How to get into Shin Megami Tensei in 2022 (with ALL SMT Games listed)

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(This page has been updated for 2022. It includes reviews on newer SMT games such as SMT V and Soul Hackers 2! We won’t spoil any games either, only give brief synopsis on gameplay mechanics.)

If you want to skip right to our SMT V review, click here, and to skip to our Soul Hackers 2 review, click here. I’ve also updated this to mention new fan translations, such as the PSP English fan translation for Persona 2: Eternal Punishment on PSP and the new English fan translation for SMT1 on PS1. We’ll tell you the recommended platform to play all SMT games on!

Are you interested in playing Shin Megami Tensei, but are confused on how to get into the series? We will tell you a recommended play order for gamers new to the SMT series! And we’ll also tell you ALL SMT games to play as well if you’re looking for a big checklist and craving more of these games.

These guides take a significant amount of time and effort to make, and anything that can be given is extremely appreciated.

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Some key points:

  • The games are generally unrelated, so you can pick almost any game to begin with (the games have references to each other, but aren’t crucial to play to understand the plot).
    • The main exception to this is SMT2, a direct sequel to SMT1, as well as MT2 which picks up from MT1. SMT4: Apocalypse actually takes place after SMT4’s endgame as a “what if?” scenario and casually spoils all of SMT4’s plot so play SMT4 before SMT4A (the name may be confusing, but no SMT4A is not a definitive version of SMT4, it’s its own game). Raidou 1 is followed by Raidou 2. Technically you’d want to play Devil Summoner before Soul Hackers 1 but it doesn’t have a fan translation so don’t worry about it. Soul Hackers 1 and 2 are not that related so you can start with Soul Hackers 2 if you’d like.
  • Many of the games have had remasters over the years, so it’s recommended to play the definitive/remastered version instead of an older one. We’ll explain every game where this happens.
    • (Atlus has a silly habit of re-released an old game with a new female supporting character, but generally you’ll get more content like an extra dungeon, more demons/personas, and quality of life improvements, so you might as well just pick up the newer version.)
  • The SMT franchise has many spinoffs, and it’s often highly debated whether certain spinoff series are in SMT or not. We will consider most titles, even Persona, to be spinoffs of SMT since they have the same demons and similar gameplay mechanics.
    • The opposite of spinoffs is “mainline” SMT, considered to be the mainstay SMT games. Even what is considered mainline SMT is debated, but we will consider SMT: If and SMT: Strange Journey to be mainline SMT.
  • We will have NO SPOILERS in any of our descriptions.
  • We won’t be considering phone games in our scope, many phone games have been lost to time and are Japan-exclusive.

What if the game I want to play is not in English?

Many of these games are unfortunately untranslated, so we’ll name the patch you can use. (The legal way to emulate is to buy the game, transfer the game to your PC to make a legal backup of the game, and put an English patch over your legal backup, then play it on an emulator.)

The patch is made by a fan translator, and basically patches in English words wherever Japanese words used to be including demon names, spells, and the story script. We’ll name the patch you can use, but you’ll need to get the copy of the game yourself! And what you typically do is you apply the English patch onto your copy of the game you presumably purchased. (If you’re in doubt, just use Google.)

Which SMT game to be your first?

I actually recommend chronological release order instead, but if you want to get into the franchise with easier gameplay mechanics first and then work your way backwards to the harder less friendly games then use below (pick a branch):

  • SMT mainline: SMT V → SMT: Nocturne → SMT 4 → SMT 4A → Strange Journey
  • Persona’s: Persona 5 → Persona 3 → Persona 4, also Persona 5: Strikers
  • PS2 era: SMT: Nocturne → Digital Devil Saga 1 → Digital Devil Saga 2
  • SRPGS: Devil Survivor 1 → Devil Survivor 2
  • Action games: Raidou 1 → Raidou 2
  • Soul Hackers Spinoffs (which itself are part of Devil Summoner spinoff): Soul Hackers 2 → Soul Hackers 1 (probably play old SMT’s before Soul Hackers 1)
  • For dungeon crawlers that are like Etrian Odyssey try: Strange Journey → Persona Q → Persona Q2 (note: Strange Journey is harder than most, play other games first)
  • If you’re really craving more, then these have fan translations SMT1 → SMT2 → SMT: If, and if you still want more then see our complete list below.

Let’s get started! With the release of SMT V, it’s probably best to just start off with that game, but be aware that it has the most refined quality of life mechanics such as balanced gameplay and that it’s very easy to build and transfer skills onto the protagonist and demons (it has the most customizable protagonist in any game). So if you want to play the games in backwards order, be aware that most other SMT games won’t have as good gameplay as SMT V, but you’ll be experienced enough to handle older games too.

At the same time, SMT V was a rushed title and it shows by the time you finish the game, so if you’re worried about other SMT games feeling unfinished, don’t worry, because most other SMT games feel completely finished. Other SMT games have more thorough dungeon design that I’ll explain.

After playing SMT V, another good SMT to check out first is SMT: Nocturne, which is basically SMT3. The key takeaway is that you don’t want to start off with a title that’s too old, but you also might not want to start off with SMT4 or SMT4: Apocalypse because 4 starts off very slow and has the most beginner un-friendly dungeon and early bosses in the series. 4A actually has a much more fair intro to the game, but you don’t start with that because it continues off of 4.

Nocturne is a great entry point because it has 3D demon models, which you’ve seen in SMTV, and it recently had a remaster as well. Nocturne HD has voice acting added in, skill inheritance added, as well as easier gameplay difficulties added. I don’t recommend playing the game on Easy mode though, try Normal difficulty or above because the challenge should be a fun part of the game (I played it originally on Normal in the 2000’s and when the HD remaster came out I played it on Hard). Be aware that unlike SMT V, Nocturne will have some actual dungeons with, god forbid, puzzles!

In any SMT game, you just need to keep fusing better demons, learn about how to recruit demons through negotiations, and you need to use buffs and debuffs throughout the game. The only drawback is that in Nocturne, physical builds are the most viable build (there’s a distinct lack of equivalent magic skills though Magma Axis is a recently found exception), so you can’t experiment that much, and be careful when learning new skills because removed skills cannot be re-learned!

Nocturne is very rough around its edges, it has a mostly barren world after the first ten minutes of the game and has a lack of NPCs, but it’s still very enjoyable experience and I liked the character routes as well as the bonus dungeon and fiend bosses. Don’t be afraid of using guides to help yourself out! But it’s an older game, so you best to talk to all NPCs, including Nyx’s Bar, to figure out how to proceed.

But once you’ve played an SMT game or two, definitely check out SMT4 and SMT4A. People criticize SMT4’s supporting characters’ dialogue, and I agree, it’s pretty bad at times, but I really enjoy the world-building and factions found in SMT4 and SMT4A, plus they have decent dungeons and an amazing assortment of demons and skills. SMT4A in particular has the most demons out of any SMT game, and it pretty much had an all-star cast of demons collected from the entire SMT franchise. Definitely play SMT4 before SMT4A because 4A takes place after SMT4’s endgame and spoils many plot points. As well, 4A has more gameplay improvements (smirk system is refined) so it’s better to just play it after 4.

It’s recommended to do the Neutral route in SMT4 because the Neutral endgame of SMT4 leads to the start of 4A; however, getting that route is tricky because you have alignment points from your responses, you need to choose a similar amount of lawful and chaotic responses to get to the neutral route. Also, you need to do a large amount of sidequests to complete the Neutral route in SMT4, so don’t be afraid to consult guides online to see what choices to make, as well as view a map online because the world map is very poorly made in SMT4 unless you’ve walked down Tokyo.

Afterwards, play Strange Journey Redux. Redux is the definitive version and has many quality of life improvements and new endgame areas and new endings. I defend playing Strange Journey later on because it’s a very challenging game, its endgame bosses catch many people off-guard and its dungeons are Etrian Odyssey style, if you’re not familiar they’re tricky dungeon crawlers for newcomers and you’ll probably want to consult maps online. The worst part is that Redux has more final bosses. Whereas the original Strange Journey’s final boss was already extremely difficult, now in Redux they somehow made new final bosses even crazier – to the point where SJ Redux’s new final boss is not only the toughest SMT boss I’ve faced, but also the toughest boss out of all JRPGs I’ve played with the exception of some post-game bosses like the Demifiend in Digital Devil Saga.

You also don’t want to start off with a spinoff because although spinoffs are similar, they’ll usually have a big difference in a certain gameplay element. For instance, Persona is an SMT spinoff because it clearly has the same demons and very similar gameplay such as the same nomenclature for spells, the only big gameplay difference is timed buff/debuff spells and having different elements of spells at your disposal. Persona is different than SMT because it has more of a focus on social links as part of the narrative, making the games very long.

If you want to start with a spinoff, though, play Persona 5: Royal, just be aware that most SMT games don’t have lengthy narratives or social links. Spinoffs are good because they’ll still teach you the naming schemata of spells.

If you don’t want to start with SMT: Nocturne, then the later Persona games (Persona 3 and afterwards) can also be an entry point into SMT. Persona 5 would likely play as the most similar to an SMT game because it actually has SMT demons as enemies, whereas in Persona 3 and 4 you’re only fighting shadows taking the forms of blobs and tables, but with any of these Persona games you will still learn how the spells work and how demon fusion works.

The only big difference, as explained earlier, is that Persona games are drawn-out because of social links. You’re playing as a student in a school with a time schedule, so you’ll need to do time management and also manage your character’s social stats, but in terms of the battle system it’s very similar to SMT.

The problem with starting with Persona 5 first is that it has many quality of life improvements, and if you go back to Persona 3 or 4 you’ll have to play with some outdated mechanics. For this reason, it may be worth it to try Persona 3 as your first SMT game, but take note that SMT games don’t have school or schedules, and SMT games will also have multiple routes based on your decisions throughout the game, whereas Persona games are linear and only have a bad and a good ending.

Persona 3 has multiple versions, but the definitive versions are either Persona 3 FES or Persona 3 Portable, not the Persona 3 base edition. I’d recommend playing through FES first, and then play Persona 3 Portable as the female protagonist if you’re hungry for more. (If you’re wondering “FES” is just the short form of Festival in Japan, it’s kind of like how we call festivals “fests”, so it’s just to indicate it’s the definitive version of the game like Persona 4: Golden and Persona 5: Royal, FES is not an abbreviation.)

This is because Portable was made for a portable system and removes the ability to explore the city during free time (it turns buying items in shops for instance into a single menu you go through), but it also allowed you to control your party members directly, so it has both pros and cons. BUT, the biggest difference with Portable is you can have a female protagonist instead of FES which only let you have a male protagonist, so it basically flips a lot of the social links around and you can be romantically involved with male friends and see exclusive scenes. Since it’s drastically different, it’s certainly worth a playthrough.

If you don’t like managing a school schedule, it may be prudent for you to consult a perfect schedule guide walkthrough, and then you can enjoy the demon fusions and battle system as normal without stressing yourself out. It is better to try out Nocturne first, and try a Persona game later, but there are a lot of SMT fans who started out with Persona as their entry so don’t worry.

After playing Nocturne, try playing through SMT4, SMT4: Apocalypse (this is a sequel to SMT4), and after that play SMT: Strange Journey. After playing Persona 3, play Persona 4: Golden, then Persona 5: Royal, and possibly play Persona 5: Strikers, then the two Digital Devil Saga games, then the Persona dancing, arena, and Persona Q spinoff games if you want (these Persona spinoffs are not so related, but if you enjoy the characters and want more do it). (Persona 4: Golden and Persona 5: Royal are the definitive versions of the games, they have quality of life improvements, and extra characters and a bonus dungeon each.)

The two Digital Devil Saga games are good to play after Nocturne because graphically and technically they were released right after Nocturne and look/play very similarly to it and it’s also very similar in the way the plot exposition is handled, but you don’t necessarily have to play them immediately afterwards because you may get burnt out. They’re definitely underrated games.

If you want a strategy JRPG SMT, play Devil Survivor 1 and 2. They’re actually amazing games with fully fleshed out routes, to the point where I’d say these SMT games handled routes the best out of any SMT title. They play like SRPGs but they’re not slow games at all and they actually do an amazing time of incorporating SMT gameplay elements -you can still fuse demons and you use them against enemies with demons.

I’ve tried some SMT and Persona games above and I want more!

Here’s a definitive list of most SMT and SMT spinoff titles, their release dates, brief descriptions of all of them and if you’re I recommend you to play them or not. I can speak and read Japanese, but I will assume that you can only play in English, so I’ll explain which games are translated! If there is no fan translation patch, it means you’ll need to play the game in Japanese and consult an English script online side-by-side. This is still being updated into 2022 and more and more translation patches are being made by fan groups!

Here’s our complete list:

Mainline SMT

Shin Megami Tensei Games that are considered mainline.jpg
Like it or not, Atlus Japan has confirmed these games to be mainline Shin Megami Tensei

Shin Megami Tensei 1 (1992)

Shin Megami Tensei 1 Cover Art

  • SNES Japanese version released in 1992, Playstation Japanese version released in 2001, and Game Boy Advance Japanese version released in 2003. An iOS English official release came out in 2014, but it’s considered very difficult to obtain because you need to buy an un-updated old phone that had purchased the game.
  • SNES English patch is available by Aeon Genesis, and their patch was updated by Orden (use Orden’s patch).
  • GBA English patch is available by Gymzatan
  • PS1 English patch is available by Fothsid, Tom, and FlashPV in 2022

2022 Update: A new PS1 English patch was released! Play that version above all others because of the quality of life improvements! Thanks so much to the translators Fothsid, Tom, and FlashPV!

I recommend playing through the GBA version of the game. I’ve played through the SNES version as well, but the GBA version has improved graphics, many quality of life enhancements, removed bugs, more cutscenes and character backstory. The soundtrack is far worse on the GBA due to its hardware limitations, but everything else is better with the GBA version. The GBA version only came out recently, so most of us played the SNES release, which is passable as well. (Disregard this paragraph, use PS1 version instead)

This is the original SMT game, it has many gameplay flaws from a balancing perspective, but it’s a fun experience. The only real issue many have with the game is that the Neutral route beats all of the other routes because you fight all of the final bosses on that route and become very overleveled. At the same time, even though the Neutral route is the best, I’d recommend you to check out other routes in the game as well.

Some demons are only able to be recruited or fused if you’re of a certain alignment (you may need to be of chaos alignment to use certain chaos demons for instance). There are many tricks you can use to change your alignment during the game, or search for a guide to see what dialogue choices you should do. Changing your alignment can get grindy at times, I remember having to grind for currency and donate at a church.

Although the game is old, it still had a semblance of routes, and different characters do have different kinds of character development, namely the law and chaos heroes. Playing through this makes you realize that the modern SMT’s, such as SMT4, pay a lot of homage to the original title, from soundtracks to the way alignment representatives are handled.

SMT 1, 2 and If have a lot of great sprite work. Everybody’s dancing furiously!

The gameplay is not balanced well, so you might as well abuse its mechanics to give yourself an easier time, especially since the encounter rate is higher in these older titles. There are certain bullets that break the game very easily too such as ailment bullets. Your main character cannot use spells, so your builds are more limited compared to modern SMT titles and you’ll probably want a physical build for your protagonist unless you want to grind for a lot of magic items.

Be a bit careful though, the game is old and glitchy so make many backup saves because you might see random game-breaking bugs such as a door you need to get through being permanently shut. (It’s the SNES version that was very buggy, you don’t need to worry too much on the GBA and PSX versions.)

SMT 1 your alignment differs from mine
SMT1 does get a bit cheesy at points and is very rigid with its alignment system. You’ll find a lot of alignment-specific enemies that you don’t see in modern SMT games.

Having maps as well can help you get through the dungeons. The dungeons in SMT1 and SMT2 can be long at times, but they’re certainly not as long and exhausting as Strange Journey’s or Etrian Odyssey’s dungeons so don’t worry. There will be pitfall dungeons and teleportation dungeons sometimes, but for the most part it’s not too bad. SMT1’s final dungeon is a very fun final dungeon that’s a culmination of everything you’ve learned. Be sure to check out the sidequests such as collecting the endgame armors and crafting Masakado’s sword!

Here’s a link to our YouTube Playthrough of SMT 1 on the SNES

Shin Megami Tensei 2 (1994)

shin megami tensei 2 cover art

  • SNES Japanese version released in 1994, Playstation Japanese version released in 2002, and Game Boy Advance Japanese version released in 2003.
  • SNES English patch is available by Aeon Genesis

Your only choice to play this in English is to play it on the SNES. There are improved versions of the game on later consoles, but they’re untranslated. This game does follow the Neutral ending of SMT1.

This game is a direct sequel to SMT1 and takes place about 50 years after its events with different characters and a very different environment. Many will argue that you don’t have to play SMT1, but I’d say you should play it anyways if you’re exploring these older titles.

Compared to SMT1, this sequel has a lot of gameplay improvements, more demon variety, and the balancing issues are now addressed such as bosses now being immune to ailments, though the game is still generally on the easier side once you learn what you’re doing.

