Narrative themes in Soul Hackers 2

In August this year, Soul Hackers 2 was released for consoles, and to be honest it was a little strange that it was announced. That’s not just because it came relatively fresh off the release of Shin Megami Tensei V. I get that Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers was a fairly popular Megami Tensei spin-off, but I’m not too sure why that meant it needed a sequel. Soul Hackers itself, if I’m not mistaken, was a sequel to Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, so if Atlus was going to announce something like this it would probably have made more sense to release it as Devil Summoner 3. But hey, at the end of the day it’s a side-hustle for Atlus, probably to make some more cash before the next mainline title (or perhaps more likely a Persona game). Still, it does bother me a little bit what the end result is, for reasons we’re about to explore.

I’m going to focus on the major narrative themes that I’ve picked up from playing Soul Hackers 2 recently up until stumbling on what appeared to be the final boss, so expect spoilers going forward. But first, let’s get into the game itself for a bit, and in this regard I would describe Soul Hackers 2 as sort of a downsized Persona.

In Soul Hackers 2, you summon demons for combat in almost the same way as the way combat works in Persona. You summon, recruit, and fuse demons, but rather than have those demons beside you as party members like in the mainline Shin Megami Tensei games, you equip your demons. The demon you equip determines the skills you can use in battle, and also affects your stats. But, whereas in Persona games you only seem to get to change the equipped Persona of the main character, in Soul Hackers 2 you can do this for your entire party (which, to be fair, consists of just four characters). You can also do this mid-battle using Commander Skills. Initially you can only do this for one character and once per turn, but as you progress the game you can change the entire party’s equipped demons mid-battle by getting upgrades. Similar to Persona there’s also an emphasis on social interactions between characters, but this is downsized. There’s Soul Levels for each character that you get by responding to in-game dialogue and going to “hangout events”. This mostly serves to unlock the gates of a dungeon called the Soul Matrix, and in turn unlock certain skills for your party members. But you can only “hangout” at a place called Bar Heidrun, and your “hangout events” consist of conversations between characters, in which you don’t typically do much.

Anyways, that’s how the game works, but what about the story? That is sort of what we’re here for after all. You play as Ringo, who is sort of an embodied artificial intelligence – more specifically, a recently-created agent of a vast digital entity called Aion, which exists as the product of an endless stream of information. Ringo, and another agent called Figue, are created by Aion in order to prevent the destruction of humanity and the world, mostly so that it can keep collecting information from human societies. In the process Ringo encounters three Devil Summoners named Arrow, Milady, and Saizo, who all die amidst their involvement in a struggle between two organisations – Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society – and are then revived by Ringo through an ability called “Soul Hacking” (I’m not entirely sure that’s what the original game had in mind). The party thus assembled, Ringo and her new allies resolve to stop the destruction of the world by getting all five of what’s called “Covenants” from someone called “Iron Mask”, the enigmatic leader of the Phantom Society who’s been killing anyone who has one in order to summon “The Great One”.

Now that we’ve established the basics, we can get into the contours of the game’s narrative. I believe the place I’d like to start is with factions. Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society seem to be the two main factions present in the game’s story. Two of the main characters are or have been members of either group. Arrow is a member of Yatagarasu, while Milady was a member of the Phantom Society before the game’s events. As for Saizo, he is a freelance Devil Summoner, at various points having done jobs for both groups for financial gain. But these basic details don’t interest me much when compared to the factions themselves.

Let’s start with Yatagarasu, which is a mainstay of the Devil Summoner series. Yatagarasu as an organisation, not to be confused with the Yatagarasu bird it is named after, first appears in Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha Vs The Soulless Army. In the Raidou Kuzunoha duology, Yatagarasu is an organisation ostensibly set up to protect The Capital from all supernatural threats. The Kuzunoha clan of Devil Summoners are bound by duty and oath to serve Yatagarasu and uphold its directives. As I discussed in my article about the Law alignment in Shin Megami Tensei, Yatagarasu also seems to represent some sort of “divine will”, whose exact nature and identity is unclear. Kazuma Kaneko has said in an interview that he treats Yatagarasu as a messenger of YHVH, which poses some interesting questions about whether serving Yatagarasu in the Raidou Kuzunoha duology means serving the will of YHVH. That would make sense for what does emerge as arguably a representation of the Law alignment in the context of at least Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon. Unfortunately, such questions are not at all addressed, let alone answered, in Soul Hackers 2. In Soul Hackers 2, the in-game description of the Yatagarasu organisation is that they are a supranationalist organisation that works behind the scenes to (again, ostensibly) protect Japan from supernatural threats and maintains an alliance with the Kuzunoha clan.

“Supranationalist” seems like a curious phrase here, but I would suppose it denotes their activities outside of Japan’s borders. At some point in the game, you learn that one member of Yatagarasu, called Raven, reveals that he was sent on a covert mission in a foreign country (interesting how the game mentions that it’s a “foreign country” but doesn’t say which country), in which he burned down an entire village in order to “purge” it from demonic influence. He killed the whole population, from every child to every elder, and told himself as he was doing it that this was all for the mission. Not suprisingly, this motivates Raven to get sick of doing combat missions and so he gets “put out to pasture” by Yatagarasu, by which I mean they have him work at a place called Komadori Orphanage as a teacher. So I suppose if by “supranationalist” we mean “supranational” as in, to quote Merriam-Webster, “the state or condition of transcending national boundaries, authority, or interests”, then Yatagarasu is an organisation that goes around doing what it thinks is in the interest of the Japanese nation and protecting it from demons, even if it that means committing atrocities in other countries in order to do so.

Here’s what I find most glaring about all of this. Let’s make something perfectly clear here: the actions of Yatagarasu in this instance, at least by some definition, constitute an act of genocide. Yatagarasu ordered the extermination of an entire village, justifying it on the grounds that it was necessary to rid the village of demons. The fact that this is explained to have taken place outside of Japan’s borders arguably makes it worse: I mean, really, do I have to explain how it sounds like certain other instances where the Japanese military invaded countries and massacred their populations? And yet, no one seems to treat these actions with the seriousness they deserve. Figue sits through the entire explanation, never expresses any disgust at Raven’s actions, and instead says that Raven just pushed himself too hard and tried to do his job, as if to console him by assuaging his feelings of guilt. Try to imagine this being a response to someone who tells you that they took part in the Nanking Massacre, and perhaps you’ll quickly see the problem I’m describing. Of course, Raven is still less than fazed by it, but he tells Figue that all he wants is to leave the kids out of the violence and will pick up his COMP again if anything threatens them. Like that’s supposed to somehow convince you that the genocider is embarking upon some personal redemption after the fact, because he’s a “good person” in the end just because he “chose not to fight” right after literally committing a genocidal massacre.

