Shin Megami Tensei I

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The Hero, before and after The End of the World as We Know It.

The first game in the Shin Megami Tensei JRPG series, and Spiritual Successor to Megami Tensei. It was released in Japan in 1992 for the Super Nintendo and later released for the PC Engine Super CD-Rom and Sega CD. Remakes for the Playstation and Gameboy Advance came out in 2002. It later got a direct sequel in Shin Megami Tensei II.

It's a fairly average day for you, aside from the vaguely prophetic dream you had the night before. The dog needs to be walked, your mother wants you to run down to the cafe and pick up some coffee, and you received an email claiming that a portal to Hell has been opened and that demons are invading the world.

Wait, what?

And so begins Shin Megami Tensei. Tokyo is under martial law, demons are prowling the streets, strange old men are telling you that your destiny awaits and you've been thrown in jail accused of murder. Soon, you encounter the same people you saw in your dream the previous night, and meet up with La Résistance who are trying to stop a Japanese general from using the demons to commit a coup-d'etat and trying to prevent America from dropping a dozen nukes on the city. All you have to help you survive is a knife and a Demon Summoning Program that you received with the email that morning, which allows you to converse with demons and bind them to your service, storing them in your computer as digital data. Of course, not all is as it seems and before you know it, the Earth has been destroyed, and you're lost in a different plane of reality.

This is only the beginning.

The real meat of the game takes place thirty years After the End in the ruins of Tokyo. Two factions are trying to create a new world in their image: first, the Messians, whose goal is to establish a Thousand Year Kingdom of God under the (rather unforgiving) guidance of the angels. Opposing them are the Gaians, who wish to return the world to a primal state of anarchy with the demons. Your former companions have chosen their sides, and it's now up to you to decide how this new world should be ruled.

The first four main characters have no default name; however, they were later given "official" names in the instruction manual of the PSX remake. Those names are given in parenthesis:

  • Hero (Kazuya): The silent main character. Possesses an innate talent for summoning, which allows him to use the Demon Summoning Program successfully. While his alignment is determined by the player, Shin Megami Tensei II operates on the assumption that he chooses the Neutral path.
  • Heroine (Yuka): Leader of La Résistance. Action Girl. Has very strong magical abilities. After the End, she goes missing, but eventually becomes your main female companion and your only human companion.
  • Law Hero (Yuji): A young, idealistic man who you meet while he's looking for his missing girlfriend. Possesses a fierce willpower. After the End, he gravitates towards the message of peace broadcast by the Messians.
  • Chaos Hero (Takeshi): A young, arrogant punk. When you first meet him, he's getting the crap kicked out him by Ozawa and his gang. Despite his tough talk, he's a wimp on his own. After the End, he fuses himself with a demon to gain incredible power and dumps you for the Gaians.
  • STEVEN: A crippled genius in a wheelchair who created the Demon Summoning Program. Later gives you upgrades that allow you to store and summon more demons. Totally not Stephen Hawking.
  • Yuriko: A beautiful woman who appears in your dreams and pledges to be your "eternal partner". Quickly shows her true colours. Doesn't mind disposing of any romantic rivals.
  • Ozawa: A gang leader who is first shown kicking around Chaos Hero. Later shows himself to have some talent at Demon Summoning and joins up with the Gaians. After the End, he's a cranky old man who struck a deal with the demons so he could rule over Shibuya.

Shin Megami Tensei is a first-person dungeon crawler much in the same vein as the RPGs of its time, such as A Bard's Tale. It uses a turn-based battle system, though you are given the option to talk to a demon before you battle to see if you can endear yourself to it. By winning the favour of a demon, you can ask it for money, items, healing or to join your party. However, demons do not gain experience points, so the only way to strength your party is to fuse two or more demons together at the Jakyou Manor, creating vastly more powerful demons that can exceed your own level.

