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Shin Megami Tensei and Me, or Being a Fan Without Much Experience


I really, really enjoy the universes of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. It's got so much to offer that's just compelling and mystical and different. It's also been such a long-running franchise that there's tons and tons of games to choose from, suited to many different genres. But I haven't really played much of them. I'm still a bit of a novice when it comes to this franchise. I'm currently going through SMT4 and as of this writing, I'm trying to bring a lit candle through this mansion-looking place. I've only played a few hours of the action-RPG Devil Summoner games, same with the tactical-RPG Devil Survivor games. Last I played Nocturne, that fucking Matador stopped me. Combined, I only have probably thirty or so hours in this series. And I haven't beaten one. Even still, this has to be one of my favorite franchises, over other games that I've sunk far more time into. It's kind of a strange relationship to have with a franchise and it can be kind of strange to be such a fan without having played much. But it makes me wonder: does that matter?

Ever since I was young, I've enjoyed stories about monsters. I always found something really interesting about creatures that I've never seen. I'd always wonder what it is that they do, how they live, or what ethics they might hold. Pieces of media like Star Wars and Pokemon (which funnily enough isn't too far removed from SMT's gameplay) have given me plenty of monsters to consider over the years. When I stumbled onto the Shin Megami Tensei franchise about four or so years ago, I was intrigued. I'd recognized it from back when I would read the EGM magazine and Nocturne just came out. I decided to look into it a little deeper. People were buzzing about these "Persona" games, so I figured that I would at least try one out. That game was Persona 4 and it lead me right into the Shin Megami Tensei universe.

Something that's always interested me is the mythology behind the demons in this franchise. Hindu deities, Irish folklore, Abrahamic forces; they're all here and accounted for. The games usually include some way that you can read a quick blurb about the demons and learn their history. The variety in this series is incredible when it comes to demons and it makes it so you can never really predict what will come next. It's difficult to get a read on a game when you go from fighting a cute, tiny version of Jack Frost to Kelpie, a Celtic water horse who is said to trick children onto its back, adhere them there, drown them in rivers, and then eat them afterwards. The wide variety of demons can introduce you to whole other worlds outside of the norm. Whereas most people know about Lucifer and Odin, there's probably less who can say anything about Seth or Tzitzimitl.

But beyond the demons, the story and themes of these games are also incredibly interesting. There's a real incentive to not take what you see at face value and to really think about how you would react in these situations. The games usually have a lawful, chaotic, and a neutral path to follow, but sometimes the choices it presents don't make it easy to discern which is which. Characters in these games are oftentimes cryptic and don't give you the full story before asking you to take a side. Factions and their opposing factions can act very similar, the only thing separating them is the flag they fight under. This kind of grey morality is something I find really compelling. In most cases, there's no character to tell you that what you did was right or wrong. You just keep going. You're forced to look at your own humanity and decide what's right for you. There's a constant power struggle between the people of the world and the demons and just by bias, you might initially side with people. But at the end of it, you might discover that it's the demons who act most like human beings

So these games have a lot to offer. But have I offered back enough? Like I said before, I've only dipped my toes in these games. I've played and beaten most of the Persona games, but I consider those to be their own separate things for entirely arbitrary reasons. Hell, they don't even need the mainline Shin Megami Tensei tag anymore and they haven't for years. So have I really given back enough to truly be considered a fan of this franchise? I suppose the answer to that question lies in another: does time-investment matter to be a fan of something? To truly be a fan, do you need to pass the gate-keeping?

For me, that time investment is secondary to just how much you enjoy the material in the first place. A passionate interest in something can speak for a lot more than an amount of time. It's that interest that's led me to spending a whole lot of time on the wiki, soaking up every bit of lore that I can. Even with my limited time in this universe, there's so much about it that speaks to me. The openness that the game allows for decision-making lets me play the game how I want to play it. The themes that the titles explore are interesting to me and they approach it in a different way from most games. The mythology of the demons grabs me in an incredibly powerful way. And putting aside the lore associated with them, the demons are just compelling as all hell to look at. The designs for these monsters run the gamut from the most sinister, depraved creations to ones that emanate peace and invite serenity. I don't need to have beaten or even have played these games to appreciate good design. They just look damn cool. There's a visceral aspect to these monsters that is unique to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. The attention to detail and the creativity in the monsters is not something that comes easily to other franchises. The designs also incorporate aspects of their mythology and the results can be some demons that stick with you for a long time. Most people don't forget Mara.

It's OK to like these games for those qualities. By Heck, it's OK to like any property for what you like in it. It doesn't matter whether or not you're in the club or out of it. Wondering about whether or not you're allowed to enjoy a piece of media can take you right out of the experience. In my case, I decided that everything I get from this franchise is enough to make me a fan even without actual games under my belt. The feelings and the situations that this series gives me are unique to this franchise and its more than enough to draw me into whatever the Shin Megami Tensei universe wants to throw my way next. I'll continue keeping up with the franchise and I'll continue to dabble in the games as the mood strikes. And after I get through with SMT4, I'm coming for that ass, Matador.

- Just floating through, but maybe I'll write something while I pass by.

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About Corey Gavazaone of us since 1:49 PM on 02.29.2016

I'm just a guy who has played a lot of videogames, thought about videogames a lot, and now writes about them a fair amount. I write for PC Invasion and Ostrog

Founder of Imminent Ban, a videogame blog with a focus on older titles. If you like my writing style here, give it a look-see. We have fun.