Bargain Gaming – Top Five Megami Tensei Games

Posted on Oct 31 2011

Ah, it’s that wonderful time of the year again. The weather is crisp yet not too cold, there’s a gallon of apple cider in the fridge, and Halloween is just around the corner. And what better way to celebrate Halloween than to take a moment and countdown one of the best demon centric game series in recent memory: Megami Tensei. This is quite possibly one of my favorite game series, to the point where I actually buy all of their games on principal. I know that they’re going to be good enough to justify the purchase, and even after several years they have yet to let me down. Whether it be the fun high school dynamic of the Persona games or the intense action of the Devil Summoner titles, there is just something about the way these games combine elements of demonic horror with their surroundings that appeals to me.

But there’ll be plenty of time for me to wax philosophical later. Let’s burn through a few quick disclaimers and get this list underway, shall we? First off I am not going to be going into too much depth about each title as I go through this list, for two reasons. First, I want to keep this list concise and to the point. This is about the ranking of my personal top five Megami Tensei games, not five reviews stacked on top of one another. And second, because said five reviews are going to be posted up from five to one over the course of the next week, in celebration of Halloween! You know you love it.

My other disclaimer is that this is my personal list and should not be viewed as a definitive ranking of any sort. I actually had some trouble ranking these titles, and ended up reordering them several times due to the fact that I had a hard time choosing one title over another. The other fact to take into consideration is that I have not played all of the Megami Tensei games that have ever been released (though not for a lack of trying mind you!), and as such cannot make this into a definitive list. As such honorable mention goes out to Persona 2, which I have heard is a fantastic game yet have never had the opportunity to play. I would also like to give a quick shoutout to one of Megami Tensei’s latest releases, Catherine, as I have not had the chance to complete it yet and as such do not feel comfortable in adding it to this list. Now, with all of that out of the way, let’s get into it!

Number Five:

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 FES

Ooh, I can already feel the hate because of this, as this was probably the hardest of the five to decide on. I loved this game, and the fact that it is in the bottom spot should really go towards showing the level of quality present in all of the titles on this list rather than taken as an insult towards it. It possesses a great roster of characters, and I’m not just referring to the ones in your party. This game’s social link mechanic was masterfully executed, with plenty of chances to build up rapport with the various interesting characters scattered throughout the game and learn more about the world in general. In fact this was probably my favorite part of the game, to the point where I feel like the developers could’ve just cut off the rest of the game and still had an excellent title on their hands.

But no, they went and added a fully flushed out, huge, multi-level dungeon crawling RPG and merged it with the social aspect, turning it into one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played. Add in the extra content available in the FES version of the game and you’re talking close to 100 hours in game time before you finally manage to clear this title. And may the lords of gaming have mercy on your immortal soul if you decide that you’re going to one hundred percent complete this game, as balancing the RPG elements with the social ones in such a way requires at least two play throughs and a far greater level of skill and patience than what I possess.

However there is a reason as to why this game is on the bottom of this list, as it has two flaws that, while not game breakers, do make it inferior to the following titles. The first is actually the length of the tower dungeon that is central to the RPG aspect of the game. While the tower concept in and of itself is awesome, the problem is that somewhere around floor number fifty you start to wonder if it’s ever going to end. It takes real perseverance to overcome this tower and make it to the end, and while this is in some way praise worthy, a little bit more variety to spice things up around the midpoint would’ve been excellent. The second issue is actually in part due to this tediousness, as it feels like the story can drag on at some points, with long stretches where absolutely nothing happens. This is particularly noticeable towards the end of the game, and unfortunately I can’t really explain why without going into spoilers.

Suffice to say that the game is solid overall, but suffers from moments of tedium that serve to bring the experience as a whole down a bit. But don’t let this fool you! It is still an awesome game, and if you haven’t played it after you’ve read my full review of it tomorrow then you’ve failed me as a fellow gamer.

Number Four:

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga

Another tough one, though not as tough as Persona 3 as at least it’s not at the bottom of the list. This game had a fun premise from the beginning, as you quickly realize that there is more to the wasteland the game takes place in than meets the eye. On top of this the use of individual characters with specific demon transformations to form your party was an interesting twist on the standard layout of main character plus random demons that is standard in many Megaten titles. And while each of the character’s demonic forms has their own strengths and weaknesses, the game gave the player the ability to customize their move set at their leisure, meaning you could make Heat, a physical character, into a healer if you really wanted to.

