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Shin Megami Tensei II (SNES)

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MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.6
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Happy Rabbi (1305)
Written on  :  Mar 27, 2007
Platform  :  SNES
Rating  :  3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars3.17 Stars

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Summary

"Hehehe. I freeze you all!" King Frost, a giant snowman.

The Good

You know I actually had a bit of a dilemma here. I had a hard time choosing a right tagline for this game, something that really would scream: "Hey look at me... this is the real me!"

Bob the Imaginary Gaming Friend: "Oh really... what had you trouble choosing from then?"

It was this line and the "Starring: Patrick Stewart as God" one.

Bob: "Ahah. I see. Are you a complete idiot? How could you prefer some stupid snowman over Patrick Stewart? You`ve been eating parsley again, haven`t you?"

It`s good for my health. Parsley makes me strong and beautiful. Want some?

Bob: "Later perhaps."

Anyway this game rocks; you can do stuff here, like kill monsters and get money and then buy new stuff and then kill more monsters and then go to a next place and kill even more monsters and then..."

Bob: "Sounds like Diablo."

Yes. But here you can kill God, hell you even be God after playing this game. I personally ascended beyond all mortality while playing this game. I actually became Death, Destroyer of Worlds."

Bob: "Right. So what else you liked about the game?"

The graphics.

Bob: (takes a look at the screenshots) "What are you on about? They are damn right horrible."

Yes, but they`re intentionally horrible.

Bob: "Why should anyone in their right mind make a game with intentionally bad graphics that are a pain to look at."

Because of it`s artistic value.

Bob: "Parsley really ain`t that good for you."

Let me approach this differently. Take a look at the year it came out.

Bob: "1994, so what."

So what? It was the year Wing Commander 3 came out. And Final Fantasy 6 also.

Bob: "Ah, I think I see what you mean. PC`s rule and consoles suck, right? You are trying to say that PC`s were and always will be graphically and gameplay wise superior to consoles."

Erm... not exactly. True that SNES did not have the horsepower like PC`s at that time, but then again there were consoles that could do pretty things... just take a look at SEGA CD games. Anyway, my point was that even on SNES it was possible to do better graphics than that. Final Fantasy is 10 times better in graphics than Shin Megami Tensei II. So therefore, it`s horrible graphics must be intentional.

Bob: "I still don`t quite get it why it`s a good thing."

Because they wanted to make the player feel horrible and claustrophobic so even fewer people would play it. It is what I believe is called in the designer circles as "To make as underground and cult as possible", or more simply put - it`s artsy as hell, because it is hell.

Bob: "Art supposed to make you blind?"

When it serves a higher purpose, yes.

Bob: "What higher purpose? Sounds to me like they did this game just to torture people. Why should anyone play it?"

Because you can actually meet characters from different religions here - characters like God, Satan, Vairocana. Chances are you`ll be completely surprised how the game uses them.

Bob: "You mean something along the lines that you have to kill YHVH in the game?"

Yes. How did you know about that?

Bob: "Well, you blurted it out while you were still high on parsley."

Yes, sadly parsley`s effect only lasts about couple of minutes. That`s why you have to eat it all the time.

Bob: "Anyway, why should I want to kill God? He hasn`t done anything bad to me."

It`s not whether you want to or not. It`s because of it`s philosophical value.

Bob: "What`s so philosophical about killing God?"

Well to put it bluntly, when Nietzsche said that God is dead, he was actually...

Bob: "You really don`t know, do you?"

I... well... not really.

Bob: "So it`s philosophical in the same way as some random anime show is philosophical because the fanboys think that philosophical means the same thing as the greatest does, right? Anyway tell me more about the game."

I think it`s world is unique. It`s a mixture between post-apocalyptic and cyberpunk... and you`ll meet elves and dwarves also here. And demons, lots of them.

Bob: "Sounds like typical anime. Dark Futuristic world with cute elves. I bet it has a silly theme music also."

Erm... no... this game has no cute characters (crosses fingers). No seriously, the elves (and they are actually demons, who just happen to be elves, if you know what I mean) serve a purpose to show how humans mistreat other sentient beings; and two of the main characters are just walking-talking symbols of the Holy Mother and Son relationship.

Bob: "I see, so instead of being stereotypes, they are archetypes. Wow, how revolutionary."

Yeah, it is, isn`t it?

