Over the past decade, Persona’s popularity has risen considerably. However, as great as it is for fans to see it flourish, one prominent adverse side effect of this growth has caused inadvertent harm to the identity of Shin Megami Tensei.
Ever since Persona 5 became a breakout hit, in a more culturally impactful fashion than the previous Persona titles, the subsequent announcement of Shin Megami Tensei V resulted in varying degrees of reception. Shin Megami Tensei fans are excited, as not only is this a new mainline entry, but the last mainline console Shin Megami Tensei title, Nocturne, was initially released on the PlayStation 2 in 2003. Thus, this game would be an undeniably vast step for the series, with a new console return roughly 18 years later.
However, aside from those who were already fans, some who were only aware of Persona saw Shin Megami Tensei V as merely another upcoming Persona experience or, worse yet, a ripoff. Admittedly, it’s fairly ironic given how Persona deviated from SMT, but I digress. Still, given how SMT is nowhere near as mainstream as Persona, those initial impressions and comparisons are understandable. After all, Demons/Shadows and skill names are mostly shared between the series, and the combat looks similar when simply taking a glance.
Unfortunately, these comparisons continued long after Shin Megami Tensei V’s reveal. While it became an undeniable meme, the amount of those who still genuinely saw SMT V as a Persona 5 ripoff was baffling. A cursory Google search quickly leads to the series’ roots and how it and Persona are their own beasts.
Sadly, when reviews were released today, this comparison issue became readily more apparent. Many judgments on its deeper mechanics, tone, cast, and story were compared to Persona when it has a fundamentally different appeal.
I think when assessing Shin Megami Tensei V, or any other SMT game, really, verdicts and conclusions should not tie it to Persona because it has the unintended consequence of devaluing what Shin Megami Tensei actually is in the first place. Additionally, it makes it seem as if SMT is this inferior, catching-up star to Persona when in actuality, Shin Megami Tensei is not toiling in Persona’s shadow; they’re not even in the same room. I wouldn’t consider myself to be an SMT fan, but it even frustrates me that this problem is still ongoing. One of the most annoying issues for a series is when it’s needlessly compared to other games.
This problem is not exclusive to SMT either. NEO: The World Ends With You is another game that received an endless sea of comparisons to Persona 5 solely due to its setting, and to Kingdom Hearts because the original game’s cast appeared in Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance. Even as a Kingdom Hearts fan, seeing these comparisons made me feel sympathy as one who is also a The World Ends With You fan because the latter was just not allowed to be perceived as its own separate thing.
Ultimately, comparisons between Persona and Shin Megami Tensei are inevitable given their roots and overlapping fans, and there’s nothing conceptually wrong with that. Despite both series’ appeals being different, they share elements such as negotiations, naming conventions, and fusion. At least remarking upon these shared traits and stating how Persona fans can approach SMT or vice versa is completely fine. However, making a finalized verdict for any media based on comparisons does nothing but devalue the compared subject while simultaneously making it seem second-rate.
If you missed it, check out our review of Shin Megami Tensei V.
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