smt3:nocturne

saint--just asked:

Do you think all canonical SMT are connected in some way? If you think so, can you give us your thought ?

Sorry for taking so long to answer your question. As it turns out, I have a strong opinion about this subject and wanted to properly articulate a response. :p So here’s my answer: Absolutely not, except for the games where that connection is obvious or meaningful (SMT1->2, Devil Summoner series).

Having an ordered canon is doctrinal in most fandoms, but to SMT that line of thinking can cheapen its individual narratives. SMT regularly unmakes and remakes the entire world, events of such suprahuman magnitude that the only way to retain their weight or impact is to keep each in their own vacuum. Otherwise, the concept of an “apocalypse” becomes routine in its own world, like an endless series of proxy wars that have no outcome. But if the different games of SMT are considered to be in parallel universes that don’t interact, then canon isn’t even an issue.

For example, maybe Strange Journey takes place after Nocturne’s Neutral ending. I mean, if it has to take place after Nocturne that’s the only ending possibility. But how does that connection actually impact Strange Journey? It doesn’t! Nowhere in Strange Journey would some Tokyo teenager’s actions in a parallel fold of the current universe have any meaning. Now, maybe you could argue that Strange Journey only exists because of the Demi-fiend’s actions in returning the world to normal. However, there’s absolutely nothing that alludes to that. It’s both simpler and stronger for Strange Journey’s sake to consider it its own world; otherwise, instead of interpreting the events as they relate exclusively to Strange Journey, you would have to start straining to find elusive threads and connections, perhaps missing the point of its own narrative in the process.

Another connection that turns up like a bad penny is Hijiri being Aleph. Even Japanese fans, as I’ve found, might think that is the case. But, again, what does that prove? That SMTII and Nocturne are part of the same series? That they exist in a “multiverse”? I had to roll my eyes when I first found that page, because in the context of media properties like SMT, “multiverse” (strictly defined: infinite possible universes that comprise all of existence) is just a synonym for “series.” This potential connection also has zero impact on Nocturne’s plot, so much so that wasn’t even mentioned until the expanded Maniacs release. If it’s intended to be him (the text is vague), it would be a neat little nod, but not much else. And if the concept of Aleph being reborn countless times because of his sin were true, then he probably would have appeared in SMTIV in some form, but to my knowledge no character explicitly fits such a role.

While it’s not actually a “game” or one we even see much of, the backstory in SMTIV is successful in this regard because the main game builds directly on its past events. Same with SMTII and the first game. That Nocturne didn’t build off of the world of SMTII (I mean, where was it going to go?), returning to a normal modern day at its start, shows that Okada and Kaneko probably knew that to go that route would be to stagnate. But given how the series works with its real-world setting and numinous qualities, a “reboot” to the SMTI&II universe was easy and consequence-free.

But where the idea of SMT and canon gets interesting is with the demons. Because the demons are representations of mythological figures, they tend to come equipped with knowledge of their own history and pantheons. In fact, some designs speak of exactly where a demon is to be placed in its own mythological canon. For example, Baldur, who is depicted as chained:

Why is he chained? To signify that he’s trapped in Helheim after Loki tricked Hodr into throwing the mistletoe at him. Baldur would also technically exist in the Norse “timeline” as “unchained” before his death and after his post-Ragnarok resurrection, but in SMT’s depiction, the former already happened and the latter did not yet. Another good example is Kaneko’s Persephone, who is depicted as split in two, just as she was split between Hades and Demeter, so her kidnapping to the underworld must have already happened.

There is also little-to-no evidence that the demons remember events of past games. Dialogue that can be interpreted that way may just as easily be explained as references to their own mythologies. For example, in SMTIV the White call you their “fifth son”; some take that as implying this the fifth in a line that includes the protagonists of SMTI-III and Strange Journey, but the White are clearly influenced by similar concepts from Theosophy, which has as one of its tenets the idea of a “fifth humanity.”

Of course, I’m only criticizing the idea of an official canon, not headcanons or fancanons, so no toes are in danger of being stepped on. My suggestion is to get as much fun or enjoyment out of the idea of an overarching SMT canon but bail at the first sign of it buckling under its own weight. Above all, the SMT is supposed to be about the individual’s experiences, i.e., yours as a player. That’s why I dislike the canon names for the protagonists, “Hitoshura” or “Flynn” or whatever, because then it’s too tempting to give priority to “their” experiences and choices rather than your own. I think the developers intend the player’s experience to be the “true” one. Consider these words of Kazuyuki Yamai in a Nocturne interview: “Other Japanese games often follow a linear storyline, whereas Shin Megami Tensei III’s storyline is created by the player.” Your story is what choices you made, what demons you fused, what alignment you sided with, etc. That’s much more important than connecting every game by tenuous threads.

Great question though, I appreciate the chance to better formulate my opinion about it.