Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 11 (Trumpeter)

2020 is coming.   I’ve never seen an upcoming year that people seemed so nervous and uncertain about.  To be fair, I grew up in the 90s, which was an incredibly optimistic time by comparison, at least where I lived.  But now?  No, no matter who you talk to, no matter their political affiliation — the world is ending, our culture and values are being destroyed, and future AI will destroy human society (but that last one only if you ask Andrew Yang supporters.)

So who better to ring in the upcoming, terrifying new year and decade both but Trumpeter, an infamous Megaten demon and one of the angels of the apocalypse mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament?  According to Revelation, at the end of the world, seven angels will blow seven trumpets, each causing a different plague or disaster.  So Trumpeter isn’t an individual angelic character like Abaddon or Gabriel but is rather a type or class of angel.  Or maybe the Trumpeters are just regular angels who get assigned trumpeting duty at the end of the world, like how you might be given extra tasks at work.  I wonder if they get special overtime pay for that, perhaps from the heavenly version of Melchom.

Trumpeter is also in this Christmas series representing Megami Tensei’s Fiend race of demons.  The Fiends typically have skulls for faces and include other apocalyptic Biblical figures like the Four Horsemen as well as original characters like Matador and Hell Rider.  They usually act as optional bosses in the SMT games, though a few of their fights are mandatory, such as Trumpeter’s in Nocturne.  Trumpeter is usually a high-level demon with excellent resistances and skills, making him a pain in the ass to fight but a real asset to have on your team if you can defeat him.  The Nocturne battle is so fucked, in fact, that I’ll just do something I haven’t all this series and post a link to a longplay clip of it.  I know it’s only in 480p, but this is from ten years ago when streaming HD videos didn’t exist yet.  And I feel the need to pay respect to MasterLL, the guy who recorded this and a lot of other Youtube SMT content early on.

If you don’t want to sit through that whole fight, basically Trumpeter has special attacks he uses at regular intervals, one healing the character with the lowest HP (including Trumpeter himself) and the other killing the character with the lowest HP (not including Trumpeter, because he’s not an idiot.)  This fight provides another example of how Nocturne and SMT games generally don’t let you get away with brute-forcing your way through — you actually have to strategize.  Powerleveling won’t help you here, not unless you really go nuts, and then you’ll just be wasting your time.

A summary of the Nocturne Trumpter fight

Despite all that bullshit, it’s usually worth taking on Trumpeter even if he’s an optional boss as he is in Strange Journey and Shin Megami Tensei IV.  The same is true of several of the other Fiends in SMT.  Daisoujou, for example, can utterly break the MP system in Nocturne if you manage to beat him and get the right skills on him.  See, these games aren’t nearly as cheap as some people claim: they give you ways to screw the system; you just have to figure them out.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 10 (Alice)

Who’s the deadliest demon in the Megami Tensei series?  Many, many high-level demons can make that claim, but Alice might have the best claim of all.  Because while Alice might initially come off as just some kid, she possesses a unique dark skill called Die For Me! that acts as an extremely effective insta-death spell, except against demons that resist or are immune to dark magic.

So why does Alice alone have this skill?  And who is she, exactly?  The games’ encyclopedias are not very clear on these points.  One says that Alice is the spirit of an English girl who died young and leaves it at that.  Another claims that Alice is Scandinavian in origin and is used as a way to scare kids — “behave or Alice will take you away to her realm so you can be friends forever”, that kind of thing.  One thing there’s no doubt about is that Kazuma Kaneko based Alice’s design upon the protagonist of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.  Megaten Alice doesn’t seem to have anything in common with Lewis Carroll’s Alice other than her appearance and the animation for Die For Me! that features those playing card soldiers, though.

Alice is typically a mid-high level demon with excellent resistances that make her a great asset to any team.  She’s a lot of fun to have on your team for the contrast between her looks and her extremely powerful attacks, and her absence from Nocturne is one of that game’s few flaws. She made her first appearance as a boss in Shin Megami Tensei I, so you can fight her there if you’re okay with trudging through an extremely old-school JRPG that’s frustrating to navigate because all the dungeons look the fucking same when you walk through them. I know everyone’s clamoring for remakes or remasters of Persona 3 and 4, but if any games really need them it’s SMT1 and 2.  The Playstation remasters are nearly as outdated-feeling as the originals.  Fight her in Strange Journey or Devil Survivor 2 instead if you don’t feel like dealing with that.

