It is no secret that I like the Megaten series. I’ve reviewed several titles in the series in these pages, and I have played more still. One aspect of the series I haven’t said much about, though, is the visual design. Kazuma Kaneko is responsible for most of the look of the mainline SMT games and many of its spinoffs. Most of the demon designs he came up with 25 years ago are still used in the series to this day, and they all look great. A lot of the covers look great too. But some of them aren’t so great! Some of them are kind of shitty. Usually the western covers. Yeah yeah, I’m a weeb, I know. Fuck off.
Shin Megami Tensei III is one of my favorite games. The Japanese cover is nice too: silent player character Demi-fiend’s face superimposed in blue. Very cool and stylish.
The North American cover moves the title to the top, blows up the Nocturne subtitle, and removes the III (we didn’t get SMT I or II, so this choice makes sense.) It also changes the primary color from blue to red and stamps a pentgram on the front. Because this game is hardcore and about demons, and it has to be red and have devil symbols.
The European cover beats all the others though. Totally different, with a picture of Demi-fiend about to fire a Freikugel out of his forehead. But forget him – check out Dante in the background!!! Yes, Dante from the Devil May Cry series is here, with his cool dual wielded pistols and cool dialogue. Dante is in the game for about 0.06 percent of the story and really has nothing to do with the story even, having been shoehorned into the Maniacs edition of the game that was released as Nocturne/Lucifer’s Call in the West. In case you were wondering, this European SMT III cover is the source of that “featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry series” meme.
Let’s not mention the fact that the subtitle Lucifer’s Call is a massive honking spoiler in itself.
If you live in the US, chances are good your first SMT was a Persona game. However, it was probably not Persona, released on the PSX in Japan and later NA (and EU?) SMT was almost unknown in the West at the time. So the nice subtle JP cover above, featuring the faces of the silent protagonist and his shadow self, would not work for Western audiences, right?
In a wonderful example of the angry Kirby effect, the NA cover of Persona features a huge scary evil-looking demon. With a cross on the front for seemingly no reason. We have to make this weird anime high school demon-summoning game appeal to the kids after all. And the kids like Marilyn Manson and that kind of shit. Too bad it didn’t quite work, because Megaten didn’t really start to break out in the West until Persona 3 in 2006.
The NA cover of Persona is a good hint to how the localizers treated the game as a whole: they mangled the fuck out of it. They did their best to westernize the game down to badly recoloring the characters and changing their names. They even removed an entire sidequest out of fear that it would be too hard for American babby gamers. Thankfully, the unmangled original was later ported to the West on the PSP.
My favorite Megaten covers are the PSX ports of the old Super Famicom games that we never got in America. Shin Megami Tensei I throws several demons (incubuses? Incubi?) on its cover surrounding the old SMT logo, a magic circle with Loki in the middle (a reference to the original 1980s Megami Tensei novels the series is based on.) The demons look like the kinds of statues of angels and saints you might see if you visit an old cathedral. Only it would have to be a satanic cathedral in this case. Do those exist outside of SMT games?
Of course, I’m a much bigger fan of the Shin Megami Tensei II cover. Kaneko’s Angel design scandalized some folks when the Persona series broke out in the West with 3 and 4 and even more with 5. Yes, the angel in SMT is meant to look like that. That is bondage gear and she is blindfolded and handcuffed through a padlock attached to her tiny leather shorts. Why? The games’ compendium descriptions for Angel try to explain that they were punished by Heaven for some reason and that they are bound because of it or something. I don’t buy this explanation. I think Kaneko just wanted to draw a sexy bondage angel. I suppose I can’t blame him. Anyway, Angel is nothing compared to the controversy ginned up by Mermaid’s design in SMT IV Apocalypse.
This is my favorite SMT cover. And I don’t even know what it means. Shin Megami Tensei if… was a spinoff made for the Super Famicom and remade for the Playstation. It never saw a release outside of Japan, and unlike SMT I and II, it doesn’t even have an English fan translation. I do know that it’s the first SMT game to take place in a high school setting, and thus it’s the direct inspiration for the Persona series. Its title is also a reference to the weird 60s British film if…. starring Malcolm McDowell as a rebellious boarding school student (for you Clockwork Orange fans, it’s worth checking out.) In any case, the cover is cool – a massive demon (looks like Principality, with his spiky crown) looking down on a prostrated student, as though sitting in judgment of him. The spotlight shining on the student adds to the effect. Really interesting cover.