masked Circle, then sacrificed for their goals, their Ideal Energy drained from them until they’re left motivation-less husks. Their leadership is made up of pastiches of your own group, as Jun seeks to replace your childhood crew with his own creepy cult fellows. They lose a lot of steam after you break Jun out of his Joker guise, leaving them pretty much without leadership, but they do maintain a presence up to the end of the game, being one of the few organizations able to make a stand against the Nazi invasion. Of course, they don’t stand for long against them, and they’re only fighting them towards their own twisted goals, but still, at least you’re not the only group putting up the fight. You’re constantly running roughshod over them, interfering with whatever they have planned, but most of the time you figure out the full extent of their plans just after they put them into action. Your interference only seems to make them stronger, too, thanks to your spreading the word about them and the power of the rumors at play. At least until you start knocking off their leadership. Once you reach that point, there’s no recovering for them.
If you call your own cell phone number, the Joker will appear before you and grant you one wish. At least that’s what everyone says. Except that your crew tries it in the early game, and instead on sending you on a shopping trip to buy those larger pants you’re suddenly needing, he just sics a bunch of demons on you. As stated previously, the Joker is Jun, still really, really pissed off at your crew thanks to the influence of Nyarlathotep and the false memories he has of all his childhood friends burning Maya to death. To say his feelings towards you are troubles is an understatement.
Joker is the head of the Masked Circle, he who directs their activities towards the fun, fun goal of destroying the world. Making you suffer seems to mostly be a side project of his. The Joker is all about ideals. He highly values his own ideals, he respects other’s commitments to their own ideals above all else, and he thinks largely in terms of ideals. As twisted as it is, he honestly believes that the destruction of the world and the ascension of its people are honestly what humanity wants. Thing is, he’s much more of a big picture guy, and doesn’t much care for the individual. So, the fact that thousands of people don’t really want their ideal energy drained away in pursuit of the Earth’s destruction doesn’t much matter to him. He is completely serious about the Masked Circle and their goals, focused on them above all else. He doesn’t even use them to go after you until you start messing with the circle first.
Like Guido/Kandori of last game, Nyarlathotep is his persona. And like last game, Nyarlathotep ends up taking him over for his final battle in this guise, then flees his form once he’s defeated. Free of Nyarlathotep’s corruption, Joker reverts to his old form, and joins you in undoing the mess he’s created.
King Leo/Tatsuya Sudou
Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is Japan’s Foreign Minister. Tatsuya Sudou’s dad is a bad, bad man. Growing up in that environment did him no favors, compounding the troubles he already had with his schizophrenia. He found a father figure in Jun’s dad, however, who helped him make some sort of sense of the voices he was hearing, believing them to be some sort of alien prophecy and codifying them into the Oracle of Maya doomsday thing the Masked Circle is buying into.
Some time after that, Sudou snapped. Depending on how far back the rumor thing was in effect, this may have been a result of other’s beliefs about him, conflating his schizophrenia and his father’s bad reputation and thinking he was a violent figure. Either way, he became a serial arsonist, and burned down the shrine kid you and kid Maya were hanging out in. You broke out, Sudou stabbed you, and you awakened your persona and burnt out his eye. I’m going to say you got the better of that one. After that, he stalked Maya for a good long while, then joined up with the Masked Circle for reasons that are mostly up to conjecture, and serves as King Leo, the second in command to the order.
Tatsuya Sudou, as should be obvious from the name unless you did the right thing and change your protagonist’s handle for something wicked sweet, is the counterpart for your lead. Given Maya’s history with him, he serves to some degree as the Masked Circle replacement for her, too. He’s an arsonist, so he likes blowing things up. Throughout the section you’re dealing with him, he leaves behind clues that will lead you to buildings he’s rigged to blow. You usually have two buildings at a time to choose from and have to pick the right one, enter it, and find the bombs in order to properly bring a halt to his deeds. Or, if you’re of a lazy mind, you can choose the wrong one and skip a few dungeons entirely. It culminates in a big encounter in an aviation museum where you have to rescue an entire field trip, beat him in a big slogknocking fight, and jet of there in an exploding blimp. Probably one of the high points of the game, in all. As you might guess, he gets a sadistic glee in death and violence, and actually burns a man alive by means of introducing himself. His persona is Reverse Vulcanus.
