JRPGs have been a staple in video game culture since nearly the inception of the medium. While mostly niche here in the west, JRPGs may arguably be the most influential genre on the market. Full of intensity and charm, it’s often joked that their plots can be summarized as “start by saving a cat, end by killing God.” There’s one franchise in particular that helped put that trend in motion and is held to a lofty, legendary standard – Shin Megami Tensei.Shin Megami Tensei: The Story So Far

While many of the games are technically self-contained and you don’t need to play them in sequence due to the franchise being a multiverse, there are enough games under the main SMT banner that connect to one another for them to have an overarching story, whether it’s directly or through the presence of their godlike recurring characters. While the games are famed for their insane difficulty, their narratives are also known for their tendency to be completely bonkers.

Before Shin Megami Tensei V comes out later this year, we thought it’d be nice to try and have a Shin Megami Tensei recap on the four mainline games so we’re prepared for how nuts the new entry might get.

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SMT Main Characters: The Holy Trinity

The Protagonist

Lucifer

YHVH

Shin Megami Tensei Recap – All My Friends Are Dead But Not Really

Shin Megami Tensei II Recap – Will The Real False Prophet Please Stand Up

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne Recap – Dawn of the Demi-Fiend

Shin Megami Tensei IV Recap – My Life As A Teenage SamuraiShin Megami Tensei: The Story So Far

SMT Main Characters: The Holy Trinity

Shin Megami Tensei 3

The Protagonist is, predictably, the protagonist of every game in the series and can almost always have their name selected by the player. Their appearance and title change from game to game, but their role remains the same – they are the character the player controls and possess the power to control and summon demons.

Whether it’s warring factions, the end of the world, or gathering a demonic army to fight to the cosmos, it’s the Protagonist who will be at the center of it all. Their choices dictate the flow of the story, often having to choose between Lawful, Neutral, or Chaotic outcomes.

SMT Lucifer

Lucifer is a main character and major force behind nearly every game in the series as the leader of Chaotic aligned demons. Depending on the Protagonist’s choices, he either becomes a divine ally or a final boss. Lucifer is the sworn enemy of the Great Will, the entity behind the entire universe. Eons ago, he led a rebellion against the heavens and failed, being cast into the Demon Realm and becoming their leader.

He appears to the player differently in every game, whether it’s as a young child, an old man in a wheelchair, a dapper man named Louis Cypher, or a blonde woman named Louisa Ferre. Cunning, cryptic, and manipulative, Lucifer’s ultimate goal no matter the form is to rid the world of oppressive forces like YHVH so that humans and demons can live in freedom.

YHVH

YHVH is the main antagonist of SMT II, but he is also referenced or implied to be behind things in SMT I, SMT III: Nocturne, and SMT IV. Also called the Creator God, he is the leader of the Lawful aligned demons and angels.

YHVH is depicted as a tyrannical dictator who creates and recreates the universe in ways so that all creatures remain subservient to his will forever. He’s the main avatar of The Great Will, but by the SMT IV timeline, he has become so deranged that even the Great Will has forsaken him. A selfish and cruel deity who only desires worship and power and condemns any kind of freedom.

He often uses Satan, the Law alignment’s ultimate weapon, to pass his judgements.Shin Megami Tensei: The Story So Far

Shin Megami Tensei

Shin Megami Tensei begins with a dream, where The Protagonist wades through a shapeless hallway and meets a man being crucified, another tortured by demons, and a woman taking a bath who promises to be with the Protagonist forever.

When they wake, the Protagonist discovers he’s been sent an email by a mysterious man named Stephen. In it, he has sent out a strange “Demon Summoning Program.” The Protagonist, intrigued, downloads it to his laptop. Soon after, it’s revealed that a portal to the demon world has been accidentally opened and demons are roaming the streets of Tokyo.

In another dream, the Protagonist sees the same people, but this time, they help him rescue a woman from being ritually sacrificed. In the real world, guided by Stephen, the Protagonist begins recruiting demons and finally meets the people he saw in his dreams – the Law Hero, the Chaos Hero, and a woman named Yuriko. The latter claims to be the woman who promised herself to the Protagonist and vows to fulfil that oath.

On the world stage, the US isn’t exactly thrilled that demons are roaming freely in our reality. An American ambassador declares martial law in Tokyo to get rid of them. However, a Japanese military force rallies against this edict and begins working with demons, who they see as ancient spirits. A third faction wishes to keep the peace, led by the Heroine – the woman the Protagonist and his allies saved in the second dream. She gets captured and is to be publicly executed, but the Protagonist and the Heroes help rescue her.

