Sunday, July 28, 2013

Xenosaga 3's Omega Res Novae Demonstration

Yup. It’s that time once more. Time to delve into the seemingly never-ending well of bad decisions whose multitudes when patched together form the writing of Xenosaga 3.

What to talk about today? There are still just so many things I’ve not mentioned left that I could rant at length about. Things like the famous first FMV fight against T-elos. Putting aside the annoying Voyeuristic Paralysis Syndrome causing them not to even think of actually helping out with the fight, which I already criticized in a previous rant...why the hell do Shion and company just stay to watch KOS-MOS get her ass kicked by T-elos when KOS-MOS is fighting for the specific, clearly expressed purpose of delaying T-elos and allowing them to escape? Or things like the weirdness that all the highest technologies of Xenosaga, like combat Realians and A.G.W.S. mecha, are almost always shown as ineffective cannon-fodder, while all the heroes are saving the day with antiquated crap that’s decades,* centuries,** and even millennia*** out of date? And then there’s the bizarre and distracting decision to change the art style with each game, a change that is always for the worse--the best, most memorable art style was Xenosaga 1’s; nothing looked right for the characters after it. I could always talk about the distracting, totally unnecessary Xenogears cameos and connections (Fei as Abel, Elly as Nephilim, Maria as Mai, Shion and Jin having the same last name as Citan, etc), which serve no purpose whatsoever since the creators have explicitly said that there’s no actual plot connection whatever between Xenogears and Xenosaga.

Wait, no--I seem to remember that the last time I did a Xenosaga rant, I told you all I’d be ranting some time in the future about the Omega Res Novae presentation. Well, let’s do that, then!

Ahhh, the Omega Res Novae demonstration. What about this moment in the game makes sense, exactly? Basically, this is a military demonstration of the new giant mech suit, the Omega Res Novae, which the military wants to use against the Gnosis. To show its power and effectiveness, the demonstration pits it against KOS-MOS in a fight.

Now, insanely powerful though KOS-MOS is, I think it’s a rather strange idea that you would pit your new building-sized mecha against a human-sized battle robot to show the former’s effectiveness. I mean, these are two machines whose supposed purpose of fighting Gnosis is obviously going to take on very different roles and applications for each. Wouldn’t it make more sense to make your new giant mech suit’s competitor in this demonstration another mech suit? Wouldn’t that give you a better gauge of how much better the Omega Res Novae is than a previous piece of military hardware meant for the same form of combat? It’d be like if the Navy were to demonstrate how incredible their newest battleship was having it engage in a sea battle against one of their Navy SEALs. Obviously both the SEAL and the ship engage in combat involving water, but they’re just as obviously not meant to be doing it the exact same way. And for that matter, if the Omega Res Novae’s purpose is supposed to be fighting Gnosis, as this demonstration proclaims, why the hell are they showing how well it can fight against a humanoid battle android? Wouldn’t the obvious thing to do for the demonstration be to show it fighting Gnosis? Y’know...the thing that it is supposedly being created to fight? It’s not like they don’t have captive Gnosis they can release for it to show its stuff; they did the same thing for the T-elos demonstration just minutes before this scene. If they don’t have enough Gnosis, why the hell not just move the thing out to a part of space with Gnosis and watch it fight there? By this point in the series the Gnosis are showing up everywhere; it wouldn’t be hard to find some. Having it fight a battle android of much greater power and far different size than any Gnosis, which additionally employs entirely different combat tactics and has a completely different arsenal then any Gnosis, does not actually provide any idea whatsoever of the Omega Res Novae’s ability to combat Gnosis! If you want to prove that your new pet cat is more effective at taking care of mice than a pet ferret, you don’t show that by ordering your cat to go on a ferret killing spree, you show it by having your cat catch some damn mice!

That’s not where the nonsense ends, though, not by a long shot. The actual setup for the demonstration is completely ludicrous, too. First of all, the demonstration of the Omega Res Novae is taking place inside an enclosed arena. Now, it is a big stadium, but this is a giant fucking mech suit! The ceiling of the arena is only a little higher than it is, relatively, and the walls on each side are just as relatively close. It’s basically like if you were to go and stand in the middle of a dentist’s reception room. Fine for when you’re sitting around waiting to have your molars capped, not so good when you’re a battle mecha meant to be showing everything you can do in combat. If the damn thing doesn’t have the room to fly, dodge, and maneuver, how is this demonstration supposed to effectively show its full capabilities? All we can know for sure is that it can stand still and shoot at things.