Lady Scorpio/Anna Yoshizaka
Anna’s a friend of yours from Seven Sisters High. She used to be the star of the school’s track team, but was injured when one of Persona 2’s developers (seriously) ran her over. Her injury scuttled her track career, and with that, she grew despondent and didn’t see any point in showing up at school anymore, so she joined your protagonist in ditching class all the time before dropping out entirely. She wished for the Joker to cure her injuries, and got tied into the Masked Circle as a result, reigning as one of the lower level royalties under the guise of Lady Scorpio.
Anna was probably intended by Jun to serve as the surrogate for Eikichi. When written in kanji, Yoshizaka uses the same characters as Eikichi in reverse. They both identify with the Scorpio astrological sign, and both their personae use water spells. And they’re both well-known delinquents. The thing is, Anna fits the whole ‘evil counterparts’ deal the least out of all the Circle’s leadership. Everyone else’s personae is a dark version of one of your own, whereas Anna’s persona is Reverse Aeshma, the original of which is used by nobody in your party. Instead, Yukino has the most connections with her, plotwise. Yukino, upon seeing the young, troubled teenage girl, sees herself in her, and makes it a mission to try and put her on the right path. Anna’s quite resistant at first, but if all goes well, Yukino can bring her to redemption.
It’s possible to go the whole game only dealing with Anna in cutscenes. Her fight only exists depending on the choices you’ve made, and if you do end up fighting her, well, there’s nothing good for Yukino down that route.
Prince Taurus/Ginji Sasaki
Ginji Sasaki was once a member of the Backstreet Boys or something, but after Justin Timberlake broke out and the rest of the group faded into obscurity, he found himself on the downside of the fame spiral. Desperate to regain his former glory, Sasaki instead tried to carve his name in the annals of music history as a producer, finding absolutely no success until he dialed up the Joker and made his wish. I think you can guess how things went down from there. He uses his fame and celebrity for the purposes of the Masked Circle, harvesting ideal energy all the while.
It’s pretty obvious whose counterpart he is. He guns for Lisa from the outset, spreading the rumor that she’s part of his new supergroup just to draw her out. And his persona is Reverse Eros, just like hers. He forces her to confront the fact that she’s not a very good friend before you give him a good old whuppin. In front of like, everybody. He never recovers from that.
You don’t really see him much for the rest of the game, but he’s still working behind the scenes. He gets killed by Nazis near the end of the game, but he does so while moving the pieces necessary to so royally screw you over in the finale.
Queen Aquarius/Junko Kurosu
She’s Jun’s mom. She may be the one who planted the seeds for Jun to get so royally messed up. She never got on with Jun’s father, and likely poisoned the boy against the man who was, by all appearances, a totally sweet and awesome dude. She kind of treated Jun pretty rotten after his dad died, too, trying to get back to the carefree life she had before she was responsible for a family. Not realizing who the Joker was, she made her wish for eternal youth, and got swept up into the Masked Circle with all the rest.
You don’t learn a whole lot about Junko. She’s only in a few scenes, most of which are just covering backstory. You never even face her down in battle. She seems to serve as the replacement for Jun himself, of your childhood crew, judging almost solely by the fact that they’re both under the Aquarius sign. I guess Maya doesn’t warrant a counterpart in the new Masked Circle, given that Jun believes her to be dead. He must not want to be bringing up those memories of her. In any case, Junko realizes who the Joker is shortly after the Nazis invade and you take him down. In one last, motherly effort, she shields Jun from Hitler’s Lance of Longinus, sacrificing her life for his.
King Leo blows up a whole bunch of buildings. The Masked Circle starts spreading around the rumor that your group did it. In order to keep the power of rumors from turning you all evil against your will, you start spreading the counter-rumor that you in fact saved a whole bunch of people from those exploding buildings and are also totally cool people that everyone is jealous of. Rather than just taking the more popular rumor, as you guys are hoping, the collective unconscious makes both true by creating the shadows, evil versions of yourselves working with the Masked Circle.
Shadow Maya is the only one of them that’s really proactive. She actually replaces the original Maya in your party for a brief while, complicating the process as you guys are first recovering your lost memories. The rest of them stand guard over the Masked Circle’s repositories of Ideal Energy.
