Siliconera Speaks Up: SMT — What Age Group Is It For?

By Louise Yang . July 19, 2009 . 8:42am



Shin Megami Tensei and its spinoff games usually have a slightly darker story than most games. What would be the appropriate minimum age for the SMT games?


Jenni: I really don’t think the Shin Megami Tensei games are at all appropriate for kids. Teenagers, yes, but anyone under the age of 12? No. The games tend to be pretty graphic, and the situations discussed in the games are ones you’d see in R-rated movies or cable TV shows.


In addition, the mythology, philosophical and psychological elements discussed in the games contain the kind of topics that younger audiences aren’t typically ready to comprehend.


Of course there are some younger gamers who are exceptions to the rule and may be able to safely play and appreciate the Shin Megami Tensei games. As a whole though, I’d say they’re a PG-13 and up series.


Spencer: There is a SMT spin-off for kids called Devil Children. One of the games out here under the name Demikids and it’s pretty much a Pokemon clone. Yeah, SMT may have had monster allies first, but Demikids and its Digimon art style barely feels like a SMT game, except that the game starts with a Lucifer talking with a demon in Dem.


I mentioned this up before, but I think there is a cultural difference when it comes to the SMT games. Specifically, with Nocturne that had an all ages rating in Japan, but got slammed with a ESRB “M” rating in North America. Perhaps, that gave the Shin Megami Tensei a hook since its one of the only J-RPG series to get the rating.


Louise: Like Spencer said, if you take out the mature story, SMT games are similar to Pokemon. I think that aspect appeals to kids, but with all the text and story in the games, I don’t think younger kids would even be interested in it because they wouldn’t understand the story. At least, when I was that age, I wasn’t too interested in reading blocks of text and story.


As far as it being appropriate for kids, I say, why not? They see a lot worse on television. Maybe some more mature aspects get lost in the translation to the US version, but I don’t remember anything being too mature or graphic. If kids are old enough to read and understand the story in a game like Nocturne, they should be old enough to play it. Sure, Lucifer is in there, but he’s also in the Bible and no one is banning that. I just think that kids in general are too sheltered from thinking for themselves lately.


Ishaan: I’m with Jenni. Considering the source material for Shin Megami Tensei, I’m not surprised at all by how it’s perceived as a game for older players. Anyone who hasn’t read the Digital Devil Summoner novel that inspired the first MegaTen game needs to check it out. It pulls no punches.


Although, while I would say Shin Megami Tensei isn’t for kids, the Persona games (3 and 4 specifically) aren’t as bad. Sure, they still deal with a ton of “sensitive” issues, but I don’t feel they’re as graphic as classic MegaTen. Still, you’d probably need to be in your teens to be able to appreciate them fully.

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  • K

    Heh~ most of them are rated 12+ over here and I personally think that is just the right one.

    • MadMirko

      Yup, sounds good.

  • It’s not that most kids would be interested in classic SMT anyways. Should I show this to me cousins, they’d be asleep faster than you can say space sailor chainsaw marine.

  • Persona 3. Mara. Nuff said, really at what age group this should be considered for…at least stateside.

    On the whole I’d say age 16 and up. Not 18. Anymore this generation is far more used to the topics at hand than say the last one mostly from sources such as the internet being available. And 16 is probably being well up there.

    Just makes me wonder what Megami Tensei from the Famicom days would’ve done to kids with a stateside release back in 1987 and 1990. Course, that wouldn’t have happened without at least a music conversion (like Castlevania 3 from VRC6), considering that ATLUS used N106 for their sound (and the OSTs to both MT1 and 2 are very good for 8-bit) and, as far as I know, the NES didn’t have that capability.

  • Kris

    I agree with Hiryuu, I think the games definitely have some grim and mature content, so I’d say 16+ is about fair. Anyway, I’m not sure if younger gamers would be able to understand some of the more mature themes in the series.

  • memoryofwater

    I’d say it varies from game to game. Persona specifically seems geared toward teens. Persona 3 and 4 are both very teen friendly; Persona 2 can be pretty engaging to weirder, slightly more mature teens. Most teens could probably deal with the series as a whole, though the sort of teen that’s into P3 might not be the sort of teen that’s into SMT II. Like Louise, I think the big barrier is text, story and patience. SMT isn’t very instantly gratifying; it takes time to reap any rewards the games have to offer. I can’t imagine SMT has much of a 13 and below audience, simply because I can’t imagine anyone that young not being bored to tears by most of the games.