The only thing I really disliked in SMT2 was all the backtracking. Yes, there are many teleporters in the game, but they made it such that you need to go through dungeons to get to and away from the teleporters (they put a lot of teleporters deep in dungeons and not in convenient places at all, was it because of the rental market back then?). If you sum the amount of time spent backtracking it really adds up to many hours, and it was not a problem at all in SMT1 so it baffles me why they had such an obtuse overworld design in SMT2.

But otherwise it’s a very decent game and there is a lot more story and presentation in this title. The first SMT game feels like Nocturne because the world is pretty barren early on. This game however has a lot more NPCs such as buildings that are essentially cities of NPCs, and this title has far more recruitable demons, leading to more fusion possibilities. This is also the only SMT game as far as I know where you can recruit human encounters! There are a lot of nice plot twists in this game as well.

Chris the Car SMT 2
You can find so many amazing demons that never appeared in later SMT games. Chris the Car is one of my favorite demons!

The routes are handled far better than the former game and they each have their nuance, it’s not a fairytale-like “Neutral route triumphs everything!” situation anymore and you have a lot of detail and dialog from all the major characters. The only disappointment I had was there is the same final boss on all the routes. The game is a bit more challenging than the first game, it’s not too hard though and you should be able to get through it easily.

Here’s a link to our YouTube Playthrough of SMT 2 on the SNES with all routes and endings

Shin Megami Tensei: If (1994)

Shin Megami Tensei If cover art

  • SNES Japanese version released in 1994, Playstation Japanese version released in 2002
  • SNES English patch is available by Aeon Genesis

You’ll need to play the English patch on the SNES version of the game. The Playstation version doesn’t have an English patch at the time of writing.

SMT: If is considered a spinoff by many, but I’d call it mainline. It’s called “If” because it’s meant to be a “what if” scenario if SMT1 and 2 didn’t occur. If you’re from the UK, you may recognize that they copied the movie “If…” which has the logo a very similar style with the ellipsis. I’ve watched the movie because I was curious why the developers would do this, and aside from being set in a school setting, the plots between the movie and this game are not remotely similar at all.

The thing is with SMT: If is that it’s an extremely experimental game and is generally considered to be the precursor to the Persona series because of its guardian system, which I’ll get into more detail soon. (And also because the female protagonist, Tamaki, is canon and appears in the earlier Persona games.)

SMT: If is also considered a precursor to Persona because of it being set in a school environment, but it doesn’t have a schedule, social stats or time management, but it does have guardian deities which are very similar to how characters have personas in the Persona series.

Each time you battle you have a guardian bar that will increase, which works like an experience bar. The game will continue after your protagonist dies, and if you die your guardian will get better or worse. If the guardian bar was filled enough, you’ll get a better guardian deity when you die. But, if the guardian bar did not fill enough and you die, then you’ll get a worse guardian spirit.

The mentality behind this is to not let players spam dying to get better guardians, but at the same time if you’re struggling and dying many times in the game you’re just going to keep getting stomped down even more and getting worse guardians – they should’ve had a “give the squeaky tire the oil” kind of mentality instead in my opinion. I’ve been reading mechanics regarding this, there is contention about this that say generally you most likely won’t get a worse guardian spirit. A lot of information about the mechanics of this game is niche, I scoured through many old Japanese forums and guidebooks for my playthrough.

You also don’t use these guardians directly because they’re in the status menus, but they give your partner character skills (your partner will inherit spells, not skills though). Again, it’s not implemented well because it will overwrite your characters’ skills randomly (I never got the option to choose the spells I wanted), meaning you don’t have the ability to make a build you want.

Interestingly, if you don’t die and reach the World of Jealousy (the Third Nomos in the Expanse), you can find an NPC who will give you the most powerful sword in the game that can hit enemies 1-8 times. But at the same time, not dying means you can’t upgrade your guardian either and you’ll need to keep reloading whenever you die, so there’s a tradeoff – I struggled a lot because I kept reloading every time I died and then I barely had any skills or good equipment so it’s up to you. I recommend actually dying quickly after getting the sword so you can get some skills at least. You can’t get it in Charlie’s route because you don’t visit that area in that route. You can find it on Akira’s route normally if the protagonist or Akira have over 25 vitality. I’ll explain more about the routes soon.

SMT: If is very janky because of these new gameplay mechanics (it’s not glitchy but it is odd). If you played Fire Emblem, SMT: If is basically the Thracia 776 of the SMT family. I know many readers will not understand the reference, but Thracia 776 is a game from the Fire Emblem franchise, also on the SNES, that introduced many experimental gameplay mechanics, some of which were annoying but some of which became mainstays for the franchise.

My point is that SMT: If is very experimental and very weird in its gameplay, and later SMT games have many improvements. The developers have even publicly stated that they regret making SMT: If hard and unapproachable for newcomers and tried to make later installments, such as Devil Summoner and the Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei, more easy with more quality of life improvements.

If you want to play this game and have an easy time, you should consult guides. Don’t be fooled, this game looks just like SMT 1 and 2 from a visual standpoint, but it actually plays very differently and it is actually a hard game if you’re not prepared, especially compared to SMT1 and 2 which were moderately easy games.

You can choose your protagonist’s gender. The gender may affect some dialogue but doesn’t change the plot or routes. Being able to choose your protagonist’s gender is certainly a welcoming change, but it’s not implemented perfectly. Your gender does affect the gameplay, and you can only equip certain weapons and armors depending on this. Weapons and armors don’t necessarily have male and female counterparts for every kind, and some dungeons may end up having more male weapons than female weapons for instance, and vice-versa. The treasure chests are not random, and the shops also have fixed sets of equipment too.

Another downside is that the female protagonist will have less health points too. Due to the way the game is programmed, your human partner has their health points relative to yours, so all your companions have less health too than if you had chosen a male protagonist.

SMT: If has routes done very differently than SMT 1 or 2. When you start the game early on, you will choose 1 of 4 characters to explore the school with, which will immediately determine your entire route for the game.

One of these characters is locked to New Game Plus, so it’s really choosing 1 of 3 characters as your partner if you’re in a fresh new game. It’s tricky because one of these route characters will immediately approach you directly and offer to help – naturally you’ll want to accept, but then you’ll be permanently locked with her for the entire game if you do this! So, consult a guide on the routes!

SMT If Charlie Artwork Character Design
Charlie is a pretty amazing character in SMT: If, just look at his pose

Each of these routes has a few differences and their own unique dungeon as well as alternative endings, but Reiko’s route is the one you probably want to choose because it has more detail compared to the other character’s routes, such as discovering the antagonist’s backstory which is not done in the other routes and an extra dungeon and extra final boss. Most people playing the game blindly wouldn’t do this because you need to purposely reject the other route companions, Yumi and Charlie, first. It’s very old-school game design.

The New Game Plus exclusive route, done with the companion Akira, is probably one of my favorite routes in all of SMT. It has a completely unique dungeon and the story is completely different, whereas Reiko, Yumi, and Charlie have mostly the same content except Reiko has the antagonist’s backstory with an extra dungeon at the end.

Akira’s route even has unique bosses, many of which are more challenging than the main story bosses in the other routes and tests your mastery of the game. It’s fair because it’s a new game plus route, so if you were good enough to beat the game you should be good enough to tackle his route as well.

I rarely ever see this done in JRPGs, the only thing that comes close is Soul Nomad’s evil “Demon Path” route which completely changes its story to be darker. It’s extremely worth it to do a second playthrough to complete Akira’s route because it’s just so fascinating. The game doesn’t pull any punches and that’s why it was designed to be a new game plus route. The bosses will all spam instant-kill spells and you need to have either protective armor to make those spells immune or the Tetraja spell with demon/partner faster than the boss. It’s still fair though because you can make builds to counter these bosses. Akira’s route is like if SMT4: Apocalypse’s Anarchy route was its own game instead.

Returning to my earlier points, SMT: If’s gameplay is weird and it’s home to the strangest dungeon – the World of Sloth, where you need to run around for many moon cycles to wait for students to dig and finish “building” the dungeon so you can escape. The dungeon has become a meme at this point, and some players have found fast solutions to the problem. But for the most part, the dungeons are generally not too hard compared to SMT1 or SMT2.

Unlike SMT1 and 2 though, there aren’t many “safe” areas without encounters, and although the school is initially safe, most of the other places in the expanse you go to will have encounters in its shops so you really always need to be on guard. The school is a pretty nice hub area to return to between your excursions and the reoccurring NPCs you can talk to and learn more about is actually nice and relaxing. I think most people would rush through the game’s dungeons but there’s a surprising amount of detail in the school.

Be very careful because many bosses (who are tanky with large amounts of health) use the instant-kill spells such as Hama and Mudo. Even in most Persona and SMT games you really don’t see bosses with these spells too often, and even if you do they don’t cast it as frequently as the bosses in this game do. Make sure you invest stats into agility to out-speed the bosses so you can cast Tetraja, or recruit a fast demon with Tetraja to cast it each turn to eliminate the instant-kill effect. At the same time, you’d have to pray your partner is able to learn Tetraja in the first place, or you need to hopefully be on a recruit with a dungeon that has a demon that has that spell.

Another tip I’d give to newcomers is to abuse the casino, whether it be through saving the game or cheating through using save states. (Don’t look at me like that, we had Gameshark and Action Replay for games back then and the developers fully made the game with that in mind!) The casino is very abuseable in older SMT games.

As far as I know, this is the first game to have Luster Candy, though in old SMT games like this, the fan localization team used the term Rasta Candy instead (In Japan the spell is called Rasuta Candy because it’s Rakukaja, Sukukaja, and Tarukaja in one, and the official localizers ended up making the name Luster Candy instead starting from Strange Journey onwards). Instead of it being a spell as usual, in this game it’s actually an item you can use on your allies in battle, and it’s extremely useful, especially since later bosses will happily spam Debilitate. You can get it from the casino as a reward.

Otherwise the game is a bit grindy but it’s also shorter than SMT2 unless you factor in time replaying through all the character routes. Abuse the casino, it has great items and keep recruiting demons to make good fusions! Play this as one of your later SMT games because it’s a weird one, and definitely play SMT1 and SMT2 first. I wish the PSX had a fan translation because I have a feeling they fixed a lot of the jank in that remastered version.

My only big criticism is that you only get most interaction with you, the supporting character you choose, and the villain, and there’s no proper cast of characters like in old games unless you factor in all the school NPCs. As well, the game focuses more on dungeon crawling and has significantly less story compared to the original two SMT’s, especially since you’re confined in a school area and the expanse mostly has dungeons with just a few NPC’s sprinkled here and there. But that can be a benefit depending on what you’re looking for.

Here’s a link to our YouTube playthrough of SMT: If, which has the Reiko and Akira routes

Shin Megami Tensei: Nine (2002)

Shin Megami Tensei Nine cover art

  • Only released in Japanese

It’s called Nine because it has nine routes, there are 3 law/neutral/chaos alignments multiplied by 3 light/neutral/dark alignments, so you can have a lawful light ending, a neutral dark ending, etc.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to play this on an Xbox (or use an emulator, but the Xbox emulators aren’t good and are very glitchy at the time of writing) and you’ll need to have an English script next to you as you play because there are no fan translations built into the game.

I haven’t played it myself, but from what I heard it’s very repetitive and janky. Some of the 3D demon models are passable, but a lot of the 3D environments look bad. It is believed that this was originally developed as an MMORPG and then turned into a single-player game because it has a lot of empty areas meant to be hub-zones for players.

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2004) and Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster (2021)

Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne HD cover art

  • Originally released for the PS2 in North America in 2004
  • The definitive version, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD, was released for the Switch, PS4 and PC (Steam) on May 25, 2021

This is the title that most English-speakers played this as their first game. I’d really recommend getting the HD version because it has skill inheritance where you can choose which demon’s skills to inherit when you fuse them. In the original PS2 version, you had to keep refreshing the fusion screen until you got the skills you wanted, and in some cases this could take hours. The HD version also has voice acting, an easy difficulty setting, difficulty can be changed anytime rather than being only one selection at the beginning, and you can play the Chronicle version of the game as well. There’s two types of routes you can choose in the remaster: Maniax or Chronicle.

Basically, the PS2 version is the Maniax version of the game and has Dante (from the Devil May Cry series) as a side character, whereas the Nocturne HD versions includes the “original game” without additions, the Maniax version (with Dante), and the Chronicle version (has Raidou from Devil Summoner as a side character). It sounds confusing, but please let me explain.

The reason for this is because when the “original game” was released in Japan, it didn’t do well so they added a lot of content such as The Fiends and Dante and branded it as the Maniax version of Nocturne and then sold it in Japan. They then translated the Maniax version of the game to English for sales overseas but left out the Maniax name. Atlus then made another version of the game called Chronicle that came with SMT Devil Summoner: Raidou 2 and has the character Raidou instead of Dante that they sold in Japan, but this version was not translated into English for overseas sales. Atlus took all these different versions and re-translated the entire script for sale as Nocturne HD.

It’s confusing, but just buy the HD version because you can do multiple playthroughs of different versions of the game. The main story is always the same, but depending on whether you choose Maniax or Chronicle will determine if you encounter Dante or Raidou as a side character in your playthrough. Don’t choose the “original game” that’s not Maniax or Chronicle because you’ll miss out on a lot of amazing content – make sure you choose Maniax or Chronicle. Chronicle is included in Nocturne HD, but Maniax is unfortunately paid DLC. For me it was good though, I played the original PS2 version with Dante and recently played Nocturne HD with Raidou.

They’re just side characters, they don’t interfere with the plot. You can also play the “original” version of the game without these characters, but it isn’t recommended, it excludes other features such as the Fiend boss fights and the dungeon that was added in as part of the new versions, the Labyrinth of Amala.

If you’re worried, the appearance of Dante or Raidou will not spoil either the Devil May Cry or the Devil Summoner: Raidou franchises. I played Devil May Cry 2 (a terrible game sadly) before playing Nocturne on the PS2 and it actually helped me solve a riddle that Dante asked in Nocturne, but you can always google the answer too – it’s multiple choice so you can always just guess. I do enjoy Dante’s DMC2 design too even if it comes from a bad game – too bad we’ll never see Lucia, an amazing character in DMC2 forever trapped in a horrible DMC game…

Nocturne is a really great starting point because it’s very easily approachable. You have 3D demons in the battles and the maps are in 3D, though you do have random encounters and it can be high at time (so fuse a demon with Estoma). Be careful if playing on hard mode because the encounter rate really skyrockets and you generally can’t run from battles on hard mode unless you have the Trafuri spell.

Some of the dungeons are difficult and have gimmicks, but they’re definitely learnable. The game isn’t perfect at all and it’s strongly recommended you make a physical character build due to the best skills being physical skills. You also need to be careful when learning Magatama skills because if you remove a skill, you will never be able to get that skill again, meaning you can permanently screw up your character build if you unlearn the best skills. (Interestingly, when you debug the game, there were many skills left out of the final release, such as the ability to relearn old skills and a spell that disarmed trapped treasures.)

Raiho Raidou SMT Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner
I’ve never seen a combover like that before!

It’s recommended you read some guides going in. Otherwise, this game is very fun and you have multiple routes called Reasons which are associated with the major characters in the game. It is an aspect of the game I really liked, having multiple differing routes based on different views the character has and it’s not limited to a linear Law/Chaos alignment used in previous games.

At the same time, it is an apocalyptic world, there isn’t many NPCs (just ghosts and demons to talk to) and the world is depressing and feels very dead, which can be a pro or a con for you. If you want a really lively JRPG with cities full of people and cheery music, this isn’t for you, but I really enjoyed the cryptic nature of the game. It’s definitely less cryptic than, say, Dark Souls titles and you do get full cutscenes and dialog in Nocturne during major plot events. There are even Labyrinth of Amala cutscenes that were added in to help explain the plot too. The Labyrinth of Amala is probably one of my favorite dungeons in SMT and in JRPGs, it’s very well-designed and detailed.

The game has a lot of replayability because it has many Reasons you can choose, but at the same time only the very final cutscene cinematic changes, the endgame itself doesn’t change very much and they all recycle the same final dungeon and most of the final bosses. It’s still extremely fun making the most powerful demons and doing bonus challenges called the Burial Chambers where you re-fight old storyline bosses and beat them as quickly as possible.

Don’t take my negatives to heart though, it’s definitely one of the best SMT games out there despite its flaws, and its flaws are completely addressed in its sequels and the developers have learned from their mistakes. You don’t need to play any other SMT games to play this one, there are only extremely loose connections (if any) to the older SMT games in this one.

Here’s a link to our SMT Nocturne 2004 YouTube playlist (don’t use this, use the one below)

Here’s a link to our SMT Nocturne HD Remaster 2021 YouTube Playlist (all dungeon guides, all Burial Chambers, Labyrinth of Amala Kalpa guides, and all ending cutscenes)

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (2010, 2018)

Shin Megami Tensei Strange Journey Redux cover art

  • Originally released for the DS in North America in 2010, and Redux released for the 3DS in North America in 2018

Play through the Redux version because it has many improvements over the original game, such as having a giant new optional dungeon, and new endings on top of the old endings if you complete the new optional dungeon, along with many new bosses and demons to fuse and a new major character.