Bob: "That was sarcasm."

Sarcasm?

Bob: "Just continue doing whatever you were doing before."

Okay... so basically, there was a war in the past that destroyed the world. Demons and zombies are still roaming around the countryside, and the last remnants of humanity live in a big cyberpunkish city called Tokyo Millennium.

It`s not a very nice world. There are big television screens everywhere sprouting official doctrine and scaring the public with reports of demon activities. Gladiator fights have returned to replace current popular entertainment forms like soap-opera shows. Mutants, and lesser demons (likes elves, fairies, dwarves) are forced to live in the ruins of the previous Tokyo. This society is controlled by the Mesian religion... which obviously is not a very nice religion, considering it uses and tolerates every abuses of human rights known to man.

Bob: "What`s so special about that? I can name a number of games where organized religion is evil: Thief, Fallout, Ultima 7, Arcanum... it`s already a cliche. Why should I play anything old for it?"

True. But SMT 2 does not concern itself with the questions of organized religion and a nature-loving paganism like Thief did for example. All those games you mentioned, they gave answers to what is right or wrong... but SMT 2 never ever tells you that Law is good or Chaos evil. Instead of being a background flavour to the main story, it actually is part of the game... it is for the player to make that decision which one is right and which one is wrong.

Bob: "So that`s the big choice I keep hearing about? Anything more to tell?"

Also typical to JRPG`s there are random characters who sprout deep philosophical lines like "I love dancing. Valhalla`s disco is the best! Center sucks!", and if they are plot-related then, "She was kidnapped. You must go after her!" Nothing Planescapish about the dialogue in this game at all.

Bob: "Sounds to me like you had no idea what kind of games JRPG`s were before playing them."

Yeah, you are right about that. I had heard things about them like: "Cool emotional stories!", "Epic music!", "Real human characters!", "Best combat ever!", "Best game ever made!, "All should bow down and worship Sephiroth!", but I have had the chance to try them.

But one day... you see I was actually persuaded to play this game. I am not going to name any names, because I respect other people`s privacy, but it was Oleg, known to his friends as Lynxed Unicorn (Bob: "Must be his Indian name.").

So I immediately used the excuse I got to play at least one JRPG in my life. Well at first, I was startled by some perverse looking old guy talking sillily (which might be a translation thing). Then I was spooked by lifeless corridors this game is full. And then I was annoyed by random combat which happened after every 5 seconds. And then I thought that dialogue was too corny. And about then I realized that this game sucks.

It bored me and I had yet too see any great cheesy melodramatic scenes, and I felt like I had been cheated of something. I did not know what Oleg was eating (Bob: "Probably not parsley."), I doubted in his good taste (Bob: "Coming from a man who eats parsley.") and I was wondering that if it such a deep and philosophical game, then why for the love of god, to I have fight with guys like giant snowman (especially when they say "I freeze you all!") . I also mentioned it to Oleg, who failed to see my point and urged me to play further and used Jewish words like Mahlkut and Yesod to charm me, so I continued. And after umpteenth hours of killing weird looking pictures, I fell in love in this game.

Bob: "Why did you fell in love in a game that you so clearly hated and what probably really is a crappy game. Either you really are an idiot or this is one of the clearest cases of Stockholm`s syndrome. Wait a minute, is this because of that "big choice" scene?"

Yes exactly. And the game gives you more than one choice actually. But after that great "What would you do?" questionnaire everything changed... I mean, it changed both for me and in the sense that the plot started branching.

Bob: "But you still continued killing monsters after every five seconds?"

Yes.

Bob: "The only difference being then, that plot-related characters with silly dialogue said different things?"

Yes.

Bob: "And you think that this is great?"

Yes.

(awkward silence)

I can explain. You see, about that time, religious figures that I knew started to take an active role in the game. And about that time I had already formed my own opinion of it`s world and the state of things. And then the game gave me an actual choice between three different philosophies, and since I am a bit idealistic person, it was very interesting for me to see if that philosophy I believe to be right would benefit such a broken world. Basically the greatest thing about this game in my opinion is that you get to choose between God and Devil... although... nah, more of it later.

Bob: "No, no... tell me now."

