It's hard to think of many RPGs as stunningly original as Shin Megami Tensei. Some franchises are better-known, and plenty of competitors have their own unique quirks, but there is simply nothing else like Atlus's apocalyptic demon-summoning adventures. Building a party from mythology's greatest gods and monsters is already an immediately-engaging concept, but SMT goes the extra mile by letting players explore the darkest parts of the human heart and tests their morals with challenging dilemmas.
Yet, for all the series' recent growth, it's surprisingly difficult to experience the game that started it all. The original Shin Megami Tensei may have been ported to and remade on numerous platforms, but its only English release was an iOS version in 2014 that has since been discontinued. This situation makes it all but impossible for an international audience to legally experience. However, with gamers increasingly interested in replaying old classics, it also makes it the perfect time for a modern remake.
Many classic RPGs have been remade over the last few years. It's a practice that helps keep old classics in the popular consciousness and gives those failed by their release years a second lease on life. However, many of the most popular candidates are already so easily accessible that there's little point in remaking them again. Games like the Final Fantasy series are iconic for a good reason, but projects like the Pixel Remaster can sometimes feel unnecessary for precisely this reason, especially when there are so many other titles by the company that could use a modern update.
Atlus has a similar problem to Square Enix in this regard. The company is no stranger to reviving old classics, but there's still a lot of their back catalogue that's in danger of being forgotten. The original Shin Megami Tensei is no exception, especially now that its removal from the iOS store has killed the one legal means of experiencing it. This leaves fan translations as the only viable alternative, and there's simply no reason for that to be the case. Video games can be a dangerously transient medium, and it would be a tragedy for a title this unique to disappear.
The first SMT's gameplay may be dated by today's standards, but it has an atmosphere few games can really compete with. Its story concerns a group of young adults trapped in a locked-down Tokyo as demons from Hell increasingly usurp the city. The tension is constantly escalating, in no small part thanks to this supernatural threat. Like any good disaster story, the biggest problems are caused by the political differences between two competing human factions.
Whereas sequels like SMT IV saw Law and Chaos demand that players commit genocide at the behest of monstrous entities, the first game's alignment representatives are just imperfect people making sacrifices for what they see as the greater good. The Law faction is represented by the American military, who intend to destroy Tokyo with nuclear weapons to prevent the demon outbreak from spreading to the rest of the world. Opposing them is the Chaos faction led by Japan's General Gouto, who actively works with the demons to protect his country's independence.
It's a deeply uncomfortable ethical dilemma, but it's compelling because both sides have valid points despite their extremist endgames. It's up to the player to determine if either one is right or crush them both and forge a new path for humanity. Surprisingly, however, this isn't necessarily the ideal outcome. The battle continues even after both leaders fall, and the situation only grows more desperate. Furthermore, unlike many of its sequels, the first SMT treats its Neutral ending as a bittersweet conclusion. It gives humanity a chance to rebuild on their own, but there's an awful, lingering feeling that all it's practically done is buy some time before the next demonic conflict.
SMT's morality is messy, difficult and without easy answers, but that's exactly what helps it keep standing out almost 30 years after its initial release. It's also why it deserves a modern remake. The iOS port may not have set the world on fire, but one could argue it was never going to, thanks to its aging gameplay and mechanics. However, the series has moved on since 1992. The games have better dungeon design, prettier aesthetics and more quality-of-life features to make gameplay more accessible, all of which could easily be applied to a new update of their predecessor.
Such a remake wouldn't necessarily need to be an especially expensive project, either. Despite its important place in gaming history, it's fair to say that SMT has always been something of a niche product. However, Atlus has proven it's more than capable of making great games with limited resources. Nocturne was hardly the prettiest game on the PS2, but fans still loved it because of its unique design decisions, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions was a light-hearted but deeply-enjoyable title despite having been made on a budget.
Whether Atlus chooses to build such a remake or re-release the iOS port, Shin Megami Tensei deserves to remain accessible. It's an important part of both the company's history and gaming as a whole, being one of the first successful instances of an RPG incorporating moral choices, creature-catching and multiple endings. While it may never be as popular as some of its successors, that doesn't mean there isn't still an audience for it. It would certainly be a shame for a game that's all about learning from history to be lost to it.
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