I’d rather not die for you miss, thanks very much (source: 燈田いりあ, pixiv)

Here’s an interesting (?) translation note: in Shin Megami Tensei and every other game she’s in, Alice’s Die For Me! skill is phrased in the original Japanese as a question instead of an exclamation: 死んでくれる?/ shindekureru?  This is the question she asks the protagonist when he runs into her in SMT1 before she tries to kill him and his friends. The fact that she’s asking you to die for her rather than telling you in the original might be a look into Alice’s strange psyche — she really is just looking for friends to play with, but since she’s dead, her friends have to be dead too.  For that reason, it’s hard to say she’s really evil; she just doesn’t seem to understand why you wouldn’t die to make her happy.  I don’t know if that counts as yandere or just plain psychotic, but either way, Alice is a demon to be avoided unless you can defeat and fuse her so she’s on your side.

 

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 9 (Mothman)

The great majority of the demons in Megami Tensei are European or Asian in origin, but today we’re covering Mothman, one of the few demons from the Americas.  The myth of the Mothman originated in my own country, in fact.  He’s a classic American mythical beast right alongside Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and those strange animals that dig through all our trash bags at night.

Back in 1966, the police department of Point Pleasant, West Virginia started receiving reports of sightings of a large gray creature with giant wings and red eyes.  The local newspaper reported the sightings, presumably because nothing else was going on in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and somehow the story got national press.  The whole thing culminated in the collapse of a bridge in the area a year later that many believed was connected to the mysterious creature.  Local authorities and wildlife experts maintained that the “Mothman” was a large crane of a species not native to the region that had gotten lost.  But that explanation was too reasonable, so many people to this day believe that the Mothman existed and that he perhaps exists to this day.

A sculpture of Mothman in Point Pleasant. I like Kaneko’s design better. (source: Jason W., CC BY 2.0)

You might be getting from my tone here that I’m not one of those people.  I’m not a fan of any of our cryptids over here, in fact.  They’re just boring to me.  If you’re going to believe in something that almost certainly doesn’t exist, why not magical catgirls or bird girls who suck men’s brains out of their skulls?  Why just sort of strange-looking animals like Mothman or Bigfoot?  Boring, just god damn boring.  We can do better than this, can’t we?

However, my insults don’t extend to the Megaten version of Mothman, a low to mid-level demon who shows up as a common enemy in many games.  Some use it as fusion fodder, but if you really want to have one in your party it can make for a good ally given the right setup.  The most interesting aspect of Mothman, though, is its design: the descriptions of the “real” Mothman are of a terrifying bird-like man thing, but the Mothman of SMT just looks like an animal with a somewhat cute appearance.  This design might be the reason for Mothman’s popularity among Megami Tensei fans, who have put Mothman in a bunch of memes.  No, I don’t really get it.  But at least this means that Mothman gets to live on as a character in a successful video game series, instead of being stuck with one lousy Richard Gere movie.  So good for him.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 8 (Moh Shuvuu)

There are plenty of bird demons in Megami Tensei, and a fair subset of bird girls, but the best bird girl without a doubt is Moh Shuvuu.  According to the in-game encyclopedias, Moh Shuvuu is the spirit of a dead maiden from Buryat lore out in Siberia who lures men out into the wilderness, kills them, and eats their brains.  Which is quite a bit scarier in my opinion than 99% of the horror I’ve seen or read in my life.  Not sure why she’s so upset or bloodthirsty, but my impression is that Moh Shuvuu is more a general type of demon than one specific entity, so maybe they have varying reasons for doing what they do.