Even worse, Arrow, who is also a member of Yatagarasu, seemingly does nothing with this information. As a matter of fact, Arrow almost doesn’t seem to mind too much even when he’s explaining other questionable actions, such as the fact that Yatagarasu set up Komadori Orphanage as a training ground for Devil Summoners to then become enlisted in their ranks (not to mention keeping the kids involved in the dark about it all until they’re ready to leave), in the process seemingly manipulating the children from an early age to be part of their cause. Arrow actually ends up justifying pretty much all of it by saying that Yatagarasu are the only thing that can fight the Phantom Society. He even freely admits to himself the possibility that he had been manipulated, but this doesn’t phase him in the least, if only because he can’t allow it to phase him, because to doubt his conditioning would mean to second-guess himself. In the end, it comes down to classic blind faith. Arrow is never shown to have a problem with working for Yatagarasu after we see that Raven committed the massacre. In fact he only really seems to be outraged by the revelation that Raven was actually Iron Mask, the man they’ve been fighting, all along – or to be more exact, he took over as Iron Mask, donning his mask and impersonating him after killing the real Iron Mask (yes, the plot really does get that convoluted). In the end, his only real problem is that the man he looked up to turned out to be the enemy.

The fact that Yatagarasu ordered Raven to commit a massacre in another country also seems to never lead to any confrontation with Yatagarasu, and the only times you fight anyone from Yatagarasu at all have nothing to do with that. You fight Raven only because he turns out to be Iron Mask, and even then Figue still decides he’s worth trying to revive from the dead, and after then you fight a guy called Hozumi incidentally because he’s trying to get to Figue before you do when she’s about to “Soul Hack” the entire world. None of these encounters have anything to do with the knowledge that Yatagarasu will literally order genocides if they think it means “protecting” Japan. It’s barely talked about, and the game doesn’t ever give you the option to confront Yatagarasu over it. The entire relationship you have with Yatagarasu in the game is that one of your party is a member, you occasionally do favours for them, you try and fail to save a guy named Mangetsu Kuzunoha from getting killed, and as far the game is concerned Yatagarasu are ultimately “the good guys”, even if the game’s narrative also tries to present both them and the Phantom Society as sort of equally bad.

In the end, after everything, even after you learn that Raven killed the original Iron Mask, took his “Covenant”, took control of his artificial demon Zenon, took over his mission to summon the Great One to destroy the world and therefore killed all those people in order to fulfill it, Raven is ultimately regarded as someone who, in his own extremist way, was just trying to do the right thing for people he cared about (the kids at the Komadori Orphanage in this case), and Figue continually treats his problem as just a problem of trying to shoulder the burden of some tragic past alone. That’s obviously why Figue tries to save his life, and falls into a deep existential despair for some reason after she fails to do so, and no one in the entire party thinks to criticize the affection she reserves for someone who flat out told her that he was a mass murderer and has been murdering people in order to ultimately destroy the world this entire time, let alone question too much what right Raven had to trade the lives of the entire world for a small handful of kids he happened to care for. It’s all such nonsense, I don’t know how the writers pulled this one. Even some of the other characters all try to understand Raven’s actions in an almost sympathetic light, as the result of some kind trauma that they regret not steering him through. Only Milady actually seems to have the hostility that arise from finding out about Raven, and even then it’s not because of his actions as an agent Yatagarasu, and she ends up almost going way too far in order to get revenge. So on those counts, no one, just no one, actually seems interested in confronting Raven, or Yatagarasu, for any of this.

And you know, isn’t it strange how the group that goes off to commit atrocities in other countries basically “for the good of the nation” are for all intents and purposes regarded as flawed heroes rather than arguably another set of villains? If you remember Eirikr’s discussion of nationalist themes in the context of Shin Megami Tensei IV, then you probably already have some familiarity with Atlus’ questionable treatment of Japanese nationalism in latter-day Shin Megami Tensei games. I’d argue that such themes have gotten somewhat less visible (though obviously not entirely absent) in recent titles, such as Shin Megami Tensei V, but you can find it in any case. When it comes to Soul Hackers 2 there’s obviously no direct treatment of it in the way that Shin Megami Tensei IV sort of has at least subtextually, but if we consider their presence anywhere it’s going to have to be in Yatagarasu. Think about it: an organisation set up specifically as a secretive “national defense” group (it’s actually never entirely clear in these games what connection, if any, they’re supposed to have with the Japanese government), which then goes off to foreign countries to massacre the population (under the pretext of mass demonic possession of course), and whose members all rationalise every violent, oppressive, or manipulative action they undertake, even if they feel bad about it later, as being in the service of a “greater good”, which is translatable as meaning “protecting the Japanese nation”.

I think there’s reason to suspect that this is ultimately at least one reason why you never get to confront the Yatagarasu organisation. After all, why would you be allowed to go against the “protectors of the nation”? But then in Shin Megami Tensei V you arguably could, at least in that you could choose to fight Futsunushi and oppose his quest to fight “foreign demons”. Not to mention even in Shin Megami Tensei IV you could fight the National Defense Divinities, even if that’s only because they’re being ordered to obey the yakuza boss Tayama.

As long as we’re still talking about factions, we can now move on to the other main faction: the Phantom Society. The Phantom Society is kind of another mainstay, having first appeared in the original Soul Hackers. In Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, the Phantom Society are depicted as a secret society who controls Amami City, is linked to a software company called Algon Soft, have supposedly been directing human history from behind the shadows for longer than anyone can remember, and are at war with the Kuzunoha clan. Their goal was to collect as many human souls as they could through a system called Paradigm X in order to then be offered to “the Master of All”. It’s not clear why exactly they want to do this, though I suppose we can assume there is some destructive purpose involved or possibly a way to increase their power in some way. It is also suggested by some that the Phantom Society may also have appeared or been referenced in the original Devil Summoner. In Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, a summoner named Sid Davis is sent to Hirasaka City by an unnamed organisation to destroy some seals in order to resurrect Inaruna, who in this game was the princess of the Qin people who refused to submit to Yamato rule and who is supposed to have the power to destroy the world. Although the organisation that Sid works for is never identified, fans speculate that it might just be the Phantom Society.

