Shin Megami Tensei Was Worth The 22 Year Wait

By Thomas . March 18, 2014 . 9:34am

Twenty-two years. Give that a moment to sink in. A whole twenty-two years has gone by, and finally, US gamers are getting a crack at the original Shin Megami Tensei; the game that gave the brand its namesake.


Known for its mixture of science-fiction and religion, the Shin Megami Tensei series has grown a lot over these years and its many newer and successful spin-offs have no doubt helped to pave the way for Atlus’ recent releases of more classic titles in the west.


Shin Megami Tensei 1, or SMTi, as it is dubbed by the Atlus team for this release, has quite its own legacy. In a 2009 interview with Famitsu, Kazuyuki Yamai (Director of such titles as Shin Megami Tensei IV and Raidou Kuzunoha), went as far as to call it the antithesis of RPGs— saying that the game had a punk attitude that set it apart from its peers. However, is that punk attitude enough to carry a game after two decades and some chunk change?


The answer is no. And at the same time, yes. Actually, let me reword that: the answer depends on who the player is. To most people, the game would show its age incredibly. Like the unpopular kid at prom, there is no hand holding here. Much is left up to the player to figure out, and wandering into the wrong area too soon will result in a quick defeat.


There’s also a lot to keep track of between your Yen, Magnetite, The Phases of the Moon, Your current Alignment, and Health and Magic Points. Throw in some first-person mazes that sometimes are disorienting to navigate and you’ve got yourself a relentlessly retro experience.


It doesn’t help that most of what you need to keep track of depletes quickly. To even summon a demon will cost you Yen, and in this economy weapons, armor, guns, and bullets are all quite expensive. Then there’s your Magnetite, which you use up by just walking.


If none of that sounds like it is for you, you aren’t missing much. By no means will SMTi convert anyone into a fan of this style of play if they aren’t already attracted to the prospect of an oldschool approach to dungeon-crawling. That said, if you enjoyed previous releases first-person dungeon crawlers in the series such as Strange Journey and Soul Hackers (which should give you an idea of how Magnetite works), you could find something to like here.


SMTi is not the first re-release of Shin Megami Tensei 1, and it’s actually a ‘fusion,’ if you will, of some of the previous remakes of the game. The first thing you’ll notice is that it uses the appearance of the GBA version of the game. However, the audio is actually not taken from the GBA release, but as far as I can tell, is audio used in the PSOne release of the game.


The colors are a bit washed out since this is an earlier Gameboy Advance game, so this version is not as dark or rich as the original Super Famicom version. That said, given the portable nature of this release it may be for the best. The reworked backgrounds especially, are a huge step up from the barren nature of the Super Famicom’s graphics, that were overly simplistic and downright boring to look at. Honestly, in the looks department it’s an improvement, even if the textures are a bit pixilated and blurry at times.


I found the music wasn’t entirely to my liking, though. The original Super Famicom music was already pretty great, but the PSOne remixes are a bit tinny and high-pitched. As strange as it is, in this situation, the PlayStation version of the music may actually not be the best version. That’s not to say it is entirely bad. While some songs come off high-pitched, others sound great. The battle theme and level up theme are exciting and can get your heart racing. So the high-pitched nature isn’t in all the songs, but the ones that are high-pitched are quite noticeable and sound pretty bad.


Below is a quick example for you. The Super Famicom version plays first, and then the PlayStation version kicks in after that:



The most noticeable features in SMTi, however, are the iPhone-specific changes. Touch controls are, of course, involved. SMTi sports two different control schemes. First, there is the default Portrait Mode. This mode has you holding your phone in the up-right vertical position. The screen is then shared with what can only be described as The Revenge of the Turbo Express, a virtual controller. This mode makes one hand control easy, and makes it seem like you might actually be doing something professional instead of playing a video game. The downside is that the screen is smaller, since the virtual controller takes up at least half the space.


By tapping the screen display (not the virtual controller) in Portrait Mode, the game switches over to second variant: Landscape Mode. Opting out of a virtual controller and instead placing transparent buttons right on top of the screen. This mode is held like most mobile games—in a horizontal position. The game is still framed, though, and doesn’t take up the full phone screen, but is still much bigger. You can switch back to the Portrait Mode by tapping a folder-looking button on the right.


You can only switch between the two modes through these touch shortcuts. Just tilting the phone horizontally or vertically won’t activate them—in fact it won’t do anything. I was actually confused for the first couple of minutes when I started playing, trying to switch over to Landscape Mode, and only activated it by accident.


