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The Mythology Snob: Shin Megami Tensei


These games are amazing

Seriously, the header says it all, the Shin Megami Tensei series, Persona Series, Digital Devil Saga Series, and even the odd spin-off Catherine, are all fantastic games that nail down mythological depictions and ideas with razor sharp precision. Like tvtropes says, the number of things that Shin Megami Tensei may get wrong is overshadowed by the enormous amount of things they get RIGHT.

Each story is unique and different, and very enjoyable, but for the sake of this entry, I will be observing only the representations of the “Demons” or mythological beings that are featured in the series. Unlike listing the games I have played and going through them, I will provide examples of the amazing work that Shin Megami Tensei’s auteurs create in the form of a Top 10 Demons list. This list will be composed of my absolute favorite representations from the games and why I love them.

How these characters are grouped depends on the game type. In Shin Megami Tensei, they are placed into categories such as “Lady”, “Beast” or “Vile”, depending on their main characteristics and functions. It is this type of grouping that I prefer, as it is fun to draw comparisons between many different forms of mythology. In Persona, they are grouped by the major arcana of astrology, which might seem a little odd at times, (Saturnus as the Sun? Since when is he that happy?) or sometimes too literal, (Haha, Kaiwan the star-shaped god is in the Star arcana). Digital Devil Saga has people turn into the demon forms and features some of the more interesting designs in the series, (more on that later), but is not very organized. Well, what are we waiting for, let’s dive right in!

Honorable Mentions

SMT-Daisoujou

Although not a mythological figure, I HAD to put Daisoujou on this list. He is my second-favorite of the fiends, a special type of boss fought in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, and is a rather jovial fellow for a self-mummified corpse. Representing one of the strangest religious practices in the world, this cheery monk was one of my must-haves in the game.

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Raphael earns an honorable mention because, in spite of not looking all that unique for an angel, I became so attached to this fantastic design that when he was redesigned into a robot, I felt like a part of me had been crushed. Firstly, observe the amazing pink clothing. Secondly, observe the badass pose and sword. Thirdly, THAT HAIR. I seem to really like characters with ridiculous hair that sticks straight up, and applying it to the archangel of medicine and love seems all too appropriate.

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Although not a huge fan of his abilities, this design for Nata Taishi is without a doubt my favorite interpretation of the boy hero. It reminds me a lot of Astro Boy, which is a fairly interesting way to depict him. This shows up as an honorable mention simply because I actually like THIS design more than his SMITE design. Shocking, huh?

10: Barong and Rangda

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In the battle between good and evil, I honestly couldn’t decide who deserved this spot more. Both of these deities are represented perfectly, with Barong being a powerful leonine guardian spirit and Rangda being an evil but unique looking witch. I usually end up using at least one of them in Nocturne for a while, if only because Barong is adorable and powerful, and Rangda is the most powerful of the “Femme” type of which I am a big fan. Great job on both of these, SMT.

9: Take-Minakata

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Although usually a weak demon in the series, I absolutely love this fellow’s design. Like some other sons and derivatives of Okuninushi, Minakata looks vaguely similar to him, but MUCH more awesome. Take-Minakata is one of the original examples of the trope “handicapped badass” in that even after both of his arms were crushed, he managed to make a name for himself…as the god of hunting…while having no arms. This design encapsulates all that makes Take-Minakata awesome.

8: Ippon-Datara

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Another disabled strange-looking man from Japanese mythology, the blacksmith spirit Ippon-Datara has the edge over Take-Minakata because of the personality that the creators of Shin Megami Tensei, and especially the Raidou Kuzonoha games crafted for him. One would think a blacksmith would be very serious or stern, but Ippon-Datara has taken to dressing up in maid costumes and repeatedly discussing or rather, screaming loudly about, pineapples. The content that is not a part about who he actually was isn’t offensive and is sort of funny, and he remains useful to those starting out in many games.

7:  Mother Harlot

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Ah, the Whore of Babylon. Oft described, but never visualized, until now. Only described as a woman in purple riding a seven headed beast, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne took this concept and ran absolutely wild with it. Now a skeletal faced Fiend, (and my favorite Fiend of all), not only is she a ridiculously unique and neat looking boss, she has one of the most interesting cutscenes in the game, giving the player one hell of a jumpscare if they are not familiar with her horrifying face. She also is the biggest wine-aholic I know of, even moreso than yours truly!, (even some of her battle cries sound like she is gurgling the words “drink wine”). A very unique design overall and a fantastic interpretation on one of the most bizarre figures of Abrahamic myth.

