Nocturne Guide Interview

DoubleJump Publishing, Incorporated. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne: The Official Strategy Guide. Onionbat, 2004, pp. 384-387.
Offical website:

It has only been recently, relatively speaking, that RPGs have gotten to be a popular genre of console games in America. During the 16-bit era, though, they were considered a niche genre, something that only a small group of hardcore fans cared about. This was not so in Japan, where RPGs have always been one of the most popular genres regardless of platform. This was often a source of frustration to American players, as it lead to the release of many RPGs that drew rave reviews, but were never translated because publishers assumed that RPGs wouldnt sell on this side of the Pacific.

The original Shin Megami Tensei was the third in the Megami Tensei (or “MegaTen”) series, and first appeared on the Super Famicom in 1992. The game revolves around the nameless protagonists attempts to defend his native Tokyo from an invasion of demons that threatens to turn the city into the new staging ground for the endless struggle between the forces of Law and Chaos. The demons come in a wide variety of forms based on world religious mythology, each family with its own racial alignment. The player will also develop a Lawful, Chaotic, or Neutral alignment over the course of the game, depending on the actions he takes in the course of gameplay.

Thanks to a computer program e-mailed to him by a mysterious ally, the protagonist is able to communicate with the demons who are roaming the streets and buildings of Tokyo. Depending on what you say, the demons may decide to fight you, to run away from you, to give you gifts, demand bribes, or offer to join your party and become your ally. Which demons you battle and ally with will influence your alignment, which will in turn influence how other demons react to you in the future. Demons whose alignment opposes yours will never ally with you, but can still be obtained by fusing other demon allies together. Alignment in SMT can also influence other gameplay factors, such as what items you can equip and which bosses you fight. This open, flexible style is the core of SMTs appeal, giving the game immense replay value. Acquiring different alignments will result in entirely different endings for the game, all of them equally valid.

Shin Megami Tensei II is a direct sequel to the original SMT. It presumes a world where the original games protagonist took a Neutral alignment and ultimately founded a utopian society whose citizens were free to follow whatever beliefs they chose. This peace lasted for about forty years before a Lawful sect called the Messians usurped power and went to war against the Chaos-loving Gaeans. In short order, the world was reduced to a barely-habitable post-apocalyptic nightmare. The new protagonist is from one of the few habitable areas left in Japan, a place called Valhalla that is part of a larger Messian-controlled community called Tokyo Millennium. When we meet him hes a struggling gladiator nicknamed Hawk whos suffering from amnesia, and not surprisingly, much of the early games storyline is about the slow revelation of Hawks true memories and identity. However, Hawks identity is only one small piece of SMT2s much larger overall plot.

Hawk is very similar to SMTs protagonist, and he even receives the ability to speak with and summon demons in much the same way. The alignment system functions basically the same way as SMTs,but alignment will cause more dramatic variations in the storyline and have a much deeper effect on gameplay. The combat system is also expanded to include a wider variety of demons and the ability to fuse both demons and weapons together. All this plus a more forgiving level of difficulty make SMT2 even more completely absorbing than SMT.

Beginning in 2001, Atlus began releasing console versions of the two original Shin Megami Tensei games for the PlayStation, with graphics that were dramatically improved but still true to the series 16-bit roots. SMT received upgrades to its overworld map and menu interface that made it look essentially identical to SMT2. The remakes also introduced a “normal” mode that substantially reduced the difficulty of both games, while the “expert” mode allowed players to experience the game at its original difficulty levels. The PlayStations 3D rendering ability was tapped to add special FMV cinemas, as well as an effect that made the still-featureless walls scroll by more smoothly as the protagonist moved. 2003s GBA remakes featured graphics absolutely identical to those of the PlayStation remakes, while eliminating “normal mode,” the FMVs, and the 3D wallscrolling effect. In exchange, the GBA remakes gain a very useful new message speed, and color display.

The final payoff of the wave of remakes was the long-awaited release of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne in Japan,in 2003. SMT3 wowed audiences by not only taking advantage of the PlayStation 2 to create an even deeper and richer gameplay system than ever before, but also by staying true to the classic elements of SMTs storytelling. Everything from the anonymous protagonist to demon recruitment is present in Nocturne, along with the latest in advanced modern graphics. Although the original games of the SMT series may never see official domestic release, players who go through Nocturne can rest assured that they’re getting the authentic Shin Megami Tensei experience.