Moh Shuvuu is a common recruitable enemy in many Megaten games, usually appearing around the early-mid game.  However, she does figure more prominently in a couple of Megaten works, and fanart very often pairs her up in a weird kind of humanXdemon semi-relationship with Raidou Kuzunoha, the 1930s-era demon summoner with his own Megaten spinoff series.  All because of one scene in which a Moh Shuvuu begs Raidou to recruit her.  The fans can really take something and run with it, can’t they?

Raidou and Moh Shuvuu (source: tukemen, pixiv)

Her best role, however, is in Strange Journey as a key character in my favorite series of sidequests in that game.  Anthony, one of your crewmates, is a fucking idiot who keeps falling hopelessly in love with attractive female demons in the incredibly dangerous demon-filled Schwarzwelt that’s enveloped Antarctica and threatens to swallow the world.  Since the protagonist is canonically really good at talking to and recruiting the demons in that game, he asks you to play go-between with the objects of his desire, but when you talk to them they all mercilessly insult him and say they’re not interested (in fact, a couple of them try to come on to the protagonist, which I can’t help but read as a little confidence-boosting treat for the player.)

Then we come to Moh Shuvuu.  Anthony describes her to you and admits that she’s kind of young-looking, but that demons are like hundreds of years old, so it’s no big deal, right?  When you find a Moh Shuvuu to deliver Anthony’s message, however, she laughs at him, calls him a “failure of a human” for being into a kid like her, and says she wouldn’t even eat his brains for fear of turning stupid.  Now that’s rough.  And Anthony really doesn’t take it well when you deliver her response back, making you swear to never speak of it.  Poor guy.

Moh Shuvuu is never not laughing at you.

But anyway, why would you want to date a girl who’s known for cracking open men’s skulls and consuming their brains?  Raidou could probably handle her, being a powerful demon summoner, but that stuff isn’t even canon, and even if it were you’re no Raidou.  So I don’t care how cute you think she is, Anthony.  It’s just not worth it.  Maybe try getting a human girlfriend after you’ve helped save the world, okay?

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 7 (Gabriel)

We’re getting closer to Christmas, so let’s go traditional for once and talk about an angel. None of this destroying angel of the pit stuff, either: a proper angel this time, the kind most people would think of when the word “angel” comes up. Gabriel is one of the most important angels, in fact — in the angelic hierarchy of Megaten he/she is one of the four Archangels enforcing the will of YHVH, working alongside Uriel and Raphael and under their captain Michael.

Notice I said “she” up there? Yes, Kaneko usually depicts Gabriel as female. In the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions, at least as far as I know, Gabriel is depicted as either male or just kind of androgynous in the sense that angels don’t have genders as we understand them, so this is a bit unusual. This isn’t just some minor side character, either.  The traditional depiction of Gabriel is as the messenger of God, appearing to the prophet Daniel to explain his visions, to Mary to announce the coming birth of her son Jesus, and to Muhammad to reveal the verses of the Quran.* Gabriel is a big deal in the Abrahamic traditions, especially in the latter two.  Good thing Megaten barely had any presence in the US back in the bad old Satanic Panic days of the late 80s/90s.  Come to think of it, there are a lot more reasons why this series would have been burned at the stake back then than a gender-flipped Gabriel.

Setting aside that gender-flip, Megaten’s Gabriel usually acts in concert with her colleagues Uriel and Raphael. While Uriel and Raphael carry swords and tend to be pretty haughty and belligerent (especially Raphael, the jerk) Gabriel carries both a sword and a flower and acts as the healer of the group. She also speaks in a softer and more understanding way towards humans, though she’ll still faithfully follow the commands of YHVH, even if they involve destroying the human race again.

Gabriel as depicted in SMT4.

As you’d expect in accordance with her status as an archangel, Gabriel is usually a high-level demon with excellent skills and resistances and is sometimes required to use in a special triple fusion to create Michael, who’s always worth fusing. Gabriel also plays an important role in the plot of Shin Megami Tensei IV.  It’s worth noting her design in that game came from artist Masayuki Doi, who obviously has a very different style from Kazuma Kaneko’s, one that put a lot of people off when SMT4 was released.  I thought some of his designs were really interesting, though I hated how he made Medusa and Lucifer look.  The Archangels don’t look so bad by contrast; they just look bizarre.  Which lines up pretty well with how the Megaten series treats the angels of God — almost as superpowerful aliens who are hostile to humanity.  Not exactly an orthodox stance, but the Atlus guys over in Japan probably have a different view of these matters than a lot of westerners would.  Anyway, if you were looking for orthodoxy, you wouldn’t be here reading about Megami Tensei demons, would you?

