The original Persona on Playstation was, if you will excuse the pun, a revelation for me. Japanese RPGs were my favorite genre at the time (preview screenshots of Final Fantasy VII were the reason I defected from the Nintendo 64 to the Playstation) and Persona was nothing like the Dragon Quests, Lufias, and Final Fantasys I grew up with. It was dark, sacrilegious, fashionable, and very Japanese (despite the localizers’ best attempts to Westernize it). Persona, alongside Resident Evil, added to the narrative in my teenage mind that the Playstation was the “edgy” system, the Marilyn Manson to Nintendo’s Peter Frampton (I didn’t know at the time that both the aforementioned games had their roots on the Nintendo Famicom).
Needless to say, when Persona 2 was released on PS1 in 2000, I was there at my local Funcoland day one, buying both the game and the strategy guide. This game even further solidified my love of the MegaTen series, with its incredible soundtrack, macabre story, and deeper glimpse into urban Japan, a subject that I was becoming more and more fascinated with. Things stayed pretty quiet on the SMT front for me until Persona 3 hit the PS2 in 2007. I instantly fell in love with the art style and found the dating sim elements interesting, but due to some absurd difficulty spikes towards the end, repetitive dungeon crawling, and a few questionable raps, P3 didn’t resonate with me in the same way Persona 1 and 2 did. Somewhere in all of this, I dabbled with Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga, and Devil Summoner, but none really clicked for me.
While I appreciated the small-town feel of Persona 4 (at this point I had lived in rural Japan for a year, my moving there no doubt thanks in some part to Persona 1 and 2), the gaudy bright yellows and excessive anime tropes had taken the series even further from what I loved. I began wondering if perhaps it was me that was changing- I could still recognize that Persona 4 was a fantastic game, it just didn’t do anything for me.
Then came Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey on the DS. As a fan of the Etrian Odyssey DS games (which this game uses the same engine as), Strange Journey was instantly appealing. I was in love immediately with the feel of the world- the game’s depiction of Antarctica evoked thoughts of the setting of one of my all-time favorite movies, John Carpenter’s The Thing. While the dungeon crawling in Strange Journey was deep and rewarding, I eventually gave up towards the end, as the maze-like labyrinths just became too complicated and frustrating for me to traverse.
This leads me to today, and Shin Megami Tensei IV on 3DS. Bought on a whim between eShop outages during Atlus’ holiday sale, SMT IV has consumed my holiday gaming time. Nearly every issue I’d had with SMT games over the past decade has been addressed with this title. A new casual difficulty mode and many interface tweaks- from showing enemy weaknesses to a more streamlined demon fusion system make the game far more accessible. Fully 3D dungeons, unique in appearance, coupled with an excellent auto-mapping feature on the bottom screen of the 3DS make exploring and progressing no longer headache-inducing. Despite these concessions, the game still remains rewarding, immersive, and challenging, with plenty of opportunities and options for building your character and party- you just don’t need an FAQ open alongside you as you play this time.
The world is bleak, the story is dark, and while the twists won’t necessarily shock the player, it’s interesting seeing how the characters react to them. As would be expected from the series, the music is fantastic- ranging from foreboding atmospheric tracks to synth-heavy rock- and the macabre art is as striking as ever (though maybe it’s time for new demon portraits and sprites- the SMT series is approaching IGA-Vania levels of resusing assets). At just under 10 hours in, I still have a long ways to go in Shin Megami Tensei IV (actually, a REALLY long ways to go if other games in the series are any indication), but this could be the SMT game I’ve been waiting for since Persona 2.
Either way, I am officially back in love with the series.