The Megami Tensei series

The original Digital Devil Monogatari: Megami Tensei was a 1987 RPG that appeared on the MSX, PC/88, and FM/77 personal computer platforms, as well as the Famicom. A sequel followed in 1990 on the Famicom, and then the two Shin Megami Tensei games debuted on the Super Famicom in 1992 and 1994 (respectively). After SMT2s release, Atlus began to focus intensely on side stories and spin-offs of SMT that were all marketed as part of the Megami Tensei franchise, such as the very popular Shin Megami Tensei: If… and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner. As of this writing, there are over 50 games in the Megami Tensei line, with new releases like Shin Megami Tensei Devil Children: Messiah Risers and Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner still on the way. The three major Shin Megami Tensei games are part of the MegaTen game family, but share an approach to storytelling and gameplay that sets them apart as a series.

What does Shin Megami Tensei mean?

Shin Megami Tensei (pronounced “shin MEH-gah-mee TEN-say”) is a Japanese phrase that translates as “True Goddess Metempsychosis.” An unusual piece of philosophical jargon, “metempsychosis” refers specifically to the unending process of birth, death, and rebirth that is of central importance to the Buddhist religious tradition. Even deities are slaves to the cycle of metempsychosis in Buddhist thought, and this belief features prominently in the plotlines of the various Shin Megami Tensei games. Who exactly the titular “goddess” is supposed to be is usually left up to the player. Each SMT game features a female character that the title could be referring to, or it could be taken as a reference to radical transformations that Japan itself experiences during the course of a game.

For this guide, we wanted to include an interview with Atlus, but we wanted to be sure we asked the all the right questions. While we’ve got good questions rattling around inside our brain cases that must be answered, we know that the best interview questions are those that are asked by the fans themselves. This means you.

We posted an invitation on several public message boards, for people to send their questions to us and be answered by Atlus within this guide.

The following are questions as asked by the fans themselves and answered by Kazuyuki Yamai, Director and Kazuma Kaneko, Creative Director, of Atlus Japan, and Yu Namba of Atlus USA. We’ve included the screen names of the person asking the question in parenthesis before each question. Answers are in bold type.

(zippedpinhead) What made you decide to switch the graphical style of the series from a first-person style dungeon crawler RPG to a fully third person RPG?

This was to be able to present the change in the protagonist from a normal boy to a demon (his tattoos glow in the dark!). From the system perspective, since 3D polygons were used to create the backgrounds in this game, we wanted the player to witness the scale and scope of the environment.

Also, since there are many reports of people getting a car-sickness-like condition called “3D sickness” with FPSes in Japan, we thought that if we could give the players something to focus their attention on, it would fix this problem. -Yamai

(RedCoKid) Why did you choose a cel-shaded look for this game?

In a 3D-rendered world, people generally make a big deal out of rendering everything exactly as it would be in reality. Because of this, we sought our own method of original shading that would be different from all the others. (This type of thinking has permeated every entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series.) In addition, we wanted to find a shading system that would be capable of fully reproducing our Creative Director Kaneko’s fantastic designs. -Yamai

(Gideon Zhi) Where did the inspiration for the almost-but-not-quite human Manekata characters come from?

In order to effectively represent the war between the Reasons that’s going on in the Vortex World, we decided on the existence of the Manikins. In a country or in a company, power is a measure of numbers. A populous country can collect more taxes, and a company with a larger work force can undertake many projects. We wanted the Manikins to represent this overwhelming power in the Vortex World, to fuel the groups in power in the Vortex and to be able to press for the birth of a new world. The Manikins are born from the earth of the Vortex, so could be seen as something like the Vortex’s cells. What form the organization of those cells would take should change with what Reason they’re fighting for.

Since the Manikins are, as it were, the Vortex itself, they don’t have individual goals, but as the Vortex is searching for its Reason, as parts of the Vortex, the Manikins must look for that Reason as well. Since they don’t have personal goals, but serve as a strong basis for judgement, and since there are so many of them, they make for an effective intensification of the great war.