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* As we went over a few days ago, Muhammad is the guy who smashed up Alilat in real life, so there may be a beef between her and Gabriel still to be explored in the Megami Tensei series.  I’d like to see how that would play out.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 6 (Nekomata)

Yeah, it’s Nekomata.  Of course.  You probably could have guessed that I reserved a spot on my list for Megaten’s main catgirl.  Though both her new design (pictured left, from Nocturne) and her old design are a little too much on the “cat” side of catgirl for my taste.  I don’t know, maybe if you’re into monster girls.  They’re still pretty popular, aren’t they?

Either way, Nekomata is an interesting demon.  She’s derived from old folk legends that claim cats who live long enough can take human form and learn human speech and customs.  Nekomata are also said to have forked tails, something the current version of SMT Nekomata doesn’t have for whatever reason. If these legends sound familiar, there are some about foxes growing more than one tail and taking human form as well.  It’s said that the sadistic queen of the wicked King Zhou, last ruler of the Shang dynasty in China, was an evil fox in human disguise.  Though some of these beings are quite nice as well, as anyone who watched the recently aired, extremely depressing anime series The Helpful Fox Senko-san will know.

Retro-style 90s Nekomata returned in the Devil Survivor series.

The Megaten version of Nekomata isn’t really good or evil, however; she just seems to be out for herself.  In fact, she never really plays a big plot role in the series as far as I know aside from that infamous “Do something naughty with Nekomata?” mini-boss fight in Nocturne.  She’s usually a low-to-mid-level demon, but one who’s worth recruiting for her high agility (she’s a cat, after all) and the strong wind skills she typically has.  Just a good team member for the early-mid game.  And if you keep her around long enough in Nocturne to level five or six times or so, Nekomata has the opportunity to evolve into a higher-level cat lady demon named Senri, whose design I don’t like nearly as much.  A big downgrade in the looks department, but Senri is a better demon in terms of her stats and skills, so you’ll just have to decide for yourself if it’s worth taking the time out to level Nekomata.  On the plus side, in Shin Megami Tensei IV, Senri evolves into Nekomata instead.

I also have to give a lot of credit to Kaneko for solving the “two sets of ears” problem that designers have to deal with when it comes to animal-eared girls.  Just move those cat ears down to where the human ears would normally be.  It looks a little weird, but it’s a better solution than always covering that area with her hair so you never see the place where those ears should be, which is the normal bullshit workaround.  Nekopara had fantastic character designs otherwise but it was guilty of doing just this.  As is almost every other game or show featuring those kemonomimi girls I’m into.  Don’t think we don’t notice what you’re doing.  Come on.

Okay, sure, why not.  I could leave the cat puns though.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 5 (Melchom)

If you end up going to Hell (sorry if that happens, by the way) and you somehow manage to get a job as a public servant there, who processes your paycheck?  It’s Melchom, the subject of today’s post.  Melchom only makes a few appearances in the series, but as far as occupations go among the demons of Megami Tensei, he has my favorite.

Melchom is one of the Fallen race, the angels who according to Christian tradition joined Lucifer in his rebellion against God.  Naturally, all the Fallen fell into Hell with Lucifer when he lost and became demons (demons in the more western traditional sense this time, not the broader Megaten one.)  Melchom and many of his friends in the Fallen race are taken from the Lesser Key of Solomon, a 17th century grimoire made famous in modern times by devil magic enthusiast/all around weirdo Aleister Crowley, and from the Infernal Dictionary, a later French work.  These books list these demons’ characteristics, and the Lesser Key also contains instructions for summoning them if you feel like enriching yourself through demonic power or getting some supernatural revenge on an enemy.

Melchom as depicted in the Infernal Dictionary.

