I´ve always been fascinated by the gods and mythical creatures, this is perhaps due to the influence of RPGs since my childhood like Final Fantasy VII. In these games legendary creatures like the Phoenix and black dragons were always really powerful and fearsome foes, so they piqued my curiosity. Like most people I learned about the gods related to my culture, the Greek gods, the Roman gods and the Nordic gods; movies and games usually make references to these popular gods. It wasn’t until I started playing Shin Megami Tensei (SMT for short) that I really learnt about the myths and legends of the whole world like Lucifer, Beelzebub, Astaroth, Baal, Shiva, Asura, Amaterasu, Byakko, Genbu, Mother Harlot, Kinki, Tyr, Fenrir, Metatron, Gabriel, Nekomata, Osiris, the 4 riders of the apocalypsis, and many others, way too MANY others.
Shin Megami Tensei is a franchise owned by ATLUS and it’s well-known for five factors:
- Simple complexity. This franchise has a very simple interface and it’s easy to grasp, but very hard to master due to the sheer amount of options and possibilities.
- Gray choices. All the games of this franchise present the user with many hard to choose options, a good example are the choices present in SMT: Devil Survivor 2, where you’ll need to choose between a meritocracy and an egalitarian system or keeping the world as is, there isn’t any bad guy here, just different points of view.
- Living legends. The franchise is full of demons, angels and other legendary creatures from all over the world, with accurate descriptions about them and their role in each country’s legends. From minor creatures like fairies and gnomes to great guardians like Seiryuu and Suzaku, including supreme entities like Lucifer, Shiva, Odin and Zeus.
- Fusion System. In the games of the franchise you can combine different entities to pass their powers to one another and give them greater skills and abilities, as long as they aren’t opposite to their original capabilities, you can’t give fire skills to a creature of ice, for example.
- Unforgiving difficulty. Even veteran gamers have rough times when dealing with ATLUS games, and SMT isn’t an exception. The games aren’t unfair or heavily dependent on RNG like Darkest Dungeon but they aren’t forgiving. You’ll need to be prepared to deal with the enemies you’ll face, there isn’t a single shoe to fit them all.
Apart from these key points most games in the franchise take a modern approach to demons and legends, featuring smartphones, guns, military forces and other organizations. This is another of the key points of the franchise, it’s easy to understand and feel identified with the worlds presented within; unlike other fantasy games where there is no relation with real life, in these games we actually see day to day things like modern schools, organizations, smartphones, and so forth. The way they merge these legends of old with modern technology and ambiance is one of the greatest selling points of the entire franchise and games like SMT IV take this point to whole new levels.
The franchise has many different games in its series, most are turn-based RPG, but there are tactical RPG and Action RPG games as well. The only relation between games in the series of the franchise is the theme, so you can start playing from any point without fear of missing something.
The main SMT series is about angels and demons and how they fight using the humans as pawns in their desire for conquest. In the main series you will usually need to choose between joining the angels, the demons or staying neutral, and getting demons to join you usually requires some degree of diplomacy and knowledge of them. Travels between dimensions is usually a recurring theme to show the effects of joining a side.
The other most famous series is the Persona series, focused on social interaction and the demons inside us. Persona is really famous and also has several animes and spin-off games; they focus mainly on things like desires, corruption, abuse of power and others. This franchise is also REALLY original on content, in SMT: Persona 2 rumors became real, so you would pay to spread rumors around town to get access to new features; SMT: Persona 3 featured something called the 13th hour, that existed at the end of the day and where people would get frozen in a coffin and only “awakened” people could move in this hour; SMT: Persona 4 featured a world inside the TV (you read that right), the protagonists would need to go to the biggest shop in town where there was a TV big enough for them to enter; SMT: Persona 5 the protagonists would enter people’s corrupted desires (called palaces) through an app in their smartphones.
