My slowly-gestating enthusiasm for the Shin Megami Tensei series has led to what seems to be a dire mistake. Just a few clicks of the mouse on Amazon and oops! The old backlog just got three more hardcore JRPGs known for their length, intricacy and difficulty. Goddamnit.
This is all Strange Journey’s fault. It’s just too awesome, you guys! I had to go and buy a bunch of its predecessors. <:|
If you want to be overly reductive about it, you could almost call the mainline SMT games (I, II, …If, Nocturne, Strange Journey) “Pokemon for adults”, but of course it’s not quite that simple. You do go around and create a party based on the enemies out in the world, but capturing, keeping and evolving them is much more in-depth, with the emphasis placed on constantly rotating/altering your demons rather than just leveling the same six for the entire game.
The “adult” part of that equation comes mostly from the story and character designs. And in this sense, ‘adult’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘naked things’ and ‘swearing’ (although both are present) but rather suggests a mature tone and content that is equally thought-provoking and disturbing.
Take, for instance, your character’s alignment and how it affects your game experience. Like most games these days, you are presented with a number of decisions in dialogue and gameplay that will eventually affect your character’s path through the narrative. Shitty modern developers have made this so completely ubiquitous that at this point, I just expect that any game with any kind of plot at all will have two endings, and getting one or the other is dependent upon a couple of super-telegraphed moments towards the end where you had to either hug a kitten or stomp it to death. This trope is different in SMT for a few reasons:
a) They’ve been doing it (better) since 1992
b) You’re constantly being assessed, throughout the entire game, sometimes without you knowing
c) There aren’t just two extremes that you get endings for, but a range, with Neutral being the hardest to achieve (and arguably the most rewarding)
The keyword in that last one is “arguably”. The choices in these games aren’t about your ‘morality’ but instead your personal philosophy on life and how things should be. Even Mass Effect, which has pretensions to this effect, usually just boils down to Jack Bauer-esque situations that are more like no-win situations than actual tough philosophical questions. You may find yourself pausing and scratching your head during a choice in that game, but only because you’re trying to figure out how it’s going to affect which race will be on your side against the Reapers in Mass Effect 3, not because you care about how it reflects on you. It’s quite the opposite in SMT. No obvious ‘good’ or ‘bad’ answers, just interesting personal questions to answer on your own views. If you were to play the games with a friend or significant other, I’ll bet you’d find yourself disagreeing with their answers more frequently than you might be comfortable with.
But that’s just one part of the maturity that you’ll find here. The plots of the games and the symbolism within delve into all sorts of interesting territory, including post-war tensions between Japan and America, consumerism, imperialism, and life in the digital age. So, a tad more ambitious than, say, Final Fantasy XIII.
And I’ve only played a couple of these things! There’s a freaking million of them! Thankfully, most of them are rare and therefore prohibitively expensive, so I probably won’t be buying any more…for a while…