To put it succinctly, Strange Journey really is a strange journey (it’s almost as strange as Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, but not quite as strange as Baki though). It was originally made to be SMT4, but there were workplace politics at Atlus about whether it should be or not and in the end it was decided not to be called SMT4. I, along with many others, consider Strange Journey to be mainline.

The atmosphere of the game is extremely different than all of the other SMT games. The main cast are all adults in the military, whereas all other SMT games have civilian high-school aged adolescents as protagonists.

It has a very different tone compared to other SMT games which is extremely refreshing. In general, it is a very serious and depressing game when the plot gets going, and I felt myself completely immersed in its story. It felt like a constant struggle in a strange world full of demons. Commander Gore is one of my favorite characters in the entire series. At the same time however, it does take a few hours for the ball to get rolling, but bear through it and I guarantee you the plot does get good.

But why on Earth would people not consider it mainline? It still has the same SMT demons you’re used to with the same fusion mechanics. Its dungeons, however, are like an actual dungeon-crawler JRPG, and was made by the developers of Etrian Odyssey.

The dungeons don’t start off too bad, but they get genuinely grueling over time because I wasn’t used to these style of dungeons at the time. You will want to consult online maps if you need help. Thankfully, the Redux version adds more apps for the protagonist that really help you out, especially the ability to save anywhere which is reasonable for these lengthy, complicated dungeons.

These dungeons are more difficult than SMT 1, 2, or even If’s dungeons. You’ll see pitfalls, teleporter mazes, sliding on ice, etc. and the new dungeon, The Womb of Grief, really challenges you and is very similar to Nocturne’s Labyrinth of Amala. They’re genuinely grueling.

shin megami tensei strange journey dungeon map
Check out this map by Zelos71 on GameFAQs of one of the dungeons in the game. The dungeons in Strange Journey are the most labyrinthine of any SMT title.

It has a law/chaos alignment system, and although the dungeons are recycled between the routes, you get very different cutscenes depending on your route and different endgame bosses too. The alignment representatives also get a lot more screen time and were handled extremely well, even better than the alignment representatives in SMT4.

This game has visual novel style cutscenes that provide a lot of exposition to the player as well as interactions between characters, and the Redux version has most of the dialogue lines voiced as well as additional character portraits. There’s a lot of great side content as well, but it can be difficult to complete due to a lack of quest markers so you’ll have to consult guides online.

SMT Strange Journey Moh Shuvuu failure of a human
Some of the side-quests have pretty funny results! Poor Anthony!

I don’t recommend this as your starting entry into SMT because the endgame bosses get extremely difficult and catch many newcomers off-guard. Even when I had played the original Strange Journey and then playing Strange Journey Redux years later I had even more trouble with the new final bosses. The game does have a password system, where you can generate a password for your demons for others to use, and vice-versa. So if you’re really struggling, you can google other players’ strong demons to help you out. I didn’t do so, it felt too close to cheating to me but in hindsight I really should’ve because the endgame is just that hard.

I’d recommend playing through Nocturne, SMT4, and SMT4A before playing Strange Journey, unless you’ve already played and mastered the Etrian Odyssey games or other dungeon crawlers in that style like Labyrinth of Refrain or Mary Skelter.

Our YouTube playlist of Strange Journey Redux, with New Neutral Route ending (Neutral ending + Womb of Grief walkthrough)

Shin Megami Tensei IV (2013)

Shin Megami Tensei 4 cover art

  • Released for the 3DS in North America in 2013

SMT4 gets a lot of flak for its issues, but I don’t think its issues are that bad. The demon and battle system is now done with 2D sprites instead of 3D demons and the game has limitations because it’s now on a handheld console. Think of it as a follow-up to Strange Journey rather than Nocturne.

As a result of the move to 2D, a lot of fans of Nocturne were disappointed with this title just by looking at it. It’s a shame people think like this because the gameplay was improved significantly. The menus are all amazingly done and from a gameplay perspective it’s far better than Nocturne was, it’s only the actual graphics that are not as good.

It has over 400 demons to fuse from because the demons are sprites so they can put more demons in the game compared to Nocturne, where they had to fully model the demons to be 3D. The demon search feature is amazing and is leagues above Nocturne’s simple fusion system. You can search for almost anything you want with the fusion calculator built in the game! You want a demon who is immune to an element? Want a demon with a certain skill? Want to only find new demons? It’s almost limitless and you can fuse anytime, anywhere in the game!

Magic builds are now viable and you can easily transfer skills to the protagonist back and forth without magatamas or missable skills. If you do this multiple times for the same spell or skill, it will be powered up and have a lower cost. You can break the game easily once you know what you’re doing, but the level of customizability is amazing especially compared to Nocturne and you can’t permanently mess up.

At the same time, the early game dungeon (Naraku) is very difficult especially for newcomers, which is why I’d recommend Nocturne or Persona 3/4/5 as your first SMT game. You really need to grind a bit and fuse some good demons. I’ve played most SMT games and its spinoffs, and none of the games, not even SMT1 or 2 had such difficult introductory areas. The game really doesn’t pull punches and doesn’t have a customizable difficulty level.

The smirk system was implemented in this game, but not in the best way. It’s unbalanced and sometimes you can get screwed due to bad RNG. With the Naraku boss, it’s possible to just die because the boss keeps getting smirks, criticals, and more turns. Sirlionhart has some amazing reactions to fighting the first boss.

You will get a random partner early-game who will help you out by casting spells to the enemy, but sadly this is one of the drawbacks of the game as you might end up with Walter who casts spells an early boss absorbs, causing you to lose turns and get punished for doing nothing wrong.

Once you figure out how to exploit the battle system through hitting enemys’ weaknesses and buffing/debuffing, you can get through the early game. Once you’re past that, the game becomes far more reasonable in terms of difficulty.

The dungeons are in 3D and are much easier than Nocturne’s dungeons if you were stressed out about Nocturne’s puzzle dungeons.

SMT4 pays homage to the old SMT games (especially the original Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei) with its early bosses (Minotaur and Medusa) and the way it handles its alignment representatives, but you don’t need to play any other SMT games to enjoy its story. It returns to the law/chaos alignment system, but it’s worth noting that this game is followed by SMT4: Apocalypse which assumes you take the Neutral ending in SMT4.

Due to bad decisions from the developers, getting the Neutral ending in SMT4 is tricky, and you will likely need to consult a guide (but there are many, such as myself, who have gotten the Neutral route by accident by just choosing some lawful and some chaotic choices). It was poorly done because you have a forced +5 Lawful point decision you’re forced to make just before the alignment lock, meaning that you really need to be slightly more chaotic to get the route you want.

Another takeaway is that you’ll need to do sidequests to complete the Neutral ending, which requires returning to earlier areas of the game and doing a lot of odd jobs, though some of the dialog and characters you meet are interesting.

SMT 4 Jonathan Literature
Jonathan has read a lot of books, but even he has never heard of this “literature” before.

You’ll probably need to find a overworld map online because the overworld map in SMT4 is handled very poorly, it’s basically all the major streets in Tokyo, but it’s blocked with debris all over the place, meaning you’ll often have to take a very roundabout approach to get to your destination. Although there are teleport stations called terminals, the way the world map was made still makes it very confusing and challenging to do the sidequests! I didn’t find it hard because I’ve walked about Tokyo before but I can see many people getting extremely confused from the map.

The game was also rushed out for a release date, and the endgame is poorly done as a result. The characters really change after a certain point in the game – you do get to see their transformations if you do the Law and Chaos routes, but on the Neutral route the characters really feel like a 180 degree turn. There should’ve been an story extra arc near the mid to endgame.

You can tell the developers really wanted to do more with the game, but just couldn’t. There are exclusive side quests on the different alignment routes, and there are exclusive New Game Plus quests and demons, which are a positive to all replayability. The game has a great New Game Plus with many features such as being able to carry over your Demon Compendium. The strangest thing though is that this game has better routes and route quests/demons than SMT V, which somehow has even less.

The only thing I really hated is how the Fiend type demons were handled in this game. In Nocturne they were really amazing bosses you would fight over the course of the game, so you’d go on to play SMT4 next and expect them to be present in the game and that you could fuse them for your battles. Unfortunately, most of them have a 1/256 chance of spawning in an area, so unless you grind encounters or cheat you won’t be using them. I fought one, but I had to watch a movie on a second screen while trying to encounter one, which is no way to play a game.

Just as I explained with Nocturne, don’t take my negative comments to reflect poorly upon this game. This really is a great SMT title with a fleshed out battle system and such a great fusion system where you can search for almost anything you want easily and conveniently. There are many more demons and skills allowing you to make even more builds than ever. This game really felt like a homecoming when it was originally released.

Be aware you may need to consult guides and a world map if you want to get through it, it’s not the easiest game to play without a guide for the early part but it is certainly leagues easier than Nocturne or Strange Journey. Don’t be disappointed though, the game really gets going after a certain point, it does have many pacing issues but it’s a genuinely fun game and the voice acting is great (nowadays the same voice actors don’t do anime games, they cost millions and only voice act for AAA games and want to be in movies).

Our YouTube playlist of SMT4, with ALL routes, sidequests, and ending cutscenes

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (2016)

Shin Megami Tensei 4 Apocalypse cover art

  • Released for the 3DS in North America in 2016

SMT4A has the pinnacle of SMT gameplay (before SMT V). It smoothens out everything wrong with SMT4 and is extremely fair for the player. I’ve beaten it many times on the Apocalypse difficulty mode, and it was very fair but also still challenging in all the right places.

The world map issues in SMT4 are fixed with the removal of debris so you can travel between any cities easily and the teleportation terminal spots are placed better. The early-game is not as grueling, there’s a tough King Frost early on, but he’s nowhere near as difficult as the Minotaur and the game gives you time to make builds. Apocalypse is simply an overall better game. There are hundreds of demons, hundreds of skills, many equipment choices, many builds you can choose to do, etc.

The alignment issue is fixed, even if you’re not of the correct alignment you can still choose whichever route you want, but you’ll get a big punishment if you do so. For example, if you’re light-aligned you can do the light route with no punishment, but if you’re light and you want to do the dark route you get a “punishment” but you can still do it regardless of all your choices. Vice versa too, if you’re dark-aligned and want to do the light route it’s fine but you’ll get a “punishment”. The doing from light to dark punishment is infinitely worse though, all my consumable items were permanently destroyed.

Your partner in battle will also never use a skill that the enemy can absorb/repel/null, so you’ll never get punished for something that is not your fault unlike SMT4. Now you have many different partners to choose from too, leading to more customization for your build too, and your partners will grow over the course of the game getting better skills. Each partner has their own build too, so you can choose if you want a healing partner, a buffing/debuffing partner, a partner who deals more damage to enemies, a partner who does insta-kill attacks to enemies, etc.

This game is a sequel to SMT4, specifically for the Neutral route in that game, so play through that first otherwise the plot really won’t make sense. This game really feels like everything the developers wanted to do, but didn’t have time to do in the original title, and this title expands SMT4’s lore significantly.

There are a few criticisms I had with the game. The dungeons and demons are mostly recycled from SMT4, so you may want to take a break if you’re playing SMT4 and then SMT4A immediately afterwards because it can get really repetitive. The final dungeon in this title is downright horrible, it all looks the same and you should just look up a map for it because it’s essentially a giant teleporting maze.

The major characters and their dialogue also feel more “persona-y” than the old SMT characters in old games. The characters have such an upbeat tone for most of the game that really clashes with the apocalypse setting they are supposed to be in, it’s definitely tonally different from SMT4. Compared to Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga which have a more somber way of characters explaining the plot and a far darker atmosphere, the way the characters act in SMT4A is really odd in comparison.

Shin Megami Tensei 4 Apocalypse Homeslice just went bananacakes
If someone tries to defend the SMT4A dialogue, you show them this line. They really ruined Nozomi’s character from SMT4.

In real life, the change in tone was made because of workplace politics between the old development team and its newer members who wanted to modernize the SMT series. Don’t let that put you off though, the gameplay is really great and makes up for it, but just be aware of the “You got your Persona in my SMT” kind of situation.

The Fiend bosses, a type of demons often found in SMT, were again not implemented well in this game (will they ever implement fiends properly again? Not really, in SMT V they were made as paid DLC). The Fiends are in an endgame dungeon called Twisted Tokyo, an extremely repetitive dungeon that, simply put, sucks all the fun out of the game. They can be a good challenge and when recruited provide some of the most powerful skills in the game, but they’re very repetitive because of the terrible randomly generated dungeon you have to travel hundreds of floors through. It’s a lot of potential that they squandered because the fiends are mine as well as many others’ favorite race of demons.

The DLC’s for this game are also very underwhelming due to all having a small narrative scope. You think a DLC with all the previous SMT protagonists called the Diamond Realm DLC would be the most interesting thing ever, right? But most of the characters have throwaway one-liners and generic dialogue, though the superboss in the DLC is genuinely fun to fight.

The Mephisto and Cleopatra DLC’s are alright because they each allow you to recruit a new powerful demon, but the stories in the DLC are pretty much throw-away garbage, I just can’t defend it at all.

SMT 4 Apocalypse Tarted Up Clown
SMT 4: Apocalypse does have a few of the funniest dialog lines in the game though!

I would’ve said SMT4A would be the best game to start with because it is very beginner-friendly, but unfortunately it is a sequel to SMT4 and really relies on you knowing the protagonist of that game first so I cannot recommend you to play this before SMT4. Apocalypse spoils SMT4 pretty badly too within its first few hours and the plot won’t make much sense unless you play 4 first. Otherwise, this is my favorite SMT game, it has extremely fun and fair gameplay, and I often find myself returning to it. I played SMT V afterwards, but SMT4 has really fun gameplay and dungeons and I prefer it more.

Our playlist of SMT4: Apcalypse on YouTube

Shin Megami Tensei V: (2021)

Shin Megami Tensei 5 Protagonist

I won’t give any spoilers for SMT V here, I’ll only talk about my pros and cons.

I explained earlier that SMT4A was the pinnacle of SMT gameplay, but now SMT V surpasses it,kind of. The gameplay and quality of life features in SMT V is the best in the series. SMT V isn’t a bad starting point at all, but you need to remember that when you go to play other older SMT games afterwards that the gameplay won’t have as many quality of life improvements anymore.

The Etrian Odyssey director worked on this game and it shows, and I mean this in a positive way. If you’re familiar, Etrian Odyssey is a tricky dungeon crawler series on the 3DS and has amazing gameplay that rewards you for playing smart and synergizing your character builds. SMT V is similar and if you choose to play it on Hard from the get-go, you’ll get some of the most challenging, but also fun gameplay in the entire series.

There are so many bosses in SMT V that are fun on its Hard mode, but grueling too, and the game isn’t pulling its punches. In SMT4, for example, the difficulty really drops after the early bosses such as Minotaur. In SMT4A it’s similar, the difficulty drops after King Frost and only increases for the final boss battle. But in SMTV, there’s a lot of hard bosses throughout the game that made me think of new demons to fuse and strategies to counter them.

The demon negotiation is improved from SMT4A, which already had really good demon negotiation. The lines of dialog from the demons are even funnier than ever and recruiting demons isn’t hard at all compared to the old games. You can even get easier negotiations through using similar demons (like using a King Frost on a Jack Frost), and you don’t even need the demon to be in your immediate party, it can be a demon carried around and it’ll still work. This was a mechanic since Nocturne, but it was very obscure at the time, and they’ve added a lot more combinations now.

At the same time, there’s a lower amount of demons in the game compared to old games (SMT V has 221 compared to SMT4A’s 400+ demons). There’s nothing the developers could’ve done about it, since all the demons are now modelled in 3D, so of course it’s going to have less than SMT4A which had 2D demons only. Still, it was a mild disappointment, and a significant portion of the demons in SMT V are recycled 3D models from Nocturne rather than new ones. Although there’s many new skills, there are less skills too due to a lower amount of demons but the protagonist does have the most unique skills out of any SMT game and you genuinely feel like a deity in this one.

The open world is fun as to explore as well with many optional sidequests as well, but it can leave something to be desired. One criticism I have, though, is that there are barely any dungeons in the game (there’s only four). Not just that, I’d go as far as to say that only 2 of the 4 dungeons in the game are well-designed, with the other two just being hallways with forced encounters. I miss getting quests from human NPCs too, the NPCs are mostly demons you get quests from not human NPCs.

In contrast to SMT4 and the older titles as well, SMT V barely has any dungeons. Sure, the dungeons in SMT4 and SMT4A are very simple compared to Nocturne’s dungeons, but at least they had dungeons, SMT V barely has any dungeons. The open-world structure of SMT V is fun at first, but it can get boring after a while and you should pace yourself or else you can get burned out very easily.

The story pacing of SMT V is bad. I usually don’t even mind bad pacing in media (I like the original season of Sword Art Online when Kirito spends years with Asuna, and I like how in Jobless Reincarnation it shows Rudeus’ entire life), but SMT V is very strange when it comes to pacing.

