Persona 4: December 26th – February 13th (The Hollow Forest)

Last time we beat the real real culprit and the spooky demon man behind the real real culprit, but the game still didn’t end.

The day after Christmas Yosuke ambushes me on the way to school. It’s going to rain tonight, so they’re wondering if the Midnight Channel will still appear.

YOSUKE: Since we beat that Ameno-sagiri thing, the case should really be closed, right?

“Thing”. Yeah, the god from your national mythology is a “thing”. Why are these Japanese kids so ignorant of their own folklore?

John goes straight home after school because he’s incredibly lazy, and when I try to watch the Midnight Channel nothing comes on.

The Midnight Channel will surely never come on again.

That’s not what Ame-no-Sagiri said!

We skip over the entire winter break to the end of the year. Why? Those were perfectly good days for farming social links! Why is this game so inconsistent about when I can do the life sim parts? The team decides to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the shrine by being huge dicks to each other, then I head back and celebrate with Nanako and Dojima, then John refuses to do anything for the rest of the day because he’s a lazybones.

On the 2nd Nanako wants to make a snowman but Dojima can’t because he’s too injured. I can refuse to help if I want to be a monster. Dojima warns that if she stays out too long she could get sick. She better not die because I let her make a snowman. Then I finally get to leave the house and talk to people.

The Okina police officer is shocked the serial killer was a policeman. Sure you are, buddy.

KIND MAN: …My wife suddenly collapsed the other day. The doctors gave her an IV and sent her home, but said she’s overexerting herself. She’s gotten better, but she still needs to be resting. She went back to work anyway, though. I don’t want her to relapse, but she says that her job is the only reason she has for living…

Jesus, get therapy. Imagine telling your spouse “Please don’t kill yourself, sweetie,” and they tell you they have only one reason for living and it’s not you.

YUKIKO: So much happened last year… But I think I managed to get through it all because I had all of you with me.

“Without that I might have actually run away and broken free of this dead-end town! Thanks for that, I guess!”

Marie has left the Velvet Room and Margaret won’t tell me why. Okay.

On the 3rd Yosuke and Teddie come over to plan a skiing trip. Nanako and Dojima have to go back to the hospital, so Teddie declares he will be keeping me company even if I say I don’t want him.

It seems that Teddie will be staying with you, no matter what you say…

This game in a nutshell. Always with the railroading.

Then John suddenly comes down with a cold and faints. We get a dream of Marie in a new location saying she has to leave. Is it going to turn out that she was the fog all along? The cold forces us to skip all of winter break, but conveniently we recover just in time for the start of the third term on the 10th.

I resume my social link with Naoto on the 11th. She heard that the thief was spotted in the shopping district, and hopes to catch him in the act of hiding one of the items. We find him at the shrine (and indeed, it’s the same guy who gave me the letter), and he brandishes a knife. I try to protect Naoto, but she explains the knife is actually just another one of her detective gadgets, and the thief runs away in the confusion. Naoto’s rank 8 skill is… Heat Riser! Holy cow, she just gets all the good skills.

On the 12th suddenly everyone on the team wants a piece of me. I hang out with the only one I like, Kanji. He talks about wanting to get a present for his mom to thank her for being so good to him and summarizes his character growth over the course of his social link.

And he gets a second Persona evolution, neat! Wasn’t expecting that. This one now drains electric and resists physical. He also learns “The Man’s Way”, which has a chance of dizzying all foes. Nice.

Can I do this for everyone, or just one? Yep, on the 14th I can hang out with Yosuke. He apologizes to me for forcing me to help him with Junes and claims he likes being relied on by other people. Could this be… empathy? Has the game finally, at the last possible moment, delivered counterevidence to him being a sociopath? Or is this just another form of self-aggrandizement?

YOSUKE: When we were debating dropping Namatame into the TV… I was just seeing red. I was so overwhelmed with hate and wanting to blame everything on him that I stopped thinking for myself. I think the same could be said about what happened at Junes.

“Forcing your friend to cover your shift and almost murdering a dude are the same thing, right?”

His ultimate Persona is uncomfortably racialized. Why are the Japanese so obsessed with afros? He learns “Youthful Wind”, which is a combo Masukukaja + Mediarama, pretty good.

On the 17th I hang out with Naoto again. As was obvious, the thief is her butler and the whole thing was staged by her grandpa to give her a challenge.

