One of the most influential Japanese roleplaying video game series first got started 30 years ago this week. Do you know which one that is?
Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei first arrived on September 11, 1987 and became the inaugural game in a franchise that has since grown to include worldwide mega-hit games such as Persona 5. Digital Devil Story was developed by Atlus for the Famicom and followed Akemi Nakajima, a high schooler who created a program that could summon demons. While he originally wanted to get revenge on a rival classmate, he ends up being tricked into summoning malicious creatures and must find his way through an exhaustive labyrinth in order to defeat them.
The game was actually based on the Digital Devil Story horror novels that were written by Aya Nishitani, and is meant to take place after the first two novels. It introduced elements that would be set as the standard in later Megami Tensei games, such as a focus on first-person dungeon crawling, catching or otherwise befriending demons for the player’s team, and the ability to fuse demons to turn them into more powerful creatures.
Digital Devil Story was noted within the RPG genre for going against the grain of high fantasy, sword-and-sorcery-style games and instead taking the RPG tropes and applying them to a modern setting. It therefore ends up having a more science fiction feel to it than most other RPGs of its day. It did see a direct sequel, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei II, which it would later be bundled with for a slightly-upgraded rerelease on the Super Famicom.
The third title, Shin Megami Tensei, arrived in 1992. Atlus staff envisioned it as a remake of the previous two Megami Tensei titles, and since then all other main entries in the franchise have carried the “Shin” (meaning “True”) prefix. There are currently 11 entries in the core Megami Tensei franchise, plus several spinoff titles; the most popular of the spinoff is the Persona subseries, though Atlus has also seen significant success with the Devil Summoner, Digital Devil Saga, and Devil Survivor games as well.
The franchise took quite some time to make any kind of dent in the western market, though it established itself as the third-most popular RPG series in Japan quickly (after Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest). The series has, so far, sold more than 14 million units worldwide.