Play it now — Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (Aeria Games)

Yesterday, Kerry Johnson was fishing around for alternative MMOGs and asked me what my favourites were. Well, top of my list right now is Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online, operated by Aeria Games.

SMT:IO (which everyone more or less just calls Megaten) is a free-to-play/freemium Eastern MMOG based roughly around the console games of the same name (Shin Megami Tensei). It’s post-apocalyptic, a few humans struggling on in what was once Tokyo, in a world now infested with spirits and demons.

Right at the moment it’s on my every-day playlist, though – as you’ll see – it isn’t for everyone.

The Snakeman (left) is the boss of the Demon Busters at Home III

As a trainee Demon Buster, you have the relatively freelance mandate to defend humanity by protecting it from demons, devils and demigods. Most Demon Busters have a demon companion, and befriending demons is just as important as battling them. Demon Busters all wear a ‘comp’, a mix of computer and PDA, which can contain the summoning programs for a number of demon companions.

At the Demonic Cathedral (available in each settlement), demons can be remixed. Essentially fused into new forms, inheriting skills and abilities from their forebears. There’s a wide variety of demons available, including some that only come from special events.

A world infested by demons. And occasionally also trees

The funny thing about Megaten is how the systems are flawed. Pretty much every system in the MMOG seems to have issues, perhaps potentially fatal flaws. Spend a couple days just with the user-interface and you’ll know what I mean.

Dragging the right mouse-button to rotate the camera is a pretty well-honed paradigm. I can’t help but wonder why so many of the Eastern MMOGs seem to avoid that in favour of the more awkward physically picking up and putting down the mouse, and the risks of accidentally removing icons set on the action-bar if your mouse-pointer should intersect with it. You’ll see what I mean.

There’s no exclamation marks or question marks to indicate quest-givers (except once, in the tutorial), so you should seek out and talk to most every NPC (green names) that you see. “The Snakeman”, an eyepatched fellow in uniform in the Virtual Battle lobby drives much of the early story, and you should see him periodically to see if he has anything new for you. Your companion demons will occasionally have timed requests for you to fulfill, which can come with some fairly satisfying rewards.

Megaten is a free-to-play/freemium game. It costs nothing to play, though various objects and items are only available through spending AP (Aeria Points). Roughly a third or so of the items available at stores need Aeria points. The rest use the regular in-game currency Macca, which is fairly readily obtained from demons by combat or cajolery. There’s some neat looking stuff that requires AP, but I don’t actually feel disadvantaged as a free-player.

Me and my buddy, 'Angel Bob'

Megaten is basically classless, and characters can develop relatively freely, along the lines of magic, firearms and close-combat. There’s an expertise system that gives you better bonuses and skills for how you choose to play, and what you’re doing more of. Do more of something and you get better. While complex on the surface, the expertise system is effective and encourages you to cross-skill into complementary areas.

The story itself unfolds in a series of chapters and acts. The prologue opens the story and runs you through a basic tutorial. When it is done, you have access to Virtual Battle, a more extensive tutorial that will refresh you on what you’ve already been shown and add more information. Some acts will have you mostly talking, while others will have you fighting, and possibly force you to team up with others to defeat an boss demon.

Death-penalties are fairly forgiving. Early on, you won’t really have any. You also won’t have any if another player (or your current companion demon) can bring you back on the spot. If none of these options are available, you will take a small experience hit, which you can make back quite readily.

The first ten levels you’ll find come pretty quickly.

Overall, fun is the most important factor – and I’m genuinely enjoying Megaten, though I honestly cannot tell you why.

Disclosure: I’m currently level 20 and working on Chapter 1, Act 4. I understand that the closing battle for this act is quite a tough one, and I’m in no particular hurry to tackle it, focusing instead on exploration and boosting my character skills.

One thought on “Play it now — Shin Megami Tensei: Imagine Online (Aeria Games)”

  1. Would the profits of the company be harmed if ingame currency was the same virtual currency that can be purchased with RL money?

    edit:of course controlling how much ingame money players earn in each situation and the prices of game stuff

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