In Soul Hackers 2, the Phantom Society returns as a not-so secret organisation of Devil Summoners whose main goal seems to be to summon a being called “The Great One”, for which end they may also commit crimes and then cover them up by somehow infiltrating governments. Their aim in summoning “The Great One” appears to be to destroy the world, with the apparent aim of also wanting to create a new one in its ashes. Of course, the game never makes it totally clear why they want to destroy the world for reasons other than pure evil, but perhaps we can try to piece something together. At one point you’re treated a flashback in which a very young Milady is greeted by the original Iron Mask, a (then young) man named Paul Taylor, who invites her to join him and tells her that this world is a “false” and “unjust” world that should be destroyed. Not much explanation there. You spend much of the game fighting the Phantom Society, but when you encounter their Summoners they never ever tell you why they want to fight for their cause or even what their cause is. At some point a summoner named Ash tells you that she’s decided to stay with the Phantom Society after saving the party from “Iron Mask”, but why would she continue to be loyal to the Phantom Society after what “Iron Mask” put her new friends through, let alone in light of their ambition to destroy the whole world? Whatever cause they represent that keeps her a member, Ash simply never elaborates. When Figue confronts “Iron Mask” and asks him why he intends to summon “The Great One” and destroy the world, Iron Mask only says that he is doing this because “that’s the Phantom Society’s will”, and never explains why that is. So according to “Iron Mask”, the Phantom Society wants to destroy the world and summon “The Great One”, simply because the Phantom Society wants to destroy the world and summon “The Great One”.

In what appears to be the final stretch of the game, the demon lord Azazel makes a special appearance as a “grand executor” of the Phantom Society. In the original Soul Hackers, Azazel is the true demonic identity of Nishi, a member and executive of the Phantom Society who also serves as the Vice Minister of Amami City. Nishi planned the entire city around the construction of Paradigm X, which, you’ll remember, was designed for the purpose of stealing human souls. Nishi’s main objective was to develop Paradigm X to perfection and then spread it all over the world. All of this he considered to be an undertaking of “mankind’s duty”, meaning in this case that he believed that humans were simply vessels in the grand scheme of his nameless “Master”, to whom all human souls were, with the help of Manitou, to be offered. In Soul Hackers 2, Azazel, as once again part of the Phantom Society, shows up with the intention of lending assistance to Figue when she decides to use all the “Covenants” to “Soul Hack” the entire world in order to “end the violence” (we’ll get to that theme later). Azazel isn’t really interested in that goal, though, and is more interested in the fact that, according to him, the “Covenants”, when they meet with Figue, will elevate human souls to “new heights” which he thinks will make them worthy offerings, which could mean offerings either to himself or to this nameless “Master” he originally spoke of. But again, it’s not entirely clear.

As for Milady, who was a member of the Phantom Society before the events of the game, a great deal of her involvement with the Phantom Society is seemingly almost entirely explained by her eventual romantic attraction to Paul Taylor, the original “Iron Mask”. Exactly how she determines that the destruction of the world, and her own eventual death at the hands of her lover, which she knew was expected to come, would all be worthwhile just because of her feelings for Paul, is never made clear. What convinced her that the world was so false and unjust as to merit its destruction by “The Great One”? It’s not clear, at all.

But I suppose we should talk about this “Great One” the Phantom Society talks about, since it is central to their whole modus operandi. The “Great One” seems to be an entity that seemingly arises every now and again to destroy and recreate the world. Apparently it has gone by numerous names across different cultures at different points in time. Something about it mildly fascinated me when I first encountered it in the game. I thought the very name itself for a being of such power sounded almost Lovecraftian, in a way. For another thing, the idea rings a bell when it comes to certain ideas about Satan, where it’s sometimes held that the very name Satan refers to an entity that has gone by many different names across time. Of course “The Great One” is probably not Satan in this game; mostly because Satan is already in the game as a separate character and summonable demon ally via DLC. But I am left wondering just what the “Great One” did go by in-universe, and unfortunately this is just another bit of lore that the game never expands on. That said, when you encounter the super-boss, Seth, the god of chaos who in this game describes himself as “The Calamity”, he sounds rather like this “Great One” even if he’s not designated as the “Great One”, and I’m left wondering why Seth didn’t end up having a role in the main story instead of just being a powerful boss in a side-quest.

But what if the “Great One” is actually supposed to be God? At one point, Raven explains that Mangetsu Kuzunoha believed that the “Covenants” all originated from the pattern of rainbow, and hence represented five of its main colours: red, yellow, green, blue, and purple. Raven then explains that in ancient times the “Great One” appeared and forged a contract with humanity, and marked this occasion by casting a rainbow across the sky, which is supposedly the origin of the “Covenants”. In the Bible, the rainbow is basically a symbol of the covnenant God made to Noah after flooding the world. In the Book of Genesis, God makes a covenant with Noah promising that God will never again destroy life on earth with a flood, and casts a rainbow in the sky as an eternal symbol of this new covenant between God and humanity. The parallels seem to be very much 1:1. So could it be; is the Phantom Society actually trying to summon God the whole time? That would make a lot of things very interesting, such as the fact that Azazel is a member of this organisation. Perhaps he’s fulfilling a certain role as the wild shadow of God here? On the other hand, perhaps this also invites another question about Japanese nationalism. I mean, think about it: the Japanese nationalist Yatagarasu out to stop the God of the Bible from being able to reshape the world and, in the process, destroy the Japanese nation? It’s not like there haven’t been certain contours before.

An important detail regarding the “Great One” is the act of destruction that it undertakes, and it’s also probably the only concrete indication of the Phantom Society’s actual beliefs in this game. According to Raven, who is revealed to have become the “Iron Mask” you fight after murdering the original (again, just, why is this the plot?), the “Great One” doesn’t take the souls of all humans, meaning that a new generation of humans will survive to inherit a new world. This new world is to be shaped by whoever gathers all of the “Covenants” and invokes the “Great One” with them. This apparently is what all members of the Phantom Society believe or are instructed to accept, and so from this alone we can deduce that the Phantom Society are doing all that they do in order to gain the power to, in Milday’s words, “reshape the basic laws and principles of this world”, with the assistance of the “Great One”. Of course, what they expect this new world to look like is still completely unclear. Raven, though, hopes only that it will be a world in which the children of Komadori Orphanage never get to experience violence or suffering. That this should require the destruction of everything doesn’t bother Raven so much, because he’s already concluded that this destruction is inevitable anyway, and that the only thing that matters is who gets to enact it, because that means getting to decide the fate of the new world. Perhaps the Phantom Society agrees, given the way its members seem to talk about “fate” and its supposed unchangeability.

