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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Video Games

Japanese games play major role for many gamers

The series "Shin Megami Tensei" (above) brings players who enjoy RPG such as "Final Fantasy" new options for Japanese role-playing games. | Courtesy of Aeria Games

In the world of Japanese role-playing games, one name stays on the lips and minds of everyone, Final Fantasy. And with the new Final Fantasy XIII now available and players already clamoring over the beta versions of Final Fantasy XIV, I think we are all missing a few unsung gems of the JRPG franchise.

One such gem is the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Some may know SMT as the small subtitle to the recently popular Persona games that came late in the life of the PlayStation 2 to revitalize Persona for a few hardcore JRPG fans.

Persona 3 was a PS2-exclusive Japanese game that combined social simulation storytelling with dungeon crawling RPG grinding and a mature, dark overtone. It received great critical acclaim and was moderately popular among fans of Japanese anime and RPGs. It was followed up quickly with a similar sequel, Persona 4, which garnered a similar reaction.

But these titles are just a small part of the Persona series, which has been around since the original PlayStation and is just a part of the SMT franchise, which has existed for even longer. SMT is a series of RPG video games placed in a loosely defined universe, each with different characters, stories, locations and game play styles, similar to the Final Fantasy franchise. The difference is that most SMT games are rated Mature and feature dark storylines about humans crossing over to the world of spirits and demons. It is targeted at an older audience, something players can generally tell.

Most SMT games have stories with varying degrees of moral ambiguity, violence and occult references that constantly separate them from the sparkly anime sensibilities of most other JRPG series.

One of the mainstays of the series is its slew of demons and spirits that prevail through each game. These are all based on the spirits, demons, ghosts and gods of mythologies from around the world. Simply scrolling through all of these imaginative and creative looking creatures and reading their backstories is a fascinating and long-lasting amusement in each game. In most games, players find themselves fighting against these creatures. In some, the players become the creatures they fight, and in others, the fighter must persuade the creatures to join and fight along side the gamer.

SMT has had some success in the U.S., mostly with its recent Persona games, but in Japan it is consistently held as the third-biggest RPG series, just behind Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. The franchise has spawned nearly 40 different games, many of which are not available in the U.S., over countless consoles and platforms as well as multiple manga and anime adaptations. It’s a massive series, and one with a distinct flair and copious amount of originality.

If you are interested in seeing what SMT is all about, there are countless U.S. releases of SMT games for the PS2. Persona 3, Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga are all standouts of the SMT franchise’s stint on the PS2. Also, those with a Nintendo DS can check out Devil Survivor and the recently released Strange Journey, both critically acclaimed strategy and RPG games for the Nintendo DS. There is also a free-to-play online SMT game, known as Imagine, which, although flawed, is quite a fun alternative for MMORPG gameplay.

If you consider yourself a serious fan of JRPGs, than you owe it to yourself to play some Shin Megami Tensei. And if you are new to JRPGs, give it a try; you just might become a fan.

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