YAKUSHIJI: My master wanted Naoto-sama to regain the joy she felt in days past. To regain the feelings when all that she wanted was to be a detective, regardless of her heritage or gender…

So that’s confirmation her grandpa supports her regardless of her gender.

We find the last of her detective gadgets and she tells us she’s grateful to us for giving her a friend group.

NAOTO: I have to be an adult… I have to be a man… With that way of thinking, I was running from myself. I don’t need to look for something to change or something to accomplish… I only need… to have faith in myself…

I mean, that still doesn’t solve institutional sexism. It’s really grating that we keep seeing characters with extrinsic problems come up with intrinsic solutions. I think it ties into the inability for these plots to change the status quo; they can’t have the characters change the environment around them or how they interact with them, just how they feel, which is conveniently invisible during all the main plot scenes.

NAOTO: I… I am a woman… and a detective… One who will continue to pursue the truth with you and the others as long as I live.

Well, no, because I’m leaving in a few months, and you shouldn’t anyway because everyone else is a dick to you.

I can hang out again immediately on the 18th. The scene mostly just reiterates the same things about Naoto accepting herself, and…

I was wondering what her capstone skill would be, since she has no weakness. Invigorate 3 is good, but not better than her other skills, so I chuck it.

Naoto teaches me detectiving skills, but this doesn’t translate into any gameplay bonus for John. Boo.

On the 19th I hang out with Yukiko. She says she confessed to the inn employees that she planned on running away, and they say they all knew. So they knew Yukiko was going insane under the stress and planned to run away from home, yet they didn’t talk to her about this, because…? She claims they’re “good people” but I don’t think so.

The SMT wiki tells me this is just a more reverent name for Amaterasu. I was wondering how they could possibly top Amaterasu, so that’s fair. Burning Petals is just a stronger version of Maragidyne.

YUKIKO: As long as all of you are with me, I think I can go on without making mistakes.

I’m not sure “I will be perfect and never make mistakes in my life, ever,” is a healthy attitude here.

YUKIKO: So… I hope we’ll always be friends.

We won’t, because I’m leaving. Why do none of the characters ever acknowledge that?

On the 20th the Dojimas come back from the hospital. But apparently first I’m subjected to Teddie.

TEDDIE: I’ve been waiting forevvvver and evvvver for this day! Now now now, come in, come in! Gimme one of those “Honey, I’m home” kisses! Oh, don’t be so shy. Smoochy-smoochy! Come on, pleeeeeeash?

What.

TEDDIE: Today’s the day Nana-chan comes back, so I’ve been practicing hard to greet her.

On second though, knowing the answer is worse. Why can I not kill him? The Dojimas finally come home and Teddie offers to exile himself to the cold hard ground where he belongs now that I have roommates again, but the game railroads me into letting him stay for dinner. Ugh. Fortunately he behaves himself during the dinner itself.

On the 21st I can’t hang out with Ai or Naoki… In my desperation to avoid Rise, I go on a bike date with Yukiko. Like with Yosuke, we go to a hot springs, which is a lot weirder this time since we can’t be in the same bath. Fortunately, no one else is at the hot springs so we talk through the partition. Yukiko learns Valiant Dance (enrages all foes), which is potentially useful but not better than any of her current skills, so I chuck it.

On the 22nd everyone holds yet another celebration party for Nanako, where she reveals she doesn’t remember the events of her kidnapping. Boo, that’s boring.

On the 23rd Naoto offers me a capstone date. She does some non-sequitor philosophizing about people forcing themselves to forget painful memories (?) but that inevitably leads to them making the same mistakes, but she’s decided that’s fine as long as she has someone she cares about (???).

Ooh, repel instant death… Unfortunately, most enemies that use instant death are immune to their own spells, so that probably won’t be as useful as it seems. Shield of Justice blocks all damage for the entire party once, basically Shield All from Devil Survivor. Well, that sounds incredibly broken! I chuck Tetrakarn for it, since I figure Counter skills and equipment can provide similar functionality.

NAOTO: There’s… a new power, budding in my heart? I wonder if this means I’m still capable of change.

When was that ever in doubt? Her entire subplot has been about change!

NAOTO: I’m starting to look forward a bit to getting older…

“Starting”? You had a whole complex about wanting to be an adult!

NAOTO: I want to watch how all of us change each other all throughout my life… That’s what I truly want.

So you’re going to stay in this backwater for the rest of your life? Because Yukiko made it clear she’s not leaving.

You sense an unchanging strong bond with Naoto…

That is such awful phrasing after all that talk about change.