These may look familiar to Persona 4 veterans, but they don’t quite match with that games use of shadows. While they do know all the deepest, darkest secrets of their originators just like the P4 shadows, these guys are much more actively malevolent. They launch personal attacks on your group, saying anything they can to try and break you down, with Maya going after the whole party and the rest trying to tear away at their originals. These shadows will mix truth with lies in an attempt to get you to believe their falsehoods, and will readily hammer down on you with them. Of course, your team stands resolute. In a fight, they each use their original’s ultimate personae, and you can get a nice boost if you beat them with the good persona equipped.
The Last Battalion
There’s a conspiracy theory that gets picked up by the general populace. The theory goes that Hitler, rather than dying in some random bunker at the end of World War II, instead cheesed it with a bunch of his most trusted men to a secret base in Antarctica. As conspiracy theories go, it’s no Bill Clinton Faked the Moon Landing. But people believe in it. Enough people believe in it. And you know what that means.
Yep, just when you’ve got the Masked Circle on the ropes, the Nazis invade from out of nowhere. Well, almost out of nowhere. There was a bit of foreshadowing, but not much. Yet you know what? It works. As much as, by this point, the Nazis are pretty much a punchline in general, their invasion truly marks a time where the game starts to pick up. As you were knocking out executives within the Masked Circle, that group was really starting to lose credibility as a threat, and the Last Battalion truly provides the sense of danger that they were lacking. It also marks the point when your conflict starts impacting the world proper. The Masked Circle was, aside from a few terrorist strikes, really just a problem for you and a few select groups. Everyone has to deal with the Nazis. Also, did I mention I find video game Nazis funny by nature? There’s probably something very wrong with me.
The Last Battalion sure does have a lot less character than the Masked Circle, though. Their ranks are filled with a bunch of high-level grunts, the Order of the Holy Lance, and Hitler himself. Except not really. We’ll get to that later. The grunts are just random encounters. Stronger than the masked circle, sure. And they have the annoying habit of launching instant-kill moves on you, so in general they may be a little more threatening than the average demon. But not that much. You’ll get through them quickly enough. The Order of the Holy Lance is where it’s at. Apparently enough people believe Trevor Ravenscroft’s real world theory that Hitler was obsessed with gaining possession of the Lance of Longinus, the spear that pierced Jesus’s side after he died at the crucifixion, that it carried over to the rumor causing their resurgence. In turn, the Last Battalion made 13 copies of that lance and equipped them on a series of anti-persona mechas. You’ll be facing them a few at a time in a series of actually pretty cool boss battles. The lance has the ability to temporarily seal a persona, making them the perfect enemy for you. Then, at the top of the Nazi food chain is Hitler, who bears the original Holy Lance, with the added ability of inflicting wounds that cannot heal. Except he’s not actually Hitler. He’s actually…
This. Guy. This guy! You might know him from the Lovecraftian tales this version obviously draws a lot of inspiration from. You might know him as Guido/Kandori’s persona from the last game. You might know him as Fantasy Magic Hitler. You do not know Nyarlathotep.
He was a minor bad guy last game, a villain’s persona that took over his body before being handily dispatched without much in the way of background. He becomes so much more in Innocent Sin. Persona’s Nyarlathotep departs quite a bit from what you may know through the Yog-Sothothery. You remember Philemon? He who grants the persona power, chucked you the magic mirror you needed when you were taking on the Snow Queen, who always pointed you the right way when you couldn’t figure out where to head back in Revelations: Persona? Nyarlathotep’s his brother. Of sorts. They are both avatars of the collective unconscious, representing different, opposite pieces of the conglomerate psyche of humanity as a whole. Nyarlathotep, in particular, represents mankind’s capability for destruction.
It turns out he and Philemon are behind all the badness going on in this game and, retroactively, the previous game as well. They’ve made a bet, regarding whose aspect will come out on top when the chips are down. Nyarlathotep, with the weak many behind him, wagering that humanity will destroy themselves, against Philemon, guiding the strong few, believing that humanity will rise above. It’s not entirely clear what they have for a wager, but Nyarlathotep is committed to winning. He is behind literally everything here. It was he that enacted the power of rumors, giving the collective unconscious the power to warp reality when people believed in something enough. Using his shape-shifting abilities, he’s not only Hitler, leading the Last Battalion, but he’s Joker’s persona and his idealized father, putting him at the head of the Masked Circle. And it’s revealed he was manipulating Kandori last game, too, making him to blame for everything that went on in the previous adventure. Additionally, he serves as one of your weapons dealers in disguise, so in a sense, he’s behind your crew’s activities, too.
