One of the most rapidly growing in popularity game genres has always been RPG. Many of the biggest names in the industry tread on this territory, with notorious examples like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and, in the more recent version of the genre, Skyrim. But being such a wide and full of variety category, it spawned multiple sub-genres, one of the most popular ones being JRPG. Japanese and Western style RPG’s have become essentially divergent, each offering different experiences and particularities. Possibly the biggest game developing studio that specialized in the JRPG genre is Atlus, who is responsible for the biggest JRPG series: Shin Megami Tensei. Although initially a standalone series that contained five games, Atlus US started marketing all games released after Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne with the name, as a means to bring popularity to the name in the west. Sometime during this year, Atlus is going to launch the fifth installment of one of its most popular games, Persona 5. And to honor it, we’re taking a look back at all of the names previously released and ranking them in a highly subjective Top 6 Shin Megami Tensei Games list.
6. Shin Megami Tensei
While the first of its series, Shin Megami Tensei is actually the third installment of the Megami Tensei series. These are technical complications we don’t really need to bother with, but what really makes this game worthy of being on the list is the part it played in creating the base of all the other future games. It introduced many concepts that became particular for the studio, including the dungeon crawler style, turn based combat, demon fusing and personal choices that tailor the direction of the story. Although definitely outdated today, we can’t brush aside the role Shin Megami Tensei played in giving us the experiences of the modern games.
5. Strange Journey
A sub-series of the franchise, Strange Journey was released in Japan in 2009. It puts you in the shoes of an unnamed protagonist, who travels with a team of demons to the cold Antarctic to investigate the Schwarzwelt, an astral anomaly that is about to swallow the whole world. The pattern is the one you think it is: dungeon crawler first person style, turn based combat and the ability to convince your enemy demons to become your allies. The most interesting particularity of Strange Journey has to be, though, its striking resemblance to John Carpenter’s The Thing, making the game a truly surreal experience.
4. Digital Devil Saga
Digital Devil Saga exists mostly because of the public reception of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. Although appreciated for its style, many thought the game was too demanding and too difficult to comprehend for people who aren’t accustomed to the genre. Digital Devil Saga is basically the superior version in terms of accessibility. In the first game, we follow the Embryon, who are a tribe caught in open conflict with six other tribes, all in a digital realm known as the Junkyard. After getting infected with a virus, the Embryon gain demon powers, which they use to destroy the other tribes so they can ascend to Nirvana.
3. Devil Survivor
Perhaps the most successful sub-series under the Shin Megami Tensei name, after Persona, Devil Survivor strongly resembles the latter mention in many aspects of the gameplay. Its unique trait, though, is the grid based style of combat, a result of a combination of ideas inspired by Final Fantasy Tactics and Fire Emblem. The story follows a 17 year old protagonist during a demon invasion, who tries to put an end to deaths by using his ability to see the remaining of a person’s lifespan. Gameplay elements that are shared with Persona include the tactical nature of battles, the teams composed of a leader and two supporting characters, as well as all the non-combat features. Players can explore parts of the town, and interact with objects and characters to advance the story and discover Easter eggs. Most importantly, based on choices you’ll need to make during crucial moments, you can change the outcome of the story.
2. Persona 3
The game that founded the reputation of Shin Megami Tensei as we know it today, Persona 3 is a tactical RPG, with turn based combat that shares many of the battle elements with Devil Survivor. In the story, you play as a protagonist whose name you decide, who moves into a new school dorm with a team that hunts down malevolent creatures known as Shadows, which only appear during a secret hour after midnight, known as the Dark Hour. Players have the option to explore the tower hosting the Shadows, the Tartarus, during the night, and further the storyline by establishing relationships and raising stats during the day. The game was critically acclaimed, praised for its ingenious combination of RPG action and combat, and the otome style side that focuses on relationships and personal development. It spawned two other alternate games: Persona 3 FES, for the PS2 with new added elements, and Persona 3 Portable, which gives the player the option to play as a female protagonist.
1. Persona 4
With the way paved by its former installment, Persona 4 made sure to keep all of the best elements of Persona 3 and improve them, offering players a fulfilling experience. The plot centers on a protagonist who moves from Tokyo to the countryside and who, along with his new friends, gets tangled in a series of sudden disappearances. Realizing they can use TV’s as a portal to another, strange realm, they dedicate themselves to fighting off Shadows and uncovering the mystery behind people disappearing and reappearing into the other world. Other than the story, not many things drift away from the pattern established by Persona 3, but this is definitely a good thing.
All in all, Atlus managed to bring to life many great titles, and if you think about it, it’s difficult to find a bad Shin Megami Tensei game. With this in mind, our Top 6 Best Shin Megami Tensei Games list was merely a means to highlight that, and I have no doubts that Persona 5 will live up to the series’ reputation and become another big name in their portfolio.