The Bad

Well okay, the thing is that religious folk should not be afraid to touch this game, because the God and Devil of this game have nothing to do with God and Devil of Christianity; which to me it was also a bit of disappointment, because Oleg`s review left me with the impression that the choice is between God and Devil... between religions. But it`s actually between Law and Chaos... and these philosophies are not religious at all... they are actually very secular and political. After seeing all the endings it`s clear that God (the character from the game) is not the mastermind behind Law, he is just an extreme follower of it. Law is conservatism (God representing the fascism part of conservatism), Chaos is anarchism, and Neutral is... well I never quite figured out what Neutral was about. And while I still think that using God and Devil as characters in game is a brilliant idea, I also am bit disappointed because I expected them to be more closer to their religious counterparts.

Bob: "Basically, you expected to find a religion and all you got was politics. Interesting."

It`s still fun to see if your political views would make the world a better place, and I think that this kind of ethical pressure this game manages to add to these choices is the very essence of roleplaying, but unfortunately God`s not in this game.

Bob: "What the..?"

The YHVH in the game very well might be just called Evil Dungeonlord, because, beside the name, there ain`t nothing that would make him like God.

Sure he says some things about being all-creator, but there have been other all-creators in other games.

Bob: "Weren`t you just trying to persuade me to play this game?"

It`s just a personal disappointment. Letdown expectations, so to speak. To others, who are not so concerned with or have already figured out the nature of God, this might be as YHVH as one gets. I personally would have liked the character to be something more.

Not to mention that he looks like... oh wait a minute... this very well might shatter the pillars of your world... this is the big secret... the truth about the universe... and it`s also a spoiler for the game.

The Big Secret of the Universe: God`s actually the disembodied floating yellow head of Patrick Stewart.

Bob: "Captain Picard?"

Just without the voice.

Bob: "No "engage", no "make it so", nothing at all?"

Just the face.

Bob: "Well, I guess even a face will do."

Also the music is awful, horrible, disastrous.

It`s like they created this one really annoying electronical tune and then constantly let it play throughout the game. Although, when I downloaded the soundtrack later, it didn`t seem that bad at all and I also discovered some really great ambient tunes. But from the actual game I only remember hearing endless annoying oompa-doompa music... albeit a dark oompa-doompa music.

Bob: "Considering the fact the soundtrack you downloaded was of the playstation`s version, then it could be a SNES synthesizer thing."

Could be. Everything can be excused, but it still doesn`t change what sufferings I went through while I played the game.

Bob: "I thought you suffered because of the random combat."

Well, yes. But there`s also some good parts in this game`s combat system. Here you can actually talk to your enemies: persuade them to leave, answer satisfyingly to their philosophical questions (like "What`s your name?"), become friends with them, get stuff from them, make them join your party. And each demon has a different personality. Some will like flattery (female demons), some will respond to threats, some will demand money (Mesian Knights), some just want to show off with their superiority (archangels).

It`s good that you can talk your way out of random combat, but it`s bad that it still happens in every five seconds.

Also, I would like to mention that horrible Masakado quest. I almost would have quit playing the game because of it.

And about the plot... unfortunately it mostly serves the purpose to tell you which dungeon to go next and it really doesn`t get interesting until midway through the game.

Which reminds me... I really hope that this kind of game design, where combat is merely an annoyance to pass until the next plot twist, dies an horrible and brutal death.

And last but not least, while I appreciate the efforts of the designers to make this game look as horrible as possible and thereby letting the player achieve catharsis after hours of torture, it robbed me the chance to tell my grandchildren that I too was once in Arcadia, because Arcadia looks just like any other place in the game, perhaps being a tad bit more greener.

The Bottom Line

Bob: "I`ve got to say that your review reminded me of a Weird Al Yankovich song."

Really? Which song?

Bob: "Oh the one where he goes: "What is this review all about, can`t figure any meaning out." It`s just because I didn`t quite get that whether I should play or avoid this game."

Oh. Well I was kinda hoping that my review would be more objective review compared to Oleg`s praising review. So that people would figure it out themselves, but since you are so confused then I probably have to make some concluding comments.

Well, I think what personally appeals to me most about this game is it`s underground nobody-has-ever-heard-about-it cult feeling. And I think it`s worth a try for that fact alone. Although it has some of the JRPG genres awfulness to it, it still is quite a unique game... it was different. And that catharsis feeling I got after finishing it was also great.

And for conclusion, I would like to quote one of the greatest philosophers of our world.

"Nietzsche is dead," God.