Shin Megami Tensei Online: IMAGINE
女神転生IMAGINE プレミアムパッケージ (Premium Package)
Official Website: megatenonline.com
Official Developer Journal: megatenonline.com/blog/
Japanese Release: 2007
Retail Price: ￥ 5,229 (or a free version for download)
Backstory Into the Present
Shin Megami Tensei Online has gone through a rather tumultuous development period. As the first Megaten title in MMORPGs form, there was a certain amount of anxiety attached to it. Early news on the title was scarce. It was believed that the game somehow grew out of the original online plans for Shin Megami Tensei Nine (a Japanese Xbox exclusive title) that were later dropped. Whether or not this was true, the game initially creeped up for the PC quite a while back in 2004.
At some point in this stage of development, the game was in some sort of playable form. Screens crept out and it made an appearance at at least one Japanese trade show. Even a video card was released with SMT Online related imagery emblazoned on its packaging. Early buzz for the game, however, really felt like anything but positive. The small amount of screen shots most people would see were not impressive, appearing largely barren and generic. Information on a closed beta test for this version of the title was extremely scarce, but apparently ended on January 30th, 2005 according to RPGFan (via Game Watch). As time went on, news on the title seemed to die off completely.
Many months later, on July 13, 2005, the game was given new life. It was revealed that Japanese developer, Cave, would be forming a new subsidiary. This new company would be known as Cave Online Entertainment. This new company's president was to be existing Cave president Keiichi Takano, while former Atlus director Hideo Yoyokama was to serve as vice president. The company came into existance days later on July 15th.
Cave Online Entertainment announced that it would be working on three titles, one of which would be Shin Megami Tensei Online: IMAGINE. Yoyokama would be acting as director of the project and the team itself was made up of many former Atlus employees. It seemed the game was back to life, but what was being kept from the initial phases of the project was anyone's guess. Was it scrapped? Were certain components being kept around? Was what was in the works just an evolution of the previous code?
As time went on, small bits and pieces came out about the title. Cave put up a short Flash video on their website that showed off concept art for the title. MegatenOnline.com was registered, largely acting as a placeholder at the time. Eventually a Developer Journal was added to the site. It saw semi-frequent updates, many including concept art, photos of the development process and so forth.
On July 14th, 2006, Cave Online Entertainment issued a press release about the title. It stated a couple of interesting items about the game: First, it would be using network middleware from Community Engine (also known as CE-Labs), called VCE. Second, beta testing for the title would begin some time in the Winter of 2006.
On July 24th, 2006, Cave Online Entertainment opened up the official website for Shin Megami Tensei Online: IMAGINE. It unveiled the first details on the story of the game, the character creation process, demon fusions and so forth. A new batch of in-game screens from the latest version were also released (although one had been present on the Developer Journal for quite a while). They were a departure from previous screens released during 2004/2005, further pushing the point that this seemed to be a restart for the title.
Extremely Basic Story Information
Tokyo was destroyed in 202X (essentially sticking it between SMT and SMT II). The survivors, under the guidance of seven wisemen, begin the construction of a massive tower. This tower is to be known as Shinjuku Babel and will be massive in construction.
Other areas surrounding the tower include Nakano and Suginami. The game itself starts in an area known as "3rd Home", which appears to be near the tower itself.
General Gameplay Information
Shin Megami Tensei Online: IMAGINE retains a lot of the qualities more recent Megaten games are known for. Graphically, the game uses a texture style similar to Digital Devil Saga and SMT: Nocturne, giving it an almost animated feel that nicely replicates Kazuma Kaneko's artwork for the series. It also appears to use a glow/haze effect, similar to the one in place within Nocturne, although a bit more polished in execution.
Like most MMORPGs, players are required to create a player character, or avatar. Players choose between male or female forms. They are then allowed to alter the appearance of their character in a manner they deem fit, by trying out different face and hair combinations. Beyond this, as the character progresses, the player will happen upon more than 200 different kinds of clothes and accessories. In addition, the game contains a multitude of weapons, including blades, blunt melee weapons, spears and guns.
As far as demons are concerned, the player will be followed by their companions onscreen. The game retains demon conversations and demon fusions. Alignment characteristics also return, being divided up into "Law", "Chaos" and "Neutral". The site itself also mentions something known as the "Gene System", although I am not sure of what this involves just yet.
The battle system, unlike other titles in the series, but befitting of an online title, is completely in real time. Like many other games of its type, this largely involves actvating icons that represent actions. This may include attacks, spells or item usage.
Beta Test and Release
Atlus's Beta Test for the title came and went. While it was obviously Japanese focused, it was possible for people to create accounts to test the title from anywhere in the world. There were small amounts of fans from outside the country that gave the limited Open Beta a try. This is likely where any English impressions of the title you have read will come from and what our Play Guide is based upon.
In 2007 the game released in stores for Windows XP and Vista in Japan. The game does not appear to have a monthly fee associated with it, but rather allows users to use real world money to purchase certain items in the game. This is a method that has been increasingly seen as a viable alternative to traditional monthly fees and we'll likely be seeing more of it elsewhere in the future.
Its chances of hitting the rest of the world, unfortunately, are basically zero. It is unlikely Atlus, or really any company, will be willing to translate a title of this magnitude and handle its servers. In addition, in Japan the game itself appears to have gotten a rather lukewarm reception. Amazon user reviews for the title average 2 out of 5. It's unlikely (a better word is "impossible") that any company involved will find it to be a worthwhile endeavor.