(Review archived from July 6, 2018)
(English Translation by DDSTranslation)
First some errata. So Kyūyaku Megami Tensei is a Super Famicom compilation containing the first two Megami Tensei games which were originally released on Famicom. The games were ‘remastered’ for this release which features 16 bit graphical upgrades and some quality of life improvements including a save feature as opposed to the older password system. I’ve only seen screen shots of the original Famicom games, but based on that I can say that the 16 bit graphics are a really nice enhancement to the original graphics.
In terms of game play, what we have here is a decidedly old-school, grid based, grind heavy, first person dungeon crawler. Thankfully there’s an auto-map feature which fills in as you explore various areas of the dungeon. All the same it can still prove useful to map by hand due to the fact that the auto map only provides an indication of major land marks (mostly shops and save locations), rather than various teleport locations, pitfalls, spinning tiles, and the locations of fixed encounters. Like all quality first-person dungeon crawlers, Megami Tensei doubles down on the exploration elements, and it’s largely successful in this regard. It feels rewarding (and is often essential) to completely fill in the map for a given part of the dungeon. More than once I wished for a bit more visual variety between and within the various areas of the dungeon, but what’s there is satisfying enough.
The exposition and story elements present in Megami Tensei are a bit on the light side. With regards to the overarching plot you’re given a few explanatory scenes at the beginning of the game, from which point forward you set off on your adventure. Character motivation and plot development all take a back seat to exploration and mechanics. I was a bit disappointed in this aspect to be honest. For a series that would develop a deep codex of surrounding lore, its genesis in Megami Tensei seems a bit paltry by comparison. It’s almost as if the developers and (perhaps even more pertinently) the translators assumed the player would have familiarity with the source material before playing. And perhaps that’s not entirely farfetched considering that these first two games are considered to be an extension of the original novels and subsequent OVA. Essentially what we’re dealing with here are games based on a licensed property so perhaps an expectation of foreknowledge regarding the source material is to be expected on some level. And you do get glimpses of world building here. Minor plot points advancing the player through the dungeon are well executed via the interesting cast of mythological characters both well-known and obscure. Oddly it’s the development of a grander story arc that’s missing from all but the opening and the final scenes of the game. From a narrative perspective in this capacity Megami Tensei is less an ‘epic quest’ and more an exercise in moving from point to point.
Where this game really shines, and dare I say was even ahead of its time, is in regards to its mechanics. In light of its age, there is a surprising amount of depth here. The game really hinges on whether you’ll find enjoyment in capturing demons and subsequently fusing various combinations of demons to create even more powerful demons. ‘Capturing’ might not be the right word to use here. In order to enlist demons, you’ll engage in negotiations in which various demons reacting differently to different negotiation strategies. Various factors will impact your success in this capacity including allocation of key stats as well as the current phase of the moon (phase of the moon actually impacts a number of factors in the game). All the same, most negotiations will end with you somehow bribing demons to join you. So it’s in this regard that Megami Tensei really shines. If this sounds fun, there’s a good chance you’ll have a good time here. One other excellent feature in which this game stands out is its soundtrack. Over time this series has become known for quality soundtracks and even in this early incarnation you can easily see why.
Megami Tensei was an interesting experience. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a full-on ‘fun’ experience (though it did have its moments), so much as it’s a rewarding one. If you’re a fan of the series, this translation is worth looking into, likewise if you’re a fan of old-school first-person dungeon crawlers.