And speaking of this enclosed space, hey, how about the fact that you’re testing a massive, hyper-advanced battle machine in an arena comparatively small to it, with many of your audience and technicians seemingly watching from the walls of this arena, protected only by fucking glass? This is a LIVE FIRE DEMO; the Omega Res Novae is actually, fully armed with missiles and lasers and who knows what else, and you’ve got your audience sitting what amounts to a few feet away! A single stray laser blast in that direction and they’re all toast! Yeah, okay, the glass is obviously going to be very strong, and can, we see, withstand a very heavy object crashing against it at a high velocity, but the Omegat Res Novae is meant to be Armageddon in a fucking can! There is no way some safety glass is going to protect against it! And to compound that, again, KOS-MOS is the Omega Res Novae’s opponent, and given that she is very much smaller and obviously meant for more personal combat, her best defense in the fight is clearly going to be evasion, meaning that the giant mech suit’s going to be firing all over the place at a moving target--giving it just that much more likelihood that one of its lasers is going to accidentally kill some bystanders. And to top it all off, the pilot of the Omega Res Novae is a kid whose mental processes and connection to the suit seem relatively unpredictable, and who is unresponsive to regular human communication--just the sort of not-fully-understood wild card you’d want at the controls of a laser-spouting death machine surrounded by helpless bystanders, right?

You also gotta love the nonsensical aftermath of this demonstration. After the Omega Res Novae’s pilot goes, surprise surprise, out of control and starts firing wildly, KOS-MOS has to jump up in the way of one of its lasers to protect the people in the observation deck. Had she not taken a laser to the face, everyone where Shion is currently standing would be atomized. The Omega Res Novae’s shut down quickly after. So once that’s done with, the very next scene has the scientist who created T-elos walk up to Shion and Allen and casually introduce himself, and the three briefly exchange pleasantries. No one seems agitated in any way that they all almost were blown to hell and back by a giant laser blast. Allen’s not saying, “Holy shit, Shion, are you okay? You could’ve been melted in there!” Shion’s not pouting in annoyance because the idiot in charge didn’t pull the mech suit’s plug the second it started going nuts. No one’s rushing around, no announcement’s being made apologizing for the near death of everyone in the observation deck where Shion is, nothing. Just business as fucking usual. Like everyone just finished watching KOS-MOS and the Omega Res Novae having a picnic lunch together. And of course, when Shion meets moments later with Juli Mizrahi, who was the one in charge of monitoring the Omega Res Novae during the demo and who must realize Shion was in that almost-destroyed deck from seeing her come from its exit, Juli doesn’t offer any sort of apology for the incident, or even fucking mention it.

Awesome grasp of basic military procedures and basic human reactions, Namco, as usual. Stellar work.

* Cyborgs like Ziggy.
** Androids like KOS-MOS.
*** Jin did you seriously just bring a Katana to a Titanic Missile-Launching Laser-Blasting Bullet-Spewing Robot Fight?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

General RPG Lists: Lamest Villains

Well hey, it’s been a little while since I did a list rant, and also hey, I did a list of the Best Villains, so hey x3, why not make a list of the opposite?

Because it’s hard, that’s why! There are only so many truly great villains in RPGs, but lousy villains are a blue rupee a dozen. And how are they defined, really? It’s easy to tell what makes a great villain great, but there are just so many different ways for a villain to suck. Some are too ineffectual to really take seriously (such as that armored idiot in Grandia 3), some are pointless and thrown in at the very last second for no reason (remind me what Final Fantasy 9’s Necron’s deal was, again?), some make absolutely no goddamn sense in their role whatsoever (I’ve never seen a more painful stretch for a shocking twist than I have for The Last Story’s surprise traitor villain), some are just bland, unoriginal, and unexamined entirely (Snidely fucking Whiplash has more character depth than FF5’s Exdeath), some have moronic goals and/or methods (Dear Mass Effect 3’s Catalyst Star Child: if it is an elegantly simple task to reduce the entirety of your actions and motivations to a Yo Dawg meme, then everyone on the development team associated with you should feel profoundly ashamed of themselves), some are just spiteful, laughable little dicks (Kai Leng from ME3, for example), and so on. There’s all kinds of reasons, far more than I could really list here, or even accurately figure out. So this list is less about following any specific criteria, and more just about going with a gut impression of what villains have qualities that are just plain more pathetic than all the rest. So your list might be different, but I hope the losers below would at least be in consideration for it.

