North Americans have never seen the face of a true Shin Megami Tensei (MegaTen) game even though Atlus localized two games in the gaiden series of Persona. One may think that a role-playing series spanning nine games would do well in the US. The only problem is… there aren’t nine; MegaTen Nine is only the fourth game in the original series. Similar to Dungeons and Dragons, the “Nine” refers to how many paths a MegaTen character’s alignment can take. Fans of the series have come to find the mixture of the occult and modern day science in an urban setting to be refreshingly unique, but the dark and demonic nature of some of the other titles in the saga have kept them overseas. MegaTen Nine marks the series premier on Microsoft’s ill-received console. Atlus is taking some serious chances by releasing a MegaTen game on the Xbox in Japan, the biggest of which is the switch to online gameplay.
MegaTen Nine features 3D polygonal graphics similar to most contemporary RPGs, but contains predominantly pre-rendered backgrounds ala Final Fantasy VII. The polygon character models are acceptable, but aren’t particularly detailed and don’t seem to push the system to its fullest. Monster designer, Kazuma Kaneko, and character creator, Umetsu Yasunomi, return to lend their unusual style to the game but the graphics may yet have a bit further to go. Although the pre-rendered backgrounds may not be the most earth-shattering visuals, they are very well done and may present one less problem with network functionality. No details on the game’s soundtrack are available at this time, but audiophiles will be happy to know that the game will support Dolby Digital 5.1.
MegaTen Nine is set sometime in the near future in a post-apocalyptic setting where most humans live in underground cities. The true setting of the game, however, is in the game’s version of cyberspace: a perfectly modeled version of a mid-1990s Tokyo. This allows Atlus to provide a realistic setting for those who wish to play online; after all, they’re playing ‘online’ whether connected to the Internet or not. Several aspects of the player's avatar are customizable such as hair style, clothes, gender and skin-tone. How the aspect of nine alignments will be brought into play as the characters interact is still unknown though Atlus indicates that players will have to maintain balance of these nine elements. There will be several supporting characters found throughout the game such as Feris, president of the adminsitration bureau and Tsujimi, the bureau's cheif. The protagonists of the story will be cast as debuggers, though their roles remain mysterious. How Atlus will incorporate any tangible story into online play has yet to be seen.
MegaTen Nine’s combat follows the series standard: players fight monsters, but also have a chance to negotiate with them. If these talks are successful, they may join you as familiars, supplementing your battle powers. Once you have earned enough familiars, you can begin to merge them to create even more powerful creatures. Online play is still a gray area even this close to release. Players will be able to trade creatures online, but Atlus has released very little information on inter-player interaction. Communication between players, however, is speculated to be engrossing due to Xbox Live Headset support. The thought of being able to traverse the world of MegaTen online will undoubtedly make gamers salivate.
Shin Megami Tensei is a phenomenally popular series in Japan and has a significant cult following here in America. The game has the potential to be one of the best Xbox games released in Japan and possibly North America, despite some visual blandness. Atlus has always been known for quality software and gamers should expect another top-notch effort with this installment. MegaTen Nine is slated for a Winter 2002 release in Japan but has yet to be announced for North America.