Shin Megami Tensei is video game series by Atlus. They are mostly RPGs. The series includes Devil Summoner (Sega Saturn) and Soul Hackers (Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, as well as the original Shin Megami Tensei games, found on Super Famicom. The Megami Tensei series, on Famicom predates these games, but are slightly different genre, and from a different company -- there was probably a purchase of rights in order to use the name and motifs.

The Persona series (called 'Revelations: Persona' in the US) is a gaiden, or side story of this series. These games include strong and frequest religious and occult references, from several different cultures. They also mesh the sci-fi and Fantasy genres quite well, involving both technology and magic. They have turn-based combat, and complex magic systems. In my opinion, the games have excellect plot componants, and very good music.

Name: Shin Megami Tensei
Format: Super Famicom, Sega CD, Turbo CD, Sony Playstation, Gameboy Advance1
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Year: 1992

Shin Megami Tensei is apparently the third most popular RPG series in Japan, behind only Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior. This, the first of the series, was an immensely complex first person dungeon crawler game.

Beginning

The game begins with the main character in a dream. They walk to a door, which like many doors in Japan, talks2 - it asks what the characters name is, and then the player enters it. None of your usual "Name these 5 characters" which comes at the start of many a Game. You are then prompted to add 18 points between 6 categories, determining your character's Stats. The Statistics are:

  • STR - Strength - This determines how good your character is at physical attacks.
  • MAG - Magic - This determines how powerful the magic spells your character knows will be.
  • INT - Intelligence - determines what magic spells you know.
  • STM - Stamina - controls total HP and defence.
  • SPD - Speed - affects how fast you attack.
  • LUK - Luck - Not sure about this, but it probably has to do with the amount of random encounters which take place.

Depending on your bias, you may end up with a very strong character at physical attacks, or someone with loads of HP, or a very fast character. If you don't want to hedge your bets just yet, you can simply add 3 points to each category. Don't worry about your choices at this stage too much, as you can add a single point to a stat of your choice every time you go up a level.

The dream also introduces you to two demons who become your allies - you can name them and customise their stats. They say that they have forgotten what they are supposed to be doing, and they think if they come with you they might remember. You find the first one crucified, and the second one seemingly dead on the floor, but they are both fine, and follow you. As you continue through the dream with the demons by your side, you suddenly meet a girl bathing naked in an underground pool. She recognises you immediately, and says her name is Yuriko. She says she has waited for you to be your eternal partner, which I guess translates as the love interest for the hero. She disappears almost as fast as she turned up, and then the main character wakes from his dream.

As his mother shouts him awake, his computer registers a file transfer. The file is accompanied by this message:

Humanity is in grave danger!

Demons of legend from ages past have awakened from their long slumber. Soon, they will overrun the earth!

In order to compete with the demons and fight for our survival, we will need to utilize their power.

Use this program correctly, and you should be able to!

I pray that those with the courage to use it will accept it...

To fight the demons that would destroy us, and to preserve humanity...
Downloading... You have received the demon summoning program.

When you get out of bed, your mother notes that you slept very well last night - even with all the police sirens going past outside. She reckons it must be a big incident, and then gives you your pocket money. She reccomends going to the mall and buying some coffee. For a game opening, I would say this has the next best thing to Half-Life. As you carry on through the first few hours of the game, you quickly realise that this game has scale and design genius to challenge the masses.

Gameplay

The game is played mostly from a first person perspective - this is quite rare for a SNES game, but it is not proper 3D3. Instead, you can look along any of the main four compass points and walk forwards. If you press left or right on the control pad, then you turn 90 degrees in that direction. Pressing forward makes you walk forward one unit, while pressing down will make you turn 180 degrees. Since buildings are entirely made up of corridors at right angles to each other, this method works very well.

The part of the game not set in this 3D-view right-angle world is the city map, which allows you to walk around the streets. The city looks very expansive, but due to the ongoing investigation of a murder (that was what all the sirens were about at the start of the game) you cannot get out of a very small area you start in - the police have set up roadblocks on all the exits. The only places to go are the hero's house; their neighbour's house, where a girl lives; the mall, which is full of shops, and has a cafe where you can get information, and a few other buildings which are blocked at the start - eg. a hospital and an almost deserted mansion. All these places eventually become accessible, and I wouldn't be surprised if the roadblocks eventually get lifted, allowing you to explore the whole town.

Battles are a great part of this game - you encounter demons while walking around almost all of the game's areas (even they city map) but once they are encountered, it is not necessary to fight them. You can simply talk to them, at which point you will be given a few choices (eg. Which attitude do you take: Friendly or Threatening?). Depending on your choices, the demon may still attack you, it may run away, it may give you money, items or Magnetite (more on that later), or it may wish to join you as a minion. Sometimes you will have to give it items as a bribe into becoming your minion - this is a bit of a gamble, as you can not be sure whether it will keep it's promise or just run away.

