“What if…?” This is the question that keeps many of us up at night. In the realm of reality, it’s typically an unhelpful question, producing anxiety, regret, and little else.
But in the realm of fantasy, “what if?” can be a great question to ask! All manner of new events can unfold, ridiculous fanfiction can come to life, and sometimes, a whole new franchise can be born. In the case of fanfiction or speculative consideration, one could ask “what if Sephiroth didn’t kill Aerith?” or “what if Mario was an only child?” However, in the Shin Megami Tensei universe, “if…” asks the question, “what if Thor and the ‘Law’ faction didn’t rain nuclear ICBMs across the planet in a Biblical-flood-like attempt to wipe evil from earth?”
Yeah… you may not know how this plays out, as the early SMT games have not had proper localizations from Atlus. The multiple endings for SMT and SMT II spawned a variety of branching timelines in the series, so when series creator Kouji “Cozy” Okada envisioned an SMT title focused on a smaller-scale high school setting, he felt he would have to work in a universe wherein the bombs hadn’t dropped. Stylistically, SMT if… was the impetus for the Persona franchise, and it also builds a bridge (along with help from the Devil Summoner timeline) to fit all of the pieces together.
Now, what if this game had a great soundtrack that no one ever bothered to publish? This brings us back to that feeling of anxiety; one that has plagued me for a very long time. Fortunately, in 2018, publisher SuperSweep saw fit to put together a complete soundtrack for a game whose tunes were previously only available — sparsely — in the Shin Megami Tensei Sound Collection (a total of nine tracks from if… were featured here).
Like SMT and SMT II, if… was originally developed and released for the Super Famicom and later ported with upgraded sound and visuals for the PlayStation. The PlayStation release of if… also featured new game content, which meant more music. SuperSweep was kind enough to capture not only the entire Super Famicom soundtrack, but the upgraded PlayStation soundtrack as well. There are even some bonus arrange tracks at the end of the third disc!
In looking at the tracklist, you can see that if… borrowed heavily from its predecessors. Those who have played the early SMT titles know that the music was one of many things borrowed from the original titles: enemy sprite design and some environments were directly lifted as well. However, having compared the audio myself, there are noticeable differences between the if… versions of these songs compared to their I and II counterparts. This is especially true in the PlayStation upgraded audio, where the sound team had more room to explore sound: texture, instrumentation, effects, and more.
As a collector and archivist, I am very happy to have a more complete SMT music collection thanks to all of this if… music compiled and published for the first time. But what of the music’s quality? To ask the question one final time, “what if the music isn’t any good?”
Rest assured, readers, that the if… music, whether original composition or arrangements from SMT I & II, is solid early SMT material. Everything that fans appreciate from Tsukasa Masuko and Kenichi Tsuchiya is here. For those of you who only know the Shoji Meguro era of SMT, you need to listen to the catchy dance pop and rock tracks written by Masuko and crew. The bass lines on tracks like “3D: Center” (1-19) or “Shopping Arcade” (2-06) will keep your head bouncing, and you’ll be coming back for more. What I love most about this era of SMT music is that this is right about the time that Masuko was ready to leave and Tsuchiya would take lead for the early Persona titles. Like the game itself, this music represents a bridge from SMT’s origins to Persona’s origins. That’s a special place to be, and I would imagine that any SMT fan would want to further explore such a strange space.
This review is based on a free digital review copy provided to RPGFan by the publisher. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer’s opinion of the album.