Dude proves himself to be a master manipulator. He pulls all the strings. He uses the Masked Circle to set up the eventual destruction of the earth, then has them run you around, followed by the Last Battalion, purely to keep you fighting battles that don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, so you don’t do anything about his real plans. Sure, you’ve gutted the Masked Circle, but what does that matter when he’s already gotten what he needs out of them. Sure, you’ve trashed the Order of the Holy Lance, but who cares when they weren’t the real threat in the first place? Through the course of the game, you’re able to beat everyone. Every fight that’s thrown at you, you win. And it’s just a distraction. Nyarlathotep’s plan doesn’t require him to beat you to win, but thanks to his machinations, you never realize that until it’s too late.
He’s kind of a dick, too. Thanks to his nature, he knows everything about you, and he’s more than ready to use it just to jerk you around, sending the shadows out where he knows you’ll be headed, taking the form of all your fathers for the final battle, and manipulating things so that Maya gets killed to fulfill the prophecy, even though by that point, he had no need to go that far. By the time you’re finally able to confront him, he’s already won, and he drags on the fight just for the hell of it.
In a lot of discussion about the game, you’ll see people refer to Nyarlathotep as being very active. Philemon just hangs out in the control room, but Nyarly’s out personally kicking ass all up and down the streets. That’s not entirely true. It certainly seems that way in comparison to the absolutely indirect Philemon, but he still seems to have some very strict rules that limit his involvement. He’s a planner, a manipulator like no other, and he moves pieces around like they’re on the light rail. But he cannot do anything without people, ordinary humans, leading the charge. He gives rumors their reality-warping power, but any changes he makes have to be bought into by humanity first. When the doomsday prophecy does start coming true, he’s absolutely limited to enacting only what people are working towards making happen. He spends most of the game acting through Jun, before people’s belief in Hitler gives him a physical form to work with, and even then, he’s only sending other people to do his work until you make your way into the collective unconscious itself to deal with him. He may be monstrous, perhaps the most powerful evil figure in the entire Persona series, yet he still cannot do anything without humanity.
Granted, humanity’s kind of messed up, so that doesn’t stop him from doing much. But hey, the limits are there.
And here’s the god-like being in our corner. Philemon, who you’ll remember as your benefactor from last game, is revealed this time around to be the good counterpart of Nyarlathotep. Literally, he is everything Nyarlathotep is, but with a halo. Whereas Nyarlathotep embodies humanities collective destructive desires, Philemon is the avatar of mankind’s constructive deeds. Whereas Nyarlathotep manipulates the many weak-willed into his bidding, Philemon leads only those whose ego is strong enough to manifest their persona. Whereas Nyarlathotep bets that humanity will destroy itself, Philemon places his wager that human-kind will ascend to something greater.
With Philemon’s inherent goodness in mind, it’s surprising that he’d make the bet that causes the first two entries in the Persona series, and all that associated death and suffering, in the first place. Which even the game calls him out on, letting you deck him for it if you so choose, but it never really gives you an answer. I’ve got a few fanwank theories for it, though. Being the equal but opposite force to Nyarlathotep, it seems natural that they wouldn’t get along. Violently, perhaps. But, given their nature, could one truly triumph over the other? Nyarlathotep will never stop so long as humanity still has those destructive urges, but can’t end Philemon while the species still seeks to improve. Given that they can’t truly beat each other, and given that they’re both the embodiments of certain aspects of humanity’s collective unconscious, it seems to follow pretty easily to me that they’d let humanity itself decide their battle. In a way, it’s what they’re there for. Philemon cheats in the bet way more than Nyarly does, though. Rewriting reality itself to change the fact that he lost? That’s some dirty pool
Philemon is very much an observer in your conflict. You only run into him a few times, when the situation is at its most critical. He helps you every time, giving Jun his persona back, awakening greater strength in you, and resetting the whole world once it goes awry, but beyond that, you’re pretty much on your own. That’s kind of his MO. Nyarlathotep will manipulate thousands of people at once towards his ends, but Philemon will just find a few of the right people and give them the powers they need to stand strong. And it makes sense. Philemon is all about being constructive, of raising people up. If he stepped in and took on the demonic hordes himself, how would people get stronger? Empowering them, though, falls right within his purview.
Also, is it just me, or is Philemon way sexier than he was last game?