No matter what choices the Protagonist makes, the American ambassador – who reveals himself to be the demon/Norse god Thor in disguise – drops a horrific number of nuclear weapons on Tokyo. The Heroine, who possesses magical powers, manages to save the Protagonist and the two Heroes by sending them to a different dimension, at the cost of her own life.

When the party finally returns to this plane of reality, 30 years have passed. The whole world was caught in a nuclear holocaust, the scorched Earth being the home to surviving humans but also demons who roam freely.

In this future ruined Tokyo, two factions have control – the Messiah Order and the Ring of Gaea. The Order wishes to use their devotion to create “God’s Thousand-Year Kingdom.” In preparation, they have begun building a huge cathedral where their god will purge the world of sinners. The Gaeans, conversely, believe the strong and powerful get to decide their futures. They have made preparations to summon Lucifer.

Before choosing a side, the Protagonist helps exorcise a girl who is possessed by a demon. The girl is the so-called Messiah of the Messian Church, but she also bears an exact resemblance to the Heroine. She explains that she has memories of her former life and that she is the reincarnation of that same woman from 30 years ago. She leaves behind her life as the Messiah to assist the Protagonist.

Meanwhile, the Chaos Hero leaves the Protagonist to fuse himself with a powerful demon to lead the Ring of Gaea, while the Law Hero has his soul stolen and made into the new Messiah for the Messians. The Protagonist can side with either or neither, but no matter what, the Order of Messiah finishes their Great Cathedral and calls upon a great flood, killing everyone and everything that wasn’t inside the Cathedral. The survivors of both factions make camps inside.

There are endings for each side, but the canonical ending is for the Protagonist to align with neither. He and the Heroine fight and kill the Law Hero, the Chaos Hero, a powerful demon named Asura, the archangel Michael, and fight Yuriko, who reveals herself to be Lilith, the mother of demons.Shin Megami Tensei: The Story So Far

They are thanked by the spirit of balance, who asks them to lead humanity to a future that doesn’t rely on gods or demons in a city that welcomes all freely.

Of note in another ending, however, is a dapper fellow named Louis Cypher revealing himself to be the fallen angel Lucifer and cryptically telling the Protagonist that “the true enemy” is still out there.

Shin Megami Tensei II

Several decades after The Great Tokyo Flood, the world the first Protagonist fought for has gone wrong and devolved into the Messians taking complete control over the government of what is now called Tokyo Millenium, violently putting down any Gaean rebellions and forcing their followers underground. At the old site of the Great Cathedral is the district of the Center, where the most important people dwell, completely safe from demons.

Everyone else is relegated to the outskirts of the self-contained city. Because of global warming, radioactive contamination, and the destruction of the ozone layer, most of the planet has become uninhabitable. Many new refugees and immigrants flock to the encapsulated city as one of the last clean places in the world.

Shin Megami Tensei II opens in the Valhalla district outskirts, where a mysterious boy named Hawk – the Protagonist – wins a gladiator tournament and gains Center citizenship. No one knows where he came from – not even Hawk himself.

When Hawk gets to the Center, he gets tasked by a scientist, Hiroko, to help find a missing boy. When they can’t find him, they meet a Messian bishop and learn that Hawk’s real name is Aleph, the prophesied Messiah who will bring forth the Thousand-Year Kingdom.

He meets Beth, a knight of the Messian Order, who was sent as the Messiah’s partner (with the same level of “devotion” as Yuriko decades prior). As Aleph gains the power of the Demonic Summoning System, the Center sends the fated duo around Tokyo Millenium to eradicate demons to prepare the foundation for the Thousand-Year Kingdom.

In the process, they learn of a man named Daleth who is claiming to be the true Messiah, and head out to silence him. In the fight, Daleth almost kills Aleph, but Beth sacrifices herself to turn the tide. It’s her dying wish that Aleph does not kill Daleth, which Aleph honors and is recognized universally as the true Messiah after this display of strength and mercy.

With the help of a strange demon named Nadja, Aleph fights through the underground to find that Hiroko has been brainwashed and held in a prison camp. The knight guarding her, Zayin, allows Aleph to free Hiroko, as despite being a previously zealous follower, he now has extreme doubts over what the Order and the Center might be planning. Nadja fuses herself with Hiroko to free her from her brainwashing.