On top of this the game had a rather interesting storyline, asking fun questions such as what it means to be human. Some of the most enjoyable aspects of the game were watching the previously emotionless characters having to come to grips with things like sadness, pride, and rage. This in turn led to the question of whether they were more human before they changed, when they lacked emotions, or after, when they had become monsters forced to feed off of others yet had gained those feelings that are so central to who we are as well. The whole game seems to reference aspects of Hinduism, such as reincarnation, and ties these concepts in with the game’s story of gaining control of the wasteland admirably. This is only reinforced by the likeable characters that populate the game, as watching your party’s characters grow as you progress is almost as rewarding as the progression in and of itself.

But if I had to make one complaint about the game it would have to be about the high encounter rate. While this is great for training your party, as the game is rather difficult for newcomers to the RPG genre, it can be irritating when you are just trying to progress through an area where the enemies aren’t even worth farming for experience. This is especially true if you’re like me and reached max level before the final dungeon. And as I said before, the game is challenging, to the point where many of the hidden bosses are still a challenge even at max level, and the ultimate hidden boss is next to impossible even with max level, max stats, and a strategy on how to defeat it (though it was still a nice nod to the next game on this list).

Long story short, if you’re looking for a solid RPG with an interesting story then I cannot recommend this game highly enough. It’s a gold mine for would be philosophers, rife with meaning in almost every cut scene. Come for the excellent character and demon design, stay for the top notch RPG and philosophical elements.

Number Three:

Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Oh man, where do I even start with this one? Well, let’s start with a fun fact. Digital Devil Saga (and many other Megaten games) had an aspect called press turns, which effectively meant that by targeting an enemy’s weak point or resisting an enemy’s attack you could add extra turns and negate enemy turns. The feature added a whole new level to the game’s strategy, as it meant that attacking strategically would not only grant you extra damage but also extra opportunities to attack, in turn resulting in even more damage. Exploiting this feature could easily mean the difference between victory and defeat in the harder battles, but the enemy could also exploit it so you had to be careful about covering your own weaknesses as well. Why am I going into this now, you ask? Because Nocturne was the game that pioneered this mechanic.

As such it should come as no surprise to you that this game has an excellent battle system, with a ton of customization available to the player who wants to fine tune their party. But incredibly this is not the game’s strongest element, instead being surpassed by the game’s top notch atmosphere. I suppose you could say that this is due to the story, but this is only true in part. While the story is excellent, it is the combination of the game’s world, music, story, characters, and too many other elements to go into here that ends up creating this game’s captivating and in many cases hauntingly beautiful atmosphere. Playing this game, I immediately felt myself getting caught up within the game’s world, even as I questioned where the story taking place within it was going. Of all the Megami Tensei games I have played I have never seen one with as much complexity and depth to its atmosphere as this game has. Add in some neat twists with the story and the ability to control said story’s outcome, and you have a truly impressive game world at your fingertips.

But despite this there is one aspect of this game that holds it back, and that is its sheer difficulty. This is easily the toughest Megami Tensei game I’ve ever played, with bosses that thrive off of the press turn system and instant kill moves galore. If you don’t come into this game prepared it’ll knock you out without so much as a warning, so I can only really recommend it to the hardcore RPG gamers out there. It is still one of the best RPGs I’ve ever played and definitely deserves to be picked up if you have any interest in it. But the difficulty prevents it from being accessible to many gamers, and as such I have to put it in my number three spot. If you’re looking for a challenge then look no farther, because this is one of my favorite games of all time. Which raises the question: what games could’ve possibly surpassed such an epic title?

Number Two:

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, this game is the sequel to the titular Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, another awesome game that you should probably check out. In fact, the hardest part of deciding which game to put into this slot was which of the Devil Summoner titles I should pick. They were too similar to have both on the list, and really that wouldn’t be fair to Persona 3 FES, as I felt that it deserved a place on this list as well. I thought long and hard on this and I ended up deciding on the sequel for two key reasons. The first, and more important one, was the addition of the ability to have a second demon on the field at the same time, which added a huge amount of customization and strategy to the previous iteration. The second was the game’s emphasis on the luck stat. I love games that actually take the luck stat seriously, so when I discovered that it was actually important enough to be considered a plot point in the sequel I was ecstatic.

On top of this the game takes a remarkably different tack from the rest of the Megami Tensei titles in that it is an action RPG, meaning your character actually runs around and attacks in real time, with you being able to freeze time in order to access your inventory and issue commands to your demons. This added dimension adds a new skill set to the series, as now you need to be able to not just manage your stats and demons but also be proficient enough at fighting that you can actually use said skills in order to defeat your opponents. The block and hide demon commands will quickly become your best friends in later boss fights, as you will be able to pull your demons back when the enemy telegraphs their attacks, increasing their, and in turn your, survivability. Throw in some fun sword play and a decent weapon customization system and you have a combat engine that’s a lot of fun to mess around with. This action element was what really sold me on these games, as they brought the combat that I was already familiar with from the other titles to life.