The SMT: Devil survivor series only featured two games, DS 1 and 2, and they’re tactical RPGs. In the first part the city block were you were located would suffer from an earthquake and demons would start to invade. The government would do a full lockdown of the place and attempt to cleanse the place; you on the other hand would be focused on escaping the lockdown by any means necessary and you’d get access to an app on your smartphone that would allow you to invoke demons to do your bidding. They actually give a pretty damn good and convincing explanation as for why you could invoke them using a smartphone and the 7 day limit to escape the lockdown only makes things more interesting. Multiple options and multiple endings while managing your time makes this one of the best games out there for tactical RPG fans. The second part keeps some features but it’s less interesting overall unless you’re a fan of politics. They even released a redux version for the 3DS.
Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha (It’s pretty impressive I still remember the name after all these years) is an Action RPG for PS2. It features a detective who deals with paranormal investigations in a 19-20th century japan. Like all other SMT games it features hard decisions and legendary beasts. The interesting part here is the action system and the setting of the game itself.
The other great series I have to mention here is SMT: Digital devil saga. This one takes a more classical approach, focusing on the character themselves instead of the demons. Here you will play as the protagonists and you won’t control the demons, instead absorbing their power for yourself. This one has one of the most complex stories of the entire franchise, focused on digitalization and other really deep stuff regarding survival and cultural differences.
There are also other spin-offs and one-time entries in the franchise, like SMT: Strange Journey, Persona 4 Arena and others. Here's a pic to show the full franchise:
Addictive and deep games
This is one of the few franchises that have never disappointed me, and I can’t even remember how many hours I have spent playing these games. I finished Persona 5 in more or less 70 hours, and it was a very fast playthrough since I already had a walkthrough with an optimized route. The sheer amount of content may scare some casual players, but once you start you’ll probably won’t even notice time passing.
The latest releases from the franchise include 500+ demons and tons of combinations, with background explanations about them.
I played all of them focused on the main theme, trying my best to take choices that would allow me to take the path I would prefer, and even then I found myself learning about gods and goddesses of the entire world. The complex difficulty and the huge amount of possibilities encourage exploration and trying out new things.
These games often feature several routes and alternative endings that are quite different, encouraging multiple playthroughs as well.
While the interfaces and the controls are easy enough, the games themselves are very hard to master. The prices at shops are typically very high and getting new demons is difficult, but grinding is rarely the solution, since you’ll get very low amounts of cash, and the weaker your enemies, the less experience you’ll earn. You’ll need to focus on covering your team’s weak points and strengths, because when hitting weaknesses you’ll get great advantages and conversely, if they hit your weaknesses then you’ll get into really bad situations.
This process of covering weaknesses and strengthening your demons through fusion and exploring new tactics to face strong foes is one of the key points in this franchise and one of the most addictive things to do.
I could probably talk about SMT for hours or days, but then no one would read the post, and it would lose purpose. The games themselves are very dark and deep, with themes that are always interesting: death, betrayal, corruption, disinformation and much more are frequently seen in their games and the ways the protagonists deal with these issues and the choices given to you make them a really unique RPG experience.
That being said, almost all SMT are lineal RPGs, and the others aren’t even RPGs, but just because they’re lineal doesn’t mean you don’t get to affect the world or influence it in meaningful ways; the fact that the games are lineal is what allows for top-tier story telling. If you’d rather play games packed with actions where you can do whatever then SMT games aren’t for you, these games are for people who like to think and enjoy reading deep stories full of twists.
All in all I would give the whole franchise 87 points out of 100. As a SMT fan I find it hard to be neutral and give it this score with all the great games they’ve made, but they’re lacking in the graphics department and the franchise itself is lacking more coverage of other media. Only Persona 3, 4 and 5 have made an appearance in TV, but this is also probably due to them being the less “controversial” ones. The difficulty when grinding also makes it harder to approach for newbie players who prefer easier and simpler approaches to gaming, and they just made a ridiculously easy difficulty for “storytelling” purposes that actually makes the games boring. While they’ve made incredibly good products, they can still improve and they’re a little beyond the modern tech used by other companies.
They're working on SMT V now as celebration for their anniversary and it’s being developed on Unreal Engine 4 so they might very well solve their graphics issue once and for all, you can check out the teaser trailer here:
These games are a must for any JRPG fan, but if you’re more of an action packed western gamer, then give it a skip unless you’re interested in the controversial stories or the myths and legends.
Kind regards and happy gaming.
Image Sources: http://megamitensei.wikia.com/ or the related game.
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