Two words often come to mind when thinking of Shin Megami Tensei: mature and difficult. The first makes sense; it’s a series that prides itself on its darker themes. The second, while also true, is becoming less relevant in recent years. That’s right, folks: Shin Megami Tensei is finally opening itself up to wider audiences. In fact, it’s been doing it for a while.
This recent trend has some long time fans of the series upset, although as a fan since the days of Nocturne on the PS2, I welcome this change. As mentioned in my review of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, the series is shifting towards an expert blend of its familiar elements and its newer features, such as its adjustable difficulty and ability to save anywhere. Between that and the increasingly popular (and altogether friendlier) Persona games, SMT has reached more new audiences in recent years than ever before.
Let’s look closely at the Persona series as an example of a way to bridge the gap between JRPG fans with little knowledge of SMT and series veterans. It teaches its mechanics to new players in a painless way, introduces them to a colorful cast of characters, and provides them reasons to keep coming back for more outside of the standard dungeon crawl, thanks to its social link system.
Although the release of Persona 3 and 4 caused a rift in the SMT fan base like never before, it opened up a whole new series to those who never quite found their footing with SMT before or even knew it existed. I had friends who attempted to play titles like Nocturne and Strange Journey, but only bounced off of them. I don’t blame them, they aren’t welcoming games. It wasn’t until some of them tried Persona 4 Golden that it all made sense.
Persona opened the door, but Shin Megami Tensei IV came along and found a way to get some of those same people into the series proper. It stayed true to its roots, offering an unforgiving dungeon-crawler for those looking for it, but also extending a welcoming hand to Persona fans. Apocalypse continued to improved this with by evening the difficulty curve and expanding on the base game’s narrative with a more personal story. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.
This may be obvious to some, but easier difficulty levels and improved quality of life features don’t make a game less worthwhile than its predecessors despite what some may believe. Any series that can find a way to satisfy two separate ends of the same fan base, while also introducing brand new players into the mix, can only spell good things for its future.
This may never happen with franchises like Dark Souls, but the if the company behind one of the longest running JRPG franchises can find a way to bridge an ever-increasing skill gap as masterfully as this, who knows what the future holds.