Today we are going to look at one of the unsung heroes of the gaming industry: Atlus. Atlus is one of those companies that you either know and love, or have never heard of. They are hardly the household names that Nintendo, EA, Activision, or even Square-Enix are. Atlus is an RPG developer and publisher, who is known for producing extremely hardcore games. On the distribution side, Atlus is responsible for releasing many classic games in the west. Atlus has always been an anomaly among developers. They have released games in the west that have almost no chance of turning a profit, and have done so consistently for years, earning a very strong cult following among gamers who have sampled their wares. The reason they are able to do this is, like other niche JRPG companies, they do not ship many games. This has the side-effect of many Atlus games being collector’s items. Today we are going to pay tribute to Atlus like any true-blooded RPG fans.
|*Insert joke about them holding up the world|
Atlus’ flagship series is the Shin Megami Tensei series (Usually abbreviated as SMT). This series is not a household name in the west, and, in fact, Atlus has only been releasing this series in the west since last generation beginning with SMT: Nocturne for the PS2. SMT as a title is misleading and it has been applied to many Atlus games in the general MegaTen (A metaseries) rainbow, but, which are distinct series. For example: Persona 3, which is part of the Persona series, and part of the wider MegaTen metaseries, is called SMT: Persona 3 even though it has nothing to do with the SMT series. Are you confused? Well you should be. Basically all you need to know is that every game made by Atlus with the SMT title attached to it will involve similar elements such as demons, and spell names, but are not necessarily related in a single story continuum.
|Ignore all of that confusing stuff and look at Jack Frost. Let his calming smile set you at ease.|
The reason why the main SMT series has mostly been absent in the west are the themes. SMT dealt with hardcore moral choices long before doing so was part of the mainstream (No Dungeons and Dragons doesn’t count). These choices very often dealt with some serious religious themes, which could set the predominantly Christian U.S. ill at ease. In the SMT world there are two major alignments: Chaos and Law. Law is supported by YHVH (God), and is about despotic control over all humanity, and Chaos (Usually supported by Lucifer) is about total freedom and survival of the fittest. The controversial aspect is that YHVH is essentially the great evil for the series and Lucifer is often portrayed in a far more sympathetic light. These alignments are brought up in other MegaTen games such as the Devil Summoner games as well, but they are less controversial. Demons in the SMT games are mythological beings from across the world, and are not demons in the way Christianity would define demons. Instead, any mythological god or spirit is open for grabs. Only in an SMT game can you have Ganesha, the Seraph Michael, and Thor on the same team.
|Louis Cyphre… very subtle, Atlus.|
Atlus’ biggest success, however, is undoubtably the Persona series. Although, a relatively unknown, cult series for the PS1, Persona 3 and 4 for the PS2 are the closest thing an Atlus game has every come to being mainstream. Persona 3 marked a major change in the direction of the Persona series, from dark and heavy like the SMT series, to far more upbeat and anime-inspired. Keeping the demon-collecting aspects of the SMT series, Persona 3 and 4 added an inventive social link aspect. Basically, your actions in the game take up time, and developing your relationships with various characters will improve the quality of the demons you can summon. This added a level of addictiveness to the game, which has pretty much been universally praised (There will always be old school purists when series make a change).
|One of, if not, the best games of last generation. If you haven’t played it, buy the Vita and wait for the rerelease.|
The reason why Atlus’ games deserve an entire post isn’t simply because they are well made, or even because they are excellent. They deserve a look because they are very different from ordinary. Many of them have a demon collecting aspect of it, which leads many people to call these games “adult Pokemon”. Collection games like this have been done before and done well (See: Pokemon), but SMT games pursue this end in a very serious and on a huge scale. The sheer amount of cultures represented by the demons and the work that goes into putting them on the screen and given them proper classifications and backgrounds is huge. It isn’t the same as simply making up a hundred more monsters. These demons have to be representative of the mythological personage they inspired from. Sometimes this is done in an over-the-top way, but the inspiration is always there. On top of the demon collection, there is the art style and music. The dark, or occasionally bright, anime art style is a unifying feature for the various games. As is the heavy metal inspired music (J-pop for the new Persona series). Atlus is also responsible for the most unique game to come out last year: Catherine, which is too crazy to really go into here. If there is one thing that Atlus’ games are known for it is the fact that they are not for the weak of heart. Series such as the Etrian Odyssey series are for the hardest of core gamers, and Atlus strongly caters to that market.
|Also unique in the long titles. Say it with me: Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon.|
Of course Atlus isn’t an excellent company purely from the standpoint that they release good games. No, they have been responsible for distributing some incredible classics in the west. Tactics Ogre, the precursor to the wildly popular Final Fantasy Tactics, was brought to the west by Atlus. Similarly Ogre Battle: March of the Black Queen for the PS1 (Enix did the SNES version) and Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber, were brought to the west by Atlus. Add to this pile the original Disgaea: Hour of Darkness game, which would later go on to bring N1 to new heights of success. I don’t think I need to explain why it is important for well made niche games to make it to the west. Make no mistake, despite Final Fantasy VII bringing JRPGs to the mainstream, most of them have remained niche. This has not suddenly changed this generation. It just happens that companies such as Square Enix have been less prolific. Recently there was the major controversy about Xenoblade Chronicles not being localized for North America, despite getting translated for European release. There is also the problem of the release of Valkyria Chronicles 3, or lack thereof. The point is, companies like Atlus, who distribute these games in the west deserve a lot of recognition.
|I want this – Now! They are going to be in Project X Zone, and we need them!|
I don’t intend to make a habit of heaping on praise for various companies, but if any of them deserve it, it’s Atlus. They have been able to bring out some of the greatest RPGs ever made, but they are also a company that few people, even RPG fans know about. Shin Megami Tensei isn’t the household name that Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or The Elder Scrolls is, but in many ways, it is a far better series than any of the others. Atlus has finally been getting recognition with the Persona system, and is on its way into the consciousness of respectable gamers, but there is a whole tradition of games that existed before Persona 3 that haven’t received recognition outside of niche groups. So, as a reward for you reading this shill-like post, I’ll give you a picture of Catherine. Enjoy.
|Wow that pizza looks good!|
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer