The FEAR: Death spells in Shin Megami Tensei

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[Editor’s note: Gen Eric Gui is the first promotion for The FEAR Monthly Musing theme. Gen talks about Death and the Instant Death spell in RPGs for his piece. — CTZ]

In Megaten games, death is always around the corner. Oftentimes, this statement is to be taken quite literally. The next random monster you fight might be some religions’ personification of the God of Death: the 4 Riders, Mot, Samael, and so on; the protagonists of the Megaten games have struggled against them all (And sometimes befriended them.)

However, lots of RPG’s throw these kinds of monsters at you; it’s not exactly an uncommon occurrence to fight multiples of such monsters at a time. It’s supposed to make the player feel epic and all-powerful, that they and their characters are able to overcome such a monumental force of nature such as death. And because of this overuse, most players don’t even feel a modicum of fear the first time they run into Mot or Nyx in their very first Megaten game. Well, sadly for them, they’re in for quite a violent awakening. 

God’s Bow says Sup.

In Megaten games, the common monsters you fight are just as powerful as you, if not moreso. Enemies have stat builds similar to your characters’, skill trees similar to your characters’, and any and every bonus or advantage you can get over them, they can get over you. Megaten players quickly learn to always be on their toes, since one random encounter against an enemy with spells you are weak against can send you to the Game Over screen faster than you can curse the names of the developers. But even this pales in comparison to the series’ mainstay threat and constant source of worry and ulcers.

Instant Death spells.

Most RPG’s have spells like these. Death, Doom, Fatal, RUB, XXXX, and any other incarnation you can think of. However, these spells are painfully impotent, offering success rates that barely brush the double digits and MP costs that are far too high to ever be practical. To make matters worse, every other monster and their pet is immune to the effect entirely. And of course, when used by monsters on your party, although slightly more effective, they still amount to the enemy having basically wasted his turn. These spells are easily prevented, and even if the effect goes through, their side effects are easily remedied by a cheap item.

Atlus Japan saw this general attitude towards death spells and decided it had had enough of this pansy shit. “Why even include these spells if they don’t do anything?” they asked. “We’re talking about a spell that can cause the DEATH of something. This isn’t just some spell that makes you faint, it’s not just making you dizzy. It’s KILLING YOU. And nobody is afraid of it. This needs to change. It’s GO TIME!” And with that, Atlus decided to rain on everyone’s parade and introduce death spells that could actually ruin you. They created an unspeakable horror that would haunt fans of their games for years to come. They created Mudo and Hama.

Mudo and Hama are spells of Dark and Light elements respectively, and they show up in every Megaten game I can think of. There are multiple levels of effectiveness of the spell, such as the Ma- level spells (Mamudo) which hit every enemy target, or the -on level spells(Hamaon) that are even more effective at killing, but even the basic Hama and Mudo spells have a flat 50% chance to kill their target. Every time one of these spells is cast, you’re effectively flipping a coin to decide if your character dies or not. Higher level spells can have chances as high as 70 or 80%, and in select games there are skills that both allies and enemies can possess to boost those chances even higher. And if you happen to run into an enemy that has such a spell, and you’re not protected against it, you might as well just pull down your pants, lie face down, and quietly accept your fate as they Roto Rooter your ass raw.

You can assume a similar position if your own death spells fail, like so.

In addition to these basic elemental death spells, the games often toss in other, non-elemental spells capable of obliterating your hopes and dreams under certain conditions. Spells like Calm Death (100% death against sleeping targets) or Ghastly Wail (100% death against frightened targets) can hit you out of nowhere and totally ruin your day, even if you’re 100% resistant to both Hama- and Mudo- class spells. And if those didn’t make you squirm in your seat, Atlus also has the nasty habit of throwing totally ridiculous, over-the-top death spells at you as well. An old standby boss in the series has been Beelzebub, son of Satan and Lord of the Flies. In addition to having incredibly high stats and powerful magical spells, he also has a signature attack, Death Flies. This attack not only has a 100% chance of instant death, but it ALSO inflicts massive, unpreventable, untyped damage on your entire party, usually killing them even if they somehow manage to avoid that pesky 100% death effect.

Oh, and he can cast it twice in a single turn if he feels like it.

I couldn’t find an English screenshot, but trust me. When you see Beelzebub do this, you’re screwed.

And to make these matters doubly(in some cases, triply) worse, in most Megaten games, the death of your main character means an instant Game Over. Even if the entire rest of your party is alive and well, if your main character kicks the proverbial bucket, he’s staying down and you get to visit a wonderful happy place after you subsequently slam your head through a wall.

Megaten makes you fear death, both literally and figuratively. Every step could mean another random battle with the Grim Reaper himself, and every such random battle could mean you’re a coin-flip away from instant death.

It’s absolutely terrifying.

I love it.

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