6: Ganesha

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Ganesha is this high for one reason only: They did not mess this guy up at ALL. One of the most accurate and still awesome-looking designs in the series, I recall playing through Nocturne waiting and waiting for my Purski to evolve into Ganesha, and when it did, I was extremely happy.Ganesha as a deity means a lot to me, both as an interesting character and as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Not to mention that until you hit endgame content, he is one of the strongest demons you can have. SMT, I salute you for doing such a wonderful character justice.

5: Kaiwan

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Let me start by saying this: I have no idea who this guy is supposed to be. It states that he is an Assyrian deity, but it also states that Kaiwan is one of the names of a Lovecraftian deity. So, which is it? To be honest, I like this design more than the actual design for Hastur the Unspeakable. Rather than being an uninspired mass of tentacles, Kaiwan is a very strange looking hybrid of a Christmas tree topper, a zebra, and a demonic-looking Bozo the Clown. He attacks by screaming like a girl and spins in circles uncontrollably. Kaiwan is just too unique for me not to put him on this list, and I can certainly see the design inciting madness, (and ragequitting) in those that encounter him.

4: Shiva

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My absolute favorite demon to use in Nocturne and one of my favorite designs EVER, it is hard to mess up the God of Destruction. Still, it is surprising how many times Shiva isn’t portrayed correctly, with his track record being almost as bad as Kali’s when it comes to confusion. When it comes to SMT, Shiva has had two designs, but his most common one lately is also my favorite one. It isn’t so much the look of him that I like, considering that he looks similar to the sculpture of the Lord of Dance, but rather the fact that he ACTUALLY dances. His movements are rather erratic, sort of like that Going to the Store video, but it is remarkably fitting for the character, especially in Digital Devil Saga 2, in which it seems like he is grooving to the music as he fights you.

3: Brahman

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One of the most deep, thoughtful, symbolism-ridden bosses of the series, without all the gross imagery of bosses like Pandora. The battle with Brahman is without a doubt the highlight of Digital Devil Saga 2. The music, the imagery, the sheer surrealism and incomprehensibility of the supreme being, the creator and destroyer. This is one of my favorite bosses in the ENTIRE franchise. To me, Brahman always resembled a train, ever charging forward through time, ever watching and planning the actions of mankind. It’s just amazing to me how much thought was put into this.

2: Izanami

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Only one boss could have topped the fantastic work that was done on Brahman. Izanami, specifically Izanami-no-Okami, is one of the most unique depictions of the doomed goddess I have ever seen. Not only is she a corpse, not only is she rotting and vengeful, but she is more horrifying and unsettling than any other boss in the series, (Sorry Pandora, grossout scares don’t count). Not only is Izanami imposing as she should be, she is my favorite boss in ALL of Shin Megami Tensei-dom because of the sheer power and horror that she wields, all while originally hiding in plain sight. Truly the pinnacle of boss design with respect to mythology when it comes to these games.

I am thou, thou art I. Thou art NUMBER ONE!

1: Metatron

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I couldn’t not. I couldn’t NOT put this angel at number one. As cool as robotic Greek gods, Art Deco machines, and a Persona that looks like a Transformer are, there was ONE original robotic interpretation before ALL others. Metatron is simply the most interesting, most unique interpretation of the divine voice since Alan Rickman snarked and declared God’s will in Dogma. A mysterious figure, as many Abrahamic angels are, Metatron was originally merely a voice, a maintainer of the world considered inaccessible. As cool as SO many designs are in this game, from the flaming ghostly Aramisaki, to the humanoid serpent Vasuki, to the absolutely nightmarish Tiamat, Metatron takes the cake for me. When I fought him for the first time in Nocturne I was absolutely in AWE of how overpowering and inhuman he appeared, without the game turning him into an ugly monster. Metatron is what an angel SHOULD be: cold, distant, almost robotic, and ready to dish out harsh judgment. My absolute favorite mythologically accurate and insightful design in the series.

On the NEXT Mythology Snob, I will discuss the…less awesome designs of Shin Megami Tensei and whether they work or not. Believe it or not, some do!

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