I thought I would prefer Landscape Mode when I started playing SMTi, but I found it cluttered and blurry. Some instances of bad background textures are more noticeable in this mode, and over all it feels like the screen was just stretched out, and not in any proper resolution. The transparent buttons on it only clutter everything up and they don’t ever disappear ether. Portrait Mode may have been smaller, but it was still easy enough for me to read, and honestly controlled better. The precision of the (virtual) D-Pad felt more natural in Portrait Mode, and controlling with one hand was easy to do, too. Ultimately, that’s what I stuck with.


I’d like to also point that out of all the RPGs I’ve played on my iPhone, SMTi controlled the best. I think the 3D first-person nature of the game really blended well with touch controls, much more than the top-down view of the typical phone RPG. It certainly made going through doors easier. In fact you can get into rooms with just one try!


Hidden away in both Portrait and Landscape Mode is an “i” icon. Clicking on it will open up a full instruction manual. Atlus didn’t skimp on this manual. It is a full-fledged manual, just like a physical release would contain, with proper lettering, coloring, pictures, and so on. The manual explains all the basics of control as well as gives some hints, and offers a rudimentary fusion chart. While not as expansive as the chart included in the Limited Edition release of SMTIV, there is still a fair chunk of info packed away here. You can tell a lot of work went into this release and it wasn’t just a cash-in.


Most of the localization staff from SMTIV returns for this game, with Mai Namba being the Project Lead as well as returning as a translator. Almost all the translation staff returns alongside her, and the same can be said for the editors and the QA staff. This is a talented and dedicated team that has localized some great games in the past. Being almost identical to Shin Megami Tensei IV’s staff also helps keep all the translations smooth and consistent between the games.


The new script they came up with has been a joy to read, and has its own unique flavor. One of my favorite choices made is how they chose to translate Makai as “The Expanse” This keeps the ‘90s Sci-Fi feel of the game, and is a little punchier then just calling it plain ol’ Demon World.  This team knows Shin Megami Tensei, and reading their work, I really think they love it, too. The smaller details weren’t missed, references were all retained, and the spirit of the original is kept well intact.


While not for everyone, SMTi is one of the most solid and all around fun RPGs experience I’ve seen on the iOS market. Good controls, a great translation, and an engaging legacy set it apart from a lot of the competition. However, its own inaccessibility to people new to the genre, and some minor visual and audio downsizes must be taken into consideration as well.


If you own an iOS device, enjoy first-person dungeon crawling, and don’t mind micro-management, you’ll probably like SMTi. It’s a crazy ride between a Military Coup, American missile crisis, and accidentally summoning demons through teleportation experiments.


Food for Thought:


1. Gamers who played Shin Megami Tensei IV should spot many similarities:

  • The Cathedral of Shadows returns, and Mido uses the same introduction: “Welcome to the Cathedral of Shadows, where demons gather.”
  • Teleportation Terminals play a role in both the story and traversing Tokyo.
  • SMTi’s Protagonist being from Kichijoji, and SMTIV’s Flynn being from Kiccigiorgi is also intentional.


2. In the manual, Atlus uses Futsuo, Yoshio, and Waruo for the names of the Protagonist, Law Hero, and Chaos Hero respectively. These were names that showed up in guides and art books to describe the characters, back in the day. Roughly, they mean ‘Regular guy,’ ‘Good guy,’ and ‘Bad guy.’ These three names are thought to be the origins behind the three heroes’ names in Shin Megami Tensei IV; Futsuo turning into Flynn (Furin), Yoshio turning into Jonathan (Yonatan), and Waruo turning into Walter (Warutā).


3. SMTi needs a minimum of iOS 4.3, and supports all the Apple iOS devices. iPhone/iPod Touch is, however, recommended by Atlus. I personally played the game on my two-year-old iPhone 4S.


4. An Android version was available eventually in Japan. Atlus has said nothing about that version coming over here yet. With a little luck, we may hear something though.


5. There is also a port of Shin Megami Tensei II, and Shin Megami Tensei: if on mobile devices in Japan.

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  • hng qtr

    “Throw in some first-person mazes that sometimes are disorienting to navigate”
    I still have nightmares with the Cathedral and these times when the MC was dead and I couldn’t use the map.

  • Zero_Destiny

    Oh yeah. The game is also currently on sale until March 31st to celebrate the launch!

    Currently you can get it for $5.99 over the standard $7.99. I wasn’t aware of the sale when I wrote the Play Test last week. ^^;; Hope you guys have fun!

