Game Info:

Shin Megami Tensei 2
Developed By: Atlus Co., Ltd.
Published By: Atlus Co., Ltd.
Released: Apr 18, 1994
Available On: SNES
Genre: Turn-based Role Playing Game
ESRB Rating: None specified (would be rated Mature by contemporary ERSB standards)
Number of Players: Singleplayer
Price: $100.00+ (new) $11.00+ (used)

Note: Only the SNES version is covered since it can be played legally in English, provided you legitimately own a copy of the original Japanese ROM and patch it manually into English via a fan translation. All other versions and ports like the PSX and GBA ports will not be addressed in this review.

When Atlus released the first Shin Megami Tensei, they had every intention of following its events up with a sequel. Given the first game had three endings, they had to pick one and build on it. In terms of gameplay, they also had to take what was good about the first and make it even better. Whether they succeeded or not will be the topic of this review.

The story follows from the Neutral ending of the first SMT, where the hero defeated the faction leaders of both Law (Messian) and Chaos (Gaian). The survivors of both factions, now forced to live in the Great Cathedral, one of the few places that survived the flood that overwhelmed Tokyo towards the close of the first game, initially attempted to make the most of their situation.

As the water receded, they continued to build upon the foundations of the Great Cathedral, turning it into a massive towering arcology that became known as the Tokyo Millenium. In the process, the Messians seized power, forced the Gaians underground, and established a theocratic regime under the rule of God, controlled by a council of elders at the apex of the Tokyo Millienum called "The Center".

The Center prophesied a Messiah would come to deliver them all to a better world, one where, despite their efforts, attacks by demons were a constant threat. However, God seemingly proved silent on what to do next, so the Elders decided to take matters into their own hands.

Not long after, an amnesiac gladiator fighter named Hawk soon discovers he was the result of this plan, a plan to provide the Messiah God had promised. He soon discovers not only his true name and past but also that the Center is riddled with corruption. As he is forced to take a stand against that corruption, he also discovers both Lucifer and God are manipulating events in the background, and soon the man created as the Messiah must choose to either follow the will of God, Lucifer, or neither to save humanity from a fate even worse than the nuclear fires that had ushered about the apocalypse in the previous game.

The gameplay is essentially identical to the original game, with first-person 3D dungeons and a top-down overworld map. However, it has undergone several improvements, such as simplified menus, a much more accessible minimap feature to avoid getting lost (and that has been improved to show the direction you are facing to make navigation less painful). Demon negotiations and summoning return, as do sword fusions. There is now a new feature called "fusion accidents" where you can get a random demon as opposed to the one you expected to get at random intervals, which is affected by the moon phase mechanic that also returns from the previous game (which again affects certain treasures and demon negotiation success). Demons can now "inherit" skills from prior fusions, which provides more flexibility for retaining effective teams with well-rounded abilities.

Shin Megami Tensei 2

Strong Points: Improved storyline from predecessor; refined gameplay mechanics
Weak Points: Some game-breaking bugs
Moral Warnings: RPG level violence; Some adult language and some crude sexual dialogue; some highly sexualized monster designs; blatant occult references and multiple mythological references alongside explicit Christian ones (some presented in a very negative way); negative portrayals of what amounts to Christians and God, with unavoidable opposition to both (including rampant blasphemy depending on player choices); references to gambling and alcohol, with player ability to do both activities if they choose

Graphics retain many of the samey dungeon designs, but there is now a more colorful and vibrant look to offset the dreary and sterile post-apocalypse/cyberpunk motif. Demons have much more detail in this game and even some decent degree of animation. Monochrome colors are still quite prevalent in 3-D dungeon areas, but at least they have more texturing and details. By 1994 standards, it was a decent improvement on the first game, though it still may seem dated to modern players in terms of area palettes.

Sound is somewhat improved, with many cyberpunk and techno themes like in the first game alongside many themes appropriate to the factions. Sound effects are slightly more varied than the previous title, not to mention sound more crisp and distinct. Controls are largely the same as in the preceding game save some ergonomic improvements like easier to navigate menus.

Stability is both better and worse than in SMT I. While it's somewhat harder to trigger game-breaking bugs that can mess up character alignment so you are locked into one alignment on another path, it's still possible to do so via some sequence breaking glitches. Some other bugs are somewhat beneficial, like random drops from certain early game enemies giving you powerful end game level equipment, though purposely trying to trigger them can corrupt save files as well.

On the moral side of things, while inheriting many of the moral problems that plagued its preceding game it also has it's own specific moral concerns.

Violence is of the RPG level and language is no worse than a movie fit for nighttime viewing most of the time, and while there is some mild sexual innuendo (you have some female party members who will get sexually proposed in a mild fashion that is played for laughs in some demon negotiations), the game is otherwise no worse than it's predecessor in this regard. There are some references to gambling and getting drunk scattered about, but they are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but common enough early on to be worth noting as a concern.

However, in terms of sexual depiction, the game does feature some more sexually detailed demons. One looks like a talking green male private part riding a golden chariot (meant to partially embody the Buddhist take on the sin of lust, and partially based on a Japanese wordplay pun). Some demons have exposed female breasts (mostly those based on mythological beings associated with fertility, though in one bizarre example a male being is depicted with these as part of their incredibly off-putting design which looks freakish in general). This aside, there are no other serious red flags save one demon based on Aleister Crowley who makes references to wanting to perform an orgy (a reference to the real Crowley and his own historically infamous hedonism).