As for the Manikins’ distinctive conceptualized motif, that comes from us, the way humans think and act. This is a bit vague, but they are based off of the people who’re lost to the force of numbers.

For instance, someone who doesn’t see movies much but goes to see one that’s topical or popular, or buys 

a CD because it’s sold a million copies, without any personal judgement on the matter, and feels that this is the way everyone should be, would be a good candidate for this kind of judgement. It’s hard to tell exactly where to draw the line and it is likely that the vast majority of people have this inclination, but there are people among them who almost entirely base their judgement on this strength of numbers. The Manikins are a metaphor for these kinds of people. When you’re thinking about buying a game not because it’s a game you’ll actually like, but because it is advertised a lot and everyone else is playing it, that is acting like a Manikin. Be careful.-Kaneko

(Gideon Zhi) What gave you the idea for the inverted Vortex World, and why did you choose this over other possible,more traditional world designs?

We chose this design because we didn’t think any other game had used it, and because we thought that when presenting a strange world, you can’t just make unusual structures within it to represent that, but you need to make the world itself unusual.

Now, as for the reason why we decided on the inverted Earth idea, there were a number of inspirations. It was like the galaxy-bubble creation formulated by the Gnostics in the earliest science, like the hollow earth theory and space colony construction of early science and sci-fi, and it was like observations on the shape of the universe based on quantum physics and the Hannya Shingyo (the Heart of the Wisdom Sutra, part of the Maha Prajfia Paramita Sutra (Great Wisdom Sutra), which is one of the greatest Sutras in Buddhism. -ed.).

At a glance, these things have nothing to do with each other, but if you think a bit, they have a lot in common, so you may want to look into these if you’re interested. Like the Manikins mentioned earlier, there are a lot of metaphors in the Vortex World. Incidentally, there is an energy conservation law in place concerning the contents of the Vortex, so for example if one Manikin dies (terminates), another is born (begins) without a moment’s hesitation. Due to this construction, the Reason war is inevitable. In the same way a substance can change between solid, liquid, gas, and plasma, the Vortex is also trying to change its form, but the result may be that it knows only its Reason. The original plan was to make the Vortex like a battlefield for you to run around in. You could see into the distant horizon, and if you look up into the sky you can make out terrain features and houses way in the distance. We thought this would certainly be a dynamic spectacle, but it made the game respond poorly so we put that aside. I hope we’ll be able to do it some day. -Kaneko

(Matthew Segura) Im a big fan of Kazuma Kanekos art. Being an artist myself,’ would really like to know where he draws his inspiration from for the interesting designs he produces.

I have to say that it’s a combination of many things. The few I thought of are as follows:

  • Knowledge of mythology and the occult: This encompasses everything from folklore to urban legends.
  • Scientific theory from all times and places: This encompasses ones I can’t begin to comprehend, and even obviously ludicrous ones.
  • The works of my predecessors: novels and comics, movies and music, and all the other great works that my predecessors have left behind.
  • Trends and cultures from all times and places, including everything from fashion and games for adults to youth fads.
  • My own ideas: I draw every day from my own personal experiences and feelings up until now.

This is what it looks like when divided into neat categories, but there are times when there is cooperation between the categories, and when I’m collecting information for these, if I find common themes and concepts and interesting ideas and motifs, I will put them into stock for later use. Then I can pull these ideas and themes out of stock when I need to create a story later. If I have to point it out concretely, when making a story, there are usually a few questions I draw from the 5 categories while I’m thinking, so to present a dynamic and cathartic story from these 5 categories, I’ll search for ideas from 1 and 2. Then I’ll search for works from category 3 with similar themes, to serve as a reference and so that mine doesn’t resemble theirs. Then, to draw out a response from the players, I search category 4 for everyday motifs and metaphors.

I explain it like it’s in stages but in reality I do this all at the same time. There are also times when I search category 1 for themes, and times when I search category 5 for motifs. The reason is I guess I just want to do things that no other games have done before. -Kaneko

(satsukun) Where did the idea for the Magatama come from?

In the earlier games, where you were a human who was fighting demons that appeared in the present day, there were always weapons you could equip. This time in this unusual world, with the protagonist himself living as a demon, we got a very different concept for his equipment. The Magatama system was born from this. This is at once far simpler and deeper than the equipment systems we previously employed, and gives an extra dimension to the play style, so we took a while to incorporate it into the system. -Yamai

(Yoshitsune) For Atlus of America…

Do you have plans to release any of the other games in the series besides Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner?