Good old Igor. He’ll be our most constant companion throughout this series, always there to invite us into the Velvet Room. Residing in the realm between the conscious and unconscious, Igor serves Philemon by helping persona-users manage their personae and create new ones. This time around, Igor’s able to summon new persona from the numerous tarot cards you’ll be given by demons. He also helps you maintain your stock of persona and turn the ones you don’t need anymore into useful items. He’s very handy to have for advice in a few points, too.
As always, Igor leads a small host of helpers in the Velvet Room, and unlike last game, you actually get to walk around in it and talk to them. Fitting the Velvet Room’s artistic space, they’re all creative folks of some sort. Nameless and Belladonna are a piano player and opera singer, presumably responsible for the room’s haunting leitmotif. They mostly pontificate and philosophize, nothing good for smashing demons in the face. The Demon Painter, on the other hand, based on character designer Kazuma Kaneko, is able to actively help you out in your quest for more personae, painting blank tarot cards into whatever ones you happen to need.
Kuzunoha Detective Agency
This three-man detective’s office is probably the closest thing that you have to a home base. It’s where you’ll go when you need to talk amongst yourselves, and by its nature, you’ll probably find yourself stopping here between every dungeon crawl. The Kuzunoha crew were among the first to figure the whole rumor thing out, were the earliest group to figure out your part in the conflicts sweeping the city, and let you hire them to spread rumors of your own and take advantage of that good old unconscious magic.
Daisuke Todoroki is the head of the office, a private dick with a third-rate performance until he found himself possessed by the spirit of Kyouji Kuzunoha, protagonist of Devil Summoner, an earlier, Japan-only game in the SMT series. The original Todoroki had investigated Jun’s parents way back before this game was even a glimmer in Atlus’s eye, so the whole agencies has some pretty strong ties with the game’s plot. He’s assisted by Tamaki Uchida and Satomi Tadashi. You may remember Tamaki as being the retroactive lead in Shin Megami Tensei If…, making this office the Club Du Jour for previous protagonist cameos. Satomi Tadashi was around last game, and started a sappy relationship with Tammy. I didn’t mention him in the last retrospective because… well, he kind of sucks. Anyways, the two of them are presumably the ones doing all the legwork for the agency while Todoroki hangs around and grows his mustache. Sometimes they dress up as bandits and rescue people. As you do.
Team Fantastic Victory
It’s by no means universal, but you do see a lot of your old team from Revelations: Persona around in this game. They’ve all graduated high school, and are out handling their own business, but they’re still more than ready to throw down when it comes to it as the Nazi invasion proves. A lot of them are tied into your characters ultimate weapons somehow. What do you say we check in on where they are now?
Aside from the obvious in Yukino, we’ve got five possible members of our last game’s team showing up in Sumaru City. Eriko was always the best person back in St. Hermelin, and she still holds that designation today, being the returning teammate who’s the most useful to you this time around. She immediately takes a break from her life as a jetsetting model when Yukino calls her up, needing her occult knowledge to figure some things out in regards to some issue or other. Maki, the ill girl from the first Persona and not the Ideal Maki that was actually in your party, has started to work her mental illness out and now works as an assistant for a psychotherapy clinic, hoping to bring others the same type of help she’s received. Hopefully without involving the doom of her hometown, this time. Brown is now a variety show host, and hates Jun’s mom. The game makes note of his excellent fashion sense. I’ll let you be the judge of that. Reiji’s gotten a girl pregnant and married her right out of high school. He’s taken up the life of a door-to-door salesman, but the same things that made him an efficient demon-bopper make him really inefficient at relating to people, so he’s not very good at his job. He doesn’t show his abs anymore. I think that might have something to do with it. He likes to blow up steam by hunting down demons on his own. He’s started looking more and more like his evil half-brother, prompting rumors that Kandori has returned. Nanjo, now a bit less of a stuck up snob, takes a break from running his family’s business group to check these rumors out, willing to do whatever it takes to make sure Persona 1 does not happen again. This is foreshadowing. This will be on the exam later.
Hey, what’s that. Are we… done? Good heavens, I think we are! Finally! Only took what, like six months. Well, we’re going to edit this up, make my thoughts a bit neater, then get all the parts into one giant post for people who prefer to read these things that way. After that, it’s on to Eternal Punishment. Hopefully it won’t take me like a year to get through the next one. See you then!