  • Strain42

    Ha ha…you talked about playing the game one handed under a screenshot of Yuriko bathing her nude naked body :P

    Okay, sorry. Seriously though, I’ve been waiting for this. I’ve been playing all morning. It makes me kinda sad that if you go look at the Atlus USA facebook page for this all you see are people saying how stupid Atlus is for not putting this on Android, PSN, or 3DS eShop (the last of which doesn’t even exist…) if this does well enough I’m sure the Android version will be released too, and if it does really well I’m hoping we can get SMTII and if… on the app store too.

    Hooray for SMT!

    I think my only complaint so far is it kinda bugs me that you can’t use lower case letters when naming your characters, despite all other characters and demons using them in their names… and if there is a way to do so, I haven’t found it.

    Oh and to the writer, I’m playing this on my iPod Touch 4, even older than yours and it runs super smooth, so almost anyone can play this game, which is nice.

    • Zero_Destiny

      *le gasp* I was found out ;’D

      Nah, Dianna is the only SMT gal for me! x’D

      The great thing is, now Atlus has their very own script written for this game, and should any new ports or remakes get made in the future, they now have something to work off of.

      It will also be a great way to gauge fan interest and gather market information on how well the game will sell. So over all, it may be a baby step, and not exactly the platform everybody wanted right now, but it’s a good first step to take none the less!

      And yup, my buddy is playing on his iPad now too. So no fear, iPad works too. ^^

      • Strain42

        I admit I’m a Yuriko guy, but that’s ’cause…well yeah.

        And I agree. I think it’s great that Atlus finally got a localized script for this game. And who knows, maybe some day there will be a 3DS version and it’d be super easy to localize.

        I’m just worried ’cause I feel like Atlus USA took a risk with this move (maybe not a huge risk, but a risk) and with what seems like the majority of their fanbase responding to it with anger, I’m worried what that might mean for future titles. Right now seems to be our best bet to try and get if… localized, and it makes me sad to see that slip away somewhat.

        • Zero_Destiny

          Atlus is pretty smart, so I’m sure they have reasonable expectations on their returning profit and probably could tell there would be some fan backlash.

          I mean, no offense, but these were the same people who bashed them over SMT IV for “making us wait longer for Persona 5.” Whatever that means. >___<; Ah, anyways, the point is, they're no stranger to the more fanatic attitudes some of their audience has. lol You can't make everyone happy.

          I like to remain optimistic, I noticed a lot of people last night downloading SMTi off Twitter, and the general response has been pretty positive too! While, we on more dedicated gaming console sites like to request our games on our devices, I think the mobile crowd should be pretty happy.

          As for how much grief Square Enix's release of Final Fantasy V mobile got, it actually received a fair bit of accolades from the mobile community, and I saw one site hail it as one of the best RPGs on the iOS market.

          So I like to think it will find a fair audience, and remain optimistic. Nothing too crazy though mind you, and a future Android version would help out too, but I don't think the initial backlash is too much to worry over, yet. ^^;;

          • Strain42

            Hmm…fair point. I’ll do my best to be optimistic. As a mobile gamer I tend to see a lot of backlash from outside sources, but it’s true that most of the mobile market has been pretty supportive of this title.

            Well I bought the game so I’ve done my part. All I can do now is try and spread the word and hope for the best.

      • I can see why it’s not recommended – I tried it on my 3rd Gen iPad, and there’s no sound unless I use headphones.

        • Zero_Destiny

          Woop. D: That’s definitely something others should look out for! Thanks for the heads up.

          • …All of a sudden I have sound now. Huh. I swear I didn’t mute it before, either. Good thing I guess, my headphones kind of hurt after a while. So, problem solved, yay!

    • Ben Ruiz

      This might be port begging, but I’d kill for a Steam release.

      • Maybe Ghostlight would be good for that. They do the SMT games in the UK, and they port other JRPGs to PC and sell them on Steam…

        (but maybe they are also a reason we don’t have SMT IV here… sob….)

  • Dystopiq

    Why not 3DS? I’d buy it on there for a fair price.

    • Strain42

      Because currently no 3DS version of the game exists for Atlus USA to localize.

      • Ferofax

        Probably meant, why not include 3DS on the platforms to release for? Probable answer is that Atlus will then have to go through hoops with Nintendo, unlike releasing apps/games on the mobile platforms, where quality control isn’t a very high priority.

  • Afternoon Intergalactic

    Would get this if I had an apple device. Soul hackers was great.