As for the occult and supernatural, Chaos returns in all its pagan trappings, complete with hexagrams and occult imagery, though Law is not much better. While they aren't prone towards such evil imagery, some of the more depraved representatives of Law are not above using demons to do their dirty work or act not much better or even worse than said demons despite their alleged alignment to the Will of God. There is also the standard demon negotiation and summoning, though given the player is supposed to basically be a serial numbers filed off Jesus clone, the fact you can convince demons to be subject to your orders makes a bizarre sort of biblical sense. Regardless, the circumstances and depiction are still quite morally dark grey at absolute best.

It's on this note we need to address a major concern, one the developers had to make clear in interviews: While God (aka YHVH) is the final boss (even in the Law ending), he is NOT the actual God. He's more a corrupt parody based on a warped perception of his true nature since human belief influences how the supernatural manifests in the SMT universe. For Christians worried they are committing the ultimate blasphemy, despite all the trappings of the Abrahamic deity YHVH is styled after, he's a twisted (and mortal) avatar borne of human misinterpretation of his true nature. For all in-universe intents and purposes, he's regarded as the real deal by his subordinates and enemies because they too have been altered by human perception to see YHVH as the true face of God, not the demented parody he is.

Shin Megami Tensei 2
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 7/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 3/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 29%
Violence - 5/10
Language - 3/10
Sexual Content - 4/10
Occult/Supernatural - 2.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 0/10

With that in mind, the endings all have some ethical concerns no matter what your morals are:

The Neutral ending involves striking down both Lucifer and YHVH and amounts to committing deicide as opposed to giving humanity anything to believe in, and while a Christian may not lose sleep over Lucifer's defeat, YHVH does form a huge core of the reason most people in-universe have any sort of hope, taking him out (corrupt and twisted as he may be) in favor of no higher power deciding man's fate will likely be unsettling at best.

Chaos involves siding with Lucifer, and while Lucifer comes off as much less morally grey in this game than he does in the prequel (though his motives are just as ideologically opposed to Law), a Christian will certainly be repulsed by the idea of teaming up with Lucifer to deliberately rebel against a God-like figure (even if the stand-in is a twisted, demented parody of the real deal).

Even Law will be disturbing, because while that ending is based on holding YHVH to the same covenant the real God held people to (and you team up with Satan [a distinct being from Lucifer], who fulfills his Jewish role as God's Accuser to call YHVH out on breaking said covenant). While this does follow the basic concepts of Judeo-Christian thought that God's covenant with mankind is bilateral and that neither can cheat on its provisions, you are still judging who amounts to be GOD and trying to strike them down in the process.

All gameplay paths cover extensively the corruption and hypocrisy those who claim to be following the Law may fall prey to; Christians may find their criticisms of those who do not practice what they preach (a recurrent plot element) to be quite disturbing. The game goes into graphic detail the kinds of depravity (including slavery, mind control, and genocide, among other horrors) those who believe themselves just will commit when they believe none of their actions are hypocritical and even righteous. By the same token, no feelings are spared in showing the dark side of spiritual hypocrisy humanity can fall prey to.

Another related but different moral and ethical concern is the fact your main character is a Jesus clone. The game is very careful to never outright say this about your character (closest they get is Satan alluding to Jesus' mother at one point in an indirect reference to you), but the implications are very obvious for anyone with a passing knowledge of the New Testament. Further, given your main character may choose in-universe moral choices that are based on the Law/Neutral/Chaos alignments and some of the choices are quite ethically grey regardless, it could definitely unsettle a Christian to play as a Jesus clone who can, if they choose, act in a manner Christ would NOT act like.

As a game, Shin Megami Tensei 2 is a definite improvement over its predecessor in every regard, and while still plagued with some stability issues, deserves to be considered a classic whose appeal is worthy of any serious role-playing fan. Morally, this game dares to examine Law and all it's dark sides as well as all its virtues, and Christians are going to be made uncomfortable for sure over how it presents this. Even those who simply align with the philosophy of Law, in general, will be wary as this game is themed around Law with no sugarcoating its excesses and flaws. The other content mentioned like the violence, occult themes, sexual depictions, and other material will not make anyone already unnerved by the above any more comfortable, and no matter what you believe; even if you take into account the word of the developers, you still will have to fight a God-like being at some point, there is no avoiding it. Neutrality and Chaos are given somewhat less focus, but one focuses on the reverse of Law, and the other leans in the direction of denying any obeisance to a higher power, and the latter is likely to be disturbing in particular to anyone of any faith, not just Christianity. The former is also somewhat glossed over and it's negatives are not dwelled on. Considering Chaos is advocated by Lucifer, this is not a good thing for Christians in particular especially since it's key pillar is utter defiance of even the good aspects of God's law.

In essence, it's better than the first game in terms of gameplay but still retains many things that were bad about it, and morally, it asks a lot of uncomfortable moral questions and presents a lot of material certain to make anyone who believes in God cringe at best, but if you are a mature adult who likes good RPGs and is reasonably secure in your faith and/or are not troubled by such questions and ideas being posed to you, then this game is certainly worth playing and beating at least once.

About the Author

Daniel Cullen

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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