Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Shin Megami Tensei's Identity Crisis (Part 3 of 3): False Reincarnation


by Eirikr J.S. [tumblr] [twitter]

(continued from Part 2) (Part 1 is recommended to read prior to Part 3)

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey
might be one of the greatest examples of fanservice ever made. In a genre where “fanservice” usually means crass pandering with skimpy outfits for female characters or other brazen titillation, Strange Journey instead provided its ravenous fans with more of what they already loved about Shin Megami Tensei: creative direction from Kazuma Kaneko, more demons, mature characters, an original setting, and proper apocalyptic atmosphere—a true SMT game in every sense. Neither the limits of the Nintendo DS hardware nor the series’ usual rough edges would suppress Strange Journey’s understanding that the greatest fanservice is respect for its audience.

There’s just one big problem: Strange Journey under-performed at retail relative to other games in the franchise and in spite of being on a platform with a large install base, moving only 127,946 copies in Japan. [1] To add insult to injury, Persona 3 Portable, the second re-release of Persona 3, was released in Japan only a few weeks after Strange Journey’s launch and completely outclassed it with 183,283 in sales. [1] The niche Shin Megami Tensei had always relied on was apparently eroding away.

It was in this climate that development of Shin Megami Tensei IV began. "I first started thinking about [SMTIV] once Strange Journey, which came out October 2009, was finished," said SMTIV’s director, Kazuyuki Yamai. "I've been hearing from fans who wanted an 'official' SMT sequel for ages, and we thought that we were finally at the point as a team where we were mature enough to tackle the job, so that's how it got started." [2] So much like what happened with Persona, a new generation of creators would take hold of Shin Megami Tensei with a fresh, modern approach. But amid changing tastes, how much of SMT’s old identity would have to be sacrificed to bridge the series to the new players it so desperately needed?