Perhaps one could speculate that the “Great One” is meant to be none other than Kagutsuchi, the avatar of the “Great Will” who appears to end the world and select the one who will create the next world. It’s very, very unlikely that this is actually the case, mind you, such that the very notion is perhaps best taken in jest. Nonetheless, the whole theme does have certain (albeit faint and arguably somewhat shallow) resonances with Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. That’s probably not a coincidence, considering that Nocturne is probably the most popular game in the franchise, and which just got a HD remake last year and also arguably a “sequel” in Shin Megami Tensei V. But when it comes to the True Demon ending path at least (I’ve covered that in a not-so-unsympathetic light here), you can at least say you’re trying to end the brutal cycles generated by the metaphysical domination of YHVH or The Great Will. Here it’s either “I’m a mass murderer and I feel bad about that so let’s destroy the world and start over” or “I suddenly feel awful about everything because my friends killed the mass murderer I’m in love with so let’s destroy the world and hijack everyone’s personalities so they don’t fight anymore for any reason”.

In the end, both the Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society are flat and substanceless in terms of their precise motives and characterization, and so the conflict between them, which persists in the background, is almost entirely meaningless. You’re sort of left to look at it as basically a conflict between “white hats” and “black hats” (to use hacking terminology here), and yet the game’s narrative also tries to cast a shade of gray over it all, presumably to better comport with Shin Megami Tensei expectations. Even the fact of Yatagarasu having ordered a genocidal massacre sort of falls into that whole attempt to establish relative moral ambiguity, but it’s also still just there to cast Yatagarasu as “flawed but still ultimately good”, the idea of course being that nothing could be worse than trying to destroy the world, even if that is to create a new one. For any actual moral ambiguity to be established, though, would require constant doubt over Yatagarasu’s motives and actions, weighed against the actions of the Phantom Society, to be present, and packed with the possibility of actually fighting the Yatagarasu organisation head-on at some point, rather than some incidental conflict with one of its members. But that never happens. The theme of ambiguity is therefore a facade.

There’s not much more to say except for the overarching theme of the game: the state of the world. There’s an in-game blurb you sometimes see in loading screens which talks about modern society. It says that modern society is plagued by unchecked capitalism, rampant “materialism”, broad social stagnation, and total lack of intellectual curiosity, and its people are all waiting for one more thrill to shake up their hopelessly boring lives. A little surprising to see some fairly explicit anti-capitalism in the game, whereas even Shin Megami Tensei V, the game that was billed by its creators as dealing with a host of contemporary real world issues, doesn’t bring it up at all. And yet, Soul Hackers 2 ultimately does nothing with that context. It’s just a footnote in your struggle against the Phantom Society. Now, I know that there’s many different ways to go about actually applying anti-capitalist themes here, but I think the easiest for this game would just be to involve actual fighting against Yatagarasu. After all, what if Yatagarasu acting as some sort of occult guardians of the Japanese state means definite ties to the Japanese government? That could mean that, in the context of an anti-capitalist unrest in which demons and Devil Summoners could possibly become involved, Yatagarasu could be called upon to suppress any uprising or dissent facing the government in that instance. You could then be forced to decide which side the party takes. But I’m sure we’ve already discussed why that’s just not happening. It’s tempting to think about just what would happen if a major developer did create a video game in which you get to overthrow the government. On the other hand, the original Shin Megami Tensei literally has you fighting the Japanese military (or Japanese Self Defense Force as it’s properly called) as they impose martial law and kidnap one of your friends, and if I recall correctly basically the same thing happens in Devil Survivor. So what would Atlus’ excuse be this time except for lack of imagination or interest?

In any case, the main issue that the game’s narrative ultimately seems to centre is “the fighting”, meaning mostly conflict between Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society, but possibly also a broader struggle with hostile demons. Never mind why there’s fighting or conflict going on at all, just the fact that there’s fighting or conflict going on to start with. Raven kills the original “Iron Mask”, takes his place, takes over his operation and thereby assumes leadership of the Phantom Society, starts killing people including his former student Arrow just to get the “Covenants” to summon the “Great One”, all in order to “end the fighting for good” by creating a world for himself and the children of Komadori Orphanage to live without ever having to know about violence or suffering. When Raven is defeated and killed by the party, Figue desperately attempts and fails to revive him, and this pulls her into a deep despair, after which she ends up trying to finish exactly what Raven started, with the apparent assistance of Aion. The entire time you confront Figue, she keeps talking about how no one should ever have to experience loss or pain, laments about how you supposedly justify your pain, and if she gets her way no one will ever suffer or feel pain ever again.

Obviously the response to this would be that it would amount to a kind of deathlike stasis, because to alter everyone’s personalities to somehow “remove the source of conflict” would also take away the basis of life in some way. Ringo points that out and it’s certainly a good enough point. But what would have been better is to ask what right Figue has to even do this? Just because she has all the “Covenants”? As if the whole point of fighting “Iron Mask” wasn’t to stop him from using them? Actually a still even better question would be why go through all this, why “Soul Hack” the entire world, just because you experienced a deep sense of loss over a man who, for starters, committed genocide on Yatagarasu’s orders, confessed this to you, and in the end turned out to literally be the exact same guy who killed your friends the first time around, killed Mangetsu Kuzunoha and had him devoured whole by Zenon, and tortured your friends when they entered his headquarters at the Ozaki Hope Towers, and also murdered the original “Iron Mask” and took his place in order to do all of this? Why? Because you believed whatever crap he said about how he wanted to protect the children and decided that this was worth all the heinous actions he did, and because of that, now that he’s dead, you just have to honour his memory by finishing the same work you were trying to stop before? What sense does that make? For that matter, why do you care so much that you’re prepared to do this? That’s the line of questioning that I think should have been asked in-game, but it isn’t.