    One of the things I really like about the Megami Tensei franchise is that it isn’t really very cohesive. Even within each specific splinter series, the content, mood and aesthetic are all perpetually being reinvented. There’s room for a lot of different people, from different age groups. As far as ratings go, I’m sure we’ll continue to see most SMT games filed under Mature, but I think Spencer’s right to suppose that that’s more of a marketing hook than anything else.

  • Anon

    As a rule of thumb, I’d say 15 and up, but there are obvious exceptions. Most teens aren’t really that mature to begin with and then there are kids who are more mature than teens. So, 14-16 and up seems about the right age.

  • shadowakiho

    Honestly? I don’t think any specific age. Anyone that wants a quality mature storyline in their game will do. As for the content, I really don’t see much worse than what is in movies and other media these days (aside from the religious bits)… I’d let my 13 year old nephew play Persona 4 if he wanted (chances are no though, RPGs are not really his thing).

    • I’m with you on that. If younger kids know about SMT games then I’d give them that much credit! But, if they know nothing about the series or gameplay, then SMT might not be bad place to start.
      I know my 9 year old nephew enjoyed Persona 3 for a while. Of course, I was there the whole time explaining things and giving pointers. I also stressed that he doesn’t have the ability to summons personas SO DON’T EVEN TRY. Seriously… you can never be too careful on stuff like that.

      As for ratings, Teen is pretty solid. If anyone manages to get far enough to reach Mara, then I’d think that will be the least of their worries at that point.

  • Ereek

    I’m with Louise, here. Really, in the United States you get much, much worse on TV and they’re only rated “PG14.” In fact, I’d say a game like Xenogears probably ends up with more “mature” themes in it than most SMT games. I’d also agree with Jenni that it’s really not the best for someone under the age of 12, but that has never stopped kids before. Most of what is on our television probably isn’t good for those under the age of 12.

    • Anon

      “I’d say a game like Xenogears probably ends up with more “mature” themes in it than most SMT games.”

      The problem with Xenogears is that although it introduces many ideas, none of them are fully fleshed out. I remember some one referring to it as 10 miles wide and a mile deep, and I think that about sums it up. That, and the translation is pretty stilted. You’ll definitely see a vastly superior translation* and further in depth detail of mature themes in a SMT game than you would in a Xenogears game.

      *(granted, it was a different time, comparing the translation to the PS2 titles is unfair, and the original Persona was a hack job, so Persona Batsu stands as a better example in this regard)

      • memoryofwater

        I have to disagree a bit. Xenogears is remarkably deep as far as late 90s video games go, and still probably handles a wider range of themes better than most modern games. Its translation certainly leaves a lot to be desired, but Super… Awkward…. Localizations…. were pretty standard in that era. I’d chalk perceived shallowness up to its ridiculous length and lack of overt exposition more than anything; maybe “10 miles deep and 100 miles wide” would be a better descriptor. Not that it’s classic literature or anything–I’d peg it at Wikipedia overview level depth–but it’s one of the better examples of storytelling in games and as much as I want them to, I’m still waiting for the Megaten series to catch up.

        Of course, I sort of unabashedly love both series and Xeno’s status as Misunderstood Underdog makes me want to defend it even more. It’s certainly a lot more flawed than Megaten.

        • Anon

          Well, to each his own:). I still believe that Megaten games, specifically Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2, to have the best stories out there in the JRPG market. I enjoyed how the series displayed both ends of the spectrum with exposition and heavy narrative in DDS and a rather minimalistic style that still weaved an incredible tale in SMT: Nocturne. I guess I was a bit too harsh on Xenogears as well; I said it fleshed out none of its themes which is wrong. Though I still believe Megaten to be the superior in this regard, I will give Xenogears its due praise.

  • ElTopo

    Honestly I’ve always thought the SMT games were rated way too hard by the ESRB. While the themes, philosophical concepts, and sexual innuendos are strongly aimed at older gamers, the basic gameplay has never struck me as that violent or very graphic. I always thought the religious themes are what really spooked the ESRB. I mean P3 was rated M for Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Suggestive Themes, Violence. The violence and blood are very minimal as is the partial nudity, this game should really be rated Teen.

    • memoryofwater

      If I’m not mistaken, the way ESRB ratings work is that a publisher puts together a reel of relevant content to hand over and the ESRB make a decision based on that. Given the system, it’s not very surprising that final ratings end up the way they do, although with P3, specifically, the suicide imagery with the evokers probably would have been enough to earn the game an automatic M anyway.

      • Is it not also true that the ESRB for video games is also completely random chosen people? I’m not sure if it is true or rumor mill but I thought it is a different group of randomly selected people which would explain why some games get reviewed much harsher than others.

  • cj_iwakura

    If kids can play GTA(and they will), I’d endorse them playing SMT. They might learn something.