On the return journey, they all learn that the Center has already begun purging those they do not deem worthy to make it to the Thousand-Year Kingdom. That is, the mass genocide of everyone who isn’t in the Center. When Zayin starts a revolt in the Center, he, Aleph, and Hiroko confront the four elders of the city. They reveal themselves to be the archangels Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Gabriel.Shin Megami Tensei: The Story So Far

After Aleph and Hiroko defeat the first three archangels, Gabriel reveals that the Creator God, YHVH, tasked the archangels to oversee the birth of Tokyo Millennium and await for the Messiah. The archangels grew tired of waiting, however, and created Aleph as an artificial, false Messiah. Along with this, Beth was created to be his partner, Zayin his bodyguard, and Daleth as a false prophet for Aleph to defeat to gain the people’s hearts, among others.

Because of this, YHVH forsakes them for their tampering. Hiroko realizes not only was Aleph the boy she had been searching for since the beginning, but that due to her involuntary involvement with the Messiah Project, she technically gave birth to him.

Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite dapper fellow, Louis Cypher, invites Aleph and Hiroko to his castle in the Demon Realm, suspecting that Aleph is his archnemesis, Satan. Pleasantly surprised to find that he is not, Lucifer warns them that Satan, the instrument of God’s wrath, is indeed close, and hopes that Aleph will fight on his side to stop God’s most destructive weapon.

However, they quickly realize that Zayin, after being forcefully fused with a demon, has become Satan. He wants Aleph and Hiroko to join his cause and fight Lucifer, destroy Tokyo Millennium, and finally create the utopia of the Thousand-Year Kingdom.

Should Aleph remain neutral or side with Lucifer, they must fight and kill Satan before the Earth is destroyed, summoning YHVH himself. He dubs Aleph a false messiah and declares he has committed the “ultimate sin” of trying to kill a god. Aleph succeeds and defeats the Creator God, though not only does YHVH assure he will be reborn so long as people believe in him, but also that he will make sure Aleph is punished for all eternity.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster

As SMT III begins, on the way to go with some friends to visit their sick teacher in the hospital, the Protagonist meets a strange man named Hijiri who hands them a strange occult magazine he wrote.

Once at the hospital, the Protagonist finds it disturbingly empty other than his friends Chiaki and Isamu. While looking for others, Chiaki begins getting nervous – the article in Hijiri’s magazine mentioned something called the Cult of Gaea, who apparently used this very hospital as their base of operations.

The Protagonist stumbles upon a room with a strange monolith inside, as well as an irritated old man named Hikawa. He’s so irritable, he flat out threatens to kill the Protagonist and is in the process of summoning a demon to do so when the teacher, Yuko Takao, interrupts and threatens him right back.

Yuko takes the Protagonist to the hospital roof and offers comfort before saying some confusing things, like all life outside of this hospital will soon fade. Not even a minute after she says this, a blue orb materializes above Tokyo and wipes all life from the face of the earth. And that’s only the first ten minutes of SMT III: Nocturne.

The Protagonist, in a dream-like state, has his soul scanned by a glimmering light that finds no ideals in him. It promises to meet again, but only after they find something worth striving for. Perhaps still not fully conscious, the Protagonist is greeted by the image of a small blonde boy and his funeral-garbed nanny. The child giggles as it drops a worm called a Magatama into the Protagonist’s skull and makes him into a demon with a human heart – the fabled Demi-Fiend.Shin Megami Tensei: The Story So Far

Awakening in the hospital with shining blue markings all over his body, the Protagonist finds that Hijiri is in the hospital just as confused as the new Demi-Fiend is. The Demi-Fiend ventures to uncover the extent of his new power, being able to speak to demons and recruit them to fight along his side, while also trying to find out if any of his friends survived.

The Demi-Fiend discovers that both Chiaki and Isamu are alive, but they resolve to make a way on their own in this new “Vortex World”. His teacher, however, may have been taken by the Assembly of Nihilo, a faction born in this post-apocalyptic land. Another faction, the strength-obsessed group called the Mantra, requests help from the Demi-Fiend to take down the Assembly. The Mantra are outmaneuvered and wiped out by the Assembly leader, Hikawa, and his Nightmare System absorbing all their life energy.

Hikawa tells the Demi-Fiend about Reasons, a deeply rooted philosophy and motivation, and the shining star at the center of this new world, Kagutsuchi. Should someone with a strong enough Reason reach Kagutsuchi, the new world will be remade in their image.