The entry for Melchom is a strange one mainly because of his profession.  The Infernal Dictionary describes him as the paymaster of Hell who carries the purse and hands out wages and salaries to Hell’s servants.  This is a real demotion for Melchom, since his name is supposed to be derived from Moloch, a god of the ancient Ammonites of modern-day Jordan who were enemies of the Israelites in the Old Testament.  Going from being a god to an infernal bureaucrat has to be embarrassing.

However, he seems to take it in stride.  In Strange Journey, Melchom is one of the few demons who isn’t a pain in the ass to deal with.  Outside of the random encounters you’ll fight him in, he’s also hanging out in the second layer of the Schwarzwelt and will give the protagonist fairly easy missions to carry out in exchange for what else but a nice paycheck.  Money can be hard to come by in Strange Journey, especially early on, so these missions may be a real source of relief to the player.  Thanks, Melchom!

Well, this series has been getting a little too demonic lately.  I’ll bring it down a few notches tomorrow.  Until then, remember: always treat bureaucrats and office support staff well, because they can make your life as easy or hard as they feel like.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 4 (Abaddon)

I mentioned in my introductory post that the demons of the Megami Tensei series include a lot of angels. Most of these are the traditional angels of the Abrahamic faiths, complete with the wings and all that — the Archangels Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel, and the lot of unnamed lower-level angels (including the infamous Angel, who often shows up in SMT and Persona games in skimpy bondage gear; you can thank Kazuma Kaneko again for that design, God bless him.) But Abaddon is very different from the rest.

In the Old Testament, the term Abaddon seems to refer more to a place than a person, a place of either suffering or utter destruction where some dead people’s souls went. By the New Testament, however, Abaddon becomes an entity called the destroyer and angel of the abyss. There seems to be a lot of disagreement over whether Abaddon is a servant of God, performing his work in punishing sinners who fall into his pit, or whether he’s a demon or even synonymous with the Devil himself. Either way, you would never want to meet him, so maybe it doesn’t matter too much, at least as far as we mortals are concerned.

Is this more or less scary than the guy above?

The Abaddon of Megaten is depicted in two equally monstrous forms: first as a giant buried mostly underground, with only the top of his head sticking out except when he lunges to attack the player, and second as a massive blob with a gaping mouth. Abaddon is always a mid-high to high-level demon and often has great physical resistance, making him a formidable enemy and a valuable ally, though it’s worth noting that Abaddon is usually a member of the Tyrant race and is therefore usually impossible to recruit using normal methods.

I’m still not sure how he gets around in his “underground giant” form when the top of his head is sticking out of the floor. I guess as an angel he’s immaterial and can move through objects? Must make life easier when you’re that big.  Also, be sure to note the tiny angel wings on top of his head. I assume these are there to remind us that Abaddon is in fact an angel, but they also look pretty damn funny on him.

A shorter one today, but I’m back to work.  No long Christmas breaks for the working man, especially the one who doesn’t get vacation days because he’s a damn contractor.  Tomorrow we’ll hopefully take on a less grim demon.

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 3 (Alilat)

Now this is an interesting demon.  At least it is for me.  You might be looking at the design and thinking “it’s just an obelisk, what makes it so damn interesting?”  Alilat, also known as Al-Lat, was one of the divinities worshiped in the Kaaba, the great temple of Mecca, until the 7th century AD.  Al-Lat was a fertility goddess with ancient origins; historians believe she is essentially the same goddess as other Mediterranean and near Eastern divinities such as Asherah, Astarte, and Ishtar.

What happened to Al-Lat, then?  The same thing that happened to all the old pagan gods of the Middle East and Europe: one of the children of Abraham came along to destroy it.  When Muhammad, the final prophet of Islam, won his war against his home city-state of Mecca following his expulsion to Medina, he ordered that the idols and shrines of Al-Lat be broken along with those of the other gods and reconsecrated the Kaaba to the one true God.  This is a story I heard more than a few times as a kid growing up in the faith.  Naturally, this destruction and consecration is portrayed as a good thing, since it meant that God’s truth was able to be spread across the region and take root alongside/partly displace its sister Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Judaism.

