279: What a Long, Strange Journey It's Been

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What a Long, Strange Journey It's Been

The Shin Megami Tensei games are distinctive and memorable, combining classic JRPG gameplay with aspects of world mythology, religion, and technology. Atlus Japan's Eiji Ishida and Kazuma Kaneko grant a rare interview to discuss the process that goes into crafting them.

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I do love the concepts of the MegaTen series, but the difficulty always scares me off.

I played Devil Survivor for a mere 6 hours before giving up completely at a boss fight.

Edit: I have since gotten back into it, and passed the fight easily. THANKS GAMEFAQS!

Goddamn, I love Atlus.

sorry posted in the wrong one. My bad. Please ignore me.

lordisaac1st:
How do you know MY commander Shepard isn't a fully realized, deep, and compelling character? It less that the characters in western rpgs are empty and more that they can be what the audience wants them to be, instead of in JRPGS where a character may be interesting to some or fall flat for others.

I know this article was focused on the JRPG side of the argument, and I agree that they put more emphasis on cooperation and teamwork to achieve goals and aide the world than the more individualistic western rpgs. But I think the western RPGS are not about just improving the individual himself, but how just the individual can improve or help the world without having to be part of some larger group.

There was no "argument" here. It's just an interview with some guys from Atlus. Stop being so damn defensive.

My, I seem to have missed a gem somehow with this series. Not that I chose to not play it; I've never heard of it. Methinks I need to go rectify that.

lordisaac1st:
How do you know MY commander Shepard isn't a fully realized, deep, and compelling character? It less that the characters in western rpgs are empty and more that they can be what the audience wants them to be, instead of in JRPGS where a character may be interesting to some or fall flat for others.

I know this article was focused on the JRPG side of the argument, and I agree that they put more emphasis on cooperation and teamwork to achieve goals and aide the world than the more individualistic western rpgs. But I think the western RPGS are not about just improving the individual himself, but how just the individual can improve or help the world without having to be part of some larger group.

Wrong one dude.

This was absolutely tremendous! Thank you, thank you!

MegaTen augmented reality game? Color me interested.

Georgie_Leech:
My, I seem to have missed a gem somehow with this series. Not that I chose to not play it; I've never heard of it. Methinks I need to go rectify that.

Let me help you out here: Persona 4.

OT: The series has been a bit hit or miss for myself. While I love that there are people like this who aren't afraid to challenge the majority's beliefs in the more "touchy" issues, and the stories have been, for the most part, stellar, the actual gameplay has me less than excited.

My first contact with the series was with Persona 3 in 2008, and let me tell you, I hated that game. The story and setting were interesting enough to keep me hooked for hours on end and the social interactions were an extremely unique game mechanic that somehow manages to be meaningful to both gameplay and story. But the actual game part was easily one of the worst dungeon crawlers I've ever played. The ammounts of grind were excessive even by MMORPG standards and it actually managed to make one of the most unengaging combat systems ever created, even more unengaging by not allowing me to issue direct commands to any party members besides the main character. It was an unplayable mess and while I was desperate to continue with the plot, I eventually gave up trying to put up with the gameplay's shortcomings.

After that I tried a few other games in the series and didn't find any luck with any of them either. Surprisingly interesting stories marred by absurdly dated and obnoxious gameplay. That is, of course, until I found Persona 4, a game which I will shamelessly admit I have falled in love with. It took the social interactions of P3 and elevated them in a way I wasn't expecting. While in P3 it felt like most of the social stuff was just there so you could forge better Personas to be more effective in battle and a lot of the actual characters I got to meet and know better were rather bland. And the game didn't even let me develop social links with the characters in my party. What's up with that?

P4 took a rather different approach, the way I saw it. Certainly, the social interactions still helped you in battle, but the characters were no longer "kind of just there". Each and every one of them had problems and it felt genuinely rewarding the more time you were willing to spend with them and help them out with their issues, be it identity crisis, sexual orientation insecurity, family problems, acception of death and so on. None of them felt in any way boring. Everyone had an important part to play in both the development of the main character and his teammates.

Obviously, there must have been changes to gameplay for me to actually like it. And there were. It finally let me issue direct commands to my allies, but it didn't stop there. The level design was significantly improved and was kind of helped by the game's plot. I won't spoil why but all the levels are representations of certain people's inner selves, their psychological and emotional conditions, their subconscious if you will. And that's just one area where the game truly shines. Which also certainly beat P3's 200 floor Tartarus of "let's change the color scheme every 20-30 floors".