But then would it have soured the friendship between the characters too strongly for those questions to have been asked? Frankly not, if as Ringo says friends would try to stop their friends from doing bad things. But then that’s probably just the core focus at the end of it. Friendship. That and the larger background of Aion trying to further its own evolution by gathering information for humanity. Ringo and Figue are recent creations in the context of the game’s events. Does that mean Figue’s going off the wall and trying to end everything might be conditioned by her relative lack of experience with the human world, including emotions, the reality of violence, and having to deal with the fact that someone you’ve formed an attachment with is both a piece of shit and a threat to everything? Personally, I’d say it’s more the attachment itself that makes sense of this, and in turn the despair caused by her failure to revive Raven.

The only other contour to all this is the locus of blame afforded to the suffering everyone keeps talking about. You may remember how it all comes back to “the fighting”. Towards the fight with Hozumi, depending on how you answer Hozumi, Ringo shouts to Hozumi that it doesn’t matter if you are on the side of either Yatagarasu or the Phantom Society because “the ‘sides’ are the whole reason the violence never stops”. There’s definitely something to unpack from that, but it feels very shallow. For one thing, in this position of apparent neutrality, the only thing to understand about the problems of the world is the fact that there are two sides in conflict with each other, and that this fact itself is the reason for violence. Forget even the whole spiel about how the Phantom Society were supposed to be trying to destroy the world the whole time, the real problem for Ringo seems to be that they bothered to be a faction at all. For another, the shallowness of such a position is easily felt by the fact that it doesn’t even weight what the two sides are all supposed to be worth before establishing its own neutrality. Ultimately it’s sort of the same starting point as with Figue’s newfound quest to “Soul Hack” the world; it all comes down to the desperate question of why can’t we all be friends?

Even stranger is the fact that both sides are progressively treated as equally bad, albeit only after you defeat Raven and have intercept Figue (until then most of the cast assumes Yatagarasu are basically “the good guys”), yet we never seem to establish what Yatagarasu wants to do with the “Covenants” that Figue has in her possession. We know what The Phantom Society was going to do with them, no doubt, but why does Yatagarasu want them all of a sudden? How come no one seems to ask what their motives are here, and how come Hozumi never directly explains it?

There really isn’t much more to say about the overall narrative of Soul Hackers 2. There is the Lost Numbers line of quests of course, which in turn sees you taking jobs from Yatagarasu, but ultimately there isn’t much thematic content for me to explore. Basically it revolves around a Devil Summoner named Nana, who it turns out is an artificially created demon referred to as a Lost Number. These Lost Numbers were designed to combine the strengths and attributes of demons with those of humans, and they were meant have human memories, but it’s also said that they were made to hunt humans. Nana is seemingly the only one of these Lost Numbers that didn’t immediately kill any human who set eyes on her. Nana wanted to believe that she was human, so she took on the identity of the daughter of a man named Gen Mayumi, an assistant of Mangetsu Kuzunoha who was killed by the Phantom Society. At some point the Lost Numbers, including Nana, lose control of themselves and start attacking people, so naturally the party is asked to stop them from doing any more damage, thus beginning the whole quest chain.

Of course even though Milady tells Nana that the Phantom Society killed her “father”, she never sets out to take revenge on Milady, or the Phantom Society at large. That might have something to do with the fact that Gen Mayumi was never her father, and perhaps that she herself was never really a human girl anyway. Still if there’s anything kind of interesting about these quests it’s the exploration of artificial demon research. In the Devil Summoner games, the artificial demons are called Zoma, and they are unique to this spin-off series. They are technologically created beings that emulate the form and powers of a demon. The Goumaden master Victor at some point tells us that humans, in an attempt to play the role of God himself, created the Zoma in order to acheive the act of having created a soul from nothing. These Zoma then grow stronger by absorbing other demons, or some power source like the “Covenants”. That technology was of course very important to the goals of the Phantom Society. Unfortunately you get not much more than questions about the Zoma technology when it comes to these quests. Most of that particular story is centered around Nana’s relationship to her memories and her purpose as a Lost Number, which is ultimately when you defeat her the second time and you convince her that she can lead any life she wants.

I mean I guess that’s about it for narrative themes in Soul Hackers 2. I kind of hope this wasn’t a complete waste of time, though I will say that this article originally started out as I got the idea to talk about faint echoes of Law and Chaos in relation to Yatagarasu and the Phantom Society. As I write this, I think even “faint” is being a tad polite in reference to these parallels. In practice, if they exist, they are rather shallow and ultimately hardly visible in-game.

To be honest, when it comes to the game itself, I feel like Soul Hackers 2 is uniquely lacking even when compared to the criticisms I reserved for Shin Megami Tensei V. When you play the game, and even accounting for some of the basic narrative concepts (such as Aion and even “Soul Hacking”), there’s a lot of room for exploration here. There’s details in the overall plot that could have been greatly expanded. I didn’t even talk about Figue’s precise relationship to Raven, mostly because the game literally does nothing with it – there’s a scene in which the other characters imply that Figue is in love with Raven and try to set them up, but that’s the only time in which the game presents or explores the possibility, even though it seems like obvious background for Figue’s later actions that otherwise defy sense. Really, Soul Hackers 2 had a lot of potential on its own. It could and should have been a wonderfully innovative cyberpunk honeymoon between Persona and the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series. But the reality of what we have is nothing but a side-hustle.

Alignment and ideology in Shin Megami Tensei V

This last year, during the summer, I took it upon myself to write a series of articles covering in great detail the alignments of the Shin Megami Tensei series, examining their many ideological, philosophical and religious contours and the way they take shape in each of the main games of the series. Part 1 was dedicated to the Chaos alignment, Part 2 was dedicated to the Law alignment, and Part 3, the final part, was dedicated to Neutrality. These posts seem to have been fairly successful, and I hope they made for good reading at least to tide Shin Megami Tensei fans over before the release of Shin Megami Tensei V. But now, Shin Megami Tensei V is here, and has been here for a good while now. So with the dust settled and the game thoroughly explored, it’s time to give the same treatment to just this game.

