The Shin Megami Tensei series is over 30-years old. Known for its unique demon recruitment, turn-based battle systems, as well as its uncompromising difficulty, the series has also spawned a large number of spin-offs across consoles, including the increasingly popular Persona series. Now, the series has made its debut on iOS and Android phones with Shin Megami Tensei Liberation Dx2. It's a free-to-play title, perhaps unsurprisingly, and that might immediately prompt skepticism from just about anyone who has any love for the series, or video games in general.
But our experience with the game's English-language closed-beta phase in late June surprised us. All the signature elements you would expect from an SMT game were there--an involved narrative, a robust demon fusion system, and most importantly, the press-turn combat system which incentivizes you to exploit enemy elemental weaknesses at every opportunity. What's more, there were a wealth of different modes to play with: a campaign narrative, competitive PvP, a randomly generated first-person dungeon crawling mode ala Persona Q, and a number of single-player ladders.
There's loot-box style system for the first time in the series, where you can obtain a random selection of demons, and this is the center of the game's monetization efforts. But with SMT's in-combat demon recruitment and demon fusion systems in place, we didn't feel the need to ever rely on it, at least in the beta.
GameSpot recently had the chance to interview the chief producer on the title, Yamada Riichiro, to ask him the approaches to transforming the beloved, Atlus-developed console series into a Sega-developed free-to-play smartphone game, and the steps they took to respect the devoted fanbase.
GameSpot: How do you stay true to the SMT franchise while making something that's viable on mobile? What are the key characteristics of SMT you wanted to maintain?
Yamada: Our key goal has been to "offer a console gameplay experience on smartphones", and I think we managed to achieve this goal, though it required a lot of work. I personally think that a console game must be a piece of art, although in the case of a F2P game, it becomes a “service” that must be managed, so our biggest challenge was to balance the game properly.
Which SMT series did you take the most influence from when building Dx2?
Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne is my favorite of the series, and I’ve played them all! The system of the press-turn battle was epochal, and I also loved the story.
What separates SMT Dx2 from similar mobile games, aside from history/foundation of Shin Megami Tensei?
This might not exactly answer your question, but the biggest difference is that user can experience gameplay close to a console title, while still being in a F2P. There are not that many games (on mobile) that allow players to create characters of the highest rank by just taking time and effort. Of course, there are several original elements, but the point just mentioned is the one that makes it the most different I think.
With a new wave of Western interest in the Persona series and Japanese games in general, what are your hopes and expectations for the success of Dx2?
I know there are only a few Japanese-developed titles that really found success in the Western market. But since its early stages of development, this title was created with a global release in mind. I really hope it will find success in US and Europe!
Can you tell us about how successful Dx2 has been in Japan in terms of the number of players?
Shin Megami Tensei Liberation Dx2 was released six months ago in Japan. As a result, it has already exceeded 5 million downloads! We’re proud of this number and want to thank all the fans.
What considerations did you have in mind when you were creating the game's story and characters? The game seems brighter, more positive, and more fun in its tone compared to other SMT stories, with a more international cast. Did you aim to try something different here?
Since it was developed by the SEGA team I wanted to make it a bit different than the console titles. The game is also set in modern Akihabara. Akihabara is the center of the Otaku culture, and many visitors from around the world are visiting this part of the city. Therefore, it was natural to add non-Japanese characters in the game.
Dx2 has many different game modes--the main narrative, competitive PvP, first-person dungeon crawling, and a number of extra single-player ladders. What made you decide to include all these modes, rather than just focusing on one or two?
We thought the game should offer as much content as possible to the players. It took us a lot of time and effort though!
Which mode has been the most popular with Japanese players?
The storylines and 3D dungeon were very positively received by players here. Regarding PvP, not many Japanese players like PvP compared to Western players.
It's very nice to see that many demon fusion options exist in Dx2. But, it also has the new option to obtain demons via Gacha (loot boxes, blind boxes). What was the reason behind including Gacha?
We added Gacha as a monetization system. In order to continue to provide high-quality content to users, we needed to monetize the game. However, this is not “Gacha game”, it should just be seen as a “time-shortening” opportunity.
What has been the reaction of Japanese SMT fans to the Gacha?
There was some negative feedback that "summon rate is low” when it was released. But, in general, mobile games based in Gacha are adding high ranked characters every month. This can cause inflation and unbalance the game. We did not want to make this type of game, so we allow players to take the time and effort to eventually get high ranked demons. We’re continuously teaching this type of game mechanic to users, so negative feedback has gone away for now.
Can you tell us how much of the Japanese player base uses the Gacha option?
I think that all players are using it. The reason is that summons can be done with the summon card as well.
Can you tell us how successful Dx2 has been in Japan in terms of its profits?
Sorry, this is confidential, I can only say it’s doing great so far.
Is the game designed for players to be able to realistically be able to access all the demons without paying money?
High-rank Fiend/Hero demons are limited to summoning at launch. However, we are planning to implement Demon Fusion in the future. Additionally, all demons can be upgraded to ★6, the highest rank.
What was your philosophy behind balancing the point where people had to pay money to progress?
The concept is “to shorten the time”, this goes for Gacha also. Even if there are no demons that you would like to achieve, everything is connected, such as Fusion materials, materials for improving rarity, skill inheritance. We did not put in a “Gacha especially for this event” that is common in Japanese games.
Can the game be enjoyed for a long time without paying money?
I think that this is very possible. If you take your time, you can complete everything in the game.
What was the decision process behind making Dx2 a free-to-play game, rather than a premium, pay-once RPG story?
I don’t think it would have much value to release this title as a premium title on mobile. The reason is that SMT is already successful and available on consoles, so we needed to adapt it as a genuine mobile game.
Would global success with Dx2 lead Atlus or Sega to consider another traditional, premium SMT RPG for mobiles?
Unfortunately, I can’t discuss future plans at this time.
Shin Megami Tensei Liberation Dx2 is available now on the iOS App Store and Google Play.