In SMT V, you get the intro cutscenes, then you get to the first open-world desert. There is a boss and a 2 minute flashback scene, as well as 2 minute scenes of the Law and Chaos heroes sprinkled in, but for the most part it takes easily 15-20 hours to finish that open-world area to get to the next major plot event that explains what happened. I saw review sites explaining this to me, and I couldn’t believe it. Then I played it, and it was completely true. And although I hate to repeat it, I don’t really like the school environment which is present in this game, unlike most other SMT’s which don’t have schools except SMT: If which actually made a good school environment that was under threat of demon attack.

I can tell that SMT V had a troubled development cycle from playing it. They had to develop for the Nintendo Switch that they had no experience with, and they also had to deal with the 2020 pandemic. I don’t blame them and I believe the developers worked very hard on this game.

The pacing is so strange at times, and they’ll put A LOT of work on one story arc, and then rush the next portion of the game. Why put so much detail into one of the side characters, and then barely even show the characters on the cover of the game? I mean it, there’s only 2 scenes with the dog on the cover of the game. Heck, even watching the trailers for the game actually spoiled a lot of the story arcs (they used important cutscenes in the trailer because they had nothing else to show). Following the game since it was announced, you can see the themes they described for the game are completely different than what they had planned, such as talking about how modern society is bad, tackling difficult issues such as joblessness, unemployment, etc.

That’s pretty much my summary of SMT V: amazing gameplay (albeit having barely any dungeons), but not such a great story. People poked fun at SMT4 and SMT4A’s story, but they had much better pacing (even SMT4 which had its long Mikado scenes had better pacing than SMTV, I’m not joking).

Even though SMT4’s endgame was rushed, it was even better than SMTV’s endgame which is somehow even more rushed without spoiling anything. SMTV’s endgame recycles its own content with just 1 or 2 throwaway alignment-specific endgame sidequests. Atlus and Sega, as usual, also copyright striked my playthrough videos while also keeping up everyone else’s videos of the game.

Great work Atlus, you think they’d learned after their streaming restrictions with Persona 5. Unless you want your YouTube channel to be nuked, avoid putting up SMT V gameplay videos at all costs. Their email they used to copyright strike my channel also had typos, they spelled “official” as “offical” using a generic gmail.com address, making it look like it was a scammer until I contacted Sega corporate to confirm it was actually real. Learn to speak fucking English next time.

I’d even say the lore of SMT4/4A’s world is amazing as well. Yes, the character interactions in SMT4A were terrible with poor localized dialog, but you cannot deny the lore of the world involving 2 lands in different time periods was fascinating and I really enjoyed the backstory of the countries, as well as Akira’s backstory. You see people in the churches in Mikado tinkering with cars they got from Tokyo and trying to figure out how they work, it’s so fascinating the attention they put into the world of the older games.

In contrast, SMTV’s characters are just terribly done. They had a lot of scenes with the alignment representatives, but again, it’s somehow so poorly paced with so many useless scenes not needed in the beginning, and then badly rushed scenes at the end.

Overall it’s a one-of-a-kind game, but I feel that although they went one step in the right direction, they went two steps backward at the same time. The game feels amazing to play at first, but it overstays its welcome and the endgame fizzles out. Sorry I like to give fair criticism, I have to lay into them when there’s so many significant faults with the game!

Our playlist of SMT V on YouTube

Persona Games

Persona 1 (Revelations: Persona) (1996)

Revelations Persona 1 cover art

  • Playstation North America version released in 1996 as Revelations: Persona
  • PSP North America version released in 2009 as Shin Megami Tensei: Persona

So the two versions of the original Persona game are actually very different, and it might be worth it for you to play both of them, but if you have time for only one, play the PSP version because it has improvements, including a second route that is included, and much faster gameplay among many other quality of life changes.

I prefer the soundtrack of the original Playstation version, it sounds a lot more depressing and fitting to the setting, but the new PSP soundtrack is also good and sounds like what you’d hear in a modern Persona game.

The PS1 English version of the game also changed the appearance of one of the major characters in its localization to make the cast more varied, but didn’t change his dialogue. This change is reverted in the PSP remake version.

Left is Mark in the PS1 Japanese and PSP English release of Persona 1. Right is Mark in the PS1 English release of Persona 1 named Revelations: Persona

Without going into all the detail, Persona 1 and 2 have more archaic turn-based combat compared to 3, 4 and 5. 1 and 2 are set in a school-setting, but don’t have schedule management and follow a linear narrative-based story. All characters can switch their persona unlike Persona 3 and afterwards, but your party has certain affinities to certain kinds of personas they can use to balance it out.

You can only acquire so many party members in the game, and you can’t change them out on-the-fly, so you can do multiple playthroughs to see all of the characters’ dialogue unfortunately.

There is a lot of depth to the games, but they’re not hard by any means, just a bit slow and old. You need to get tarot cards from demon negotiations to fuse more personas (you don’t recruit the personas directly). You have character levels and persona levels as well, and you can’t equip personas if your persona level is not high enough.

Without spoiling, the narrative in the game is great and although the graphics are dated, it has many characters with portraits and many expressions.

There are two separate routes in the game – the SEBEC route and the Snow Queen route. These routes happen after the Common route early in the game, so you can make a back-up save or you can do the other route on a New Game Plus save. The Playstation version (Revelations: Persona) does NOT have the Snow Queen route, likely because they didn’t have time to translate it for a rushed release, which is why I’d suggest playing the PSP version of the game instead.

It’s recommended to do the SEBEC route first, then do another playthrough and do the Snow Queen route. The reason is that the SEBEC route is the actual main story for the game, and Snow Queen is more of a sideplot and is a bit harder with a timer ticking down, but they’re still both canon. You can’t go back-and-forth between the routes and you’re essentially locked-in to the route you choose.

To do the Snow Queen route, you need to do certain requirements that you’re extremely unlikely to do by accident (you’ll want to see a guide on how to do it, it’s very non-obvious). You should also do the Snow Queen route second because it’s a bit harder than the main story, and it actually has timed dungeons where you need to find a set of collectibles to get the good ending. Ideally, you should be familiar with the game mechanics if you want to do well in the Snow Queen route.

In short, play this if you’re okay with an older JRPG. Persona 1 and 2 are extremely different and old-school compared to their modern contemporaries, but they do have solid gameplay and a strong narrative. Definitely play this title before Persona 2 because the plots are related.

Our YouTube Playlist of Persona 1 on the PSP, both SEBEC and Snow Queen route endings

Persona 2: Innocent Sin (1999)

Persona 2 Innocent Sin cover art

  • Playstation Japanese version released in 1999
  • PSP North America version released in 2011

Persona 2: Eternal Punishment (1999)

Persona 2 Eternal Punishment cover art

  • Playstation English version released in 2000
  • PSP Japanese version released in 2012
  • English fan translation for PSP version released by Eiowlta, Sayucchi and DarTisD  in 2022

2022 Update: A fan translation for the PSP version was released in 2022, so play that version instead of the Playstation 1 version due to many quality of life improvements and extra content added!

The story in the Persona 2 duology is phenomenal. Its narrative is my favorite in any Persona or SMT game with no exception, and is even one of my favorite narratives among all books and movies I’ve read. The characters have very realistic development over the course of the game and feel extremely human with their strengths and flaws.

The story is just that good. Even though they take place in school environments, Eternal Punishment has a cast of mostly adult characters, something never seen before in most other SMT games except Strange Journey (and Soul Hackers 1,2), and they’re extremely competent protagonists, making plans and traps instead of making silly mistakes all the time like Ryuji in Persona 5 constantly yelling out plans and Morgana screaming at him for missing an attack.

Persona 2 takes the gameplay and improves upon the formula found in Persona 1. In general, the Persona 2 games are easy, and the PSP versions of them make them even more easier, to the point where enemy and bosses’ stats are significantly reduced. It wasn’t needed, Persona 2 originally wasn’t too hard at all, but it’s their choice. The PSP version has more content so you have to play that.

If you listen to the tone of the game closely and make the correct dialog choices, you can get your party members their ultimate personas, or you can just look up the correct dialog choices in a guide. Be careful because there are many missables!

Eternal Punishment does have the issue of recycling dungeons and content from Innocent Sin, but for the narrative it’s certainly worth playing through. Similar to what I wrote for Persona 1, if you can handle some old-school JRPG turn-based gameplay and dungeon crawling, this duology is worth playing through for its story alone, it is miles above Persona 3/4/5’s stories, which already stand tall on their own.  

Our YouTube playlist of Persona 2: Innocent Sin on the PSP

Our YouTube playlist of Persona 2: Eternal Punishment on the PS1

Persona 3, Persona 3 FES, P3 Portable (2007, 2008, 2010)

Persona 3 FES cover art

  • Original and FES versions released in North America on the PS2 in 2007 and 2008
  • P3 Portable version released in North America in 2010

Don’t play the original Persona 3, you’ll want to play either the FES version or the P3 Portable (P3P) version which both have many improvements upon the original release. I recommend playing the FES version because the Portable version removes a few things such as exploring the world map during free time in a 3D environment. However, I do recommend playing P3P eventually because FES only lets you play as a male protagonist, and you can play as a female protagonist in P3P which changes the social links significantly as you can now romance male friends and see a hidden side to them.

Persona 3 is the start of the “modern Persona” games. Your characters are in school and you need to manage a schedule for each day such as choosing whether to study or play games, or even hang out with friends in scenarios called social links. If you don’t want to do schedule management, you can just look up a perfect schedule guide online.

The fusion system found in Persona 3 is similar to that in Nocturne and modern SMT games, and the battle system is nearly identical with the exception that buffs and debuffs are timed in the Persona games and you need to use Ma- level buffs/debuffs to target all allies/enemies (Tarukaja in Nocturne targets all your allies, but in Persona Tarukaja only targets one ally and you would instead need to use Matarukaja to target all your allies).

The demons are also locked behind certain social links, which you need to improve by talking and seeing events with certain characters. Once you play Persona 3 for a few hours, you’ll fall into a routine, and you’ll know quickly if you like the slower-paced narrative gameplay, or if you prefer having only the dungeon-exploring and battling gameplay of SMT. One downside is that the enemy variety in Persona 3 and 4 is lacking, and you’ll be attacking tables, blobs, and even Hulk Hogan style enemies instead of actual SMT demons (this is fixed in Persona 5).

For me personally, I would need to be in a certain mood to play Persona and doing too many social links in one-sitting does get repetitive. The modern Persona games are very bloated and take a while to get through due to these lengthy social links, but at the same time you really do get a bang for your buck.

Persona 3 is great because it genuinely has a depressing plot the more you get into it, and you really see the characters act accordingly. People laugh at me for considering Persona 3 an SMT game, but play through this title and look at the atmosphere in the last few months of the game, it’s downright depressing. Some of the betrayals are very unexpected and are downright heart-wrenching. They really did a good job handling the way characters interact with each other.

The gameplay is generally easy, but some bosses may give you trouble. The game is on a schedule where you choose what actions to take each day, but it’s also tough to screw up unless you really don’t know what you’re doing. It is recommended to consult online guides just to get a gist of what to do. My general advice is to fuse demons with many kinds of attacks and have demons with buff/debuff spells and good healing spells. You don’t have to choose which skills your party members keep, it’s all predetermined so you can’t screw those up.

You have mandatory story dungeons/scenes every month but you also have a dungeon named Tartarus you can explore at your leisure, but it’s recommended to slowly explore Tartarus every so often because it becomes mandatory eventually. It is somewhat bad because with the exception of very tiny mandatory dungeons, most of the exploration takes place in Tartarus, which has randomly-generated dungeons. It’s fun to grind and fuse demons while watching movies and listening to music (listen to the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack) but you cannot deny that later games like Persona 5 with actual unique dungeons is a significant improvement.

This game unfortunately does have random skill inheritance, so you’ll need to go into and back out of the menus when fusing your demons until you get the skills you want for your demons, and sadly certain demons have preferences for certain kinds of spells, it’s not explained well in the game and it can require a bit of background research to understand the game mechanics thoroughly.

You can’t control party members directly in FES but you can issue general orders; whereas in P3P you can directly control your party members’ actions, making P3P extremely easy.

But even in the FES version, your party members quickly learn what attacks do and don’t work on the enemy, though there is a popular meme online where one of the party members, Mitsuru, uses charm spells on the enemy instead of using a healing spell on the main character. One gameplay difference is that if the protagonist dies in Persona 3, you will instantly lose the battle.

If you’re reading this after reading my information regarding Persona 1 and 2, you also can’t change your party members’ personas, but they will level up and learn more skills and their personas can be upgraded from story events as well. You don’t need to play Persona 1 or 2 to get into Persona 3, they’re extremely unrelated with only very loose plot-threads in common.

Persona 3 FES also has a sequel called The Answer. To summarize, it removes the school schedule and it’s just not a good game because it’s very repetitive and grindy. The characters’ motivations go all over the place, it was very jarring to play after the main game, and it was pretty boring since all the gameplay was condensed into dungeons and fusions without any school life or social links to do anymore.

I suppose their intent was that they wanted to show how certain characters struggle after the events of the main story. In fact, although the original game has difficulty options, The Answer is automatically set to Hard and cannot be changed, but at the same time it does provide a much-needed challenge. It’s odd, I enjoy SMT games and I’d thought I’d like just having only dungeons and battles, but it’s just not fun in The Answer at all.

It may be best to watch a playthrough of The Answer online, it’s actually that bad, I played it before I made YouTube videos and although I enjoy going back to old games and recording footage, I don’t want to go back to record footage for The Answer, and it’s strange to me because I enjoyed pure dungeon SMT games like Akira’s route in SMT: If. The story is just not handled well at all and doesn’t have a payoff, I’d even say The Answer feels like fan-fiction. Perhaps this expansion to the game was rushed? But definitely play Persona 3 FES.

Our YouTube playlist of Persona 3: Portable

Persona 4, Persona 4: Golden (2008, 2012)

Persona 4 Golden cover art

  • Original PS2 version released in North America in 2008
  • Golden version released on the Playstation Vita in North America in 2012, and released on PC (Steam) in 2020

I’ve played the original when it was released and the Golden version, and you should hands-down play the Golden version. It has many improvements, the gameplay is balanced far better, you have many difficulty options, you get new characters, an additional dungeon, and more content in the true ending if you meet requirements. Considering support was dropped for the PS Vita years ago, I recommend getting the Steam version. It’s an old game and the port comes from the Vita version which is a portable console, so the PC technical requirements aren’t strict.

Persona 4 is more of what you’d find in Persona 3. You have a daily schedule where you choose what to do, and you need to strengthen your social links with friends. In general, the gameplay is much easier than Persona 3, and you don’t have as many tricky mini-bosses in Persona 4 that you had to fight all throughout Tartarus in Persona 3. If you don’t like managing a schedule, I really recommend you just consult a guide on what to do each day to save yourself trouble.

Persona 4 is really easy because it even has chosen skill inheritance instead of random skill inheritance found in the previous game. You can make broken builds far easier in this game. The bosses are not even remotely hard in Persona 4 until the endgame, and even then you’ll certainly have the tools you need to deal with them.

You can also control your party members directly too, something only available in the Portable version of Persona 3. In the original PS2 version of the game the early bosses were actually quite challenging, but the developers toned them down significantly.

My only gripe with Persona 4 is that it feels so thematically different to Persona 3. Persona 3 had such a serious story that was utterly depressing, whereas Persona 4 seems very upbeat from the start. Persona 4 still has creepiness and eeriness because you’re hunting down a serial killer, but even still it feels very upbeat, and this was one of my complaints about SMT4: Apocalypse as well. Still, it is a great story, and if you like Persona 4’s story and atmosphere and you like anime, I’d recommend you watch JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond Is Unbreakable. If you liked that season of JoJo, you’ll actually love this game, thematically they’re extremely similar.

I personally don’t like games where everybody suddenly loves a silent protagonist early on, and it felt like it took more effort to get the Persona 3 characters to like the protagonist (Yukari even pulled out a gun on the protagonist in the beginning).

At the same time, the characters do still have a lot of development, it’s just that it’s done a bit differently to how it was done in older Persona titles. A lot of this is nitpicking, but otherwise the gameplay is very addicting, sure the dungeons are all randomly generated but the narrative is decent. Instead of one giant dungeon such as Tartarus in Persona 3, each month has its own bite-sized dungeon varying from maybe 5-20 floors depending on where you are in the game in Persona 4. It does have a lot of improvements from Persona 3.

Be careful about getting the true ending to the game, it is a bit difficult and you should look up a guide because it really does go off-the-rails in the endgame and you need to be cautious with those endgame dialog choices. Also be careful of spoilers for the game online as well. Sometimes people like to spread a false spoiler about the game as a meme but the actual villain is often spoiled in memes as well unfortunately. It’s another very lengthy title, so don’t burn yourself out on those social links.

Our YouTube playlist of Persona 4: Golden

Persona 5, Persona 5: Royal (2017, 2020)

Persona 5 royal cover art

  • Originally released in North America for the PS4 in 2017, Royal released in North America for the PS4 in 2020

Play the Royal version of the game, it has extra characters, antagonists, and an amazing endgame dungeon and a new final boss. If you’re going to invest the time into playing Persona 5, you might as well play the definitive version even though it’ll be more expensive than the original version.