Honestly I have a hard time thinking of any real complaints about this game, as I loved it pretty much consistently in all categories. If I had to make a complaint it would be that the game makes it too tempting to hunt down and capture all of the demons and then max out their experience bar, as that will not only give you the best fusion combinations but also level up your ability to hold demons throughout the game. This isn’t even a bad thing outside of the fact that it is a major time sink for a wannabe perfectionist like me. The only other complaint I have is that some of the side quests can be a real pain to complete, but that’s optional content so I’m kind of complaining about nothing at this point. I suppose the final dungeon is a bit difficult and drawn out as well, but what do you expect from an RPG?

This is probably going to be the most controversial choice on this list, as I know Nocturne is a fan favorite, but I just had more fun playing Devil Summoner 2 at the end of the day. But now it is time for the grand reveal. The number one Megami Tensei game on my list, and the game that all of you should either have played, are in the process of playing, or at the very least are in the process of obtaining a copy. So without further fanfare, let’s do this!

Number One:

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4

Okay, show of hands, who saw this one coming? This game holds a special place in my heart as the first Megami Tensei game I ever played, yet even if it didn’t it would still hold the top spot on this list. Why? Because while Persona 3 had the RPG and social elements in the same framework, they always felt like they were two separate entities that happened to coexist within the one game. Persona 4 managed to take these two elements and seamlessly combined them, to the point where the RPG aspect felt hollow without the social growth provided by the game’s Social Link system and the social pursuits seemed pointless without the proper investment into the RPG part. Persona 4 blended them in such a way that there was always a sense of tension as you played, as you were always struggling to balance your RPG progress with your social prowess in the most efficient manner without running out of time to do everything you wanted to do.

That’s right, just like in Persona 3 you have a time limit of one in-game year in which to accomplish all of your in-game objectives. But this time limit it used to even greater effect in Persona 4 due to the murder mystery plot line creating a sense of tension throughout the entire game. You always get the sense that you are fighting against the clock, even when you manage to meet your goals ahead of time, as all of that extra time is going to be put towards maxing out as many social links as you possibly can. Throw in a few false endings and a wild goose chase or two and you have a story where it seems as though time is never on your side. Yet despite this mystery background the game still manages to contain a pleasant sense of humor. This is due in large part to the memorable and amusing characters, with great awkward interactions between characters like Yukiko and Teddie (awkward laughter, anyone?) and Yosuke and Kanji (“you saying I like dudes?”) these classic moments help to keep the tone light in what would otherwise be a rather dark mystery game.

On top of all of this even the game play seems to be refined from its predecessor, giving the player the option as to whether or not he wants to control the entire party or leave the three other characters under the control of the AI. This was a huge relief for me personally, as I can’t tell you how many times I’d lay out a carefully planned strategy in Persona 3 only for one of the AI controlled characters to do something that can only be politely described as inane. And I haven’t even commented on the game’s style or incredible music yet! I’ll save my more detailed analysis for the review, but suffice to say that there is a reason why this game tops the list of my all time favorite Megami Tensei games.

And that does it, the list is officially complete! I hope you guys enjoyed my countdown and will look into any of the games you haven’t played, though you might want to hold off for the upcoming reviews before making any decisions. Anyway, what do you guys think? Was I dead on the money? Or would you have reordered the list or replaced some of the games altogether? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll do my best to respond to all of you. I hope you guys are looking forward to the upcoming week of reviews and that you’ll all have a demon filled and awesome Halloween. As always, this is Bargain Gamer, logging off!

You Might Also Like...

  • Elk November 4, 2011 at 7:58 AM

    I understand why you said personal list, because it’s 100% wrong *trollface* Wurrs mah Devil Survivor? Wurrs mah Strange Journey? Wurrs mah Original SMT 1&2?

    • Bargain Gamer November 4, 2011 at 11:21 PM

      Hah, well there are bound to be disagreements I suppose. Don’t get me wrong though, as I enjoyed both Strange Journey and Devil Survivor, but neither had the staying power of the other games on the list imho.

  • Kanashimi November 4, 2011 at 10:12 PM

    I am actually surprised neither Persona 1 or Persona 2 are on here, but I understand why. I can’t say I agree a 100%, but the reasons why you listed them as such were clear.

    • Bargain Gamer November 4, 2011 at 11:23 PM

      Persona 1 isn’t on there because even though I own it I never beat it, and I don’t like reviewing games I haven’t beat. And up until recently I’d never even seen a copy of 2, so yeah. ^ ^;

  • You must be logged in to comment. Log in