The Demi-Fiend sets out to find his teacher once again. Hijiri offers to help the Demi-Fiend by investigating the strange monoliths that have been showing up all over the place, eventually using them to discover the building housing the Nightmare System.

At the top of the building, the Demi-Fiend finds and rescues Yuko from the heart of the Nightmare System, shutting it down. Hijiri reports back that he’s discovered what is needed to make a new world: a Reason Holder must summon a Demonic Sponsor with enough life energy, which explains the entire reason for the existence of the Nightmare System.

As the Demi-Fiend faces off against a certain demon hunter who makes devils cry, Hijiri uncovers the secrets of the monoliths, gaining all the knowledge they possess. In doing so, he refuses to assist the Demi-Fiend anymore, realizing he could create his own Reason. As he prepares to kill the Demi-Fiend, a demon-powered Isamu captures him and takes him hostage.

Isamu kills Hijiri and uses that life force to summon his Demonic Sponsor. Soon after, Chiaki, who herself has been empowered by the spirit of former Mantra leader Gozu-Tennoh, slaughters thousands of innocents for their life source to summon her own Demonic Sponsor.

The Demi-Fiend soon learns that Hijiri is a humankin forced to keep being reborn with every Conception, powerless to stop it and always dying before he can change anything – a punishment befitting one who took on God, implying that Hijiri may be Aleph. Making use of the last bit of information Hijiri shared with him, the Demi-Fiend makes for Hikawa’s location.

There, Hikawa summons his Demonic Sponsor, using Yuko as the final sacrifice. Before she fades, Yuko passes on a special stone filled with life energy to the Demi-Fiend, hoping he can use it. Placing the stone in a shrine gives birth to the Tower of Kagutsuchi. The Demi-Fiend enters and the star scans his soul once again. With the Demi-Fiend’s choices forming his own Reason, he is this time urged to meet Kagutsuchi at the top of the tower.

No matter the divergent paths the Demi-Fiend has chosen, he must defeat all other bearers of Reason, gets confirmation that the strange blonde boy has been Lucifer guiding/manipulating him the entire time, and that Kagutsuchi is another avatar of the Great Will and must be felled like YHVH before it.

Shin Megami Tensei IVShin Megami Tensei: The Story So Far

SMT IV’s cold opening has the Protagonist dream of shadowy figures amidst a burning city, desert wastelands, and a girl asking to be revived. He wakes up to join his best friend Issachar to take their tests in hopes of becoming Samurai, guardians of the futurepunk city of Mikado, who can fight and control demons.

The gauntlet refuses Issachar, but the Protagonist succeeds and is sworn in along with three other teens named Walter, Jonathan, and Isabeau – the names of the three figures the Protagonist saw in his dream.

The Samurai gain electronic gauntlets containing helpful A.I.s. After some training and initiation, trouble brews in the countryside as a figure who calls herself the Black Samurai exposes residents of the city to cursed books that turn any reader into demons. This unfortunately includes Issachar.

The party of Samurai deal with the demons and restore order, which also includes tearfully killing Issachar. The Samurai are then tasked with searching the lost domed city that lies underneath Mikado – Tokyo.

The city is forever dark, leaving it infested with demons. In addition, two devious factions rule over the city – the Ashura-kai, a yakuza organization, and the Ring of Gaea, a cult led by its leader Yuriko, reappearing for the first time since the Great Tokyo Flood. The Black Samurai is revealed to be Yuriko/Lilith, who seeks to introduce chaos to the structured Mikado Kingdom.

Walter becomes convinced by Yuriko that the Ashura-kai need to be wiped out and even more demons unleashed in Tokyo, while Jonathan sides with Sister Gabby of the Mikado Church that Lilith has to die. The Protagonist can pick a side, but in the end, both the Ring of Gaea and the Ashura-kai are defeated and endless demons pour into Tokyo.

This is thanks to the Yamato Reactor, an engine that connects parallel dimensions. The Samurai use it to explore two different timelines of Tokyo – one where Law rules and one where Chaos reigns.

The Protagonist not only has Lawful, Chaotic, and Neutral choices amidst the twisting timelines, but they are also presented with the option of “The White,” the embodiments of human despair who wish to destroy everything. Whatever the Protagonist decides will turn him against at least two of his fellow Samurai and send both Mikado and Tokyo on paths to restoration or ruin.

Shin Megami Tensei V releases on November 11th, 2021 for Switch.

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