Shin Megami Tensei
by LadyRayna

Being an RPG fan I'm used to seeing the same formulaic elements, boy goes on a journey to save the world, he falls in love with the girl, he becomes a hero, there's a clear difference between good and evil, blah blah blah. Same old, same old.

That's why I was pleasantly surprised when some years ago I stumbled upon a game called Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. It was completely different from everything I had seen before. I decided to start with the first Shin Megami Tensei because it was the most easily available. So there I was, patiently waiting for it to load so I could watch the title loop like I always do with every game. My jaw literally dropped when I saw it. It was so creepy that I kept watching it over and over and over again. Right then and there I knew I would love it.

When I heard about the SNES week I jumped at the chance to write an article about it because it's a hidden gem. Although it's true that the Megami Tensei (aka Megaten) series has become more popular in the West, a lot of people don't know or don't care about the older games. For those who don't know I hope this article sparks their curiosity about SMT and those who don't care can go fuck themselves.

Anyway, without further ado, let's go to what really matters and the reason you're reading this shit.

After the abso-fucking-lutely incredible title loop and after you start a new game, you'll find yourself in a red corridor and soon you'll be in front of a door with a white face stuck on it. It asks your name and then prompts you to distribute 18 points between 6 attributes. He then lets you pass and you'll keep walking until you see a man crucified and what appears to be a priest beside him. The priest tells you that if you call that man's name he might awaken. You must give him a name and distribute the 18 points, after some chitty-chat he joins your party. Rise and repeat with the next man, who has a demon atop of him. After more walking around you'll arrive at a spring in which a woman is bathing. She claims to be your eternal partner. You leave (WTF, you [REDACTED]) and suddenly you hear your mom's voice waking you up from your dream.

Later you discover that Tokyo is overrun with demons, that your dream wasn't only a dream and everything turns out to be even crazier when the US Ambassador launches missiles in Tokyo. I know this is kind of a spoiler, but it's too good to leave out.

SMT is a first person non-linear RPG. And when I say non-linear I mean it. After Tokyo is destroyed you can go almost everywhere you want. Not only that, but throughout the game many questions will be posed to you and depending on your choices you'll get a different ending. That's right. Shin Megami Tensei lets you, the player, make your own decisions and they affect how the story will unfold. Besides, there's not a clear difference between good and evil. Good and evil are in the eyes of the beholder.

Finally an RPG that doesn't make you do what you fucking don't to. I don't know why the developers put options when you can only choose one. Guess what, THAT SHIT DOESN'T MAKE ME FEEL LIKE I HAVE A FUCKING CHOICE! It's at times like these that I know for sure they're holding my hand. Geez, thanks for rubbing it in.

There are three paths you can choose: Law, Chaos, or Neutral. Depending on your decisions your alignment will change. And here comes the best part, the demons you can recruit and your equipment will be affected depending on which path you chose. For example, if you choose Law you'll only be able to recruit Law and Neutral demons and you'll be unable to use any Chaos equipment. NPC dialogue will also be affected by your alignment.

As you must have already noticed, the story is fucking amazing. You can choose one of three paths, which gives a lot of replay value and, besides, in which RPGs can you say Tokyo, or any other city for that matter, is destroyed not long after you start the game? Not many. Hell, I don't know about you, but aside from SMT I can only think about FFVI. Besides that, SMT uses mythological and religious references throughout the game. You'll surely encounter at least one familiar face or your money back.

The battle system is very complex and thanks to the game being quite hard, you'll need to plan your next move carefully. When a battle starts you're given four options: fight, escape, talk and auto. If you choose to fight another menu will come up and a more frenetic song will start playing. Your human characters can use a sword, a gun, magic, an item or they can defend. The main character, however, cannot use magic, instead he is the only one who can use a computer (COMP). During battles you can use your COMP to change the battle formation, summon demons and analyse the enemy. Outside it you can also return or dismiss demons and access the map.

Summoning demons requires magnetite and you gain it after every battle. Also, keep in mind that summoned demons consume a small amount of magnetite after every step. Your demonic partners don't gain levels so if you want more powerful demons you'll have to either recruit more demons or fuse the ones you have. To fuse demons you'll need to go to the Jakyo Manor. You can fuse either two or three demons.

To summon demons you must first get them and you can do it by talking to them. You choose to be either friendly or threatening. Recruiting demons is an exercise of trial and error. And don't forget to pay attention to the moon phase because, depending on which phase it is, it may affect your demon conversations.

The map. Oh the motherfucking map. I swear it's one of the most, if not the most, annoying part about this game. To even access you have to open the main menu, choose COMP and then Automapping. Take a look at it. It's a normal map, right?

WRONG!!! This fucker was the reason I had to restart the game because I got so lost I couldn't even find the fucking exit. The trick to it is that if you're facing north and opens up the map, the north will be on top, the south on the bottom and so on. However, if you rotate the map will rotate with you. It took me a long-ass time to realise it.

Another big flaw is how vague the game is about where you should head next. This is aggravated by the fact that the buildings are very similar looking. So you're thrown in a vast, post-apocalyptic city with no idea where you should go next.

Have I mentioned that when you enter a building you're not given its name? No? Oh yes that sucks. Well, at least you have the neighbourhood names to use as guides.

The graphics are nothing to write home about. The backgrounds are very clean, or empty, whichever you prefer, there is little to no detail so you'll see the same background over and over again but with different colours. Although demons are well done, their animation is very simplistic. Nevertheless, I believe the graphics get their job done, they give off an eerie, post-apocalyptic and desolated atmosphere. The music is a superb mix of techno and rock and fits perfectly with that atmosphere. The only downside is the repetitiveness.

SMT is the kind of game that, above all else, requires strategy. You'll have to constantly change your demons and stay on your toes if you want to survive. Otherwise, you may find yourself stuck in a prison about to face a boss battle with no means to fuse your demons or heal yourself. Then you'll discover whether or not you're a strategist. And after that first boss there's another one :)


Shin Megami Tensei isn't a game for everyone, it's dark, unforgiving and way too old-school and these characteristics may turn a lot of people off. However, if you're willing to embrace them you'll find a complex battle system and a deep, interesting story.


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