Your Character Alignment is a huge focus of the game. Depending on the choices you make, the demons you recruit and the missions you accept, the main character's alignment will change to Law, Balance or Chaos. This mainly affects the ending you receive, but also affects what demons you can recruit (Law demons will refuse to join you if you are Chaotic and vice versa), what items you can equip and what healing stations that you can use (each faction has its own healing station; using an opposing faction's healing station will cost you more). There's no "right" path to follow; in fact, the game strongly encourages the player to find their own philosophy and treats you as the hero no matter what side you follow, if any.

The graphics aren't that great, and the game itself is Nintendo Hard. It also suffers from some baffling design choices, like having to go through three menu screens to access a sorely-needed minimap. But it was a revolutionary game for its time: in an age where seemingly every RPG was linear, had little plot and was stuck in the medieval High Fantasy genre, Shin Megami Tensei had a wide, sprawling overworld where you could do what you wanted, delivered a truly outstanding plot and was a radical post-apocalyptic Urban Fantasy.

The game never got a release in the West, but a group called Aeon Genesis has released a translation patch for the ROM.

Tropes used in Shin Megami Tensei I include:
  • Adam and Eve Plot: By the end, there's only a handful of humans and demons left alive in Tokyo, and most of them are in the Cathedral. The Protagonist and the Heroine are thus left with the fate of Earth in their hands.
    • Note that Yuriko/Lillth actually believes the main character is Adam, suggesting the possibility the Protagonist and the Heroine are the Reincarnations of Adam and Eve.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Yuriko in the Chaos path.
  • Apathetic Citizens: While the coop forces are a big deal in Tokyo Just Before the End, barely anybody mentions how there are demons running around in public malls and on the inhabited city streets.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Neither the Law or Chaos sides are very nice, and rejecting both leaves a lot of bodies lying on the floor. Borders on Evil Versus Evil; there really is no "good" choice here.
  • Body Horror: The Chaos Hero does this to himself by pretty much going right for one of the obvious questions around "demon fusing".
  • Brainwashed: What happens to anyone who tries to stand up to the older Ozawa. This is done through a reluctant psychic man named the Psycho-diver, who he has imprisoned.
  • But Thou Must!
  • Church Militant: The Messians are the obvious one, at least After the End (Just Before the End they're not hostile or corrupt). The Gaians as well, though befitting their philosophy, in practice they act more like an especially large street gang.
  • Controllable Helplessness: After defeating Thor, you have 30 seconds to move around before Tokyo is nuked. There isn't anything you can do, other than wait for the on-screen timer to hit zero and have the Heroine teleport you out in time.
  • Crapsack World: Tokyo Just Before the End is already kind of bad, as the city is in a battle between the Americans, Gotou and his demons, and the rebels who want to stop them both. After the End, demons are everywhere, the Messians and the Gaians are even more prominent and are now in an all-out war, and eventually, it all gets flooded by God, killing everybody not inside the giant Cathedral at the time.
  • Crucified Hero Shot: Our first glimpse of the Law Hero.
  • Crutch Character: Cerberus, which you get by fusing a demon with your family dog. When you first get Cerberus, it will likely dish and take more damage than everything else you have COMBINED, and will ignore the rules that demon as powerful as it is should be uncontrollable for you at that point. Unfortunately, you only get it briefly.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Messians are Judeo-Christians in everything but name. Their members wear white and blue robes, and they also have hooded monks, priests and bishops.
    • Church Militant: The Messians, After the End, are portrayed as extreme Knights Templar. They tend to demand you join their church and donate generously or they'll kill you. On the positive side, they're the closest thing to a social services network that exists in what's left of Tokyo, at least for those who believe (or say they do), and in the Cathedral, they're the only faction capable of protecting the survivors in their town from demons.
  • Cutting Off the Branches: The canonical ending is the Neutral path, which sets up Shin Megami Tensei II.