  • SupaPhly

    ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

  • Interesting trivia about the origins of the names Flynn, Jonathan, and Walter. I think it’s safe to say there’s no coincidence there.

    It’s just a shame this isn’t available on 3DS or VIta. I’m a little leery of even getting it for Android, since this was clearly made for platforms with a gamepad. (Though it’d give me reason to drag out my Ouya…)

    • Kurizu208

      It controls great actually. A lot better than a majority of stuff on the app store with a virtual d pad.

  • Lalum

    If it ever comes to android I’d be interested in seeing the script differences from the fan translation. The soundtrack was great, I have the Ginza theme as my alarm.

  • konsama

    Would so pick this up, if i bothered to have an iOS thing, which i don’t want to.

    I’d love if they remade the game, similar to the GBA version, not just port it to the 3DS, new sprites, instead of same or new music just remixed, like some SMT4 themes or the awesome P2IS new OST.

    Would totally pay for something like that. Need more SMT dose now im out of SMT’s and Personas to play.

    • azureknight

      You have no idea how much I wanted a SMT 1&2 remake on the DS using the Strange Journey engine.

      • hng qtr

        SJ used the same engine as the EO series, Atlus is using the updated EO IV engine to make Persona Q, so it might happen in the future…hahaha, who am I kidding, it will never happen ;_;

  • So only ios? No Android yet?

    • Zero_Destiny

      Correct, it’s only available on iOS at this current moment in time.

  • SetzerGabbiani

    I’ve only played the Super Famicom version with the map that turns as your character turns and confuses the hell out of me. Does this have automap? If so, buying on Android if/when it arrives. Would love a full remake using SMT IV’s (maybe even Strange Journey’s) engine and some updated features.

    When SMT If… comes along, I will jump on that as it is the only one I haven’t played, and it’s Persona’s precursor.

    • Zero_Destiny

      The auto mapping is still pretty robust in this version, but if you pay attention to North-East-South-West, I think it gets the job done.

      That said, getting a bit disoriented will still probably happen, the character’s eye perspective thing is still retained. So when you leave a room you face the opposite side suddenly– similar to how you would realistically leave a room, you don’t usually walk out facing the wall backwards, lol but yeah, it takes awhile to get your sea, er, SMT legs.

    • Exkaiser

      SMT always had automap, it’s just buried in the menu a bit, under COMP. It also has a minimap, but you have to cast a spell to use it.

      The minimap turns based on the direction you’re facing, but the automap is always the same.

  • xzeldax3

    Wow, the difference between the first song in that video is embarrassing. The PS1 version is so lame and empty!

  • Son of a Smooosh

    Oh my god, please bring the android version over too! :<

  • Hinataharem

    I’m just still dumbfounded this is in English.

  • I actually quite like the versions of the music used in this game. Especially the Level up tune, I always find myself just sitting there for a bit just listening to the music instead of going straight to the status screen.

  • Dianatos

    Thank you. After I read this, I immediately went t download it, and it’s been awesome!

  • Jonah Rosen

    “As strange as it is, in this situation, the PlayStation version of the music may actually not be the best version”

    You don’t say? That’s like saying that surprisingly, the Playstation version of Tales of Phantasia’s soundtrack is inferior to the Super Famicom version, which would be stating the obvious. (In the case of ToP, the PS1 version is either missing instruments heard in the SFC version, or they’re so bloody quiet that I couldn’t hear them well, or the song itself just sounds so wrong in comparison to the original. [Fighting of the Spirit comes to mind with that last one.])

    • Nicholas Perry

      I disagree. I personally find TOP’s PS1 music far superior to the dull sounding SFC original.

  • Mikari✘

    Atlus USA translated “Makai” to “the expanse” before in Shin Megami Tensei IV.

  • Lumi

    No wonder Flynn had such an unconventional name.

  • Audie Bakerson

    Anyone know if either the ios or android version supports physical controllers (there are a handful for the phones)?

  • Stormourner

    I know you folks want Shin Megami Tensei on 3DS or Vita well at least you can ask them

  • Rake

    Everyone who has an iOS device.. please.. Donwload this game if you love SMT.

    If this makes enough sales, we can expect SMT II, and perhaps SMT if. Hell maybe an hd prot of Nocturne!

  • Michael Richardson

    I prefer the richer colors and more fully-featured music of the Super Famicom release, but the new Atlus-translated script is incredibly tempting. I’ll definitely buy if/when it comes to Android.

  • sakusakusakura_nyo

    This isn’t making the wait for Persona 5 any easier for me.

  • Sean Johnson

    Can I has android versions?

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