Someone somewhere is now buying a Shin Megami Tensei game.
The Shin Megami Tensei series is huge! But although the Final Fantasy series outsells the Shin Megami Tensei series, itâ€™s not by much. And although FF has a wide fan base of casual players, SMT has a huge devoted and fanatical following of hard-core fans. The main series and its off-shoots have spawned merchandise consisting of figures, garage kits, plushies, phone cards, train tickets, several trading card series, posters, art books, fan art books, strategy guides, anime, manga, doujinshi, t-shirts and of course cosplay costumes.
The Megami Tensei series originally sprang from a set of mixed media works centred on the novel â€˜Digital Devil Storyâ€™ by Aya Nishitani. And Namco on the Famicom released the first game, â€˜Digital Devil Story Megami Tenseiâ€™ in 1987, with a second game following three years later. Soon after the release of the second game Cozi Okada, the director, and one of the principal minds behind the series, co-founded Atlus and the series took a major leap forward â€“ and a couple of steps sideways that produced several off-shoots to the main game series.
The name â€˜Shin Megami Tenseiâ€™ roughly translates as â€˜Reincarnation of the True Goddessâ€™ as the female lead in the original novel was the reincarnation of the Japanese Shinto goddess of creation, Izanami. The goddess doesnâ€™t actually appear in any of the games, but each game always has a strong female character. The series had - and continues to have - a unique view, where good doesnâ€™t triumph over evil, the hero doesnâ€™t save the world and the player is often called on to make moral or philosophical decisions that affect the game flow and/or the ending. SMTâ€™s originality has been firmly established. Whether itâ€™s the storyline, theme or gameplay, players are able to experience things that are beyond their expectations in familiar settings that they will never experience in any other RPG.
One of the most distinctive features of the series is its ordinary settings (almost always Tokyo and a school in Persona), companion demons and subsequent demon fusion. In fact, the existence of demons and the apocalypse are the reasons that the series took so long to be brought out of Japan. In the first game demons pour out of a computer to rape and pillage the human population. The second game begins with a nuclear explosion and the almost total devastation of Tokyo, and ends with the protagonist facing off against the Christian God, YHVH, (Yahweh). Other RPGs also feature the killing of god but they donâ€™t actually name him as YHVH. Naturally this didnâ€™t sit well with religious factions in the US â€“ the first country outside Japan to see the series. And neither did the capturing, training and fusion of demons, angels and deities who then fight alongside the principal character.
The portrayal of the demons and deities are the creation of the other half of the Megami Tensei team: Kazuma Kaneko. Inspiration for his demons and deities are drawn from all over the world and feature Kazuma Kanekoâ€™s take on archangels, gods and creatures from Norse, Celtic, Egyptian, Polynesian, Chinese, Hindu and of course Japanese mythology: Kazuma Kaneko is also responsible for each characterâ€™s looks and actions and he also has major input into the gameâ€™s storyline. Although Kazuma Kaneko is Atlusâ€™s creative director he is free to undertake outside contracts when his schedule allows, and he has worked on Devil May Cry 3, Zone of The Enders, Super Robot Wars and several other games. But itâ€™s mostly because of his work with the MegaTen series that he has built up a huge fan base.
Shin Megami Tensei: Revelations (PS1 - 1996) was the first MegaTen to break into the US market, and even then it was only because many of the demons underwent a name change. But subsequently it was realised that the games stood on their own merit as good entertainment and it sold well. SMT: Revelations is from the Persona off-shoot and, like all the MegaTens it had a first-person view. It was followed by Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (PS1 â€“ 2000) which is actually the second of a pair of games, the first of which, SMT: Innocent Sin, was not released outside Japan. These two games were a break with tradition, in that they are in the third-person perspective.
The first the West saw of the main series was Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (PS2 â€“ 2004) which was actually the directorâ€™s cut entitled SMT III: Nocturne Maniax in Japan, and featured an optional multi-layered dungeon (the Labyrinth of Amala), a sixth ending and included Dante from Capcomâ€™s Devil May Cry series. Due to its popularity it was subsequently released in PAL in 2005 with the name Shin Megami Tensei: Luciferâ€™s Call by the small independent company Ghostlight. It too showed a third-person view and had turn-based combat. It was mainly this game which created the western fascination with the Shin Megami Tensei series and three of its off-shoots: Persona, Digital Devil Story and Devil Summoner.
Six months after the release of SMT III: Nocturne, Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga was released in the US to major acclaim. And a year later Ghostlight released it to a PAL audience, which was demanding for more of the same. The main differences between Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga is that in Nocturne the protagonist recruits demons to his party and then is able to fuse two or three demons together to form one superior demon, while in DDS the protagonist and his (human) party are able to â€˜shape shiftâ€™ into demon form at will. DDS also has a skill tree which allows the player to equip a skill theyâ€™ve learned, while in Nocturne skills become lost as the player levels up. Digital Devil Sagaâ€™s â€˜press turnâ€™ turn-based combat is also a huge improvement. Although SMT: Digital Devil Saga 2 continued the story in 2005 in the US, it took two more years to be reformatted to PAL.
Another off-shoot to the MegaTen series, the hugely titled Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs The Soulless Army hit the US late in 2006 and PAL a scant two months after Digital Devil Saga 2 in 2007. The Devil Summoner off-shoot features real-time combat and the main character is always a detective named Raidou Kuzunoha in honour of the first great devil summoner by that name. For some reason Devil Summoner was not as successful as its predecessors.
After eight years the Persona off-shoot was dusted off and Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 was released in the US early in 2008 and later that same year it came to PAL. As usual in the series, it has real-time combat and is set in a typical Japanese school. The player must juggle school, homework and a hectic social life as well as fighting demons. The continuation of the story in SMT: Persona 3 â€“ FES followed in the US later in the same year and PAL-land is expecting its release in approximately two weeks. Next in line to be released is Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and the US is expecting it in early December - as yet there is no date for a PAL release.
So whatâ€™s new for the Shin Megami Tensei series? Although seriesâ€™ off-shoots continue to be released every few months in Japan itâ€™s extremely unlikely we will ever see any of them. We will, according to recent press releases, see the release of the MMORPG Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine, but as yet there is no confirmed release date. SMT: Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha is due out later this month in Japan, but as yet there is no confirmed release date for it in the west.