  • I played my first SMT game at 11 and I’m 21 now, so maybe I’m biased. If someone at a young age can enjoy these games I’m all for it.

  • M’iau M’iaut

    I’d really not have an issue recommending P3/P4 to a tween/young teen whom I know might have an interest in checking out a RPG different from the FF norm — with the caveat that I’d discuss it with their parent involved.

    The whole relationship building and monster raising elements are ones which could translate well for someone who say has experience with the Harvest Moon series or who have some sort of anime interests.

  • I won’t mention Persona 2 as it was still a bit before people “got it”, as far as the SMT addiction goes. My breakdown in terms of being able to grasp the presented themes and not be frustrated to heck at the difficulty:

    -Persona 3&4: 12 and up

    -Devil Summoner 1&2: 13 and up

    -Devil Survivor: 13 and up

    -SMT proper (Nocturne): 15 and up (seriously… attend a CCD class and you get the same impressions)

    -Digital Devil Saga: 16 and up… because it’s just that damn impressive I think it’d go over the kiddies’ heads. “Why they talk all monotone? Teh bad actingz!1!” “Well, y’see, actually…” etc.

    This is based on just some age scale. As far as actually labeling them with an age restriction? There should be no such thing. Buyer beware. I don’t care if a little 8 year old cries and moans he can’t beat the first enemy in Nocturne. That’s his/her and his/her parents’ damn fault.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      Ya, but if that kid is able to get himself toward the midgame and beyond, major league gaming better sign him up NOW…..he’s gonna have some mad skillz.

    • M’iau M’iaut

      double post

    • M’iau M’iaut

      double post — sorry

  • I’d say 13+, but lol, at that age the sight of Mara might have disturbed me enough to stop playing.

  • EvilAkito

    This is a bit hard for me to answer. I’m much more lenient than the average person on what games kids should be allowed to play, but I would agree that the MegaTen games do aim for more of an older-teen-or-above audience. If anything, I’d say that the games would most likely be too complicated for younger gamers to wrap their heads around.

  • Feanor

    It’s interesting to hear almost everyone saying 13+ when the six SMT games on the shelf next to me are all rated M.

    But I’d much rather have them rated M, than have Atlus cut stuff to get a T for Teen rating. We don’t want another Xenosaga III missing blood situation.

    • Hraesvelgr

      I’d call for a redone rating system, but yeah, based on what we’ve currently got, I guess M is the way to go unless we want cut content.

      • M’iau M’iaut

        Perhaps a discussion on the ratings issue (not that it would change a thing) would be a great ‘speaks up’ candidate. I honestly see the current system as probably the biggest block for broader recognition that games can be acceptable entertainment for ADULTS.

        M has come to mean nothing more than sexual themes, extreme violence, blood and gore — the GTAs and Gears of the world. The Shin Megami series is one of the few exceptions to this rule — and yes I know some of those descriptors are on SMT titles. There needs to be something above M that can still find its way into stores as everyone has decided AO just can’t. I like the general concept of the 12+, 17+, 18+ (or even 21+). But need to research for myself a bit more on what makes the separations.

  • Hraesvelgr

    12+, tops. Then again, I don’t try to treat people like they’re innocent little children until they’re over 20.

  • In my opinion it’s really up to the player or players parents in this case. I grew up with an Atari (age 2) and Sega Master System (age 4) controller in my hands so I think I can’t help but love all games. I also feel like I was always a bit mature for my age. I could handle mature themes at a younger age and my parents understood that. Not every kid can handle more adult stuff and then there are just others who could care less. I think if your child is intelligent enough to know the difference between good and bad (ie Not murdering people cause he plays that “evil game”) and he/she actually wants to challenge his mind, go for it. Ratings are guidelines anyway, right? It’s not illegal to let your child play an (M17+) rated game. Or… is it? I don’t know – haha.

  • James

    Compare to what the high school require us to read in English literature…Pg-13 is enough…

  • Chris

    My knee-jerk reaction would be ’13’. Remembering what it was like to be in high school, and what I knew at the time, there’s absolutely no reason to bar it from high school kids other than general infantilization of children.

    I mean, except for that one thing added in Persona 3 FES, there is no even indirect reference to actual sexual activity beyond kissing. The story is darker but the violence isn’t really much more graphic than it is in stuff like Lord Of The Rings. And considering today’s high school kids have probably secretly downloaded Kill Bill onto their computers without their parents knowing, that’s really nothing.

    Let’s also not forget that popular music has become so graphically violent and sexual, by the time kids get to 13 there’s nothing left to protect them from.

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