SMTxFE: What to expect, and how to prepare

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As all right-thinking gamers know by now, Nintendo surprised and delighted Wii U owners in January with the announcement they’re teaming up with Atlus for the development of Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem (SMTxFE) for Wii U.

As devoted RPG fans, many of us at GamerTell were thrilled by the news, even though no actual details were provided; all we got from the trailer were some character images, leaving many questions. With no actual gameplay footage to show, we’re left wondering how far along in development is it? Will it more closely resemble a Shin Megami Tensei or Fire Emblem game? What kind of game will it even be?

Thankfully, Atlus’ parent company Index Corporation issued a PR statement announcing the mash-up will, in fact, be an RPG. So, no sleep will be lost worrying it’ll be a fighting game or—God forbid—a kart racer (it’s been known to happen). But what kind of RPG? All we can do at this point is speculate, so speculate we shall.

Kirk: Unfortunately, my current experience with the Shin Megami Tensei series begins and ends with the Devil Survivor 2 Overclocked offshoot for Nintendo 3DS, which I’m told is not indicative of the series. So, I’ve asked Gamertell editor-in-chief Jenni Lada to add her expertise. Jenni?

Jenni: Thanks! The Shin Megami Tensei base series are dungeon crawlers at their core. To be more specific, they’re first person dungeon crawls and shift to turn-based battles once you encounter a random, invisible enemy. However, offshoots of the series, like Persona or Devil Survivor, have experimented with other RPG basics. Persona is a third-person dungeon crawler with turned-based battles, while Devil Survivor involves a strategic RPG playing field, but once an enemy is reached a brief turn-based battle in which each side takes one turn begins.

SMTxFE predictions

Battles in SMT 3 for PS 2 apparently involve targeting demon naughty bits.

I’m guessing SMT x Fire Emblem will follow the Devil Survivor format for battles, since that’s more similar to the Fire Emblem formula.

What could pose more of a problem is the story. As you know, Shin Megami Tensei always deals with apocalyptic scenarios. Player’s choices in the core series can often lead to an ending that brings humans closer to God in a lawful ending, a neutral ending where humans remain in control, or a chaotic ending where demons are let lose on the earth.

Kirk: Fire Emblem games tend to also deal with potential apocalyptic scenarios—the end of civilization via angry gods—but always with just one ending. Rather than focus on choices that impact the ending, the game centers around your choices on the battlefield, which is set up in a grid-based system.

SMTxFE predictions

Fire Emblem; where chess meets rock-paper-scissors in wonderful costumes.

Throughout the game, you acquire many soldiers, each with his/her own abilities and personality. You arm and level up these soldiers between battles, then move them across the grid during the battles—you first, the enemy second. Attack, heal, talk, etc. The combat itself is based on a rock-paper-scissor system, in which swords are good against axes, axes are good against lances, and lances are good against swords. A similar system applies to magic users.

What separated Fire Emblem games from others is that if any of your characters die in a battle, you lose him/her forever (especially harsh considering you can spend a whole game developing their relationships with one another). The newly released Fire Emblem: Awakening is a bit more forgiving, offering a mode in which characters are lost for that battle only (but no self respecting FE fan is going to play it that way, right Jenni?).

SMTxFE predictions

Fire Emblem Awakening for Nintendo 3DS; the latest entry in the Fire Emblem series.

For SMT x FE, my first question would be how the game will handle the characters. From what I can see, SMT has a smaller number of playable characters, whereas FE games often have a few dozen. Would it be possible to work that many characters into an SMT system?

Jenni: It might be possible. You also have to factor in though that any game with SMT affiliation is going to have the demon summoning and partnering system. Which means that would have to be taken into account. It doesn’t mean a larger character pool, but it would mean that each character would have to be a summoner/tamer.

I have a feeling we’ll probably see Fire Emblem style battles, but that each actual fight will involve the character having two demons assigned as partners who will help with attacks. That way, it preserves staples from both series. Relationship building will probably be similar to the Fire Emblem support system, where characters who fight alongside each other bond, and perhaps the SMT aspect of that will come through in actual conversations by having dialogue options pop up for the player.

SMTxFE predictions

What will Shin Megami Tensei bring to Fire Emblem? Apparently the Osmond Family.

I really do feel like the two series will mesh together nicely. They do have quite a few similarities already, and the addition of SMT elements will give Fire Emblem players a bit more control over the game’s story.

Kirk: How about the universe? Fire Emblem games are set in completely fictitous worlds. From what I’ve seen of Shin Megami Tensei, they take fantastic elements but base them in reality, if not the present day. Do we want to see Roy, Marth or Ike wielding a sword in the Shibuya District of Tokyo?

Jenni: I think the SMT x Fire Emblem cross-over would have to be set in a fictional environment that is separate from the world in which all Fire Emblem games take place and the real-world setting of SMT. I know Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers takes place in a virtual environment, so perhaps that would work for SMT x Fire Emblem.

SMTxFE predictions

These Devil Summoners may look friendly, but they really want to hack your soul.

It could be like the .hack series where the characters we are controlling are avatars for real-world characters. That would help skirt the serious religious issues present in most SMT games that Nintendo may be uncomfortable with in a first-party game, but also provide a valid reason for the combination of the two very different games.

Kirk: Okay, we’ve looked at a few entries in each series now to make our predictions, so let’s also make some recommendations for those who want to get familiar with these franchises. If you’re a Shin Megami Tensei player who’s never tried out Fire Emblem, the easiest game to grab now would be Fire Emblem Awakening, which is not only the most recent game in the series, but also one of the best ever. It’s for the 3DS, however, which may not help Wii U owners. If that’s you, grab Radiant Dawn for the Wii.

SMTxFE predictions

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn; not only still available for Wii, but still costing $40! Pre-owned!

It can easily be found on GameStop, Amazon or ebay, and although it’s a sequel of Path of Radiance for the GameCube, it’ll do a great job of introducing you to the Fire Emblem gameplay system and typical themes.

Now, Jenni, what would you recommend to Fire Emblem fans who want to learn more about Shin Megami Tensei?

Jenni: See, that’s actually a bit of a problem because Shin Megami Tensei games are ridiculously rare. There are none available on the 3DS eShop, and if you do manage to find one of the PS2, PSP, DS or 3DS installments, it’s going to cost you. If you want a general idea of what the series is like, you could always turn to Persona 3 (which is available on the PS2 and PSP) or Persona 4 (available on the PS2 and Vita). However, those are spin-offs and not considered true SMT games.

If you want something closest to a true SMT experience, you should try to find Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey for the DS. It isn’t part of the main SMT line, but it is a fairly accurate portrayal of a core SMT game.

If you’re looking for an SMT game that’s a strategic RPG, SMT: Devil Survivor (DS, 3DS) or Devil Survivor 2 (DS) would be a good fit. Also, SMT: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers is coming to the 3DS in April, 2013, and will offer a little more insight into the series.

Unfortunately, Wii U owners have no means of looking into SMT. In recent years, SMT console incarnations have been PlayStation exclusives. Hopefully, they have a DS or 3DS they can borrow to sample the series.

Kirk: Well, that’s likely enough speculation for now. We’ll certainly provide more official information once it’s released, and we’ll hopefully get a clear idea of what the game will be when (or before) Nintendo takes the stage at E3 2013. Until then, it’s back to Fire Emblem: Awakening for us.

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