5. Ramsus (Xenogears)

Every villain loses eventually. For some, it’s only that fatal one loss, at the end of the game. Others fail at their task more than once. A few, like Ganondorf of The Legend of Zelda series, just keep failing over and over again (in fact, Ganondorf was a big contender for this spot). But Ramsus is just...sad. I mean, the dude just loses again, and again, and AGAIN. And unlike Ganondorf, who at least limits his failures to only 1 or 2 an installment, Ramsus manages to cram his dozens of losses all into the same game. His enemies outrun him. His enemies defeat him in combat, over and over again. His enemies outsmart him. His planned hostages immobilize him. He loses battles, he gets demoted, he gets manipulated, and the one time he manages to successfully beat his rival Fei, it’s only minutes before Fei beats him in a rematch. It’s just over and over and over again that you see this guy fail at everything he does. Honestly, Ramsus has got to be one of the most colossal fuck-ups in villain history.

4. Isamu (Shin Megami Tensei 3)*

I’ve seen a lot of villains’ plans for remaking all of reality so it will conform to their personal beliefs on what the world should be like. It’s really quite common in RPGs. Some want a chaotic world of constant struggle for supremacy. Some want to rule all of existence. Some want a world of complete equality. And so on--there are lots of different visions of a new world order that you come across in RPGs. However, Isamu’s is...pretty unique. Isamu basically wants to remake the world so that no one has any interaction with anyone else, and everybody exists as an island, no interference or assistance from any other human

So basically...Isamu wants to rework the nature of all existence so that he can sit in his room and listen to The Cure all day.

That’s pretty pathetic. Pretty damned pathetic, in fact. Seriously, Isamu, the coming birth of the new world demands that you determine a philosophy of the ideal world, and all you can come up with is to just have everyone be a hermit? Weak, Isamu, fuckin’ weak. But it’s not the only reason Isamu is a sad sack. First of all, there are the events that drive Isamu to this intelligent and totally not entirely idiotic idea. You know what was the clincher for him, that caused Isamu to isolate himself from others and led him to the place where his ideal was given shape? Well, he gets captured a couple times during the game’s course, and the protagonist rescues Isamu each time, but that’s not GOOD enough, because after the second time, Isamu throws a little hissy fit and complains that the protagonist is always too late for Isamu. Oh, I’m sorry, Your Highness, that my life-and-death struggle to free you from situations that you got yourself into wasn’t speedy enough for you! What a whiny ass.

To top Isamu’s whiny nature off, he is a tremendous hypocrite. If the game’s protagonist decides to follow any path beyond Isamu’s, Isamu insults him, saying that the protagonist is just wasting his time as a blind pawn of others. But if the protagonist DOES opt to assist Isamu, well, you better believe Isamu’s not gonna criticize the protagonist’s decision to be a pawn of another person then! And then there’s always the hypocrisy of Isamu’s wanting the protagonist’s help to achieve his goal when Isamu’s entire lame philosophy for the new world is to eschew others in all ways. Wanting and NEEDING it, I should say, because no matter what else happens, Isamu will always get killed by the other villains, so even if the protagonist were out of the picture entirely Isamu still wouldn’t be able to succeed in his goals. Yeah, way to stand true to your beliefs, jackass. What a whiny little git.

3. Thumb-Sucking, Irrational, Whiny Little Bitches (General RPGs)

You know what I’m so fucking sick of? I am so fucking sick of RPG villains who are oversensitive and have no fucking sense of proportion. They’re the ones who decide it’s okay to annihilate entire populations because they’ve had a bad experience in the past that they somehow think MUST represent ALL possible experiences, or decide to overreact to one bad thing in a villainous, world-threatening manner.

Shin from Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon could read the minds of those around him, and decided, somehow, that because the few dozen people whom he worked with didn’t think nice things, the same MUST be true for ALL of humanity, so he decided to wipe them all out. BOO HOO HOO PEOPLE WEREN’T AS NICE TO ME AS THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN! Shirley in Tales of Legendia** had a crush on protagonist Senel, but was told by him that he wasn’t interested a mere day after the woman he DID love (her sister Stella) died to save them, so she decided that humans like Senel and magical water people like her couldn’t exist together and began going along with a plan to wipe the humans out.*** BOO HOO HOO THE GUY I LIKE DOESN’T LIKE ME BACK! Emelious of Grandia 3 was born to an important destiny of communicating with the godlike Guardians, but he has to share that destiny with his younger sister because each was born with half the destined birthmark, and so he makes plans to summon a dark god to destroy the Guardians. BOO HOO HOO I’M NOT THE ONLY IMPORTANT PERSON IN THE WORLD!

