Reflecting on Shin Megami Tensei Controversy; How Fanbases Can Drown Out Reason and Empathy

To be transparent here, this isn’t exactly a professional topic to discuss. Still, I’ve been yearning to write about this subject matter for quite some time now, ever since the idea was conceptualized in my head. In March of this year, I wrote a featured opinion piece about my adverse history with some fanbases and how I overcame my negative experiences regarding the Xenoblade community, resulting in me enjoying the first title.

However, recently I published an opinion piece about demon negotiation in the Shin Megami Tensei series. Unfortunately, it received hostile reception, which ratioed those who were open to discussing the matter or agreed. Nevertheless, despite this being relatively old news by now, when going by the constantly changing state of the internet, that day has stuck with me. The reception wasn’t merely opposing viewpoints, but instead a hivemind of lambasting fans who, I think, just latched onto what others thought, not even reading the piece and forming their own conclusions.

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I don’t intend for this matter to revolve around pity, though this opened my eyes to how various internet commenters don’t seem to express empathy and how some fandoms seem to actively antagonize genuine discussion. When I published that Shin Megami Tensei piece, I was probably too negative with my attitude, but funnily enough, I didn’t see anyone adversely react to that specific attribute. Instead, it was the sheer concept of what I broached that initiated intense, dogpiling hatred.

I’m sure that only a few people understood that it was not the concept of demon negotiation that I disliked, just its execution. On the contrary, I actually love the idea of demon negotiation; it’s just that the way it’s done throughout the series defies my notion of negotiation in the first place. When I think of negotiation, one of the primary points that immediately comes to mind is the conversation between the parties involved.

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Since demons in SMT are known for being particularly ruthless and, well, demons, I’ve always preferred the idea of each demon portraying that in their own unique ways, thereby enhancing their respective individuality. It isn’t like Pokemon, where the only way those creatures’ personalities shine through is via their distinct animations, hence why there’s much controversy regarding the latest entries. You also can’t converse with them. In Shin Megami Tensei, having negotiations places the idea of personality on an entirely new pedestal. It isn’t just animations that depict those facets; the way demons talk and think also comes to mind.

Because negotiations tend to feel the same regardless of which demons are talked to, I view them all as one collective mass instead of individualized creatures, which kills a fair degree of attachment. Further, and this particular point vastly perplexed me, apparently not liking these conversations as RNG is akin to not enjoying the randomness of catching Pokemon. I don’t entirely understand that argument because when it comes to Pokemon, you can’t converse with them, and they literally try to break out of a prison you force them into, so it makes complete sense that the outcome is random; I have no issue with that.

If I simply hated random chance, I would not like turn-based RPGs. But, since I do enjoy Pokemon, Dragon Quest, Trails, and many more series, random chance itself is never a turn-off on its own; it’s the way it’s incorporated that can potentially cause issues, just like any other mechanic. Demon negotiation isn’t a sacred, untouchable belief that shouldn’t be questioned.

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However, having conversation involved during battles in Shin Megami Tensei brings with it a whole other layer of thought and sophistication that I think ought to be present. Having the outcome of choices with them be random personally comes off as a slew of missed opportunities. Not only do demons not feel like their own actualized characters, but it makes the choices when talking to them akin to disguised dice rolls that feel disingenuine to the presentation of the design. At that point, I’d rather the capturing method just not have conversation involved at all because the way it is currently incorporated fails to make the demons live up to their heinous and intricate mentalities.

The randomness of this mechanic makes them come off as mindlessly tiresome and less threatening than they otherwise could be if these negotiations better reflected their thoughts as living beings. SMT is known for being hardcore, yet what exactly makes it hardcore mainly seems to be tenacity more than anything else. I don’t think someone failing at negotiation shows how unskillful they are. When told to ‘get good,’ following a failed negotiation, I kind of just scratch my head in confusion. If I failed in a battle, then yeah, I can improve and learn. But in the case of negotiation, I guess I have to somehow make my real-life luck stronger and better. I understand that that insult is just fodder from those who can’t think of actual well-thought-out counters, but it just seems lazy. Assuming that I just dislike challenges or learning demonstrates how those individuals have an unhealthy generalized outlook on all gaming journalists. My favorite boss battle in gaming is of Yozora, so I think I’m fairly skilled. Questioning something and offering alternative solutions doesn’t equate to inadequacy.

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I know the idea of distinct demon individuality expressed in negotiation is difficult to pull off given how many demons there are, but having negotiation present gives these encounters a higher pedestal to achieve. After all, we’re not just fighting demons; we’re talking with them. And that opens up endless layers of intrigue and potentiality.

I understand that questioning an established status quo for a series will understandably result in oppositional backlash, but this is a video game mechanic, and I don’t think this subject matter warrants inhumane vitriol and dissension. Of course, disagreements are natural to build genuine discussion, but treating the other person as if they lack common sense and deserve to be treated as a faceless antagonistic force does little to further prove your point and instead amplifies malevolence over reason.

Needless to say, people’s words do have lasting effects, whether realized or not. Many of those comments from my last piece have gnawed at me ever since, making me feel mentally deficient and just awful despite the amount of time and passion I poured. No one truly knows how another feels on the internet, and well, not many would know that that piece I wrote was an idea swirling in my head for over a year. It wasn’t an on-the-fly random nonsense bubble to get clicks. Every opinion piece I write is built off of genuine love for video games. Treating anyone who has a differing opinion as a scumbag without giving any genuine thought to what they say is disturbingly dehumanizing in some ways.

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I completely get being protective of a series you deeply cherish. Kingdom Hearts is my favorite gaming franchise, and the reception it receives from many online is quite mixed and negative. However, I don’t perceive opposing viewpoints as internally ill-meaning or hostile. For example, many players find the super boss data battles in Kingdom Hearts III too hard, and I don’t think that alone warrants innate hatred from fans. Not everyone in the ‘know’ of a fanbase will get everything or like and dislike what is generally considered correct to like and dislike. I think expanding beyond the confines of a fanbase’s bubble is necessary to better appreciate what you love and see that nothing is spotless or faultless.

I’ve had some negative run-ins with Shin Megami Tensei fans beforehand, and with this recent controversy, I can’t see how a fandom can grow with such negativity behind it. I love Persona and I appreciate and respect SMT for what it is. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written that prior piece at all. But, when negative association starts to creep in from fans, it’s rather difficult for me to separate the fanbase itself from the games. That’s a me problem, for sure, yet I don’t think I’m necessarily entirely in the wrong for feeling turned off based on this experience. Maybe one day I’ll get back into these games, but as of now, these scars will stay with me, for better or worse.

P.S. – I purposefully avoided comparing Shin Megami Tensei to Persona this time since I’ve learned that doing that, regardless of context, results in awful reception for whatever reason.


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Orpheus Joshua

Random gamer equally confused by the mainstream and the unusual. Fan of JRPGs, Action, Platformers, Rhythm, and Adventure titles.