The Wonderful World of Monster Collection: Part 1, Shin Megami Tensei

Article by Orville E. Wright

Read the Introduction


Hello Everyone, this will be the first part of my new series, The Wonderful World of Monster Collection. This part will be about the first game in this genre, Magami Tensei of the Shin Magami Tensei.

Shin Magami Tensei is a rather controversial series of games about people in a post-apocalyptic, Tokyo fighting to survive and make a new world, with the help of some unsavory characters. The first game, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei, came out in 1987, predating the release of Pokémon in Japan by nine years.

The series is controversial for its depiction of religion in the game. the things you are collecting are the real demons from real mythology. As such, both the Christian God and the Devil are characters. However, the thing that makes this really controversial is that, Atlas, the gamemakers, don’t have a clear good or evil group, despite having the God of infinite good in the game. Instead, they go with the Michael Moorcock idea of having the Law and Chaos factions, represented by God and the Devil respectively. In the game, the player can pick between which view of the world he wants to go with, both having major advantages and drawbacks.

There is also a third option of siding with neither. This is the neutral path. Instead of having any supernatural powers, the player can just try to live without the gods at all.

If you like clear cut heroes or having God be a good guy, this series is not for you. It is also not for you if you don’t like a challenge. The universe will not let one man change the world that easily.

The main gameplay mechanic is the magic spells and resistance system. If you hit a monster with an element it is weak to, you get an extra turn, and do more damage, allowing you to sweep enemies in one “turn”, if you have the right team.

The other main mechanic is “Demon Negotiation”. This is a mechanism designed to allow the player to try to talk the demon into joining his team. If the negotiation goes well, the player could get anything from an item to getting the monster itself joining his’s team. Unlike other games in this genre, this game is not about catching them all. Instead, it is about making a deal with some one stronger then you, using him until he is outclassed by someone else, and then fusing him away for someone stronger. Unlike most games, the monsters you collect do not level up in such a way as to let them become party members in the later sections of the game. Instead, they have only the stats with which they start. The only way to get a stronger party member is to either get a new demon on your team or to fuse it with another monster.

The third main mechanic is the ability to fuse demons. In this series, it is possible to take two demons and combine them to make a stronger demon. Later, you will be able to combine three or four demons at a time. You can also save specific demons to keep the specific set you had on that demon, but you will have to pay a higher price to re-summon them than if you got the same demon off the street.

Frankly, while I respect the publishers, Altus, story-telling ability, I personally am not a fan of this series. It is too morally gray for my liking. If you want a story in this background that is not gray, look to Persona.

Shin Magami Tensai: Persona is a spinoff in a similar background. It is about a group of kids trying to save the world from monsters called shadows and from their evil godlike boss. The background is based off of the psychological theories of Carl Jung, a psychologist.

The game has the same basic mechanics as the main line, but, this time, the monsters are simply different representations of a human being.

In Persona, you play a silent protagonist who arrives from another town. Or in the original two games, just someone who is in the thick of things. You are going about your normal life, when something unnatural happens, like a woman being found dead hanging from a roof, or you find your new school has transformed into a castle. You then meet people who eventually become your friends. Together, you look into these strange incidents. The goal of the game is to save the world from an evil god that represents the embodiment of some massive human vice, like the desire to have a king to do everything for you, or the desire to escape reality through the media.

Like the main Shin Magami Tensei line, these games are not meant for kids. Instead, they are meant to get people to look at life and think about the world.

Each Persona game after the third one has two main sections: the dungeon section and the social section. The dungeon section represents the part of the story when you fight the shadows. It is done in a turn-based system similar to the main line’s battle system. You can either attack with your personal weapon or use your persona to do magic.

A Persona is a “manifestation of one’s being,” or an inner aspect of yourself. It is your, “self that suffers with divine love,” or “the self capable of demonic cruelty.” Or, in layman’s terms, it is your kindness, or your cruelty, made into a living being. It can be anything from the small snowman, Jack Frost, to the creation god of Japanese folk lore, Izanagi.

All the main characters with Personas get two or three original Personas made just for them, however the party can switch them out for other Shin Mamgami Tensaei monsters. This was limited to only the protagonist in all the games past three.

Unlike in the main games, all the monsters have an “Arcana” that represents what kind of persona they are. The Arcanas are based of the Tarot cards.

Like all the monsters in the main games, these originals have their own strength and weaknesses so use them wisely.

The social section is less action-packed then the Combat sections. In it, you pick one of your friends to hang out with, and then you read out the scene  and occasionally make a choice. You can also have a Persona of the matching Arcana to the character to make it more likely you will get a social link up. A Social Link is the series of events that represent a friendship you made in game.

Now, why should anyone care about this section? To put is simply, it is how you increase your power in the dungeon section. Thanks to a special room that is “Between dream and reality, mind and matter,” the Velvet Room.

In this room is a man with a long nose and no hair named Igor. He works for the embodiment of all that is good in humans, named Philemon, who has not shown up since the second game. Igor has the power to fuse personas together and make a new one.

If you have one level of a social link, you will get a bonus to making monsters of that Arcana. The higher your social link level, the bigger the bonus.

Social links also get you additional perks from that character in the fifth game.

I personally prefer the Persona series, because it does not include the main background element of Shin Magami Tensaei, the law and chaos dynamic. Instead, it is good guys verses bad guys, plain and simple.

The whole idea of Shin Magami Tensaei is to give the player as much choice as possible. As such, the law/chaos system fits it well. If you don’t care about the religious controversy, you might enjoy it. You might also enjoy it if you like hard games, for all the games in this series are really hard.

Next time, I will talk about the most famous series in this genre, Pokémon. Until then, go forth young man and enjoy the wonderful world of Monster Collection.

Next up: Pokémon



Orville E. Wright, the son of L. Jagi Lamplighter and John C. Wright, is a small Pokémon plush toy brought to life by mad science.