The Shin Megami Tensei Series - Taken from the Official Shin Megami Tensei Strategy Guide by DoubleJump Books.

By: Alicia Ashby

It has only been recently, relatively speaking, that RPGs have gotten to be a popular genre of console games in America. During the 16-bit era, though, they were considered a niche genre, something that only a small group of hardcore fans cared about. This was not so in Japan, where RPGs have always been one of the most popular genres regardless of platform. This was often a source of frustration to American players, as it lead to the release of many RPGs that drew rave reviews, but were never translated because publishers assumed that RPGs wouldn't sell on this side of the Pacific.

View the History of Shin Megami Tensei

The original Shin Megami Tensei was the third in the Megami Tensei (or "MegaTen") series, and first appeared on the Super Famicom in 1992. The game revolves around the nameless protagonist's attempts to defend his native Tokyo from an invasion of demons that threatens to turn the city into the new staging ground for the endless struggle between the forces of Law and Chaos. The demons come in a wide variety of forms based on world religious mythology, each family with its own racial alignment. The player will also develop a Lawful, Chaotic, or Neutral alignment over the course of the game, depending on the actions he takes in the course of gameplay.

Thanks to a computer program e-mailed to him by a mysterious ally, the protagonist is able to communicate with the demons who are roaming the streets and buildings of Tokyo. Depending on what you say, the demons may decide to fight you, to run away from you, to give you gifts, demand bribes, or offer to join your party and become your ally. Which demons you battle and ally with will influence your alignment, which will in turn influence how other demons react to you in the future. Demons whose alignment opposes yours will never ally with you, but can still be obtained by fusing other demon allies together. Alignment in SMT can also influence other gameplay factors, such as what items you can equip and which bosses you fight. This open, flexible style is the core of SMT's appeal, giving the game immense replay value. Acquiring different alignments will result in entirely different endings for the game, all of them equally valid.

Shin Megami Tensei II is a direct sequel to the original SMT. It presumes a world where the original game's protagonist took a Neutral alignment and ultimately founded a utopian society whose citizens were free to follow whatever beliefs they chose. This peace lasted for about forty years before a Lawful sect called the Messians usurped power and went to war against the Chaos-loving Gaeans. In short order, the world was reduced to a barely-habitable post-apocalyptic nightmare. The new protagonist is from one of the few habitable areas left in Japan, a place called Valhalla that is part of a larger Messian-controlled community called Tokyo Millennium. When we meet him he's a struggling gladiator nicknamed Hawk who's suffering from amnesia, and not surprisingly, much of the early game's storyline is about the slow revelation of Hawk's true memories and identity. However, Hawk's identity is only one small piece of SMT2's much larger overall plot.

Hawk is very similar to SMT's protagonist, and he even receives the ability to speak with and summon demons in much the same way. The alignment system functions basically the same way as SMT's, but alignment will cause more dramatic variations in the storyline and have a much deeper effect on gameplay. The combat system is also expanded to include a wider variety of demons and the ability to fuse both demons and weapons together. All this plus a more forgiving level of difficulty make SMT2 even more completely absorbing than SMT.

Beginning in 2001, Atlus began releasing console versions of the two original Shin Megami Tensei games for the PlayStation, with graphics that were dramatically improved but still true to the series' 16-bit roots. SMT received upgrades to its overworld map and menu interface that made it look essentially identical to SMT2. The remakes also introduced a "normal" mode that substantially reduced the difficulty of both games, while the "expert" mode allowed players to experience the game at its original difficulty levels. The PlayStation's 3D rendering ability was tapped to add special FMV cinemas, as well as an effect that made the still-featureless walls scroll by more smoothly as the protagonist moved. 2003's GBA remakes featured graphics absolutely identical to those of the PlayStation remakes, while eliminating "normal mode", the FMVs, and the 3D wallscrolling effect. In exchange, the GBA remakes gain a very useful new Options mode that lets the player customize the autobattle AI, message speed, and color display.

The final payoff of the wave of remakes was the long-awaited release of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne in Japan, in 2003. SMT3 wowed audiences by not only taking advantage of the PlayStation 2 to create an even deeper and richer gameplay system than ever before, but also by staying true to the classic elements of SMT's storytelling. Everything from the anonymous protagonist to demon recruitment is present in Nocturne, along with the latest in advanced modern graphics. Although the original games of the SMT series may never see official domestic release, players who go through Nocturne can rest assured that they're getting the authentic Shin Megami Tensei experience.

The Megami Tensei series

The original Digital Devil Monogatari: Megami Tensei was a 1987 RPG that appeared on the MSX, PC/88, and FM/77 personal computer platforms, as well as the Famicom. A sequel followed in 1990 on the Famicom, and then the two Shin Megami Tensei games debuted on the Super Famicom in 1992 and 1994 (respectively). After SMT2's release, Atlus began to focus intensely on side stories and spin-offs of SMT that were all marketed as part of the Megami Tensei franchise, such as the very popular Shin Megami Tensei: If... and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner. As of this writing, there are over 50 games in the Megami Tensei line, with new releases like Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children: Messiah Risers and Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner still on the way. The three major Shin Megami Tensei games are part of the MegaTen game family, but share an approach to storytelling and gameplay that sets them apart as a series.

What does Shin Megami Tensei mean?

Shin Megami Tensei (pronounced "shin MEH-gah-mee TEN-say") is a Japanese phrase that translates as "True Goddess Metempsychosis." An unusual piece of philosophical jargon, "metempsychosis" refers specifically to the unending process of birth, death, and rebirth that is of central importance to the Buddhist religious tradition. Even deities are slaves to the cycle of metempsychosis in Buddhist thought, and this belief features prominently in the plotlines of the various Shin Megami Tensei games. Who exactly the titular "goddess" is supposed to be is usually left up to the player. Each SMT game features a female character that the title could be referring to, or it could be taken as a reference to radical transformations that Japan itself experiences during the course of a game.


- Sony PlayStation 2®
- An Atlus RPG title
- For 1 player only
- Rated M for Mature