  • Dark Messiah: The Hero (in every path, including Law). The Chaos Hero isn't, incidentally.
    • YHVH is the biggest example of this.
  • Death by Irony: Chaos Hero in the Chaos path, who spends the entire game greedily searching for ways to increase his own power and is destroyed after being overwhelmed by the raw power of the Devil Ring (which he stole from the Hero).
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Arioch's stomach mouth and Astaroth riding ass-naked on a snake.
  • Domino Revelation: Once you learn demons are real, then you get angels, and God eventually.
  • Dungeon Town: Tokyo as a whole, along with almost every individual district also qualifying. By the end of the game, there's only one safe sector in existence (the Messian fort in the Cathedral).
  • Eagle Land: The American soldiers are much friendlier than Gotou's coup forces, to the point that you never even fight them, and they're all amusing due to their broken, italicized way of speaking, representing their inability to speak Japanese very well. However, the American Messians turn out to be heartless religious fanatics who are responsible for the destruction of the world and the corruption of the once friendly Messians in Tokyo.
  • Easter Egg: The SNES version had a rather... sadistic one. Starting the game up enough times (random, and highly unlikely unless you're resetting the console a lot for some reason) will result in being greeted with a screen of text that repeatedly says "TURN IT OFF IMMEDIATELY" in Japanese, complete with a loud buzzing noise. In a game rife with Nightmare Fuel, this is some on a very meta level. Here's a video of it occurring.
  • The End of the World as We Know It
  • End of the World Special: Of your choice, no less, establishing a longtime SMT tradition.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: You get to choose to side with Law or Chaos Just Before the End. Working with Chaos causes Law to bring the apocalypse in revenge. Working with Law has you preparing the world for the apocalypse they were going to bring anyway. Working with neither makes Law bring the apocalypse anyways. It would be a waste of perfectly good missiles if they weren't used, y'know.
  • Fan Disservice: The boss of the Journey to the Center of the Mind area. Spider webs shouldn't come out of your ass.
  • Flying Seafood Special: Demons such as Forneus.
  • Gateless Ghetto
  • Giant Space Flea From Nowhere: A few of the bosses, but especially Ladon, as there is no indication of him whatsoever in the plot or even the actual gameplay; he just sort of appears.
  • God Is Evil: YHVH is directly responsible for flooding all of Tokyo, which, of course, kills off most of the people who didn't die during the nuclear holocaust.
  • The Great Flood: Happens near the end of the game.
  • Guide Dang It: So you get rare items from certain locations during certain phases of the moon. Good luck finding out what phase is the right one, by the way.
  • Hell on Earth
  • It's All Upstairs From Here: The final dungeon in particular. All the demons live downstairs, and all the angels live upstairs, but regardless, if you're following the Chaos or Neutral path, one of the final bosses will be waiting for you at the very top the the dungeon.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: You need to do this to save Heroine from a demon infesting her mind and devouring it from the inside out.
  • Just Before the End -> After the End
  • Kill'Em All: Your mother is killed and eaten by a demon. Tokyo is ruined in a nuclear strike from the USA, starting a catastrophic war that leaves the rest of the world in a similar state. You kill lots and lots of demons, and do the same to quite a few humans too. In the Neutral path, you kill all your friends. You kill their demonic or godly leaders. Then, there's a second apocalypse where a great tectonic movement causes gargantuan amounts of water to flow into Tokyo, plunging pretty much the entire post-apocalyptic Japan underwater, killing pretty much everyone you haven't yet killed yourself. The only habitable area within the entire city is a small island holding a large 'cathedral' tower where the final confrontations take place. Take a Third Option by killing both bosses, and there will be only three characters and a handful of nondescript demons and humans left alive in all of Japan at the end of the game.
  • Knight Templar: The angels of the Messians, and the Messians themselves. Temple Knights are in fact elite Messian soldiers.
  • Let's Play: Here.