On the 24th I have a capstone date with Chie. She says she’s decided to start studying more, and talks about how she’s gained a new appreciation for academic subjects in a way I find genuinely sweet. Amazing that she’s the only character who’s actually demonstrated personal growth and change during these capstone scenes.

CHIE: Thinking about Adachi-san made me wonder if he was just weird. But then I thought, if my life had been different, I could have been just like him. …Maybe everybody could.

Where is this coming from? No, Chie, I don’t think there’s any universe where you become a serial killer. Yosuke I could definitely see, but no one else on the team is a sociopath.

So Chie’s made the jump from a hero to a god, good for her. Dragon Hustle is a full-party Heat Riser, holy crap!

So that’s everyone (I also did Teddie at some point but didn’t write it down because the scene was boring), but the plot still hasn’t advanced. I occasionally get more Marie dreams, but Margaret just keeps telling me she still can’t locate her. I trudge through and continue to do other social links; I max out Shu and Naoki and even pedophile nurse, but I’ve decided I’ll cover those in a roundup post at the end instead of doing them piecemeal here. Let’s see if I can go the whole game without interacting with Rise. I also catch the river and sea guardian, which completes the final fox quest.

On the 28th, Nanako starts studying at home to catch up on work she missed at school. I offer to help, but Dojima decides to be a good dad for once and help out. I also go on a bike date with Kanji, wherupon he learns… Media? Seriously? That was obsolete even back in August. On the 31st Rise is the person available for a bike date. …Alright, I am curious what skill she’ll get. She manages to only be a little creepy, and her All-Out Attack bonus is boosted. In February I can go on a date with Teddie, who gets Dekunda, which is actually useful.

On the 6th we have a week of exams again. Yukiko says “I missed things like exams and schoolwork. This is just another sign of normal life coming back,” as if this hasn’t been 90% of the game. After exams the gang finally goes on that ski trip Yosuke wanted. After a lot of awkward and unnecessary banter demonstrating that these people really are not friends, Elizabeth drags us into the TV world and reveals she’s finally located Marie.

This world is a bamboo forest filled with creepy clay statues.

MARGARET: I apologize for the amount of time it required me to prepare.

You are absolutely not sorry, game.

Margaret calls this place the “Hollow Forest”, the same term Ame-no-Sagiri used to describe the TV world. Marie has apparently recovered her memories, but didn’t like what she found and retreated here for some reason. Margaret also explains Marie is native to the TV world. So… she’s a Shadow? Naoto, demonstrating more initiative than John has all game, asks if Margaret is a resident of the TV world too. Margaret dodges the question and just says the other side contains more than Shadows, as they saw with Ame-no-Sagiri. The team agrees that it was different from the Shadows. I’m sorry, how? In what way? I suppose it wasn’t tied to a specific person like previous Shadows, but it still claimed to be born from peoples’ suppressed desires and to represent their true selves. Also, apparently this place is disconnected from the rest of the TV world and can only be accessed from the ski lodge TV. Margaret also says that if we don’t rescue Marie now, she’ll disappear from our memories. Oh, no, how terrible. Can we do that with Teddie too?

CHIE: No… This doesn’t make sense!

No, but when has anything in this game made sense?

These idiots then decide to leave the TV world to regroup, which genuinely astounds me. I thought that for once, since we were already here, we would be forced to actually go through the dungeon immediately, but no, even when they’re already in the TV world they still find an excuse to waste time. And after they leave, they’re immediately confused why they even did that because there’s nothing to discuss. Also, Kanji insults Chie’s intelligence because he’s decided to give as good as he gets, I guess.

The team is somehow shocked the weird girl with amnesia is from the TV world.

KANJI: Wait, so the TV world is the “world of the human mind,” huh?

Ame-no-Sagiri just said that, do these idiots not listen to anything other characters say? I then get the chance to offer the excuse that “There wasn’t a chance to explain” that Marie was supernatural throughout the entire year, which, lol.

YOSUKE: Haha, no one’s complaining, man.

Oh, I am.

YOSUKE: If you tried introducing her like, “Oh, she’s from another world,” the “?” above my head could be seen from orbit.

YOU ARE ALREADY FRIENDS WITH TEDDIE. WHY IS A SECOND PERSON SO UNBELIEVABLE TO YOU.

The idiots then painstakingly deduce that the reason Marie chose to isolate herself has something to do with her memories, the thing Margaret literally just told them. This is such shameless padding. …Then they actually LEAVE AND GO BACK TO SCHOOL, even though Margaret told them this was their only way in, oh my god.