At the time, though, I have to wonder how most people felt about it.  The day Muhammad came back home with his army, I guess plenty of Meccans just did their best to go about their business and readjust to the new order.  That’s certainly what I would have done, no matter how I might have felt before.  I guess I’m not very principled.

She’s an old-timey goddess so she has to use old pronouns like “thy”, that’s the rule.

Alilat in the canon of Megami Tensei is a powerful demon of the Entity race, consisting of ancient gods who long ago lost their followings among humans. She only seems to play much of a story role in Strange Journey, in which she opposes the reformation of the Demiurge (the creative force of God, though not the all-powerful God himself.)  Makes sense considering the fate of her worship back in the 7th century that she would stand against any aspect of the monotheistic God. One interesting design fact to note is that Alilat’s obelisk seems to be carved from part of the black meteorite that comprises the core of the real-life Kaaba and that pilgrims touch as a part of the Hajj.

Al-Lat in her most recent form. Considering how popular Ishtar-Rin is, she probably qualifies as a church for tax purposes at this point.

I also like how Alilat takes the form of the idol itself rather than the goddess it represents — it makes a lot of sense in the historical context, in which her worship ended with her being quite literally smashed to pieces. Well, it sucks to be a fallen deity, doesn’t it?  At least Alilat/Al-Lat can take solace in the fact that she lives on in popular culture in her Ishtar/Rin Tohsaka form from Fate/Grand Order, which is definitely the closest she’s been to having worshipers since the old polytheistic days.  Though this raises a theological question: is it better for a goddess to just die out or to live on as a waifu to a bunch of weird nerds?*  There’s a thesis someone needs to write.

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* Don’t take any offense — I’m one of those weird nerds too after all.  If I tried to deny it no one would believe me anyway.

 

Twelve days of Megaten Christmas: Day 2 (Ame-no-Uzume)

Since Megami Tensei is a Japanese game series, it doesn’t seem right not to cover any Japanese entities.  So of course I’m going with Ame-no-Uzume, a goddess of “mirth and revelry” best known for her stripper act. Ame-no-Uzume is the wife of the god Sarutahiko (also a demon in the Megaten series) in the Shinto tradition, responsible for bringing light back into the world after the sun goddess Amaterasu (also featured in Megaten, as are most of these deities) got pissy and decided to hide in a cave.  Amaterasu had a pretty good reason — her brother Susano-o, the storm god, was drenching and destroying crop fields and throwing shit around in the way you’d expect a storm god to do.

Even so, the world needed the sun to keep going.  Nobody could get Amaterasu to leave her cave, so without warning Uzume decided to start a strip show for all the other assembled gods.  They all found this so funny that they roared with laughter, and Amaterasu poked her head out of the cave to see what the hell was so hilarious the way anyone would. After seeing her bright reflection in a bronze mirror Uzume had purposely hung up in front of the cave’s mouth, Amaterasu wandered out, and another god quickly rolled a rock up behind her blocking the cave’s entrance.  In this way, the rest of the gods managed to convince Amaterasu to calm down and go back to her duties of being the sun, all thanks to the ingenuity of Ame-no-Uzume.

A traditional depiction of Uzume at Amanoiwato Shrine, where the whole thing happened

This was such an important achievement that the place where this is supposed to have happened in Japan is marked with a shrine dedicated to Uzume way down in a town called Takachiho in Kyushu.  Quite a long trip from Tokyo if you’re ever there visiting,  but if you want to pay your respects to the heavenly party goddess in the most serious way possible, you know where to do it.

In the Megaten universe, Uzume is usually a pretty low-level demon despite her status as a divinity; she’s typically one of the first in the Megami or goddess race of demons.  She tends to be very useful, though — Uzume is practically a must-have in Nocturne to beat Matador due to her resistance to wind skills, and she’s generally a good ally to have in the early game if she’s available.  I do like how her design reflects her position as the divine stripper — leave it to Kazuma Kaneko to put the emphasis on that, though to be fair to him, that seems to be by far the most famous story about Uzume.

Okay, so maybe this entry wasn’t as family-friendly as the last one.  Maybe tomorrow will be more G-rated.