I was originally expecting to have this post finished no sooner than January, but it took a lot less time for me to finish this essay than I had originally suspected. And so, contrary to what I said earlier in my original review of Shin Megami Tensei V, instead of a January release, I was able to move this essay over to a Boxing Day release, still accounting for holiday plans of course, hence you’re now able to see this essay earlier than planned. I’m also assuming that it will be months before we get access to translated interviews from the developers of Shin Megami Tensei V regarding the full story context and the thought process and inspirations that went into it in the sense that we have for previous games in the Shin Megami Tensei series, so it was best for me to expedite the release of this essay once it became clear to me that it was going to be finished before the New Year.

This article will be covering the manifestation of the Law and Chaos dynamic in Shin Megami Tensei V, all the ideological contours that come with it, as well as its relationship to previous Shin Megami Tensei games. It will also, in the process of all this, deal in the many flaws of Shin Megami Tensei V’s story, and the premise that game attempts to present to the player. I should also note that, whereas the original alignment and ideology posts started with the Chaos alignment before moving onto Law and ending with Neutrality, this time we will start with Law, then move onto Chaos, and end with Neutrality.

Before Shin Megami Tensei V was released, it was often speculated or rather assumed by fans that the game would eschew the dynamic of Law and Chaos that is central to the series, opting for something more like the Reasons from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (which, as I’ve explained, all embody the Law side of that dynamic). Indeed, when the game was leaked before its official release, it was thought initially that there was actually no Chaos ending to speak of and instead a selection of Law and Neutral endings. But, having played the game, it soon became apparent that in fact there was a Law and Chaos dynamic, and while it plays out in an unconventional way relative to the rest of the series, it does still follow series tradition in many aspects, and one of the aims of this essay is to demonstrate precisely this.

I also see this essay as an opportunity to challenge various arguments made by various fans and commentators about the nature of alignments in Shin Megami Tensei V and their supposed departure from Shin Megami Tensei tradition and its “absolutism” (I’m looking squarely at you Comic Book Resources, and you TV Tropes!) that I believe to be facile, wrong-headed, and weak. In doing so, I’m probably going to displease a lot of people who are fans of the game, or even the series as a whole, but as far as I’m concerned that comes with the territory of our subject and my response to it.

Once again I’d like to stress before we start that this entire article is going to be riddled with explicit and major spoilers for Shin Megami Tensei V. If you haven’t played the game yet. it’s probably for the best that you not read it. On the other hand, there’s a good chance many of the people about to read this already have played this game. In any case, there’s your warning.

Story context

Since we are discussing one single game within the Shin Megami Tensei series, as opposed to basically the entire series of games plus some spin-offs, I think there is room to discuss the larger context of the game’s story, within which the dynamic of alignment is situated, before examining the three alignments indiviudally.

Shin Megami Tensei V begins with an account of an in-universe narrative of creation. It starts by establishing God, as in the God of the Bible, as the creator of the universe as we know it, or rather the “world of order” as it is called, and his servants, the angels, ensured that it functioned in accordance with his will. Humans, we’re told, led happy, fruitful, and prosperous lives under the auspices of God’s grace. But, we are warned, even the order of God himself is not eternal, that fate dictates that mankind will muddle and corrupt the path set out by God, and that order and chaos will continually beget and consume each other turn. We are then informed that the world is set to be destroyed, as is implied by the question, “How will these keepers of Knowledge strive and perish during their final, futile hours in this doomed world?”. The “keepers of Knowledge” are, of course, humans, or more specifically the cast of characters the game presents to the player, with whom they are soon thrown into the apocalypse. The narrators elect to watch these humans, as though observing a play, until a new ruler is seated on the throne.

Not too much later, after the collapse of Takanawa Tunnel, we receive yet more narration concerning the origin of the demons in the game. The games, keeping in mind their modern setting and the clash with secularism that this entails, often embrace differing explanations for the demons that inhabit them, and in that spirit here is the narrative that Shin Megami Tensei V offers us. In the beginning, before humans “gained Knowledge”, God (referred to as “the God of Law”) assumed the throne of creation, and upon doing so he confiscated all “Knowledge” from the other gods so as to deny their ability to challenge his rule over the cosmos. This, it seems, desecrated the other gods, robbing them of their former divine status and resulting in their transformation into the beings called demons. God then stashed away a “Fruit of Knowledge” in his own paradise, seemingly hidden from the other gods. And then a serpent sought the audience of mortal humans, so as to tempt them to eat the “Fruit of Knowledge”, promising that the humans will become more godlike. This is then cast as a conspiracy aimed at resurrecting the war between the gods. Humans everywhere ate the “Fruit of Knowledge”, and this meant consuming “Knowledge” which then bound to the souls of humans and brought them closer to gods. Naturally this leads to God angrily banishing humanity from his paradise, and humanity is constantly watched by demons, waiting for their moment to claim their lost “Knowledge” from humans.

This premise is central to the story of Shin Megami Tensei V, and it is constantly recapitulated to the player throughout the game. There is an entire plot arc based on this premise, which is then conveniently wrapped in the dressing of what is otherwise a paper-thin conversation about high-school bullying (which, I must stress once again, is the game’s only effort at “sympathizing” with the issues of contemporary society). The entire concept of a Nahobino, the neither-demon-nor-human hybrid being that the main character becomes, starts from this premise. It is a human with “Knowledge” and a demon uniting together, to access the apparent “true form” of the demon, and demons seek “Knowledge” in order to attain the state of being a Nahobino, presumably in order to challenge the power of God. Left untouched, however, is the nature of “Knowledge”. There doesn’t seem to be any effort within the game to actually define it. The closest the game gets to doing so is to establish that the gods needed it in order to be able to shape a functioning world, and that without it the gods ceased to be divine. Thus “Knowledge” is more accurately just “divinity”, in the sense of divine identity and power, which God sought to monopolize for himself once he became the supreme being.

Also, God is actually dead this time. 18 years before the events of the game, a war between the forces of order, or God rather, and the forces of chaos, led by Lucifer, engaged in a battle referred to as Armageddon, in which Lucifer apparently emerged triumphant. In a flashback, Lucifer proclaims that God has been slain by his own hand and that he has ascended the throne of God, or the Pillar Empyreal. He also proclaims that order has crumbled and chaos will envelop the world, leading to rebirth and a new future, with the only remaining task being to “sow the seeds that shall sprout into this grand reality”. So God is basically dead for the entire game, with Lucifer having defeated him. And yet for some reason God’s order still hangs over the world, at least in theory. The Condemnation, God’s edict barring the existence of the Nahobino, is at least suggested to still be in effect, despite the main character becoming a Nahobino in the midst of this, and the angels of God, gathered under the name of Bethel, continue to fight the agents of Lucifer despite God’s death.