Don’t get me wrong, there are ways you CAN make the concept work. I mean, look at The Master in Fallout 1, and Seymour in Final Fantasy 10. The Master believes that humanity is a hopeless species and wants to replace it with a world order of mutants under his command. Yeah, that’s an extreme stance, but he IS living in a time after a global nuclear war destroyed all human civilization utterly and left the whole world a hellish wasteland, and the current state of Fallout’s societies isn’t exactly a pleasant one. He has enough REASON for his villain motivation that he seems to be making a decision that we can understand to a certain degree. Seymour in Final Fantasy 10 had a shitty childhood, but that pain isn’t the entire reason for his villainy--it was simply a catalyst, that which was necessary for him to recognize the pain of all of Spira. Spira has for a thousand years or more (can’t remember the exact time frame) been under nearly constant attack by an unstoppable, mindless monster that destroys everything the people create and kills indiscriminately, leaving deadly beasts behind that only further cause misery. Spira’s not as visibly miserable as Fallout’s wasteland, but one can understand why Seymour would think that a quick death to all would be a preferable existence to a life of constant terror and destruction, where the greatest hope you have is a small reprieve of a few years. Give me real, believable motives for a campaign of evil--lust for power, philosophical ideals, ambition, outright hatred, that sort of thing. But failing that, at least give me some real, sensible evidence for the villainy.

Because I’m tired of clowns like Dragon Quest 9’s Corvus, who tried to destroy both humanity and gods because he thought that a single human’s betrayal (she didn’t even actually betray him) meant that all humans were evil, and that abhorrent little turd Mithos from Tales of Symphonia 1, and that whiny doofus Volsung from Wild Arms 5. These hordes of overreacting, childish fools with no sense of proportion or perspective are just tearful, immature lamers to me.

2. Sephiroth (Final Fantasy 7 and Kingdom Hearts Series)

Oh yeah, like you all didn’t know this much-glorified fucktard was going to be here. The only surprise here is that Sephiroth didn’t make it to the very top.

When it comes to lame villains, Sephiroth’s kind of the patron saint. This guy is toted by SquareEnix as the man with the strongest willpower on FF7’s planet, and yet he lost his mind from reading a book. What did that book tell him? That his superior power comes from having been implanted with alien cells while he was still in the womb. So you’re 1/3 space monster, big fucking deal. My dad’s Canadian; you don’t see me losing my shit and trying to enact Armageddon in some clumsy attempt to become a god over it. Shouldn’t the “strongest will on the planet” be a little better able to keep together under a little stress?

While it’s not too important, Sephiroth’s look doesn’t exactly help me take him seriously. I mean, he’s essentially a chick in bondage gear, wielding the only sword in history to make Cloud Strife’s look feasible by comparison. Putting aside the obvious fact that he should not, even with super soldier strength, be able to lift and control the stupid thing, even with full ability to manipulate it, it’s still a stupid, ineffectual weapon! Carrying a sword that long would be an incredibly awkward prospect, with it unavoidably poking walls, slicing and stabbing ceilings, and dragging along the floor all the time, and in an actual battle, its length, while admittedly handy for outreaching your opponent, would mean that once it’s been parried off to the side, it can’t be retracted enough that it could be used to make a different attack. You could just hold his blade off to the side with your own and calmly walk up to him; all he could do is try to slide his sword up or down your own, which would only work out if you for some reason forgot to slide it with him, or swing it again from the side. Easy enough to get close, where his ultra long sword suddenly has absolutely no use.

Small surprise that the only people he ever seems to be able to actually beat are unarmed, untrained, and/or taken completely by surprise. But you get anybody who actually knows what they’re doing and is ready to fight, and you get Sephiroth getting thrown down reactor pits, slashed to ribbons, demolished utterly, and fought to a standstill by a 12-year-old who hangs out with Saturday morning cartoon characters and fights with a stupid giant house key. The only time Sephiroth ever seems to accomplish anything is when it’s actually pieces of Jenova shaped like him.

