Last week, I played a visual novel (Midsummer Haze) for a New Leaf Journal review. In order to complete the novel, I had to re-do the same choice 43 times until a necessary event triggered. The process left an impression on me because I had never quite encountered such a mechanic in almost 30 years of playing video games. However, while Midsummer Haze’s random chance mechanic for unlocking nearly half of the game was unique, it reminded me indirectly of a case where I was subjected to virulent spam in a game. I present to you the case of a certain fight I had in the epilogue to the classic PlayStation 2 Japanese Role Playing Game, Persona 3 FES.
Before continuing, please note that I will spoil a key event of The Answer, Persona 3 FES’s epilogue. I will venture that most people who are interested in Persona 3, which first made it to the United States in 2007, and its enhanced director’s cut version (FES), which arrived in 2008, are familiar with the a certain memorable event involving the protagonist that happens at the end of the main game. FES came with a 25-30 hour epilogue which takes place after the game, and that is only available in the PlayStation 2 version, not the 2010 PlayStation Portable port of Persona 3 and not even in the upcoming PlayStation 5 remake, Persona 3 Reload. If you have been holding off on spoiling The Answer for all these years, you should stop reading now until you play it. If you already know what happens in Persona 3 proper and in The Answer or you do not much care, feel free to continue reading.
With my warning aside, let us proceed to my anecdote.
I have read mixed opinions about Persona 3 FES’s epilogue, but you may count me as a big fan. I dare say it has the most balanced and challenging combat of any of the modern Persona entries (3-5) and while it drops the social aspects of those games, its story presents a solid thematic conclusion to Persona 3. The main game in Persona 3 concludes with the protagonist saving the world from annihilation before dying with his head in the robot lap of Aigis, one of the main characters and party members. I say “robot lap” because Aigis is a female robot who had dedicated herself to protecting the protagonist (there is a backstory there, but it is beyond our scope).
In The Answer, the player takes control of Aigis, who inherits the late protagonist’s power to wield multiple personas just as she and the rest of the former party find themselves trapped in their dorm with the same day repeating over and over. If that was not enough, Metis, another robot who claims to be Aigis’s “sister,” appears from a hole in the floor of the dorm and joins the party. Nothing carries over from the main game, so the whole party restarts at low levels with limited items and options for gaining experience.
The Answer is significantly more challenging than base Persona 3, but it is a fair challenge. While the player is saddled with many disadvantages, the addition of Metis, who is quite epic, helps level things out (why Metis is epic is an article for another day). As the team follows the new leader (Aigis), they get closer to understanding why they are stuck in a time loop and why exactly the protagonist had to die as a result of their hard-earned triumph a few months earlier.
Eventually, the team comes across a key which gives them the option to return to the final fight in the main game that they had won but that had ultimately resulted in the death of the protagonist or player character. The party members disagree on what to do with the key, and they decide to settle the issue through combat (this was admittedly a bit of a convenient set-up). The player, as Aigis, takes the position of I don’t know what to do and is joined by Metis.
Aigis and Metis first face off against Akihiko, one of the two oldest students on the 5-person, 2-robot, 1-dog team, and Ken, a middle school student who is the youngest of the humans. Now although you are fighting characters you have used, you quickly find that these characters have been given dramatically higher stats and several times more hit points when they fight against you than what they have when they fight alongside you.
In each of the pairs of opponents, one is decidedly more threatening than the other. Akihiko is a much bigger problem than Ken in the first battle. Junpei is a marginally bigger problem than Koromaru in the second. And while Yukari, who is shown in The Answer to have canonically been in love with the protagonist, has the most verbal venom to employ against Aigis, her partner Mitsuru is more capable of inflicting colossal amounts of damage.
I first played The Answer 12 or 13 years ago. Objectively speaking, the final fight with Mitsuru and Yukari is the hardest because of Mitsuru’s damage potential and the fact that Mitsuru and Yukari cover more attacking types than the other duos. However, my real problem came in the first battle – and it was so awful that I remember it all these years later.