Persona 5, in terms of atmosphere, is the most balanced Persona game out there. The characters are upbeat, but they have their sad moments as well. The game certainly isn’t as dark as Persona 3, but it does get dark at times especially at the beginning. It also feels like it takes a little while for the characters to like the protagonist more, and the game starts off pretty ominously at first with Sojiro being pretty cruel to you and you starting out as a criminal on parole basically (well, a step a away from juvie I suppose).

The gameplay is really fun as well, instead of fighting shadows taking the forms of blobs and tables, you actually fight SMT demons in battles now and you can even recruit them directly! If this isn’t proof that Persona isn’t an SMT spinoff, I don’t know what else to tell you! When this game came out I was amazed by this, it was worth the wait. Persona 4 came out on the PS2 originally, and Persona 5 originally came out on the PS3 in Japan but was translated in English on a PS4 release. We had to wait 2 console generations but it was worth it!

You can even negotiate with the demons too instead of getting them from random skill cards in Persona 3 and 4. You can choose which skills to inherit and make any kind of build you want for your personas. Your friends’ personas will also learn more skills and even evolve into new forms, and like Persona 4 you take full control of your party members.

Yes, the game is easy especially because you get very generous bonuses from the social links, but you can change the difficulty. The difficulty is funny at places because I did a playthrough on Merciless difficulty, but it makes it so that whenever a weakness is hit, it does 3x extra damage to both you and the enemies, meaning you can kill enemies faster and that they can kill you faster too. My viewers had a good laugh because it made bosses easier to kill such as the “astronaut” boss and especially the new true ending final boss, but only do this if you’re willing to take the risk!

The dungeons are no longer randomly generated and the game has fully hand-made dungeons with a lot of great cutscenes and puzzles throughout. You can even sneak around most enemies once you get used to the system, it’s very amazing and rewarding.

The game is even lengthier than Persona 3 and 4 because the Royal version adds an extra semester and a lengthy new dungeon. I’m not spoiling anything, but the new final boss was really amazing, and I had to use everything in my toolkit to defeat it. It was extremely fair and very rewarding.

Not just that, but the new antagonist is very morally ambiguous and is very contrasting to the other Persona 5 antagonist’s who are all pretty much evil. It really makes me have high hopes for SMT V because the gameplay was just so well done, they really perfected the formula. (2022 Edit, I ended up being significantly disappointed playing SMT V haha.)

Persona 5 really gives you more of the same, but it’s just so well polished, from the beautiful menus to the new gameplay changes. The developers clearly learned from their missteps in Persona 3 and 4 and made improvements on everything. The menus are beautifully designed and the numbers of quality of life improvements are astonishing.

This is a title you’ll want to save for last because the other games will not seem as good after playing this! Next to SMT4: Apocalypse, Persona 5: Royal has some of the best gameplay in the SMT series.

Our YouTube playlist of Persona 5

Our YouTube playlist of Persona 5: Royal

Our Persona 5: Royal perfect schedule guide

Persona Spinoffs

Persona 4 Arena (2012 – PS3, Xbox 360)

Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (2013 – PS3, Xbox 360)

Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth (2014 – 3DS)

Persona 4: Dancing All Night (2015 – Playstation Vita, 2018 – PS4)

Persona 3: Dancing in Moonlight (2018 – Playstation Vita and PS4)

Persona 5: Dancing in Starlight (2018 – Playstation Vita and PS4)

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth (2019 – 3DS)

Persona 5: Strikers (2021 – Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Steam PC)

If it’s one thing Atlus has done, it’s milking out the Persona series as much as possible. Most of these Persona spinoffs were not my thing because I’m not too much into fighting games or rhythm games, so I haven’t played them.

The Arena games are fighting games with storylines featuring the Persona characters. They are sequels and you see characters like “the villain of Persona 4” and you see his plotline continued.

Persona Q and Q2 are dungeon crawlers in the same style of Strange Journey and the Etrian Odyssey series. They’re very amazing dungeon crawlers if you enjoyed SJ and EO, but they’re unfortunately non-canon but they still have fun character interaction and a very fun battle system. I really like how you can draw your own maps in-game with many built-in tools on the 3DS bottom screen. It’s genuinely fun and these games are easier than Etrian Odyssey. Q1 and Q2 have a lot of good cutscene tutorials all throughout and even hold your hand a bit, they’re great entry points for Etrian Odyssey surprisingly. Q1 and Q2 are also amazing because they have all of the previous protagonists and most supporting characters as well as all the Velvet Room attendants and it’s fun to see every single character interact with each other (kind of like a multiverse). Q1 has the characters from Persona 4: Golden and earlier, while Q2 has characters from Persona 5 and earlier (not Persona 5: Royal because Q2 was made before Persona 5: Royal).

The Persona Dancing games are rhythm games featuring the Persona cast in dancing competitions. They’re fun games but weren’t my thing because copyright strikes will harm my YouTube channel.

My favorite and the one I’ve played was Persona 5: Strikers. It is a canon sequel to Persona 5; however, bear in mind Strikers was actually made before Persona 5: Royal was made, meaning that characters appearing in Royal don’t appear in Strikers and the plot events that happened aren’t referenced. Persona 5: Strikers is a “musou” game, and if you’re not familiar with that term it’s basically like a Dynasty Warriors games, where your character fights massive mobs of enemies.

The thing is, Strikers actually does a good job of mixing demons and skills with the musou gameplay. It’s not repetitive and you have fully-fleshed out dungeons to explore. The story is decent as well. It’s certainly not as good as the original game or the Royal story events, but it gets the job done and they did the best with what they had to work with.

One of my favorite parts of the game is that you don’t have a school schedule in this game (each dungeon you complete passes the date but there really is no time management like the main Persona games). You get to explore many real-life Japanese landmarks and a lot of the game feels like a vacation instead of a cramped school experience. It was very different than the repetitive Persona environments and very enjoyable.

The best part is that all of the characters are available from the start of the game, meaning characters who joined late in Persona 5 will have significantly more screen time in this game! You can see the characters have developed a lot since the original Persona 5, and they’re very competent and able to solve problems.

The only downside is that since all the demons have to be animated for action combat, there significantly less demons, probably the lowest demon count of any SMT game, and there are less skills than other games too, but compared to other musou spinoffs such as Fire Emblem Warriors, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, etc, Persona 5: Strikers is probably my favorite musou because they incorporated Persona/SMT elements so well into the gameplay loop. In contrast to the Arena, Dancing, and Q spinoffs, Strikers actually has a substantive story that’s canon, with plenty of dungeons and fully voiced cutscenes everywhere. But most of these spinoffs are pretty much garbage and quick cash-grabs. I’d recommend checking out SMT and SMT spinoffs rather than all of these Persona spinoffs.

The production quality is very high and the effort put into this spinoff shows. The only other downside is that you can get burned out from Persona 5. I played Persona 5 in 2017, Persona Q2 in 2019 (it stars the Persona 5 protagonist), Persona 5: Royal in 2020, and Persona 5: Strikers in 2021, and I’m now burned out from Persona 5’s characters, so pace yourself as these games are all lengthy. Overall, the story in Strikers definitely isn’t good as Persona 5’s and some of the antagonists somehow end up being even more poorly done, but it tries its best.

Our YouTube playlist of Persona 5: Strikers

No playlists for the dancing spinoff games unfortunately because Atlus loves to copyright strike my channel.

Devil Summoner Games

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner (1995)

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner cover art

  • Originally released in Japan for the Sega Saturn in 1995 and ported in Japan to the PSP in 2005

No English fan translation patch exists unfortunately. You can play this if you have an English script next to you and you go back and forth. I’d recommend the PSP version for its many gameplay improvements (demon compendium so no stressful re-recruiting demons), significantly faster gameplay and dungeon crawling speed, and it has extra bosses in the post-game dungeon and also bug fixes too. If you want to play the Saturn version it’s fine, but you need to get “revision B” of the game, which was a copy of the game printed later that has bug fixes, revision B fixes a terrible bug where if you raise your protagonist’s agility to 25 or more it always makes your character go last. The PSP version always has this fixed.

This is the start of a spinoff series where there is a devil summoner who use demons to protect people from gangs that use demons for evil in the modern era (this takes place in the 1980’s or early 1990’s, everybody is calling through landline). The characters are older than most Persona’s, being in their 20’s in this one and being in university or having full-time jobs.

One of the pivotal characters is born from a long family legacy of devil summoners called the Kuzunohas and you’ll always see this name pop up as you play through both Persona games and SMT games.

It is a great game that really improves upon SMT: If’s gameplay. It also has a more serious storyline without spoiling any of the actual plot events. The developers have made public comments saying they intended this game to be more easier and approachable to SMT: If, which was a very unbalanced and difficult game.

Business in the front, party in the back!

Well, except for the Chinatown dungeon, which was a dungeon they accidentally made too hard in this title. It’s a warping maze where you can either get to the destination easily within a few warps, or you could get stuck there for a long time. It was bad to the point they gave our physical maps of the dungeon when they made later copies of the game. But otherwise it’s generally an easier game and more of the mechanics are more intuitive than SMT: If.

Demon recruitment is hard for some reason, they may have programmed it with too low of a chance to recruit demons but it’s really challenging to get demons in this title even among older SNES SMT’s. The PSP version of the game thankfully has the Demon Compendium to let you easily buy old demons using magnetite.

I don’t want to spoil the plot, but the characters are some of the most interesting in SMT. (Why does the villain look like a JoJo though lol!) But seriously the plot is really intriguing and without spoiling you get your spirit put into someone else’s body, it’s amazing and has a weird plot you don’t typically see in other media.

Like old SMT’s you have a female supporting character who uses magic and the rest of your party is made up of demons. You need to be careful because there’s a dialogue choice that determines her build when she chooses a deity. The healing one is not too good because other demons can do that, the other builds (pure damage dealing or some damage dealing with buffs/debuffs) are good though so do a bit of reading beforehand to see which skills and build you’d prefer her to have.

The game does have the demon loyalty system along with Soul Hackers 1, meaning you have to grind using your demons’ skills over and over to make them more loyal to you, otherwise they will use random moves all the time. It is annoying and it eventually does get removed from later games but it’s still in the PSP version of this and the 3DS version of Soul Hackers 1. Some demons you have to grind loyalty with in weird ways – some want items instead of you just using their skills, and some are really strange where they gain loyalty if the level difference between the protagonist and the demon grows further apart.

This along with Soul Hackers 1 has a “Zoma”. It’s a unique artificial demon you get and it’s really interesting, you can train it and fuse it with a demon to create a new demon, usually a powerful unique demon, but you can also un-fuse it and fuse it again with another demon if you want to get a different kind of demon or get different skills. It’s so much fun to experiment with and is a unique mechanic that you only see in this title and Soul Hackers 1.

It has Magnetite like old SMT games too, which is like a currency that demons use where every step you take with a demon summoned consumes it and if it runs out you can’t summon your demons, but generally you don’t have to grind for it and it’s never too obstructive.

This along with Soul Hackers 1 has unique portraits for ALL NPCs. It’s really fun to talk to all the characters on the map and go to the many shops, and I really enjoy the artist’s style for characters because they actually look like Japanese people, similar to Shenmue and Yakuza games. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy anime styles and it was fun to watch anime character design evolve from the 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s, etc, but I also love it when character artists have their own style too.

The devil summoner detective character design was inspired by Lupin III animation in the 1970’s, and you have to admit the cover looks pretty cool.

I’ve played a few hours of the game with a translation script next to me but I didn’t finish it, I’ll update this when a fan translation comes out but even though it’s older than Soul Hackers 1 it’s such a fun game and I like it even more than many of the old SMT’s because this one has a modern setting whereas most other SMT games have a post-apocalyptic setting 10 minutes in.

Shin Megami Tensei: Soul Hackers (1997)

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner Soul Hackers cover art

  • Released in Japan for the Sega Saturn in 1997
  • Released in North America for the 3DS in 2013

You will need to play the 3DS version to play it in English (or you can play the original Japanese version on the Sega Saturn). It has extra content such as a post-game with many new bosses and many references to the Raidou series.

This game is not popular (before Soul Hackers 2 came out at least), but it’s very good in my opinion. It’s still one of the old-school SMT games and improves upon the formula made in the original Devil Summoner.

The dungeons in this title are large, but they’re not hard, and compared to SMT: If the games Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers are much more forgiving in comparison and has a lot of quality of life improvements compared to the NES titles (it’s not modernized like a recent title though so don’t expect SMT V or Persona 5). It would be nice to play the original Devil Summoner to get references in this game, but it’s not necessary.

This game is one of the most unique in SMT because its setting and characters are made like a cheesy 90’s movie, but I mean this in a good way. If you don’t think you’ll like a 1990’s cyberpunk setting, maybe this game isn’t for you.

SMT Soul Hackers Spookies

It’s not realistic at all, but it does have a serious plot with many twists along the way. The main cast are a group of hackers called “The Spookies” who are rebelling against a network made by Algon Soft, which is now being used in all houses and businesses. It’s kind of like the original Watch Dogs if you played through that, it shows a monopoly controlling everything such as IDs to get anywhere, to use shops, etc. Tonally if you’re coming to this after finishing the original Devil Summoner it’ll look extremely different in terms of atmosphere, but the gameplay elements will be very similar though.

The game also has virtual reality as a plot element, and in-game is you can connect to the game’s fictional VR and talk to NPCs, who act like they’re playing a game themselves. The game actually has a very charming atmosphere even if it’s meant to be a dystopia future. Other games have done this too such as the .hack video games, but I really preferred how this title handled VR, it genuinely feels like you’re talking to people from all kinds of demographics just chilling in the VR levels.

anime reference to Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner Soul Hackers
Soul Hackers is so popular, there are even references to it in anime. The moon phase, battle menu, macca, and rainbow-coloured bars with the HP and MP underneath it are mainstay gameplay elements of Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers.

I really enjoyed how every single NPC has a portrait and the world is lively with a lot of NPCs in the VR world. There are many shops in the VR World and even museums you can visit.

One major plot element are the “Vision Quests”, where you relive the experiences of previous devil summoners. They’re really just going through dungeons with a preconfigured setup, but the character interactions were really interesting. The talking animal spirits in the game are pretty weird too but it was exciting to play through.

I laughed hard at Judah Singh, who has a saxophone as his devil summoning program but is also a rare instance of showing diversity in a game back then.

Judah Singh Soul Hackers

These Vision Quests were actually inspired by Native American folklore and there is a lot of multiculturism with the game such as this Sikh man named Judah Singh, and they did their research and found out Singh meant lion in Sanskrit.

The game has its faults, such as a demon Loyalty system where you have to keep spamming a demons’ skills to make it loyal to you, otherwise un-loyal demons will randomly not obey your commands. But once you grind it, it doesn’t become a problem.

Although people criticize that this game is hard, it really isn’t too bad if we’re speaking about the main story. The only difficult part is the post-game bosses, which are actually grueling and some of the toughest in any SMT games. You get apps that can help break the game too that you should use, such as being able to use a demon of any alignment, etc, but for the post-game bosses you pretty much need to be level 99 with the best skills, equipment, best demons with all the broken skills, etc.

This game has a “Zoma”. It’s a unique artificial demon you get and it’s really interesting, you can train it and fuse it with a demon to create a new demon, usually a powerful unique demon, but you can also un-fuse it and fuse it again with another demon. This mechanic is unique to this title and the original Devil Summoner.

They really made an effort to be unique and try new things and I really have to applaud them for it. You don’t see anything like these Vision Quests in modern SMT games (Soul Hackers 2, below, says they have Vision Quests but they really aren’t). If you are playing through the older SMT games, you have to play this one, especially considering the 3DS version adds many quality of life enhancements.  

Our YouTube playlist walkthrough of Soul Hackers

Soul Hackers 2 (2022)

  • Released in North America for the PS4, PS5, PC (Steam and Windows Store), Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S on August 26, 2022

This game gets a lot of hate, some warranted and some not. It still has fun SMT gameplay and still has demons you can fuse, albeit they reduced the amount of demons in this game since SMT V. At the same time, this game has a lot of “one step forward, two steps back”.

I believe a lot of hate from this game comes from it being so tonally different to the original Soul Hackers and from the graphics of this game not looking too great, which I would agree with to an extent.

It still has many similarities they put in this game from the original, such as “Zomas” returning and it even the Bomb status ailment, which doesn’t appear in any other Persona or SMT games except Soul Hackers as well as Club Cretaceous returning with Madame Ginko who appeared in the original Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers 1. Devil summoner factions also return such as the Phantoms and Yatagarasu. Vision Quests return too, but the only issue is they’re not as exciting as in the original Soul Hackers.

I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the developers who worked on Soul Hackers 2 played Soul Hackers 1 when they were young, but they couldn’t do much except for references due to a tight budget and the hand they were given.