Which brings me to the next point of why he’s fucking lame--he’s never actually DOING anything. The entirety of Final Fantasy 7, he’s just sitting in the fucking northern crater cave, letting Jenova do all the work of freeing itself, controlling former SOLDIERs, fighting Cloud and company, killing Aeris, and retrieving the Black Materia. Sephiroth’s another one of those lazy idiot RPG villains who just sit back and can’t be bothered to actually do his own work. Okay, yeah, fine, it’s not actually laziness, there IS a reason for it--in FF7, I believe he was too wounded by his encounter with Cloud 5 years prior to leave the healing mako energies of the crater, and in the FF7 Advent Children movie, his agents have to do all the work because he’s very busy being dead. But lemme ask you something--which is lamer, him not being able to be bothered to do his own work, or him having gotten so badly punked in the past that he has no choice but to have to rely on others to do his work for him? You’d think being put in magic traction would be enough to convince a guy maybe he’s not the best candidate for godhood, but I guess suppressing rational second thoughts is what that “strongest will on the planet” is doing to make up for being on vacation when he went nuts.

Dear sweet merciful heavens, this guy is just so fucking lame.

1. Dracula (Castlevania Series)

Well, this is honestly a surprise. When I first thought about this list, Dracula never even occurred to me as a possible candidate for it, let alone making the number 1 spot. I figured Sephiroth would be taking this part, or maybe those insufferable tools from FF9, Zorn and Thorn (who didn’t even end up making the list, shockingly). But the more I looked at it, the more this list began to take form...the more I realized that Dracula is the most pathetic RPG villain ever. And why is that? Because he is everyone else on this list put together.

Think about it. Dracula is a colossal fuck-up, just like Ramsus. I mean, the guy resurrects over and over and over again, and every damn time, he’s killed before he can cause much trouble, usually almost immediately after reawakening. When does he ever actually succeed at his goals? Only a couple times, one of which was in Castlevania Legends, does he even get partially there, and CL was an alternate reality and a different Dracula,’s pretty rare for the real Castlevania Dracula to really get anything done. He can’t even seem to leave his room before some Belmont flays him to nothingness.

A lot of the opportunities that his incompetence squanders only come to Dracula because of the work of others, as with Isamu and Sephiroth. Many of Dracula’s resurrections are possible only through the ceaseless efforts of cultists, Dracula’s servant Death, and other vampires. And also like Sephiroth, the guy just sits around waiting to be killed; as I mentioned, most Castlevania games I’m aware of with Dracula never even have the guy leave his damn room. The majority of Dracula’s villainous history can be described by the following set of instructions:

1. Be Revived
2. Sit in Room for a Few Minutes, at Most a Few Hours
3. Fight a Hero
4. Die

At least other recurring villains like Ganondorf have their shit together enough to actually DO some evil stuff before they’re put down again. Being murdered is by this point as mundane and traditional a part of Dracula’s morning experience as having a bowl of cereal.

And of course, he is also a Thumb-Sucking, Irrational, Whiny Little Bitch, as evidenced by Castlevania: Lament of Innocence, which shows the origin of Dracula. I mean, look, I get it that losing the woman you love is a truly horrible thing and one of the worst kinds of pain imaginable, I do. And I don’t blame a guy for getting pissed off at God for letting it happen (don’t AGREE, mind, but don’t blame), and turning his back upon God in that rage. People do actually DO that.

But you know what people DON’T do when they blame God for their unfortunate circumstances, no matter how angry they may be? They don’t try to make a pact with the forces of darkness to become lord of all vampires just so they can stick it to God by being immortal like Him. I mean, what about that even makes SENSE? You’re pissed off with God about not keeping your girlfriend alive, so to defy Him, Him that He’s not the only one who can be immortal? What exactly does the one thing have to do with the other? Hell, your plan involves you choosing to adopt a characteristic of the individual that you hate so much, a characteristic which most prominently separates Him from your late beloved, so, y’know, good thinking there, champ. Then later on apparently Dracula is sweet on some other chick named Lisa, and SHE gets burned for supposedly being a witch or something to that tune, and it’s at that point that he decides to declare war on all of humanity. And, like, yeah, I GET why he’s pissed at humanity for it, and obviously the society where such a thing could happen needs serious overhaul, but rather than go after the people who did the act, or even going after them AND the ones who control and guide the societal evils that led to Lisa’s death, Dracula instead decides that ALL humanity must be destroyed. That’s grossly overreacting; he’s gonna go around killing people who are completely innocent, including people who are good like Lisa and his first girlfriend--he can’t seriously pretend such people don’t exist, he’s shacked up with 2 of them now. So yeah--thumb-sucking, irrational, whiny little bitch? Check.