It's very useful to have minions (that is what the computer program received at the start of the game is for) because you can either summon them to accompany you (at which point they will use up Magnetite as you walk around. If your stocks of Magnetite run out your minions will steadily lose HP, so you must either find some more Magnetite, heal the minions, or dispel them. If you dispel them though, they will not help you in battle until you call them back. Another good thing about having a minion is that if you meet a demon of the same species and talk to them, most of the time they will say "Take good care of my friend" and occasionally you will be given an item. You can also fuse minions together to create something really powerful - I fused a goblin, a pixie and my pet dog together and I got an incredible level 42 beast when the rest of my party was level 10. A slight problem is that the summoning cost (a value of money which needs to be paid every time you summon the demon) is 1000 yen, compared to 64 yen for a pixie. Oh well, it got me past a boss in about 5 seconds, so I can't be too ungrateful. Actually, I can, because just after I beat the boss, the idiot attacked a computer and disappeared.

Plot

The plot of the game is probably one of the best plots to a game I've seen. So many other simply say "Retrieve many crystals, destroy demon king, save princess person!" in the first five minutes, leaving you with a game completely devoid of plot development. Shin Megami Tensei, like all truly great games, doesn't tell you the plot when you start, and you figure out what is happening as you go along. Suffice to say that in the first few hours, you are thrown in jail after being framed for murder, you meet Yuriko a few more times, you meet the person who programmed all your demon summoning software (a man in a wheelchair who is all but identical to Stephen Hawking), your mother is taken away and replaced with a decoy demon, and you eventually get out of the cordoned off police area by the gift of teleportation. And there's the whole battle to save the world thing on top of that as well. The fact that the game is set in very near future Japan, rather than some parallel dimension, is also a big plus point. I am sure there are plenty more huge plot elements to come as well - I'm only about 5 hours into the game. Apparently, you are not forced into helping either side (good or evil) in the battle, you can decide which one suits you.

Longevity

This game is very long - the translation site reckons about 20 hours (around the same as Chrono Trigger). Although sometimes the fights become repetitive, there is always a new area to explore. Luckily, although the areas do all look the same, after a while you are emailed an automap program which maps the areas as you go. This greatly helps if you get lost easily. As for whether you'll become bored and give up (as I do on the vast majority of Snes games), the translator of the game, Gideon Zhi, who you would think would be totally sick of the game, spends most of his time on the cherryroms forum posting the message "GO PLAY SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI GODDAMIT!", and I recently saw him saying in response to someone saying they liked Chrono Trigger - "Shin Megami Tensei rips Chrono Trigger a new asshole." It doesn't come much clearer than that.

Series

As previously mentioned, Shin Megami Tensei is one of the most popular RPG franchises in Japan. It was based on an original NES game called Megami Tensei. I have been informed by heat that Megami Tensei means "Goddess Ressurection" and therefore SMT means "True Goddess Ressurection". Thanks for that.

Because SMT was never released in English, and because the few people who could play it realised it was very good, a few people decided to translate it, led by Gideon Zhi of Aeon Genesis translations. The patch was released in 2002, and is, as far as I know, final. The tranlsated ROM doesn't play perfectly (there are a few moments of graphical corruption) but the actual translation is great. The few bugs may disturb you, but will not prevent you from enjoying the game.

Although the game has been released on several formats, the only one I have access to is the SNES one, and as far as I know that is the only one which has been translated. If you know differently or have any further information to add about the other format versions, please /msg me or add a writeup in this node.

Graphics

For 1992, the game's graphics are pretty damn good. The 3D effect is great, the characters and enemies are well drawn, and the dream sequences have the most incredible blurry-wall effect I've ever seen on the SNES. The graphics are not quite up to the standards set by Chrono Trigger and Seiken Densetsu 3, but those games were released years after this.

Music

The music for the game, powered by the Snes' SPC chip, is brilliant, building the atmosphere to a great level. In particular, the music played after you level up is brilliant. If you have an SPC player and you see the soundtrack up for download somewhere, I would heartily reccomend it.

Overall

I would reccomend this game to any fans of RPGs on the Snes, especially those who like turn based games. However, anyone who can even remotely appreciate quality in silicon form should enjoy a few hours of this.


1 - I have only played the SFC version however.
2 - so I'm led to believe4
3 - Which the Super Famicom is capable of, albeit not very well. See Doom and Super 3D Noah's Ark

Sources:
Playing the Game.
Found out about the game and downloaded translation patch at http://agtp.romhack.net/smt.html.
GameFAQs (http://www.gamefaqs.com)

4 - This is a lie.

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