For whatever reason, I decided to take Ken out first on account of the fact that I suspected he had a healing move and 1-hit KO move in his arsenal. However, Ken is not especially threatening compared to Akihiko. In these special battles, Akihiko, as well as Mitsuru, get access to Megidolaon, which the game describes as an attack which “[d]eals severe Almighty damage to all foes.” In Persona 3, all magic attacks are generally either one of four elemental types or one of two one-hit KO types. Almighty is a special attacking type that is strong against nothing, unlike the elements, but that is also resisted by nothing. From my perspective, that was bad since I would otherwise have Aigis switch to Personas that resisted or nullified Akikhiko’s and Ken’s regular electric attacks and physical attack types (Metis has no weaknesses or resistances). Megidolaon is usually a pain on computer opponents, but I never much liked using it because of the high SP (points to use spells) cost.
Now at some point when I was close to taking out Akihiko and winning the battle, he pulled Megidolaon out for the first time. It did massive damage. I do not remember the exact percents, but it probably did about 75-80% of Aigis’ and Metis’ HP (probably slightly more to Metis but close) from full health. On the first strike, I was lucky that it did not wipe me out, but both Aigis and Metis sustained the hit badly.
Persona 3 is a turn-based game, so in theory I could recover Aigis’ on the next turn and, if Akihiko did anything but use Megidolaon again, either restore Metis’ health or revive her. My only losing condition was Aigis being knocked out. Thus, I used an item to heal Aigis back to full health.
Then Akihiko pulled Megidolaon out again, knocking Metis out and again taking Aigis from full health to about 1/5 of her HP.
I healed Aigis and then Akihiko dropped another Megidolaon.
After the fourth or fifth, I began to feel genuinely concerned that I would actually lose. So long as Akihiko kept using Megidolaon, I was forced to use a full HP restore item on Aigis since she had to be just about at full health to not be knocked out. This meant I could not use a revival item on Metis and certainly could not use my turn doing something productive like attacking Akihiko. In theory, Akihiko could burn through all of my healing items or SP for healing spells or force me into a Persona with a healing spell that would lower my defenses enough to actually be knocked out in one shot by Megidolaon. Again, I do not remember the precise particulars of my inventory, but I knew I was in trouble.
Akihiko kept this going for somewhere around seven-to-nine consecutive turns as I hung on for dear life. After the eighth or ninth consecutive Megidolaon, Akihiko finally did something else, which allowed me to revive Metis and then actually attack Akihiko. Akihiko did not use Megidolaon again, and I was able to take him out and complete the battle after having burned through a good chunk of my inventory. The next two battles proved to be comparatively uneventful, although I was worried I would somehow trigger Mitsuru into spamming me with Megidolaon in the finale (it never happened).
(For whatever it is worth, I may have actually lost if Mitsuru rather than Akihiko had employed Megidolaon . Mitsuru trades some of Akihiko’s versatility for an extra 10 points in her magic attack stat and, given the damage Akihiko was running up with Megidolaon, I am not sure that I would have been able to hold out against Mitsuru spamming it with her higher magic stat. Even the worst luck can be worse, I suppose.)
What did I do to inspire Akihiko to Megidolaon-spam me? I know not. I assume (without being sure) that Akihiko and Mitsuru only use Megidolaon when their teammate is down. That, combined with something else, probably triggered the Akihiko’s hidden rage mode. I was fortunate to have been well-stocked on items and to have understood what my win condition was and survive the onslaught. As a general matter, The Answer rewards you for playing it safe with your own health (avoid disaster, more or less) and slowly grinding your way through the tougher battles. Nothing served as a better test of my methodology that haywire Akihiko.
A friend of mine played Persona 3 FES’s epilogue a couple years later and did not trigger Akihiko’s wrath. I played The Answer with my New Leaf Journal friend and colleague Victor V. Gurbo in 2015 or so and I was very worried about setting off Akihiko again, but the fight went without incident on that occasion.
I was never able to find an account of the same Akihiko experience that I had. I will never be entirely sure what I did to make him so angry. But it stuck with me. While having to re-do a route 43 times in Midsummer Haze was similarly repetitive, the stakes felt much lower.