Oh, yeah, and getting back to his Lament of Innocence debut, the guy’s got another characteristic of lameness in common with Isamu--he’s a hypocrite. Only he’s a much bigger jerk of a hypocrite than Isamu. See, Dracula’s plans to give God the finger by becoming an immortal vampire include the manipulation of his friend Leon Belmont into killing the current master vampire dude, a process which results in the death of Leon’s beloved. And then, once Dracula shows up for his villainous reveal, he’s actually surprised that Leon doesn’t want to join him in vampiring it up. Just...DUDE. You are going to ridiculous extremes out of a hate for God because you blame God for not preventing your girlfriend’s death. You just ACTIVELY created the events that led to Leon’s girlfriend’s death. You actually don’t expect him to be equally righteously pissed off at YOU for ACTUALLY causing her death as you are at God for neglecting to prevent your girl’s passing? Are you SERIOUS? What a fucking idiot!

Anyway...I’ve wasted enough time on this twit. Dracula is the culmination of all the other lamers on this list, and so do I dub him Most Pathetic RPG Villain of All.

Dishonorable Mention: Stupid Organizations (General RPGs)

What’s the only thing worse than a lame villain? A whole organized group of lame villains! What IS it with RPGs and stupid, pathetic villain organizations? You get the trite, gimmicky fuckwits in Organization 13 from the Kingdom Hearts series, who basically have substantially lowered the quality of the games by taking a huge amount of the focus away from the Disney characters with actual depth and personality. You get those lazy, useless doofuses in the Turks from Final Fantasy 7, whose talent at running away is matched only by their talent at losing. And don’t even get me started on Team Magma and especially Team Aqua from Pokemon’s Third Generation. Dear sweet God what a bunch of incompetent numbskulls.

Well THAT was a lot more words than I’d anticipated. As usual.

* One might argue that Isamu (and Chiaki and Hikawa, for that matter) is not truly a villain since one of the 4 major paths of the game can have you ally with him, but I’d point out that following any other path WILL make Isamu one of your major opponents, so that’s still him being an enemy thrice as often as an ally. And he IS out to forcibly remake the world according to his personal beliefs with no regard for anyone else’s opinion on the matter even though his actions will directly affect them--and if that doesn’t just scream “JRPG Villain,” then I don’t know what possibly could.

** Yeah, I realize Shirley’s also one of the good guys in ToL, but there’s a point where she’s ready to go all in on the second villain’s plans of genocide.

*** Okay, fine, there WERE extenuating circumstances, but the core cause of the problem was pretty indisputably Senel’s rejection, since it’s Senel’s romantic 180 later that snaps her out of it.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Shin Megami Tensei 3 Theory: Overall Theme

Shin Megami Tensei 4 comes out this month! While Atlus has been releasing SMT games quite frequently since the SMT series’s start in the 1990s (remarkably frequently, in fact, especially considering that the quality of the titles has been kept pretty consistently high--there hasn’t been a year in the last decade in which a SMT game hasn’t been released, and most of those years had multiple titles), the big, official numbered games of SMT have been quite few, so SMT4 is kind of a big deal. For me, anyway. And in celebration of this, I have decided that for the rest of the year, I’ll be putting up an SMT rant once every month.* Enjoy. Or don’t, as may be the case.

The SMT series is, as I have stated before, pretty darned nifty. Certainly no other RPG series as a whole contains such consistent and thoughtful insights on and use of mythology, religion, and the occult in general--and the surface level of the games’ plot and characters are usually quite engaging, too, meaning that unlike a great many other higher works of storytelling art, SMT is actually fun to experience while you’re gleaning its deeper meanings. Sometimes the overall mythological theme of an SMT game is simple to pick up on. For example, it’s fairly easy to tell that the theme of SMT1 and 2 is Christianity, SMT Persona 3 and 4 is the Tarot, and SMT Digital Devil Saga 1 and 2 is Hinduism and Buddhism (the former more than the latter, I think, though some of the most important, core concepts of the story are more Buddhist than Hindu). But quite often, the mythological theme of an SMT game is not transparent, and needs a little bit of thought and interpretation to discover, and I believe that to be the case with Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne, also known as Shin Megami Tensei 3. I think I’ve come up with a pretty good interpretation of it, and as a quick bit of searching has not revealed to me any official explanation by Atlus of the game’s theme, I shall share it with you. That said, this is just a theory of mine, so I don’t hold it to be as ironclad and supportable as my usual rant opinions--it’s more just a possibility.