There’s nothing planned at this point. -Yu

(Yoshitsune) And for Atlus of Japan…

The Shin Megami Tensei games are known for having lots of mythological references (which,unlike most other RPG series,are actually pretty accurate). What inspired you to use world mythology as such a major component of the series?

I’ve explained this in the earlier mentioned five categories of ideas, but this should go without saying given the time we live in. The world is overflowing with things that go without saying, but why do these things go without saying? This is the question I wanted to address in these games.

For instance, we know that Earth revolves around the sun and that people live on the Earth, but for what reason are these people born? Why does it have to be Earth? How far does the universe extend? What will the universe become? And you think you are who you are, but why was the person who you are born? What should you be doing? What will you become? There’s no limit to the examples you can cite, and I think the questions you can ask are equally unlimited. The proper term for this is philosophy, but such a stiff presentation isn’t suited to a game, and it can be painful to try to understand. That’s why we decided on mythology. Mythology draws answers to these various philosophical questions dynamically and cathartically, and form the basis for many of our stories in present day. Also, from a present-day standpoint there are some mysterious common threads in world mythology, such as the flood myth, and inquiries into the advanced scientific knowledge of ancient cultures brings forward so many interesting themes. Of the motifs from these legends that get 

carried in the background nowadays, I think we sometimes use them as themes, and sometimes as metaphors, in order to try to present our various questions. -Kaneko

(darknobiyuki) This is a question for the Atlus of Japan staff. I have been a huge fan of your work for awhile and have amassed quite a lot of Japanese MegaTen games and other stuff. My question has to do more with the ideology behind the series. In Shin Megami Tensei II (and a few vague references in Nocturne),the Judeo-Christian God is portrayed as the prominent villain in the series. I was curious what influenced the Japanese team to make such a controversial choice in series villain. I think an explanation on this would be very beneficial, as I know it has been of the major sticking points in getting this game released on these shores.

Thanks to Kazuma as well for his terrific artwork, I am addicted to your style as it adds so much character and originality to the MegaTen universe. Thanks for the great games. I’m having a blast playing the Japanese Digital Devil Saga] I cant wait for the US version]

Thank you for your love of Megami Tensei. This is a delicate question, but as mentioned in the last question there are many mysterious common motifs, like the flood legend, in mythology, so I like to investigate mythology from all around the world. For instance, the aforementioned flood legend, the creation process at the beginning of the universe, a hero going on a journey to overcome trials, and sights at the end of the world, etc etc.

It’s almost like a shared memory of the events that happened in ancient times has remained to make people draw up the same motifs. One way of thinking is that there was one mythology in the ancient past, and then as the races moved and the continents drifted they customized it to the special geography and topography of where they lived until we got the unique region myths we know today. However, the basis is the same, so even though there are differences in these myths due to geography, topography, and culture, their motif and theme remain very similar. And when I thought about which mythology served as the basis, I concluded that it was the Old Testament. Which means YHWH, the god of the Old Testament, is the basis for all the gods around the world, from a folklorist’s standpoint. Now, I would like you to know that in Megaton, YHWH is not portrayed as the embodiment of evil. -Kaneko

(Overlord Nei) What was your inspiration for creating this game?

In this game we wanted to show off different styles and Reasons for living: people who live to pursue strength; people who are strong; people who pursue them; people who first establish themselves in a group like this, but this is revealed to be different from the stance they will take when they are inside the group, and so on.

There are the type who will always take the initiative, the type who don’t really understand but will always support those in power, the type that says that everyone should be individuals, and of course many other small type divisions, so we made Reasons for these representative types. We drew inspiration from large and small structures throughout the world, groups like schools and companies, and what we felt was happening there. Having said that, we didn’t want it to be quite so formal, we wanted the player to be able to see various groups and circumstances like this as he rook his journey through the strange world of the Vortex. We wanted it to be like a journey through hell, with images kind of like Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.

(DJPubba) Thank you for taking the time to talk to fans of the game. It is clear that you put much thought into your answers and that is most appreciated.