Originally released in 1992 on the Super Famicom (or as we knew it here in the UK, the Super Nintendo), Shin Megami Tensei was the second of a much loved and widely branching RPG series that gave birth to the awesomeness of Persona, Digital Devil Saga as well as others.
Now 22 years and several ports later, its tale of demons and taming them has arrived on iOS for us young ‘uns to get our greasy paws on it. This game really emphasises how developers lay things out for us these days; how we are led from from clue to clue or in a lot of cases thrown down a corridor of linearity. While the game seems initially punishing, you eventually come round to the unavoidable fact that you have just been molly coddled for the past decade. If you leave yourself unprepared with a lack of healing and don’t rest your group regularly you will find yourself beaten into the ground pretty quickly.
The developers weren’t all doom and gloom and hating on the player though as a nifty continue function which allows for the player to bounce back to just before you get hammered, helps to save your hairline from being ripped to shreds and allows you to pick up the pieces, level a bit and regain your dignity before returning the beating.
The story starts off in a dream, bewildering and scattershot, its also where you meet your initial team. However upon waking up, you’re just in your plain old room with a cryptic email concerning a demon summoning program waiting on a nearby computer. The story continues to be cryptic, with hints and clues enshrined in the city that you are sifting through. By persevering you can figure it out piece by satisfying piece as it effortlessly drags you in. Simply, its addictive, in an “oh god its been three hours already” addictive sort of way.
Talking about addictive qualities holding your sense of time captive, the game was ahead of its time, carrying a pokemon-esque “Gotta catch ‘em all” philosophy, but with a more demonic stable of familiars. As well as your human brothers in arms you also have the opportunity to encourage demons that you encounter through battle to become your allies. However, with Pokeballs clearly not being invented yet, you have to convince them otherwise, through a lovely old chat or by giving gifts such as money or looted items.
It doesn’t always go your way though, as various gameplay mechanics like phases of the moon and the capricious natures of the aforementioned demons means that it can increase the time grinding the random encounters for these guys to appear. However, this is the only time that grinding was really needed, killing two birds with one stone and allowing you to gain precious new demon friends whilst leveling the rest of the group.
Shin Megami Tensei goes one step further, not just allowing the creation of such allies but fusing them together to create different, more powerful demons. While you are not completely in the dark as to these amalgamated hellions; its indicated where a demon combination will be poor, mediocre or good, its still left up to you to discover these combinations, each of which provides satisfaction in spades.
For players Shin Megami Tensei is all about about rediscovering old school JRPG’s and not the hard arse punishment that hard core gamers seem to relish; but instead the idea that well thought out gameplay doesn’t need to be all encompassing, full to the brim with aspects that seem to dilute the main game. This is a game of three parts; an epic story, with a solid RPG element and for want of a better word, an awesome demon ally fusing element which is the cherry on the old school JRPG cake which I have finally taken a bite of.
Shin Megami Tensei leaves no doubt as to why its modern successors are so enjoyable and much loved; its a trip down memory lane which is well worth taking.
Shin Megami Tensei was developed and published by Atlus. The game is currently available for iOS here.
A copy of the game was provided to Save/Continue for review purposes by the publisher.