If you want to play Soul Hackers 2 for the SMT and Persona gameplay, I’d say go for it. But be aware that they heavily “persona-fied” the combat. So unlike the original Soul Hackers, you now control 4 human party members who equip demons that you can change at anytime (this was a big disappointment for many people especially since SMT V released and had demon party members). Why couldn’t we get the protagonist, 2 human characters, and 3 demons? Why did they do only human party members in a game spinoff where you always recruited the demons directly? They just made SMT V as well, why couldn’t they re-use those assets?

Also, “zomas” return in this game (zomas are unique artificial demons, you fuse them with regular demons to create very unique demons), but unfortunately you cannot get one in this game – it’s enemy exclusive which was extremely disappointing. It’s worse that they made it enemy exclusive rather than just not including them to begin with. But you know why of course, it’s because it would take too much effort to make one nowadays. It’s so sad because they make many references to how zomas are made from the original games, such as showing Dolly Kadmon which was a vital ingredient for the creation of zomas, which only made me even more depressed.

You can equip your party members with armor as well as “mystiques” which are equippable crystals that change a character’s affinity with a certain element. The elements in this game are physical (divided into sword and gun) and magic which include force, electricity, fire, ice, almighty, and a new one – ruin, which is basically the old status ailment afflicting moves but they now deal damage as well (this is a good change like how Persona 5 added light and dark skills that deal damage rather than only being insta-kill spells). Oddly, they removed Psy skills, which Devil Summoner and Soul Hackers 1 invented and they ended up putting into Persona 5. At the same time, I get that you can’t have too many kinds of elements or the game becomes overwhelming.

Your characters and enemies can be weak, strong, null, reflect, or absorb these elements. You need to ensure your party has a variety of elemental and physical attacks because bosses and enemies might have varying weaknesses depending on who you encounter.

You don’t “knock down” enemies like in Persona, instead each time you hit a weakness a “Stack” counter goes up, and after the round of combat is over you unleash an all-out attack (called a Sabbath stack) which deals damage based on how high the counter got.

You can upgrade your party members’ COMP weapons to deal more physical damage or to get other bonuses, such as making the stack counter go up for healing party members or for dealing critical damage. My criticism is that you can’t see demons attacking directly anymore unlike in SMT V or even Persona games but you can see them during the stack Sabbath attacks.

The buffs/debuffs are simplified, meaning just a regular Tarukaja will buff all your teammates (no Matarukaja needed) and the same with all other spells, except Luster Candy which has been heavily nerfed (it only affects 1 party member). Buffs/debuffs cannot be stacked 3 or 4 times like in other SMT games and they’re timed for 3 rounds (upgrades can lengthen this), and you still have Dekunda or Dekaja to remove them too. Since buffs/debuffs cannot be stacked 3 or 4 times, they’re not as powerful as in old games but they’re still very useful. Buffing spells that raise 2 of your party’s stats are very handy, such as Static Rook Anaguma (raises entire party’s defense and evasion), and Bloodlust (offense and evasion) are very handy compared to Luster Candy.

Although the combat doesn’t sound good on paper, I found it really fun! I did my entire playthrough on the free DLC difficulty: Very Hard, and it felt like a genuinely challenging SMT game! The only bad decision they made is you cannot use items at all on Very Hard mode, which makes my items feel worthless and it felt bad to not let me use a whole menu of the combat system, but at the same time it encouraged me to fuse demons with healing skills, reviving skills, and also let me learn MP conservation techniques.

For example, there’s one Sabbath skill that lets you heal dealt damage as MP, so I was actually able to keep going during long battles where endurance would be an issue. I had to switch it down to Hard for the super-bosses, but otherwise I did a whole playthrough on Very Hard and it was pure SMT bliss.

Without spoiling, the bosses in this game are very good gameplay-wise. Like in other SMT and Devil Summoner games, many bosses are human devil summoners who control multiple demons. The bosses have amazing synergy with their demons. Often they’ll summon a demon that buffs/debuffs, one might use Tetrakarn or Makarakarn, one might heal, one might use physical moves, one might use magical moves, etc.

It made me keep thinking up new strategies and builds to beat them. There’s one boss who had no elemental weaknesses, but he kept summoning demons, one after another to the point where the screen was filled with their demons. I exploited the elemental weaknesses of those summoned demons and damaged the boss significantly through the use of Sabbath attacks since Sabbath attacks deal damage to all enemies including the boss, which dealt more damage than if I were to just strike the boss normally due to their high resistances.

On Very Hard the bosses were grueling too, if you’re without buffs and if you’re weak to an element you will get one-shotted even with powerful demons and equipment. I switched to Hard to see the difference and it was like Hard became Easy mode with how different it was! I only hated that there was a distinct lack of boss diversity (they kept recycling the very few bosses the game had.)

The optional quests have fun optional bosses to fight too, but narratively the quests don’t have much substance to them. One criticism is that the quests don’t have objective markers, so you’ll have to wander through entire old dungeons to find who you’re looking for.

I also really like how it doesn’t have a school setting and how the characters are adults who actually drink at a bar (and you can go to the bar between story events for optional cutscenes too which flesh out the world and its characters). Even SMT V had a school environment which disappointed me immensely because most old SMT’s had adults who weren’t in school! Sure I don’t mind school settings in anime and some games, but not in SMT (except SMT: If of course). It’s pretty interesting how all the supporting characters are from different devil summoner factions as well.

Aside from the fun SMT/Persona style combat, the game does have a few glaring issues. It’s great that this game feels like a complete and finished story, unlike SMT V which clearly felt like a rushed game. But Soul Hacker 2’s story is very awkwardly handled. It’s very front-loaded, meaning you have to go through a lot of plot, I’d say 3 hours’ worth, before you unlock the cities and shops to explore and before you unlock demon fusion which is where the gameplay becomes very fun.

The plot of this game is also, admittedly, very boring and dry! Again, it sounds like it’d be a fun game, you have all the factions of Devil Summoners fighting each other and demons, you need to save the world, and people control demons through computers! But the way they handle the narrative and exposition is just awful. There’s so many flashbacks that are not fun to watch and there’s a lot of repetition.

As well, without spoiling specifics, they kill off so many characters as soon as they’re introduced (even off-screen) and then do flashbacks, but what’s the point anymore – the character is dead. And it’s not just once, they keep doing this numerous times in this game! There was one character that is heavily foreshadowed in the game who, if you played old Devil Summoner games, is a pretty big figure from a fancy devil summoning background, and guess what happens? Killed off-screen.

I kept face-palming at the numerous bone-headed decisions they kept making, it’s as if they were intentionally trying to make their fanbase mad. It’s not even like the plot of the game was rushed – the plot of this game is detailed and they clearly spent a lot of time writing it and editing it, but it’s just bad and not entertaining at all, kind of like Fire Emblem: Fates’s horrible plot.

All of the dialogue is voiced extremely well, but the actual lines of dialogues written are in such a long-winded way for some reason. At first, I laughed because I saw streamers who got codes for the game early skipping all of the cutscenes while they were livestreaming and I thought to myself “Damn, maybe these people stream FIFA all day or something and can’t get into JRPGs”, but when I played the game for myself I immediately understood why.

The dungeons are also not as fun as old games either. The dungeons have puzzles sometimes, my favorite dungeon is the second-last one in the sea area, it had a great design (you would create a vortex in certain bubbly areas that either went up or down, kind of creating one-way stairs and it’d either teleport you up or down a floor and you’d switch between maps to see if you could go to new areas) and it had great bosses at the end of it. But most of the other dungeons present in the game are linear hallways with very few branching paths and most of the time the only puzzle is finding a key for a locked door.

It is a dungeon crawler, but it’d definitely be nice if the dungeons had a better atmosphere and were just a tad more complex. A nice addition is that your demons you have will randomly appear in the dungeons to give you items and will introduce you to new demons to recruit. Unfortunately, you cannot recruit demons in battle which is another glaring fault in this title.

The dungeons are short as well, but in a bad way. I did a new game plus run of the game in just over an hour (most dungeons can each be completed in under 5-10 minutes without encounters and there’s only about 5 dungeons in the game), that’s how much of the game is padded out with lengthy cutscenes and grinding demons.

The game features optional dungeons called Soul Matrix dungeons, which you unlock by completing key points in the story and by getting your friends’ Soul Levels up (which are basically just friendship points from dialogue choices – they’re all clearly labeled so you don’t need to worry about which dialogue choice goes to which character). These dungeons are very bland in atmosphere and are just hallways connected with the “data” backgrounds all around you and they have cutscenes unique to the character’s memories. These cutscenes are boring just like those in the main game. Technically these dungeons are not optional if you want the best ending for this game, you need to progress each of your character’s Soul Matrix dungeon to a certain threshold to get the best ending.

The original Soul Hackers had “Vision Quests”, which these Soul Matrix dungeon and cutscenes are trying to be. The problem is that the old Vision Quests were genuinely exciting. You’d be put into the body of someone important to the story who wasn’t part of your party, and you’d experience an important part of the plot you don’t know about. In Soul Hackers 1 you’d play as a villain taking a bad job, you’d see them go to a cafe and meet their clients, you’d go into the dungeons, explore, and defeat the villain and you see how they get betrayed and die – I’m simplifying and leaving out details not to spoil but you see how that can be fun. But in Soul Hackers 2, it’s just you re-treading the same characters and the same plot events you already know about, the even recycle the same scenes numerous times, you don’t get to explore as them like a Vision Quest should actually work and you get terrible “flashback filters” and lengthy cutscenes lasting over an hour.

These Soul Matrix dungeons actually have good design sometimes and some like Saizo’s later dungeons have fun teleporting mazes that aren’t overbearing or annoying. Some of them have extremely interesting optional bosses that are like puzzles which I really enjoyed – like a unicorn miniboss that kept healing everyone fully, but if you inflicted ailments onto the demons around him he’d prioritize curing the ailments over healing. (I really miss SMT4A’s VR challenges missions, they would give you a preset protagonist and demons with present items and skills, and you’d have to use whatever skills and items the party had to defeat the enemies like solving a puzzle.)

But most of these Soul Matrix dungeons are repetitive. I explored through all of them and it took me roughly 8 hours. You can get 5 floors for each character and completing them will also unlock more skills for those characters. You actually want to do Milady’s Soul Matrix dungeons early on because they unlock a skill allowing you to run faster on the map, which is invaluable.

Another criticism I have regarding dungeons is that there’s no treasure chests, so exploring doesn’t feel rewarding anymore. Sure you’ll find your demons who will give you money, items and introduce you to other demons, but you can actually grind these infinitely by running up and down, they don’t feel unique like treasure chests, it makes the game feel grindy and repetitive.

The demons have material drops in this game compared to other SMTs, so you now need to grind and defeat thousands of demons to gather the materials needed to upgrade your COMP and get new skills for your party (these are on top of the skills the demons they equip give them, they’re not necessary at all but they can be helpful). I think I’d prefer just having COMP upgrades cost more money and having the demons drop money, rather than having to track down drops all over the place and having to grind a specific demon for hours just to get the one last material I need for an important upgrade.

The navigator in this game is pretty annoying too and talks way too much. Having encounters on the map be “generic red monsters” also goes back to how SMT4 and SMT4A handled encounters (in fact it’s even worse because in those games they’d actually have different enemy models depending on if it was a giant demon, a dog demon, a male/female humanoid demon, etc, so you could tell which enemy you were facing, whereas in this title it’s always the same generic red monster chasing you or a powerful generic purple one).

Another issue with this game is that although I agree that 30-40 hours needed to complete it is reasonable, but the pacing is odd and generally very slow. I won’t spoil anything, in the endgame area the plot really picks up, but as soon as it picks up steam it dies and ends the plot quickly. There’s two amazing bosses after the “sea dungeon” who have big plot significance, but they go out the window and you go to the final boss quickly after to wrap up the plot. The game had the potential to have an exciting plot, like having devil summoner factions fighting each other or having a bunch of devil summoner groups work together to defeat some big bad demons attacking the city, but they didn’t go for that route.

Another aspect that left a bad taste in my mouth was locking quests and demons as DLC content you have to pay for. The quests involving Nana are DLC content, but they aren’t too bad thankfully because she doesn’t have any significance to the plot though it does have some unique demons including a superboss. But the demons being locked to DLC is really awful, sure Atlus/Sega has been doing this in SMT games for the past decade considering SMT4 had paid demon DLCs in 2013, but locking Mara as DLC in this game is a dick move.

If you’re wondering on whether to buy the DLC or not, I don’t think you should. The DLC exclusive dungeon is extremely repetitive and I only went through it to see the ending to Nana’s plotline and to fight the DLC superboss. The DLC dungeon is the inside of a temple, it’s essentially a square with a circle inside of it with certain parts of it locked out, the map takes 1-2 minutes to go through a floor, and you need to do about 20-25 floors of these floors with slightly different structures to get to the end of the DLC. It’s genuinely a garbage DLC dungeon and most of the other DLC quest bosses are reskinned bosses from the story with locations in old regular dungeons. The DLC dungeon is so bad that they should’ve just made the boss an encounter on a menu or an old map. The DLC is Nana is heartwarming and it has maybe an hour or two of voiced dialogue, but it’s pretty basic and has no bearing on the overall plot – you could just watch the DLC cutscenes online and it’d be no different.

The game needed better direction overall. I’d say it’s actually worth it for the fun gameplay alone – you can have a lot of fun making powerful builds for your characters and fusing amazing demons. Playing it on Very Hard forced me to make some really creative builds. And once in a while some dungeons and some plot events were pretty funny. But most of the plot was pretty terrible and executed very poorly! The antagonists are pretty bland too, most old SMT games had far better and unique villains.

So use this as your criteria if you want to decide whether this game is for you or not. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this game as your starting point into SMT games though because of the many criticisms I have with the game’s story. I do believe the game is just a tad underrated, but granted most of the hate is genuinely deserved. If you’d rather watch the game, I have a full playthrough of the game with all routes, all quests, NG+ quests included, Nana DLC, superbosses, and endings below on YouTube.

Our YouTube playlist walkthrough of Soul Hackers 2 with ALL endings

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army (2006)

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha vs Soulless Army cover art

  • Released in North America for the PS2 in 2006

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the King Abaddon (2008)

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner Raidou 2 Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon cover art

  • Released in North America for the PS2 in 2008

The Raidou games are very different than most other SMT games. They’re set in the 1930’s in Japan and star Raidou, a devil summoner from the Kuzunoha family. These two games are technically prequels to the other Devil Summoner games, but they take place ~70 years in advance so any connection to those games are very loose if any because the protagonist of these games is the ancestor to the protagonist of Devil Summoner on the Sega Saturn.

These games are also different because they’re action games, kind of like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta but with less moves of course. You can still fuse demons to have as a partner and you’re still fighting other demons and bosses, you attack with Raidou’s sword to do combos and you can cast spells with your demons. The fusion system is intact and you can plan out what skills you want your demons to have.

You definitely need to play Raidou 1 before 2 because these two games are directly plot related. Note that Raidou 1 is extremely rough around the edges because it was the first modern Devil Summoner game to try and tackle action-based combat. Raidou 1 is bland to the point that many consider it to be the weakest SMT spinoff title. He has an extremely limited move-set in the first game to the point where you’d have to just spam the same moves over and over ad nauseum. Other issues include a severe lack of demons available to use. There’s only one route in the first title, but certain characters can die in the game depending on your actions.

Raiho Raidou SMT Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner
There’s even a unique Jack Frost named Raiho!

Despite this, I recommend you truck through the first game because the second improves upon the first game’s mechanics significantly.

From the second game you have more demons, many more moves that Raidou can use, and the story is a lot more serious and has a lot more twists than the original game’s story.

The developers learned from all of their mistakes going from the first game to the second game. For instance, there were no safe areas in the first game because all areas even the main city hub where you buy equipment and items had demon encounters, but this is removed in the second game which is far more lenient and fair. There are far more demons in the second game, going from about 60+ demons in the first game to 120+ in the second. The second games also introduces law/chaos routes, though you’ll need to use a guide because it’s very non-obvious how to get all of the routes.

The games are both a little aged. Similarly to Nocturne on the PS2 these games don’t have voice acting, but they do have great soundtracks featuring jazz that you don’t really see in other SMT games. They can both get repetitive over a while, but they’re not excessively long games either. At the same time, they’re the only SMT games taking place in this time period, which was a time period where people were especially superstitious making for an exciting atmosphere.

Even though the games are completely unrelated, the 1900’s Japan setting is very cozy, and if you like this kind of setting too, I’d recommend playing The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles after playing these games if you’re okay with text adventure/visual novel games.

I also strongly recommend playing Persona 5: Strikers after this too (if you’ve already played Persona 5 of course because Strikers is a sequel to it), it is a very similar gameplay experience and the gameplay makes it feel as a spiritual successor except due to technological improvements Strikers is far, far superior.

Our YouTube Playlist walkthrough for Devil Summoner: Raidou vs. The Soulless Army

Our YouTube Playlist walkthrough for Devil Summoner 2: Raidou vs. King Abaddon

Digital Devil Saga Games

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga (2005)

Shin Megami Tensei Digital Devil Saga cover art

  • Originally released in North America for the PS2 in 2005

Shin Megami Tensei: Digital Devil Saga 2 (2005)

Shin Megami Tensei Digital Devil Saga 2 cover art

  • Originally released in North America for the PS2 in 2005

These games came out on the PS2 right after Nocturne was released and actually feel similar mechanically. It reuses many demons from it, the cell-shaded graphics style is very similar, but it also has many improvements over Nocturne, such as featuring the ability to re-learn skills and a mini-map on the screen to navigate through dungeons more easily instead of flipping between the map back-and-forth, some of my criticisms of the original Nocturne.