Of course, this being a Shin Megami Tensei game, one continuing directly after Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne at that, there has to be a turning point leading on to the quest to build a new world in the wake of the apocalypse. As such, everyone eventually gets the memo that God is dead and the time for a new creation is at hand. In fairness, early on in the game, you are already informed that the Tokyo you’ve been living in for the last 18 years is not the real Tokyo, but rather the product of a miracle created by God, which is later referred to as the “Shekinah Glory” (that engimatic phrase which originally haunted the first trailer of the game). This means that the original or “real” Tokyo is what’s known as Da’at, or the Netherworld, completely populated by demons waiting for their chance to break into the Shekinah Glory version of Tokyo. But as the story progresses, God’s demise becomes apparent to the cast, as the Shekinah Glory fades, Tokyo begins to disappear, and meanwhile it turns out Bethel is composed of beings who have already figured out God’s death and are waiting for their chance to act accordingly. At that point, the “Goddess of Creation” (the “Megami” in Shin Megami Tensei, apparently) appears before the protagonist, beckoning him to seek the throne of creation. Eventually you’re compelled to choose between three outcomes, which will be explored over the course of this article:

  1. Uphold God’s order (that is, recreate the world in the image of God’s order)
  2. Recreate the world and save Tokyo (that is, recreate the world with a new order governed by multiple gods instead of just one)
  3. Destroy the throne

This is the game’s story, and thus the context in which this game’s version of the dynamic of Law and Chaos is situated.

Before we continue on to each of the respective alignments, it’s worth taking stock of where the overall story goes. We’re treated to what is essentially a retelling of the War in Heaven and the story of Man’s expulsion from Eden, one that also serves as an origin story for the demons and connects back to themes of the divide between monotheism and polytheism that were explored, pretty shoddily, in the last game, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. That game’s story-world might just hang over Shin Megami Tensei V like a shadow, since the vaguely-defined “Knowledge” of this game, although ultimately conceptually different, at least to me smelled a little bit like the concept of “Observation” in Apocalypse, a power given to humans by the Axiom which allows humans to give form to the formless and is thus coveted by the gods and demons because of its power to create and/or destroy them. “Knowledge” here doesn’t determine whether or not the gods exist at all, and we’re in no way certain where it comes from, but it does seem to follow a similar trend of using vague, abstract philosophical-sounding concepts, in lieu of any existing mythological or esoteric concept, as a device to explain the existence of the demons.

That said, I could remark about the connection between divine identity and the ability to challenge the order of God. It is not too uncommon in pre-Christian myths to see humans and even other gods challenge the celestial order in some way, and in fact, in the Atrahasis, the Mesopotamian precursor text to the story of Noah’s Ark, humans are created through the blood of Geshtu-e, a god of intelligence and a leader of a group of rebellious deities known as the Igigu, and in turn humans gain a portion of the divine in their blood. The gods in the Atrahasis created humans to do the labour that the Igigu refused to do, and the suffering of their labour led them to cry out in defiance, resulting in the attempt by the god Enlil to destroy them. The hero Atrahasis saves mankind with the help of the god Enki, though the gods afterwards control the human population through sterility, the chaste priestess, stillbirth, and infant mortality. Humans rebelled, as Geshtu-e did, rather than accept the fate Enlil might have wrought upon them, and as Peter Grey suggests in Lucifer: Princeps this emerges from the heritage of the divine blood that created humans in the Atrahasis. In Shin Megami Tensei V, God seizes the divine identity of the gods and stows it away, only for humans to eat the Fruit of Knowledge and become infused with that same latent divine identity. So humans become a threat to God’s order through their latent ability to contest it, which is why the narrator laments God’s order being inevitably corrupted by humanity. That said I would probably not suggest that the writing team for Shin Megami Tensei V actually sought to channel the depths of that ancient heritage that Peter and I would retrospectively refer to as “Luciferian”, and instead suggest that what we see in Shin Megami Tensei V is more or less specific to the game and focuses directly on the base myths of the War in Heaven and the Garden of Eden, not so much their deeper polytheistic roots.

I would also like to stress that not every reference in Shin Megami Tensei V seems to have a particularly coherent meaning, or at least not one that is apparent to me anyway. The netherworld where the demons live is called Da’at. In Kabbalah mysticism, Da’at is the name of the location in the Tree of Life where all of the ten sefirah converge and unite as one. What this has to do with the demons or any concept of the netherworld/underworld has never been obvious to me. The name Da’at means “knowledge”, which you might think connects to the story. But don’t you think it sounds weird that the demons look for knowledge in a place that in Hebrew is called “knowledge”? Or that the demons seem to have their home named after the thing they’ve lost, like some kind of cruel joke played either by themselves on themselves or by God I guess? Also, a demon named Lahmu mentions being in a place called Assiah. Assiah is the name of one of the spiritual worlds in Kabbalah mysticism. That’s not unfamiliar to Shin Megami Tensei, since Assiah along with Atzulith are mentioned in the series in some way, but it’s not the obvious what the connection to Da’at is. Maybe they’re separate dimensions that are connected somehow? Who knows.

Anyways, with all that out of the way, let’s address the alignments in Shin Megami Tensei V, starting with the Law alignment.


Assessing the role of the Law and Chaos dynamic means establishing exactly who represents each side of that dynamic. Shin Megami Tensei V’s representation of the Law alignment is, for the most part, fairly predictable by Shin Megami Tensei standards. Although God is dead, his angels are still very much alive, fighting on his behalf seemingly to protect Tokyo from demons. But is that all there is to it? And what do these angels really want?

First of all we should note that, for much of the game, you are essentially stuck on the same side as the angels and don’t get to really oppose them until much later in the game. This is because the protagonist has been drafted into membership of the demon-fighting organization known as Bethel, a name that, conspicuously, means “House of God”. Most of the units of Bethel that you see are angels, and it is through the angels that you are initially introduced to Bethel. An angel named Abdiel also serves as the commander of Bethel’s forces, meaning that she (yes, the male angel Abdiel is a woman in this game, for some reason) is basically in charge of the organization as a whole. And in typical angelic fashion, Abdiel does not brook dissent, and in fact has to be dissuaded from killing the protagonist for being a Nahobino, a violation of the edict known as the Condemnation.