  • Light Is Not Good: Sort of. LIGHT is more or less good (in that Light demons are usually friends of humanity, and do not bother humans), but Law most definitely is not good. YHVH himself is the major exception to this, being the poster-boy for God Is Evil.
  • Like a Badass Out of Hell: The Kongokai is where the Heroine teleports you to save you from being killed in the nuclear attack from the USA. It is an ethereal universe where demons roam the plains among the illusions. Once you leave, you access the second part of the game.
  • Louis Cypher: The original! Also, the American ambassador's name is Thorman, and he eventually turns out to have a red beard and a damn large hammer.
  • Mad Scientist: The Police Station is ruled by an insane genius who sends out armies of reprogrammed government war machines to slaughter both demon and human alike. He is in charge of the Mecha-Mooks you fight.
  • Mecha Mook: The enemies within the Machine Clan. Oddly enough, the legendary Bigfoot is in the Machine Clan as well, though it doesn't appear to be mechanical.
  • The Messiah: Law Hero. Later on, this becomes literal. No, seriously. He dies and God resurrects him as the Saviour of Mankind.
    • Subverted. He's YHVH's lapdog, and in the Law path, the Hero becomes the real Messiah. In the Chaos and Neutral paths, he loses the mantle by superior firepower.
  • Multiple Endings
  • Nintendo Hard
  • No Campaign for the Wicked: While protagonist's Law-Chaos alignment can be changed, his virtue is fixed to Light.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In this game, pretty quickly, you fight a lot of demons, everywhere, no exceptions. When for some reason there is an exception, something is going on.
    • Averted by the Messian town in the Cathedral. Despite the Messians generally being dicks towards everyone everywhere else, the town is at peace and even Messian fanatics won't pick on you inside.
  • Omnicidal Neutral: The Neutral path often consists of killing both the Law and Chaos leaders, including your own friends.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. Both the Heroine and the Law Hero's girlfriend share the same name. That's what gets the girlfriend kidnapped early on by soldiers looking for the Heroine.
  • Order Versus Chaos: Law vs Chaos.
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown: You require Magnetite to keep your demons summoned. If you have none, their HP starts to go down very quickly.
  • Police State: Ironically, run by the Chaos faction during the first part of the game after a demon-backed military coup, led by the temporary Big Bad Gotou. After the End, the Messians are trying to enforce one, but it's essentially ineffective, and Tokyo's in complete anarchy.
  • Random Encounters: Almost everywhere. It doesn't matter if it's the mall, the Tokyo Governmental Palace, another world completely, or a giant cathedral. You're going to get into a whole lot of fights. This can be rather grating in places where shops, save points/teleport points, and temples/inns can be found.
  • Saintly Church: Some of the Messians are actually pretty square guys. In 199X, they're just a hospitaller order that provides healing for your party (the Lawful nutcases being represented by the Americans), and in the Cathedral town, they provide food and safety for anyone who arrives, essentially no-questions-asked (outside of this, they tend to be jerkasses, of course).
  • Stupid Sacrifice: The Law Hero's sacrifice. Demons are readily expendable; at best, they return to the comp, at worst, you would have to spend some money on bribes to recruit a new one, and would have easily held of the enemies he blocks off.
    • On the other hand, it was God's will...
  • Suspicious Videogame Generosity: Completely averted. You will almost never find a place to heal for free, and there are no save points before bosses... or any indication that a boss in the next room at all.
  • Synchronization
  • Take a Third Option: Law, Chaos, or... murder everyone.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Chaos Hero. Deconstructed; Evil Is Not a Toy, as he found out after spending the entire game fighting to become the strongest of all.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Thousand Year Kingdom.
  • Zettai Ryouiki: The Heroine After the End.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Tokyo appears to be undergoing a zombie crisis during Gotou's coup, which worsens throughout the early game. The first zombies you encounter appear to be men in hospital gowns and middle-aged women, but eventially, zombie police and zombie soldiers are encountered as enemies, until finally, the only zombies you see are towering blobs of rotting green corpses.