Trying to figure out the mythological theme of SMT3 was tricky for me. Oh, sure, general Christianity seems the first and most likely answer, with Lucifer playing a secretive overseer role as he often does and various parts of the story that fit with it, but non-Christian entities seem to play at least an equal role in the game’s plot, and every individual truly important to the story (the 3 people who create the Reasons (philosophies to choose from), the Manikin leader, Hitoshura himself, and the teacher) seems to be an original, non-denominational character. While every SMT game contains some important cast members whose cultural origins are different from the game’s main thematic mythology, there’s not usually this much, or even, a mixture.

Further compounding my confusion were the angels. In SMT3, the Reason that initially seems closest to the traditional SMT side of Law (which is, in SMT, associated inextricably with God and all things Heaven-born) is Hikawa’s Reason, which emphasizes an abandonment of passion and emotion in favor of pure logic and viewing oneself as a part of a spiritual and social whole rather than as an individual. In games such as Shin Megami Tensei 1, 2, and Strange Journey, we see a similar emphasis on an absence of self and dedication to strict, lawful unity associated with divinity and Law. Yet the angels in SMT3 support Chiaki’s Reason of might makes right, a world where the strongest thrive and rule over the weak, a world which is most definitely closest to the traditional SMT idea of Chaos, the anarchistic idea of pure free will and adherence to no law or society that Lucifer supports and embodies. Why would the angels be shown to support Chiaki, and not Hikawa?

Here’s my theory: Shin Megami Tensei 3 is not about any particular religion, or even religion in as whole a form as a system of belief in something supernatural. Rather, SMT3 is about the foundation of religion’s behavior.

Take away one’s notions of religion as a form of belief for a moment. Strip away the association of deities, higher levels of being, prayer, divinity, spirits, sermons, spirituality itself, just for a moment. Let us look at religion at its most primal, basic, animal sense. What kind of behavior do we see? What social course of action does religion follow?

Well, it varies a bit from one religion to the next. For example, let’s look at Christianity, and its relatives Judaism and Islam. Beyond brotherhood, love, God, prophets, prayer, forgiveness, and all that jazz, there is a clear sense of command to these religions: “This is the True belief, Other beliefs are Untrue, and Everyone should follow this belief, because this belief is Greater than the others.” These are religions whose message is meant to be a personal one, but whose practices are largely social and require frequent confirmation by others in a spiritual community (often those spiritually higher) of one’s faith, religions who have inspired and encouraged missionaries, crusades, and the reward of those within the community of belief and punishment/shunning of those without. The message can be softened and shaped into something more reasonable and moral in practice once you begin adding in the layers of goodness and spirituality and so on, much in the same way that our desires in life are softened and shaped into things more reasonable and moral by our sensibilities and personality and intelligence, and become great and admirable ideals and beliefs. But the innate, most basic desire of Judaism, Islam, and especially Christianity, their Id so to speak, is to expand and convert.

Or we could look at another major set of religions, that of Hinduism and Buddhism. Dig deep into the core of these, past the reincarnations, deities, enlightenment, and so on, and you have a somewhat different prerogative. While organized religions such as Christianity and its kin are formed with communal worship and confirmation and structure in mind, with the idea that all should take part in it, Hinduism and Buddhism are ultimately about the self, and yet also the denial of the self. The message is modified, I think, to be: “This is the True belief, and because it is the only True belief, all other beliefs are simply misguided attempts to be this one. Everyone does follow this belief, whether they know it or not, because this belief is the Only one.”** Because these religions focus their attention on guiding the individual past the human condition and because they are self-assured in their rightness, there’s far less pressure in the social sense for Hinduism and Buddhism, with few public ceremonies and customs to maintain and prove one’s faith and adherence like I mentioned above for the previous religious set. Of greater concern than conversion of others is the focus upon oneself, the elimination of human elements to become greater. Guidance from others is fine, guidance TO others is fine, but it doesn’t have the same necessity. The necessity is the betterment of self, not another, to find a greater personal level of existence and becoming one with all existence, dispassionate and above emotion and individualism.