P4 was much more streamlined and in the end felt much more enjoyable than any other SMT game I've played. I'm skeptical about streamlining certain games and making them more accessible because sometimes it hurts their quality (Mass Effect 2 made me sad). But in a series as archaic and "hardcore" as this, perhaps such an approach is necessary. Atlus seems to have realized this and that's why their games are not only selling more, but are getting much more deserved love and attention [see Persona 4, Demon's Souls, 3D Dot Game Heroes and so on (yes I know they're not MegaTen games, but they're still Atlus games)] . Their quality didn't suffer, it got enhanced. If they keep this up, they might eventually reach the kind respectability and success their games deserve.

Now what's this I hear? The PSP version of P3 lets you control your party members directly? Thanks, Atlus. It only took you 4 years and 3 versions of the same game to finally get it right...

I really need to play more of Altus' games. I really do. And this article is reinforcing that need.

Onyx Oblivion:
I do love the concepts of the MegaTen series, but the difficulty always scares me off.

I played Devil Survivor for a mere 6 hours before giving up completely at a boss fight.

Seeing as how I love Devil Survivor (what with playing it five times in a row), I'm compelled to ask what boss fight you got stuck on.

Heart of Darkness:
I really need to play more of Altus' games. I really do. And this article is reinforcing that need.

Onyx Oblivion:
I do love the concepts of the MegaTen series, but the difficulty always scares me off.

I played Devil Survivor for a mere 6 hours before giving up completely at a boss fight.

Seeing as how I love Devil Survivor (what with playing it five times in a row), I'm compelled to ask what boss fight you got stuck on.

I forgot...It was well over 6 months ago.

The good news is, I'm saving up for a PSP to get Persona 3 Portable. And Persona 1 and 2.

Onyx Oblivion:

Heart of Darkness:
I really need to play more of Altus' games. I really do. And this article is reinforcing that need.

Onyx Oblivion:
I do love the concepts of the MegaTen series, but the difficulty always scares me off.

I played Devil Survivor for a mere 6 hours before giving up completely at a boss fight.

Seeing as how I love Devil Survivor (what with playing it five times in a row), I'm compelled to ask what boss fight you got stuck on.

I forgot...It was well over 6 months ago.

The good news is, I'm saving up for a PSP to get Persona 3 Portable. And Persona 1 and 2.

Ah.

And that's good. I kinda need to actually get Sony consoles if I want to play another Atlus game that isn't Devil Survivor or Strange Journey...although I probably should go pick up the latter. The only thing that's putting me off from it is how the random fights are handles. I've heard that it's handled like Etrian Odyssey, a game which I really despised.

The Shin Megami Tensei franchise is definetly one of the best JRPG in the market, i remeber a couple of days ago a similarly minded friend i have pointed out that "GameMaster" magazine reviewed Persona 4, one of our favourites, and it said that it may be one of the few games that can bring JRPG back into popularity

lhin:
Goddamn, I love Atlus.

This^. Also, the "Augmented Reality" stuff sounded awesome! They could make it so that, if you had five people (for the pentagram) you could do X, etc.

Seeing this SMT Article made me very happy indeed. I can understand well why Persona 4 was so sucessful but 3 is a definite favourite for me. It's very annoying not being able to play Persona 2 though, it looks equally great to any other SMT game. Such a sense of loss!

I've played through Nocturne and even defeated lucifer, it was truly torture and i mean that (And i was only on normal difficulty!). Although I wasn't sure what to feel after beating the game, i gained a satisfying sense of accomplishment and have fond memories for that masterpiece which has clearly influenced later works.

Big Digial Devil saga fan here too and looking forward to Catherine Too! Thanks very much for the article!

That augmented reality thing reminded me of an anime series called Dennou Coil, which basically let people access a holographic 3D version of the internet by wearing special glasses. Maybe that's what he was thinking...? Interesting.

Anyway, I'm glad that you guys did a JRPG week, and I'm even more happy that you took the time to write a four-page SMT article. Atlus as a whole is just a damn fine game developer, and I couldn't be happier to be a fan of theirs. My only gripe is that some of their games crank the encounter rate up way too much to enjoy the story to its fullest. (I'm looking at you, Digital Devil Saga!)

Anyway, great article.

All of my SMT experience is through the Persona series. Of the Persona series, I would have to say that 3 is the most popular, by sales. I haven't really tried any of the other SMT games, but I might do that when I get some free time.

I also like the fact that Atlus is releasing music soundtracks with their games, or at least some of them. Persona(PSP), Persona 3(Original), and Persona 4 all came with audio CDs of their music. It does make for a more enjoyable experience.