They check the newspapers and confirm there are no missing person cases.

NAOTO: It seems this place really doesn’t have anything to do with our previous “case”.

Yeah, it’s almost like this was tacked on to the rerelease at the last minute.

YUKIKO: “Hollow Forest…” We heard that phrase before… In the last battle, right?

Oh my god he only said it like five times. These characters are the worst detectives. Naoto at least remembers it, thank you. Then everyone returns to the cabin… somehow. Did they break into the resort? I’m given the same set of preparation choices I normally get at Junes, but if I try to leave the game just says I can’t. What’s the point of this, then?

When I enter the dungeon I get subjected to some of Marie’s terrible poetry and I lose all my items, including my equipment (though weapons are replaced with some default equipment that’s at least decent). Additionally, my SP gets halved after every fight, but I do get accessories that provide SP regeneration to offset it. Also most of the enemies here are weak to exorcisms, so I can cheese most encounters with Mahamaon.

When we catch up to Marie, she explains that her true identity is Kusumi-no-Okami (they do separate the “no” correctly this time), one of the gods who created the fog. Googling the name only gets me results related to Persona 4, and the SMT wiki can only speculate that it’s “probably” based on an extremely obscure Shinto god. Okay then. Apparently, she’s the one who relayed humanity’s wishes to Ame-no-Sagiri. So he was actually talking out of his butt when he claimed he represented the will of humanity, then. Also, if she doesn’t die, the human world will disappear (somehow). After going through the second half of the dungeon, she elaborates: The fog didn’t disappear after we defeated Ame-no-Sagiri, it just went into her, so she’s now a canned apocalypse. However, if she fades away, the fog will disappear for good.

Then because this is an RPG we have a boss battle to beat her into submission so she doesn’t kill herself. Boss music is a remix of the standard Shadow boss theme, which honestly feels a lot more fitting as final boss music than Ame-no-Sagiri’s battle theme. She uses “Shell of Denial”, which nulls all damage, but I can penetrate with with Break skills. After I shave off some of her HP the fight ends prematurely for her to angst some more, then she gets possessed and starts babbling about truth being bad and ignorance being bliss, because the writers think if they spout enough buzzwords they can pretend their story has a central theme.

The team tries to convince her she doesn’t really want to die because they saw things she liked in the grave world. I thought the TV world wasn’t the truth, it was what people wanted to see? Regardless, this doesn’t solve the actual problem, which is that she has to die if she wants to save the world she likes so much. I can say with no evidence, “There’s another way,” but Yosuke is the one to actually propose a solution: We don’t need to kill Marie, just the fog inside her. Uh, okay, and how are we supposed to do that? Our grand plan is to let Marie be overtaken by the fog, then kill the monster that results. Rise points out, uh, if the monster is still Marie’s body, won’t that still kill her? Marie just says I dunno maybe.

MARIE: …The rest comes down to luck, I guess. Which will give out first: the fog, or my life?

This is the grand climax: The heroes try a random thing and just hope it’ll work.

Monster Marie babbles more buzzwords about the truth being scary and wanting a comforting lie. The relevance of this to the plot is [NOT FOUND]. Her gimmick is that she repels all damage, forcing me to use Break skills to damage her… and since there’s no Break skill for physical damage, Chie and Kanji are useless for this fight, sigh. The fight is also unnecessarily dragged out by her intermittently inflicting silence on the party. I guess they were trying to compensate for physical skills being overpowered against everything else, but it’s really annoying that half your party can be rendered useless with no warning.

Afterwards Marie is of course fine, because we sought the truth of gambling someone’s life on a hunch. She hugs John and Rise immediately gets creepy about it.

CHIE: Why is it all our friends are like this…?

I hope this is an indication someone, somewhere, was self-aware about all the writers being pervs.

Then the Hollow Forest collapses and everyone escapes, followed by the TV exploding behind them. Wow, extra. Marie once again angsts about why they bothered to save her. Frankly, I don’t really know either; she’s a nothing character who was tacked onto the base game, I feel nothing towards her.

YOSUKE: If we blamed things on someone else and looked the other way, nothing would change.

This sure is awkward after seeing the bad ending where you did exactly that. Even in this timeline, people pushed for killing Namatame pretty strongly.

Then there’s a lovingly-animated porn cutscene of the boys peeping on the girls in the hot springs, because we really needed that, and then the day finally ends. But somehow, the game is still not over.

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