A minor plot twist with Digital Devil Saga (also don’t confuse these games with Digital Devil Story, the precursor to SMT) is that the main cast are demons, which happens about ten minutes after a new game (I won’t reveal anything that happens afterwards). But that’s what makes this game so unique, no other SMT games are really like this.

Interestingly, this is one of the only SMT spinoff titles to have Earth-element attacks called Tera (like Teradyne, Matera, etc.), which adds a little more excitement to the battle system (I recall the Devil Children spinoff games also has Earth as an element).

You can customize all of your characters’ skills and you can actually eat weak demons for more experience rather than just defeating them normally, adding a new way to grind for experience and levels but you’ll get a stomachache if you do it too much unless you get an Iron Stomach skill.

You have skill trees for all your characters where you can freely choose any skills you want, so you don’t need to google which Magatamas had which skills like in Nocturne which was very cumbersome. In addition to needing to unlock the skills you need to grind macca to buy the skills, but the grind really isn’t bad at all. You can’t recruit and use demons anymore, but of course that’s not what the game is about, it’s about using the protagonists, who form an extremely tight-knit team.

Digital Devil Saga devour mechanic

Unlike Nocturne, there is a lot of character dialog in this title, and it’s done extremely well. This game is tonally the opposite of something like Persona 4. The story is presented in a very somber way and you really need to pay attention to get the full gist of the plot.

There are many NPCs as well you can talk to in actual towns to get a better idea of the lore too. I’ve replayed it multiple times and it’s always a fun experience. The difficulty is not too hard either considering how much you can customize your characters, so it’s great for newcomers. One downside is that, like Nocturne and other PS2-era JRPGs, the encounter rate is pretty high. The dungeons are similar to Nocturne, but are a bit easier I’d say because there’s more dialogue to give hints on how to proceed (but not like games after the 7th generation which baby you either)

Another great part of the game is that unlike the original version of Nocturne on the PS2 that was unvoiced, this game has a lot of cutscenes with voice acting (Nocturne HD released in 2021 now has voice acting too).

People like to make fun of Cielo’s Jamaican voice acting, but I understand the intention behind it. Cielo originally spoke in a Japanese dialect that was very friendly, and so they wanted to find a way to make him sound friendly in the English localization as well. The localizers likely saw his dreadlocks as well and thought to make him sound like a friendly man who speaks with a Jamaican accent. The localizers were very respectful when they were doing this.

This still takes place in an apocalyptic setting, like Nocturne was, but you get far more character interaction and cutscenes than the former which many consider an improvement over Nocturne’s few missteps. There aren’t separate routes and the choices in the first game don’t matter, but the only route the games have is extremely well made and you don’t need to stress out about the dialog choices you make. I suppose it’s true that the plot in the first game is slow and the plot in the second game goes fast and there’s definitely pacing issues, so I would recommend playing the games back to back so you can continue immediately from 1’s ending.

Just like other duologies in SMT, the second game improves upon the first game by adding more characters and dungeons. The final plot events in the second game are definitely some of the weirdest, but also most artistic, cutscenes I’ve ever witnessed in a video game. Many of the bosses and protagonists have unique demons in these games too that you don’t ever see elsewhere.

The game also pays a lot of respect to Hindu mythology such as the goal of “ascending to Nirvana” and you can tell the developers put a lot of research and soul into these two games.

It’s a one-of-a-kind game, and it’s a shame that a lot of cookie-cutter JRPGs got more popular than this one. It really is a cult-classic you should try, and I really recommend playing this sometime after playing through Nocturne.

The funniest thing about this game is that it features Nocturne’s protagonist as an optional superboss, and the game makes a point that Nocturne’s protagonist can eat our protagonist demons for breakfast.

Our YouTube Playlist walkthrough for Digital Devil Saga 1

Our YouTube Playlist walkthrough for Digital Devil Saga 2

Devil Survivor Games

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (2009, 2011)

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor Overclocked cover art

  • Originally released in North America for the Nintendo DS in 2009, and Overclocked released in North America for the Nintendo 3DS in 2011

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker (2012, 2015)

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker cover art

  • Originally released in North America for the Nintendo DS in 2012, and Record Breaker released in North America for the Nintendo 3DS in 2015

The definitive versions of these games are Overclocked and Record Breaker on the 3DS, which you should play over the original Nintendo DS versions. Overclocked has an extra day added on with many new endings. Record Breaker has an entirely new story expansion added at the end called the Triangulum Arc.

These two games are strategy JRPGs, but they stay true to the SMT formula. You still fuse and can buy demons in auctions using your currency. There are 130+ demons in the first game and 150+ demons in the second. You control parties of humans and demons in a grid format and need to move to defeat the enemy units.

It really is the same as an SMT game, except you move the character units on a grid. You can still get extra moves by hitting enemy weaknesses as with other SMT games.

The games are a bit unbalanced because spell-casters are very powerful with Dance-type moves such as Ice Dance, etc, which will hit one boss many times. But at the same time, the gameplay is extremely fun otherwise.

To get new skills for the main cast of human characters, you need to use “skill crack”. You need to choose which of your characters will defeat which enemies before the battle begins, then you actually need to do this, and when you do unlock these skills, it’s very fun but you do need to watch out for missable skills (some skills only appear in one battle), so try to crack as many skills as you can.

The games are both presented in a visual novel format, but there is voice acting for the main story. Most of the characters have great voice acting, but some people complain about Midori’s voice, which I understand can get on peoples’ nerves it is annoying.

The second game also has a problem of feeling more “persona-y” than the first game that was far darker in tone, and the second game also plays like a video game version of Neon Genesis Evangelion, which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different to the original Devil Survivor. (If you haven’t, I definitely recommend you to watch NGE. Like how Persona 4 is to JoJo Part 4, Devil Survivor 2 Triangulum is to NGE.)

The character designer is Suzuhito Yasuda, who did a very great job designing the characters. The characters feel very refreshing compared to the older games which had Kaneko design all the characters.

He has also worked on character designs for the Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth games, as well as illustrations for the manga “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?” Although that manga name sounds awful, I’ve read through it, played the video game adaptation on YouTube, and watched the anime, the OVA’s, and the theatrical movie, and it’s actually an extremely wholesome anime where the protagonist never actually tries to pick up girls in a dungeon, he just gets them to join his guild. Coming back to this page in 2022, season 4 of it has come out and it’s probably my favorite anime of the season, even better than Made in Abyss’s season 2. Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls probably has some of the best world-building and character development I’ve seen in a manga, it has no right being so good.

Back on track, I do prefer the first game over the second. The first game is set in an apocalypse setting where you’re just a civilian trying to survive. Imagine being a human put in SMT environments with demons, you need to go to refugee camps and your goal is just surviving from day to day. It’s realistic and feels very interesting in comparison to other SMT games, where everybody immediately gets wiped out and the world is just barren. These games are different than most SMT games where you’re some superhuman or some deity.

It’s like the difference between the original part of The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, where the former has Rick Grimes wake up in a coma long after the zombie apocalypse beings, and the latter actually shows zombies invading and the state being put into martial law and food is being handed out to civilians who are forced to stay at home, the latter of which is like this game.

Both games have permanent character deaths as well and it’s related to the story events, so you need to make choices carefully. It’s very fair though and the deaths can genuinely be prevented very easily by paying attention. I’ve played through all the ending routes, but I haven’t played through killing most of the main characters because there’s just so many possibilities, but it’s interesting that that can happen if you screw up.

You can do support scenes with your cast of characters, which adds a lot of character development behind the scenes. I liked how these were done more than the Persona games.

The best thing about these games is the numerous endings they have. Because they’re smaller budget games, the routes are actually very different, with completely different cutscenes and often different final stages and sometimes different final bosses. The routes in this game are probably some of the best routes in any SMT game, this is the one aspect that this game does best, it’s simply amazing.

All of the characters have their own personalities and how they want to solve the conflict, some have good endings and some are bad. There is just so much replayability because there are all the character support scenes you can see, and also all the routes you can explore. This is definitely one of the most under-rated SMT titles there is.

The definitive versions of the game on the 3DS are even better because they add even more canon story and levels – one criticism is that the first game ended too soon, so they added an extra day (and in that game there’s like 6 days so it’s actually significant) and the second game adds an entire expansion that has a whole story arc and about half a dozen new bosses. These are probably the best re-releases that Atlus has published.

YouTube Playlist Walkthrough for Devil Survivor 1 with ALL routes and endings

YouTube Playlist Walkthrough for Devil Survivor 2 with ALL routes, all support scenes, and all endings including Triangulum Arc

Devil Children/Demikids Games

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Children: Black Book, Red Book, White Book (2000, 2001)

  • Black Book and Red Book were released in Japan for the Game Boy Color in 2000 and later remade for the Playstation in 2002
  • White Book released in Japan for the Game Boy Color in 2001
  • Black Book has an English fan translation for the Game Boy Color version by Specialagenttape, Higsby and kkzero, right now the White and Red Book versions don’t have fan translations, the Black/Red Book PSX remasters don’t have fan translations either

DemiKids: Light Version, Dark Version (2003)

  • Light Version and Dark Version released in North America for the Game Boy Advance in 2003 (official English translations)

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Children: Book of Fire, Book of Ice (2003)

  • Book of Fire and Book of Ice were released in Japan for the Game Boy Advance in 2003, no fan translations

Devil Children, or DemiKids as localized in English releases, was the developers’ approach to make the SMT games into Pokemon games. The chronological order reads from top to bottom, and the different Books in each generation are very similar to the different colors in Pokemon such as Pokemon Red, Pokemon Blue, etc. So the first generation is Black/Red/White Book, the second is Light/Dark, and the third is Fire/Ice.

You recruit demons as in other SMT games, but it’s Pokemon-style, meaning you need to get the other Book versions of the games to collect all of them because each book has its own demons as random encounters even though the maps are recycled.

Each Book has a different protagonist, a different main demon partner, and a slightly different route, different demons you can recruit, and slightly different story events though the maps, cities, and dungeons are recycled.

This is a bit different to Pokemon where the protagonist is more of a blank-slate without story events, only badges and Elite Four – instead, in Devil Children you actually have a protagonist with a family and city they live in and you do get plot development with an actual ending. The plots of the older generations of Devil Children are definitely more SMT-style and serious with a very dark tone and actual deaths and cities being destroyed, whereas the later generations of Devil Children tend to be more child-friendly and Pokemon-style with upbeat plots. The older Devil Children games have actual routes too and choices at the end determining what ending you get!

They’re actually very fun games to play through, the demon designs are completely different but are very interesting (imagine Lucifer as a Pokemon), but a lot of them are not translated in English unfortunately. The games are also older and were made for portable systems, so there is a lot of technical limitations.

SMT Devil Children Black Book Banshee
Say what you will, but this has to be the most interesting depiction of a banshee I’ve ever seen

When you begin a new game, you’ll get a partner demon. You can’t choose your partner, it’s fixed with the protagonist – so for example in Black Book you’ll get a dog and in Red Book you’ll get a griffon. You can use other demons as well, but your main demon is a unique demon and with some exceptions is generally the best demon you can have for the majority of the game.

Unlike other demons in this game your partner demon will get story-based evolutions. Even if you don’t use it, it actually raised the level of my partner demon after certain story scenes too. Your partner demon in Black and Red Book will get a total of 4 forms, which is 3 upgrades through the story. Sometimes this was a pain because it would make my partner have an evolution and overwrite the skills I worked hard to get on it without my choice, but I could see a trainer afterwards to re-learn the skills I wanted (at my own expense though). Most of the time it’ll let you choose your skills with a few exceptions where it forced skills onto me.

You can still fuse other demons to use, or you can strengthen your main partner demon by fusing other demons onto it to gain stats (like Mitama fusions in Nocturne), but since there’s no Demon Compendium you’ll have to spend time re-recruiting demons. You can even choose which skills to inherit when fusing or when your partner demon evolves, which wasn’t even present in Persona 3! Unless I’m wrong, this is the first game to implement skill inheritance, on a GBA console of all things! I wouldn’t recommend fusing other demons onto your partner demon though, because your partner demon will automatically level up anyways as it gets story-based evolutions.

If you want to get started into the series, you’ll want to start with the English fan translation of Black Book, or alternatively play the regular English releases of Demikids Light or Dark.

If you play through these games, make sure to examine all objects on the map for free hidden items and also talk to all NPCs and explore all the dungeons. It’s only a GBA game, so the maps and dungeons are small, sometimes there’s a little tricky teleporting maze here and there, but in general it’s not a hard game, just old. There’s a lot of fun sidequests in the game too you can get from talking to everybody and you can unlock unique demons from doing so.

I also recommend checking out the shops that train moves to your partner demon, these skills are the most powerful in the game (they’re very unbalanced!). I remember there being a move where it hits random enemies 4 times, and another one in the endgame where it hits random enemies 8 times. But in Black/Red Book, you only fight at most 2 enemies/bosses on-screen once (sometimes more enemies spawn into the battle when an enemy is defeated but it’s still only 2 at once max), so these skills can pound a boss numerous times. I used the move that hits 8 random enemies on the final boss and I defeated it within 2 rounds. If your demon gets an evolution and forgets the move, you can go back to the shop to re-learn it.

I will say that in Black Book your partner demon has a weakness to Frost Ace and King Frost early in the game in Ice Land, the first story world you explore. Playing Black Book is like picking charmander in the original Pokemon games where you face disadvantages due to bad typings. You can power through it, but due to poor balancing the early-game is actually extremely difficult, even worse than Minotaur in SMT4. (I actually spent a half a day just watching movies and recruiting demons and fusing them onto my partner demon.) It also doesn’t help that you get access to a better COMP with better bonuses and access to far better demons right after that difficult boss fight too. So don’t play Black Book unless you’re already familiar with SMT and Persona games, maybe consider playing Demikids instead which has a far easier early-game.

Demikids is more recent and has many quality of life improvements and better graphics. If you do play through Black/Red Book, as well as Demikids, you’ll see a lot of recycled content unfortunately such as the school having an identical layout.

The demon designs are quite fascinating, but they do get boring after a while and the Light/Dark versions are mostly the same, and they both reuse assets from Black Book and the old games and the plot is similar. At the same time though, it’s nice that Demikids has the demons from the previous games, it’s like how the second generation of Pokemon had the first generation within it too. Demikids has a lot of unusual demons too, like Lucifrost who first appeared in Devil Children game and was added to remastered Soul Hackers later on.

Black/Red Book are fun games to go through if you like old GBA JRPGs in the same vein, such as Pokemon or even its precursor Final Fantasy Legend. Devil Children is definitely more recent than those older titles, but they’re still old titles nonetheless and their age shows because they were released on portable consoles a long time ago (to give an example of how old these games are, to get Lucifrost you had to put in a code from the Nintendo Power magazine!).

Speaking of gameplay, you explore regions with your partner demon. If you want to teleport between different areas, you’d better have a demon in your stock with the Traport teleport spell like in old SMT games. Your partner demon evolves and you can ride on them to travel across areas faster. When they evolve they even get more abilities to use on the fields letting you access secret areas that were locked off from earlier in the game.

My only gripe was that you can’t use the protagonist in battle, you can only use your partner demon or other demons. Still, the games have two demons versus two demons fights (for Black/Red Book) and three on three fights (in later games), so the battles do have a lot of strategy compared to Pokemon which only implemented multiple-Pokemon fights after a few generations and those were only “special” battles and not the typical battle.

Another criticism of mine is that because of technical limitations, even the official release’s translation feels dated and the plot really isn’t that enthralling. Still, they’re really fun to play from a historical viewpoint!

It’s so strange that they pumped out so many games in a short period of time, as well as release an anime adaptation of the games too, but then all the popularity fizzled out so quickly. Playing through Book of Fire/Ice (the last of the Devil Children games) they actually included nearly all the demons from the previous Devil Children games, totaling to over 450 demons in the game (it took Pokemon a long time to get that many monsters!), it’s such a shame these games never caught on! I guess the same thing happened with the Yokai Watch games – Pokemon was just too powerful and overshadowed the market on these kinds of games.

Our Devil Children Black Book English YouTube playthrough

Majin Tensei Games

Majin Tensei (1994)

Majin Tensei 1 cover art

  • Released in Japan for the SNES in 1994
  • English fan translation released by DDSTranslation

Majin Tensei II: Spiral Nemesis (1995)

Majin Tensei 2 cover art

  • Released in Japan for the SNES in 1995
  • English fan translation released by DDSTranslation

If you want to play the first two games, use the English fan translation patch.

Majin Tensei can be thought of as a precursor to Devil Survivor. It’s still an SMT game, but with a strategy JRPG element where you move characters on a grid. It doesn’t have most of the modern features and this is one of the older SMT titles.