If we take SMT3’s theme to be these most basic cores of religion, the desire and behavior before the actual belief, then it explains the more varied and level involvement of religions in SMT3, as, ideally, essentially all religions would be covered in one way or another by the game’s Reasons. It also explains why the major characters of the game are all original ones, for they’re meant to embody and interact with philosophies greater than any one faith. It also makes sense of the Angels’ choice to follow Chiaki. Her Reason of might makes right, a world where the strongest are the best and the ones that thrive, actually DOES work extremely well with Christianity’s core behavior model as discussed above--the desire to expand, convert, and overcome its opposition. Oh, absolutely I do not believe that this is the true form of Christianity--its true form is one of love, tolerance, equality, brotherhood, forgiveness, and so many other good and virtuous concepts. But I also absolutely believe that the true nature of a man is more than the base instincts he builds himself upon and over. Thus Christianity’s foundation, if not its real self, is close to Chiaki’s philosophy, and this is shown through the angels’ alliance with her. Lastly, it makes sense within the game’s setting for this idea of the foundation of religions to be the game’s theme, because the whole idea of SMT3 is that the world the game takes place in is currently in its fetal stage, and these conflicting Reasons will determine its future, what kind of world it will become. Well, if SMT3’s setting is a world at its fetal stage, wouldn’t it be appropriate for its theme to be about religion in a similar fetal beginning?

I admit my theory’s not perfect enough for my tastes here. I mean, Chiaki’s Reason of might making right covers the religions whose major intent involves conversion and expansion (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, the Roman pantheon...hell, probably just most religions, really). Hikawa’s Reason also covers the Hinduism and Buddhism side with its abandonment of emotion and self in pursuit of clarity, reason, and harmonious stillness with the world. But I’m not too sure how much meaning, if any, the Manikins’ failed Reason is intended to have. I do have a few ideas about that, though. Since they are made of earth and wish to be free of the abuse of those around them who enslave and/or destroy them indiscriminately, they might be meant to embody religions and belief systems whose focus is upon respect for and care of the natural elements and the environment, such as Wicca and many tribal beliefs. Or perhaps the Reason is meant simply to be a broad example of the many smaller, oft-forgotten religions that get swallowed up by larger ones (particularly Christianity--sorry to belabor the point, God, but your followers do have quite the history of tremendous dickery), shown by the way the Manikins’ attempt to assert their Reason is quickly and thoroughly crushed. And of course, there’s always the possibility that the Manikins’ Reason is not really intended to have any particular meaning at all, at least not to the degree that the others do, since it gets crushed and, if memory serves, supposedly wouldn’t have been allowed as a foundation for the new world anyway.

More than the Manikin Reason, though, Isamu’s Reason causes me to have some doubts to my theory’s validity. I think I have a reasonable idea of what belief system foundation he’s meant to be, but it’s too tenuous for me to be as sure as I am of my interpretations of the other 2 major Reasons. Basically, my thoughts on Isamu’s Reason is that it’s supposed to be the behavior of withdrawal that marks individual beliefs, agnosticism, and atheism. I mean, in the context of the game’s events, the Reasons are how society and humanity will function in the new, reborn world, so if Isamu’s ideal is for every person to exist on their own with no interaction with others, then it stands to reason that the analogy would carry over to the religious behavior foundations in the form of people who, rather than following an organized and/or communal system of belief, instead seek their own answers and come to their own conclusions, more or less independent of others’ guidance and input. It’s not as solid an interpretation as I feel I have of Chiaki and Hikawa’s Reasons in relation to religious behavioral basis, but it does still work, I think, and with Chiaki’s Reason covering extroverted religions and Hikawa’s covering introverted ones, one of the few options left for Isamu’s Reason to cover would be the faith (or lack thereof) formed outside an organized belief system altogether.

This theory of mine is nothing more than conjecture, and the most vindication I can hope for on it is simply not to have some developer’s words officially prove it invalid, but I do nonetheless think it’s an interesting way of looking at Shin Megami Tensei 3. And it’s thematically sound, I’d say, since SMT3’s setting and plot concern the reboot of reality, a world at its fetal stage primed for the development of what it shall be, which would tie perfectly to exploring the seed of thought and behavior that religion is grown from, as I mentioned before. At any rate, it’s an idea I like, and the interpretation of SMT3’s meaning that I’m going to stick to, at least until adequate proof or convincing argument proves me wrong, or a better understanding reveals itself to me.

* This contract assumes, of course, that SMT4 turns out to be good. If it doesn’t, I feel no obligation to fulfill SMT Year on my end. Although if SMT4 is bad enough, it will probably provide enough rant fuel on its own to last the year out anyway, so it still might all work out the same.

** I admit that my understanding of Hinduism and Buddhism is considerably less concrete than my understanding of western religions (which in itself is not 100% solid). I’ve read parts of the Bhagavad Gita and I loved Hesse’s Siddhartha, and I’ve done some independent research on these belief systems, but I’ll be the first to admit I’m barely a novice in this intellectual pursuit, certainly no expert. So bear that in mind here--I’m trying my best to understand and interpret them here, but I may fail to do so well enough.