Finally, SMT gets some attention on this site. I absolutely love the SMT series. As for my favorite in the series, I would have to say Persona 3 FES. It's not the hardest. but it is harder then the average JRPG.

I'm glad the Persona games did so much to give SMT more exposure. I prefer my RPGs to require you to put thought into your strategy, and I've been pleased with all the series entries I've played in that regard.

If I had to pick one series to go into augmented reality, SMT would be it. With the demon designs, it could be awesomely creepy. Maybe someday...

Excellent interview. This is by far my favorite video game series. Persona 3 (FES) still stands as my favorite video game of all time.

It has storylines that are full of suspense, moral choice, symbolism, and pretty much everything else you could ask for. Plus, I like the fact that they almost always take place in modern or sci-fi settings.

As long as they keep making SMT games, I'll keep buying them.

ZelosRaine:

lhin:
Goddamn, I love Atlus.

This^. Also, the "Augmented Reality" stuff sounded awesome! They could make it so that, if you had five people (for the pentagram) you could do X, etc.

guys wanna hang out and summon Jesus?

I've been in love with this franchise ever since I picked up P3 as an impulse purchase 3 years ago. Since then, I've rolled through (in order) P3, Raidoh Kuzunoha, Nocturne, P4, Devil Survivor, Raidoh Kuzunoha 2, SMT2 (SNES emulator on PSP ftw)...

I am THIS close to finishing Strange Journey, and then I can have my life back.

Great article. One of the things I like about this game is its very adult feel. When I otherwise feel like getting my pokemon fix, SMT can make me not feel like a creepy dude in his 40s playing a kid's game :0 And as the article points out, the depictions of good and evil aren't clean cut disney which is refreshing.

You won't see a game like this for the iPhone of course. I have nothing against iPhone games, but there is and always will be a place for these more kind of immersive games that you can sink 100+ hours into even on a handheld.

Grayjack:
Finally, SMT gets some attention on this site.

You mean attention like this, this or this? Or how about this?

We're very, very big fans of Atlus in general and SMT in particular here at Chez Escape, I assure you.

Susan Arendt:

Grayjack:
Finally, SMT gets some attention on this site.

You mean attention like this, this or this? Or how about this?

We're very, very big fans of Atlus in general and SMT in particular here at Chez Escape, I assure you.

I meant more as an article exploring the general concept of SMT and how unique it really is.

Grayjack:

Susan Arendt:

Grayjack:
Finally, SMT gets some attention on this site.

You mean attention like this, this or this? Or how about this?

We're very, very big fans of Atlus in general and SMT in particular here at Chez Escape, I assure you.

I meant more as an article exploring the general concept of SMT and how unique it really is.

Ah, you're in for a treat later in the week, then. We'll be publishing the interview this article is based on in its entirety. Really great stuff in there. If you're a fan of the series, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Timbydude:
Excellent interview. This is by far my favorite video game series. Persona 3 (FES) still stands as my favorite video game of all time.

It has storylines that are full of suspense, moral choice, symbolism, and pretty much everything else you could ask for. Plus, I like the fact that they almost always take place in modern or sci-fi settings.

As long as they keep making SMT games, I'll keep buying them.

Amen!

A friend in high school introduced me to Persona 3. Three years later and I own every SMT game since Nocturne. Now that the Tales series has all but abandoned their western audience, the SMT franchise is my number one source for the best JRPGs on the planet.

Lifetime customer, no question.

Now all we need is a US release for Catherine and the announcement of Persona 5!

Susan Arendt:

Grayjack:

Susan Arendt:

You mean attention like this, this or this? Or how about this?

We're very, very big fans of Atlus in general and SMT in particular here at Chez Escape, I assure you.

I meant more as an article exploring the general concept of SMT and how unique it really is.

Ah, you're in for a treat later in the week, then. We'll be publishing the interview this article is based on in its entirety. Really great stuff in there. If you're a fan of the series, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

I'll keep an eye out then. Thanks for the info!

Georgie_Leech:
My, I seem to have missed a gem somehow with this series. Not that I chose to not play it; I've never heard of it. Methinks I need to go rectify that.

If you have every enjoyed a JRPG in your life, you owe it to yourself to pick up a SMT game as soon as possible.

These are the best to introduce you to the franchise

PS2: Persona 3 FES or Persona 4
DS: Devil Survivor
PSP: Persona 3 Portable

Buy one now... if not sooner...

If I may shill an article I contribute to,

hardcoregaming101.net/megaten/megaten.htm

I help write it. It will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about how ridiculously indepth the history of Megami Tensei is.