It actually plays similar to Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem on the SNES. This feels more like a Fire Emblem kind of strategy JRPG, but with SMT spells. The two Majin Tensei games are certainly an underrated games. They’re old games, so you should consult guides online though because the true ending is extremely obscure and very missable.

You’ll need to be careful because any human death leads to a game over. Like Fire Emblem there are reinforcements (sometimes infinitely though in this game) so you need to be quick to block certain tiles with your demons. The two Majin Tensei games are also very slow-paced games which really ruin it.

There are a lot of desert maps which make your characters move very slowly. Did you think desert maps in Fire Emblem were bad? These are somehow even worse. The battles are very slow, the first game is very long with 60+ maps that each take an hour, but thankfully the second game has improved gameplay.

Still, 60+ maps is very excessive, you don’t see that in games unless it’s repetitive. Speed is very important in the second game, where you can double enemies (hit them twice) if your speed exceeds your enemy’s speed, in a similar style to Fire Emblem. The positive part of the game is the story, which is genuinely interesting.

If you’re really craving more SMT and you enjoyed Devil Survivor and most of the other SMT titles, if you enjoyed Fire Emblem, and you have nothing else to play, then maybe try the two Majin Tensei games. Check out Another Bible if you want a better SRPG style SMT before Majin Tensei, though be aware Another Bible has its faults too.

Ronde (1997)

Ronde SMT cover art

  • Released in Japan for the SNES in 1997

Now let me talk about Ronde, the black sheep of the Majin Tensei series. Ronde is a game so bad that when a demo was released, everyone canceled their preorders. People credit Ronde for single-handedly killing the Majin Tensei spinoff series. Just look up some gameplay videos, it tried to use 3D models before technology was capable of doing it well and it looks atrocious.

But at the same time, it is somewhat interesting too. It looks like a rougher version of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance or even the Nintendo DS’s Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, but a 1997 version of it instead. They really were trying to use new technology, though I suppose you can argue that the graphics weren’t great for its time which is true too.

But aside from that, a lot of talk about Ronde is hearsay and people kicking something that’s already down and it’s become a meme at this point. It also plays slowly, but some defend the game explaining to give it a chance, and that you can turn off the animations to make it faster. There are routes in the game as well. There is no fan translation for it yet, but the translation is in progress.

Last Bible Games

Last Bible or Revelations: The Demon Slayer (1992, 1999)

Last Bible 1 Revelations The Demon Slayer cover art

  • Released in Japan for the Game Boy in 1992, later released in Japan on the Sega Game Gear (English fan translation patch for the Game Gear by Supper and Tom)
  • Released in North America for the Game Boy Color in 1999 as Revelations: The Demon Slayer

Last Bible II (1993)

Last Bible 2 cover art

  • Released in Japan for the Game Boy in 1993, later released in Japan on the Game Boy Color
  • English fan translation patch for the Game Boy Color version is available by Tom, EsperKnight and Prez

Last Bible III (1995)

Last Bible 3 cover art

  • Released in Japan for the SNES in 1995
  • English fan translation patch available by Tom

Another Bible (1995)

Another Bible cover art

  • Released in Japan for the Game Boy in 1995
  • English fan translation patch available by Aeon Genesis

Last Bible Special (1995)

Last Bible Special cover art

  • Released in Japan for the Sega Game Gear in 1995
  • English fan translation patch available by Tom and others

The Last Bible consists of three mainline series and 2 spinoff titles.

It’s more child friendly and plays more like a regular JRPG, with the monsters featured in this game being more friendly-looking like in Devil Children rather than mainline SMT demons. It still has monster negotiations and fusion, but it’s an older game so it’s not too detailed.

One interesting note is that some of the English fan patches make modifications to make the game more convenient, such as lowering an extremely high encounter rate which is a positive.

They’re all set in medieval time periods and the three mainline titles feel very similar gameplay-wise and in atmosphere to Dragon Quest. If you enjoy Dragon Quest and older Final Fantasy titles and have exhausted most of the other SMT games, these games are worth trying.  

Another Bible, on the other hand, is a strategy game played on a grid, like Fire Emblem on the NES or Fire Emblem: Gaiden.

Last Bible Special is a first-person view dungeon crawler, like the old Wizardry games.

Original “Megami Tensei” Series

Telenet’s Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei (1987)

Telenet Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei cover art

  • Released in Japan for the PC-88 in 1987, later released in Japan for the NES in 1987 and SNES in 1995.

If you’re not familiar, SMT is very loosely based on a series of books called Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei by Japanese author Aya Nishitani. He published 3 books called Digital Devil Story that the old Digital Devil Story video games are based off of, and he made more novels called New Digital Devil story after that with a new protagonist.

There were OVA’s released made from his earlier novels. For the most part, you don’t need to read or watch his works, but it’s fascinating from a historical perspective. They’re all very old works, from the 1980’s and they haven’t aged well, such as the scenes regarding the protagonist’s teacher and Loki, yikes.

Telenet’s version of the game is the first SMT video game based off of Nishitani’s first novel. It’s not a JRPG, it’s a top-down shooter in labyrinths. It’s long and it’s very archaic, likely a pain to emulate, and you need to translate the manual to get through it.

You REALLY should just watch Marsh’s playthrough of the game on YouTube, you’re just punishing yourself by playing this and it’s too old-school unless you grew up in this time period and really know what you’re doing.

Have you ever watched Ross Scott on YouTube? He plays through many old-school games such as Sierra games, which were infamous for having missables that caused you to be unable to finish the game! Only in the 1990’s or so did publishers start mandating that developers should look out for bugs that prevent players from finishing a game, but before that time period you really need to watch out. This game is no exception, even SMT1 is forgiving compared to this level of old-school game.

Play the “non-Tele-net” versions of Megami Tensei instead, preferably Kyuyaku Megami Tensei, they are the actual first set SMT games in the series.

Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei (1987)

Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei cover art

  • Released in Japan for the NES in 1987

Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II (1990)

Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei 2 cover art

  • Released in Japan for the NES in 1990

These are the actual first SMT games on the NES based off of Aya Nishitani’s first two novels of the same name. A remake of the two was made for the SNES called Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei that I strongly recommend you play instead of these, it has a lot of quality of life improvements.

Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei (1995)

Kyuyaku Megami Tensei cover art

  • Released in Japan for the SNES in 1995
  • English fan translation released by DDSTranslation

Kyuuyaku Megami Tensei are the first two games before SMT1 remastered for the SNES, directly based off of Aya Nishitani’s novels of the same name. They have all the mainstays of SMT gameplay including fusion and recruiting demons, albeit without all of the improvements they’ve made nowadays.

They’re very old titles, even older than SMT1, so I would recommend you read a walkthrough guide and save these for last. Though it’s worth noting that these “Kyuuyaku” remakes of Megami Tensei were made after SMT1/2 and If were released, so these games actually have a lot of quality of life improvements over the original NES Megami Tensei.

Heck, as much as I hate to say it I liked these Kyuuyaku remakes more than SMT1 because it felt like the developers were still learning how to make SNES games when SMT1 was released whereas in this one they learnt from their mistakes and knew how to make the game better without game-breaking bugs.

The bosses in the first Megami Tensei are tricky because you usually need plot-specific items to defeat them, so you’ll often need to backtrack and search all the rooms for these kinds of items. The game doesn’t prevent you from encountering the bosses by accident before getting these plot-specific items, so if you see a boss with 1000 HP who keeps casting diarahan to heal themself to full health every other turn, you messed up.

It’s a very old-school JRPG and you’ll need to explore all the rooms in all the areas, especially the NPC’s who will give you a lot of tips on the game. Many NPCs in the game will have flags as well to find the plot-specific items needed to progress, so you may need to go back and forth. At the same time, if you purposely explore everything before going to the boss room, you’ll generally be fine.

One gameplay element of the first Megami Tensei I personally enjoyed was how the entire game was all a giant dungeon, made up of several distinct sections that are all interconnected with their own floors.

You gain access to a hub area called the Floating City of Bien, and you’ll actually be able to use it to fly to different sections of the giant dungeon. You can think of it as a kind of fast travel system, but it’s so interesting because you’re actually moving the City of Bien, one dungeon, right next to another dungeon. So the exits to the City of Bien are all changed when you fly to different areas!

Not just that, but let’s say you’re exploring the dungeons and you find a large gap – you may actually find a space where you can summon the city (you can’t move the Floating City anywhere, there’s set spots in the game where you do so). It’s very neat how it works both ways, and the female character can learn teleportation spells to make getting around very easy which I don’t even see anymore in modern SMT games where you have to run to terminal stations or save points.

The first Megami Tensei stars Nijima and Yumiko, whereas the second game stars Takuma, Ryu and Asuka decades after the first game. The plot is only loosely related, but MT2 is definitely a sequel so I’d recommend playing the original first.

Digital Devil Story Megami Tensei Nakajima
The first Megami Tensei stars Nakajima, who uses programming to summon demons. He’s a precursor to Stephen.

The first game is very influenced by the books, but Megami Tensei 2 actually feels more like modern SMT because of the dystopia Tokyo setting. Megami Tensei 2 is the first game to be set in Tokyo and features major areas such as Ginza, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, etc, which have become mainstay locations in SMT games. The first game had two protagonists, but the second game has multiple supporting characters, one of which is a precursor to an alignment representative.

The second game improves upon the first game with significantly more demons. The first game barely has recruitable demons and the fusion is not fun, but in the second game you can recruit more demons more easily, leading to many more fusion possibilities.

The second game is not a giant single dungeon like its predecessor; rather, you have a lot of smaller dungeons in Tokyo areas. The only downside was that the navigation can get confusing quickly with all of the Tokyo areas and you need to get to different areas using underpasses. There are terminals in most major locations, but not all and you do need to remember how to get to previous places for certain plot events where you backtrack. You need to know where the Ginza’s cybernetics lab is located during one of my favorite plot events out of any SMT game!

The second game’s second half does get a bit repetitive after a while, but the gameplay is otherwise pretty fun and there’s a lot more equipment options and treasures to be found. You can break the game very easily in Megami Tensei 2 if you find all the treasures.

Megami Tensei 2 has multiple endings and it’s strongly recommended to read a guide to make sure you don’t make the wrong choices in the game. At the same time, there are different demons you can get on different routes. I think the intention was to make you fail on purpose and replay the game. On YouTube you do get an overrepresentation of the true ending, but there are actually a lot of exclusive scenes and demons to the non-best endings too that a lot of people never see. Still, if you’re going to just play MT2 once you might as well go for the true ending, which is actually very well done and has a very interesting true final boss.

One thing I hate in both of these titles is the encounter rate. It’s not the worst, but it’s definitely up there. In the first game it’s done as a way to pad out the game so you can grind levels. In the second game they lowered the encounter rate in the earlier dungeons, but the encounter rate in the overworld map is still terrible especially in the second half of the game.

If you want to find out the ending to the original series starring Nakajima it’s actually not covered in the games because the first game only covers material in the first two of his novels and anime OVA. You’ll instead need to read Nishitani’s third Digital Devil Story novel, which is only available in Japanese, to get the ending. It actually has a very dark and depressing story that concludes Digital Devil Story and it really reminds you that it’s not all fun and games.

Compared to the NES versions of these games they do have many quality of life improvements found in the SMT mainline games, so I’d recommend playing these perhaps after SMT: If, since it was released just after it and plays similarly to SMT1 and SMT2. All of the improvements actually make me like Megami Tensei 2 more than SMT1, and SMT1 somehow feels even rougher than these remastered titles as a result! I really do think these two titles deserve more respect from the fanbase.

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE (2016)

Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE cover art

  • Released in North America for the Wii U in 2016, and re-released for the Nintendo Switch in 2020

I’ve played both versions of the game, the Switch version does have an extra dungeon and events (less than an hour long though), but I don’t think it’s worth it, get whichever version you want because the differences between the two versions aren’t substantive. Heck, go grab the uncensored patch for the Wii U version.

I liked the Wii U as a backwards-compatible console, but I suppose many people reading this now never got a Wii U console and will have to get the Switch version. Coming back to this article in 2022, Wii U emulation exists, so if you have a legal copy of the game you can try playing the game with that (check out Xenoblade Chronicles X as well!)

Although the game exists in English, there are patches out there that uncensor the game. I actually think you should get the patch if possible, I really didn’t see the localization team’s point in censoring bikinis you’d see at a beach, or censoring a music video where a woman wearing a wedding dress (that should show skin like basic arms and legs, it wasn’t disrespectful at all, they actually put some kind of nylon or whatever all over her chest, arms and legs to cover her up – even people who grew up in the 1950’s aren’t prudes like that).

And I’m one of the biggest prudes out there, but I really can’t find a way to justify their censorship. The localization team should really go outside to a beach or to a wedding, and see how real-life is.

To get the un-censor patch for the Wii U look for the #FE Restoration patch by Sakitoshi.

This game has a polarizing reception and I’ll explain why. Before its release, it was advertised as a crossover between SMT and Fire Emblem. People were very disappointed because people weren’t expecting the game to focus so much on Japanese idol culture. In fact, even when they revealed the game was going to feature idols, they advertised that this game show the dark side of the idol industry in Japan, which has a lot of abuse and politics behind the scenes. Instead, it plays more like a Persona than an SMT game, and the characters are all extremely happy-go-lucky and they all become superstars, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Idol Master and its anime adaptations very much, they’re very fun, inspirational stories about women who win singing competitions, but I don’t really like it in SMT or Fire Emblem games.

Ignoring the whole idol situation, I really enjoyed the dungeons, the skillsets, the animations, the gameplay and even the character designs. But yeah, I used to see the interviews and trailers for an SMT and Fire Emblem crossover, and it’s very disappointing to see what the game became. Still, the game has actual fun gameplay and fun dungeons to explore. This game might’ve had less backlash if it was a completely separate IP.

In fact, I’d like to think this was developed alongside titles such as SMT4: Apocalypse and Persona 5. For instance, the dungeons seem very similar to the palaces in Persona 5 (these games all have hand-made dungeons instead of randomly-generated dungeons), and the Sessions system the game has (you combo moves with your party members) is very similar to the Baton Pass system found in Persona 5.

Otherwise, the story of the game isn’t really fun and is often very cringe-worthy and way too full of anime tropes, and I don’t like using the word “cringe” at all.

I recommend playing this for the fun gameplay because it still plays like a turn-based SMT game or even a Persona game. It has Persona battle mechanics such as timed buffs and debuffs, as well as having to use Ma- level spells to cast on all targets (in Nocturne Tarukaja targets all allies, but in Persona and Tokyo Mirage Sessions you’d need to cast Matarukaja because Tarukaja only targets one ally).

The only Fire Emblem aspect I could find about the game were all of the recycled antagonist bosses from Fire Emblem: Awakening and recycled protagonists like Marth and Tiki, and the fact that it used the weapon and magic triangle from Fire Emblem. For that reason, it’d be best to play Fire Emblem: Awakening before playing this title to catch all those references, and those references are extremely plentiful. If you’re craving more content after playing mainline SMT’s and Persona’s, play this game but know what to expect.

Our YouTube playlist of Tokyo Mirage Sessions on the Nintendo Switch

Catherine, Catherine Full Body Edition (2011, 2019)

Catherine cover art

  • Released in North America for the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2011, and Full Body Edition released in North America for the PS4 and PlayStation Vita in 2019, and later for the Nintendo Switch in 2020

Buy the Full Body Edition of the game because it has additional characters and completely new endings.

Catherine is not really an SMT game, but it was made by the same developers and feels similar in tone to a Persona game. Exploring around in-game during free time feels similar to exploring around in Persona 5.

The gameplay is a puzzle platformer, where you move blocks around to ascend a tower full of obstacles within a strict time limit. The game has multiple routes with completely different endings depending on your choices.

The story is decent in Catherine and is meant to be a social commentary on trying to figure out why newer generations of adults don’t want to marry. The new version of the game has an easier mode so you can more easily get through the story of the game if you don’t like this kind of puzzle platformer.

Although the box art looks like a fan-servicey game, it really isn’t. The plot shows serious relationships between characters and their struggles. The character development is handled extremely well.

Definitely check Catherine out when you have time, it’s a very experimental game and its story still holds true to this day, but be aware it has its own gameplay.

Jack Bros (1995)

Jack Bros cover art

  • Released in North America for the Virtual Boy in 1995

It’s more of a meme-game at this point that the fanbase like to joke that it is their favorite game, but the game stars prominent SMT demons including Jack Frost, Jack o’ Lantern, and Jack Skeleton, who each have their own attacks and their own endings.

It’s a top-down shooter where you explore floors for keys and progress to lower floors, eventually fighting bosses. Because it was released on the Virtual Boy, it has red-coloured visuals that can cause eye strain to watch after a while. If you’ve exhausted most of the other games, it’s worth a playthrough just to see what it is. It’s not like a turn-based JRPG like the other SMT games at all, but this game knows its scope and does a good job at being a comfy shooter.

Whatever you do, make sure you don’t burn yourself out by playing too many of these games!

Shin Megami Tensei Tickling Jack Frost GIF

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