Re: the article, good stuff, a bit too focused on SJ though.

Strange Journey was the very first JRPG wich doesn't feel like a JRPG.

It was... simply strange. I saw lots and lots of reviews praising the game and it's unique sense of Pokémon on crack. Then I finally decided to buy the game and I was in for a treat. The intro is way too slow, but I wanted to keep playing, because the story itself was pretty interesting. The fact that the whole game is in first person perspective gave me a Gordon Freeman-ish feel to it, but then, they let me input a name to my character, I gave it my own name and my second name and instantly, the game felt very, very personal.

All the characters called me after my second name, only my "friends" calling me for my first name. It felt... strange, but cool. Then I could convince demons to join me and many of them making very different questions, almost every single demon, even if it's the same race, has a very distinct personality.

I loved this game and I also loved Devil Survivor wich is very different, but has similar concepts. Still, Strange Journey felt a lot more personal than Devil Survivor.

The 'first name, nickname' thing is a throwback to Nocturne and, to a lesser extent, Persona 2.

Hi everyone, this is Ed Moore. Just wanted to hop in and thank everyone for posting their comments, and share some personal insights about why I love SMT and why I wanted to write the article.

I've been a big RPG fan for most of my life. While my earliest childhood memories are of playing Ultima II, III, IV on the Atari 800, the first JRPG I ever played was the original Phantasy Star on the Sega Master System. That game and it's sequel had a huge impact on me as a teenager. But I always felt kind of let down by the direction that the franchise took after that. Phantasy Star III was just a rushed, incoherent mess, and though Phantasy Star IV restored the standing of the franchise, the dungeon design and level of challenge felt more watered down for the mainstream Final Fantasy crowd, and story-wise it felt like it rehashed a lot of elements from previous games. Compare that to the edgy, somber, melancholic game that was PS II, a game that took genuine risks with it's story and made bold departures from its predecessor in terms of tone, and maybe you might understand how I felt at the time.

Over the years I've had my ups and downs with the genre. Flawed masterpiece though it may be, I loved Final Fantasy XII (150+ hrs!) and have a great respect for Yasumi Matsuno's body of work and how he and his team attempted to evolve the genre. After that game, I thought I could never go back to the JRPG genre as it was with it's seemingly archaic turn-based conventions and random battles.

All that changed when I discovered SMT. Like many of you, I was turned on to the series by Persona 3. Although I put about 15-20 hrs into it, it didn't grab me. It was only once Atlus issued a reprint of Digital Devil Saga that I started to invest serious time into the games. For me, DDS was what I always dreamed a modern-day sequel or re-imagining of Phantasy Star II would be. Huge dungeons, challenging combat that demanded absolute attention (rather than just spamming the attack button) and a dark, mature tone mixing elements of fantasy and science fiction.

From there I checked out as many of the SMT games as I could - Digital Devil Saga I & II, Persona 4, Devil Survivor, Devil Summoner 2, Strange Journey, and of course, the masterpiece that is Nocturne. These games scratched an itch for me that I forgot existed, and despite ever increasing demands on my time as an adult and an industry professional (the game backlog never gets smaller...) I've sunk more than 300+ hours into these games and I still haven't gotten enough! Obviously the developers were doing something right!

At the center of the series is Kazuma Kaneko. I found his character designs for DDS to be absolutely striking, but it also fascinated me that there was such a huge mythological and philosophical bent to the games. Who else in the industry really thinks about these things or expresses themselves through games in this way? I wanted to try and find out what makes the brain of this notoriously enigmatic game developer and creative visionary tick. At the same time, as a professional designer, I wanted to talk to their planners and find out how they managed to finely tune and balance the level of challenge and keep the experience of playing so engaging and addicting over such long periods of time!

Needless to say, I was thrilled and humbled to finally receive the answers to the questions I submitted to Atlus Japan (through the assistance of "Atlus" Aram Jabbari and crew from Atlus USA). To reiterate Susan's earlier post, there's lots of interesting material left on the cutting room floor from putting together this article that is just too good not to share with fellow fans, so I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's reactions to it when it gets posted later in the week.

Again, thanks to everyone for taking the time to check out the article and post their thoughts. Really glad you enjoyed it!

-Ed Moore

ZelosRaine:

lhin:
Goddamn, I love Atlus.

This^. Also, the "Augmented Reality" stuff sounded awesome! They could make it so that, if you had five people (for the pentagram) you could do X, etc.

I can hear the parent outcry now

"video game promotes satanism"
kids found forming pentagrams and other satanic symbols!

I'm already laughing

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