The Condemnation is the name given to an edict imposed by God after he assumed the throne of creation, which barred all other gods from being able to assume the form of a Nahobino and thus access their divine identity. This meant the seizure of all “Knowledge” from the other gods, and their transformation into demons, and in theory means that, in the words of the angel Camael, God is the only Nahobino in existence. But with God dead, this edict seems to no longer stand, as evidenced by the protagonist’s transformation into a Nahobino. Of course, the angels don’t quite realize this yet, and Abdiel certainly doesn’t get the big picture until much later in the game, when she holds a summit with the rest of Bethel’s leadership and is defeated for the first time by the player. Indeed, when you first meet Abdiel, you’ve only been playing the game for an hour or so, have only just met Abdiel for about a minute, and she’s already prepared to kill you for violating the Condemnation, saying that Bethel will not tolerate anyone who violates the will of God. Bethel then emerges as what is initially the clear Law faction of the game, one that you are forced to cooperate with for the majority of the game.

The initial presentation of the Law and Chaos dynamic is pretty straightforward. Representing Law are the forces of order, consisting primarily of Bethel’s angels and their allies on one side, fighting the demons of chaos on the other. The demons of chaos want only thing: to reclaim their lost “Knowledge”. And they’re prepared to invade whatever passes for Tokyo and apparently capture your high school classmates in order to get it. Seeing this as a threat to God’s order, the forces of order lead by Bethel want to stop them, and “protecting Tokyo” just happens to be part of the package insofar as it means driving their enemies into the abyss. The game introduces you to the angels fairly early on as “working tirelessly to protect the people”, presumably from demonic incursions. But this is little other than a ruse, as becomes apparent later in the game. The angels, although they fight the demons breaking into Tokyo and seemingly protect its inhabitants, don’t actually care to stop its ultimate apocalyptic destruction. The angels, when confronted with the failure of the Shekinah Glory and of God to protect Tokyo, and its destruction despite conforming to the will of God, insist that Tokyo’s destruction is to be considered inevitable, “for God’s anger burns many and spares none”. For the angels, God’s order is absolute, and if that means the destruction of the very Tokyo that they were ostensibly “protecting”, then they do not oppose the destruction of Tokyo. Abdiel affirms this creed to the hilt, and so does her apparent rival, Camael, when he tells the protagonist it is his “justice” to loyally execute God’s words, which means killing the player as a Nahobino. The difference between Abdiel and Camael is that Abdiel would rather kill the Nahobino that is the player, but can be convinced to use the Nahobino to execute the will of Bethel until the demons are gone, while Camael brooks no such thing and prefers to immediately kill the player so as to ensure that God is the only Nahobino in existence. Your existence, after all, is a threat to God’s order, because your power as a Nahobino might cause some of the angels to join your side and, so Camael fears, abandon God’s side.

There is obviously a heavy leaning into the implications of Christian theology, or least about as deep as it gets for a game that’s only trying to be an edgier Tokyo Mirage Sessions a new generation of Shin Megami Tensei. The Christians frequently counsel us that God in his unconditional love for humanity has given us free will, that we might come to choose his side through it. Any even cursory reading of the Bible gives us reason to doubt that assurance, considering, among other things, that it is down to God hardening the Pharoah’s heart that the Israelites were refused the right to leave Egypt until the death of the firstborn. Leaving aside the Old Testament, the Book of Acts, within the New Testament, makes clear that “in him we live and move and have our being”. The implications are very much pantheistic, and I would argue that these implications are not the rosy and reasonable alternative to classical theism that certain rationalists both Christian and secular would like to believe, and certainly not the alternative to monotheism that certain neopagans would like to believe. The full scope of that is best reserved for another article in another time, but for now let us establish that there is only one God in pantheism, just that this God is the whole universe. The implications presented in the theology of the New Testament is that God is omnipresent to the point of permeating the whole fabric of the universe and is the sole agency underpinning our every movement. Free will, in this sense, is impossible with the Christian God present, and insofar as God’s order cannot be meaningfully opposed in that even evil actions must necessarily be underpinned or made possible by God’s agency alone, then God’s order would indeed by absolute. Indeed, this I think is what Abdiel means when she says that the ability of her enemies to resist her at all is “by the grace of our Lord”.

Turning away from the main plot for a moment, I should mention that Shin Megami Tensei V also features a series of subquests in each region of the game, one seemingly corresponding to Law and the other seemingly corresponding to Chaos, in theory anyway. This correspondence is at least inferred by the available guides for the game. If there is any correspondence to the alignments, then these subquests are worth exploring for content regarding the expression of Law and Chaos outside the game’s main plot.

In the Minato sector of Da’at, specifically in Shiba, we see a grotto in which a demon named Apsaras, based on the celestial nymphs from Indian mythology, is worshipped by a congregation of weaker demons who pray to her for salvation. Apparently the Apsaras has a whole space set up as a shelter for the weaker demons, who come to rely upon her benevolence in a hostile netherworld and obey her as a result. In fact, only the weak may enter her cave, as the strong do not much benefit from her benevolence. Asparas’ stated goal is to form a circle of gods and offer the weak the minimum amount of knowledge and resources to survive while belonging to her circle. This is opposed by another demon, Leanan Sidhe, who accuses her of seducing weaker demons in order to create an army of soldiers who unconditionally obey her will without regard for their individuality. Apsaras in turn accuses Leanan Sidhe of deceiving the demons with empty words that will only cause them to despair at their own powerlessness. Apsaras is a Yoma and therefore Law-aligned, while Leanan Sidhe is a Femme and therefore Chaos-aligned, so the familiar dynamic of Law and Chaos is well-established here. Taking the “The Spirit of Love” subquest sees you siding with Apsaras and fighting Leanan Sidhe.

Another subquest that follows the same formula is in the Shinagawa area of Da’at. At Shinagawa Pier you will find a Principality, one of the angelic orders, who requests that you assist him in exterminating a group of Lilim who are apparently plotting to infiltrate Tokyo (by which he means the Tokyo produced by the Shekinah Glory). Principality’s rationale is pretty straightforward, and not unlike Apsaras’: he claims to want to protect the weak, in this case humans as he sees them, and he thinks that the Lilim want to attack the whole human world, so in order to protect humans the Lilim must be defeat. The Principality is an agent of Bethel, as is to be expected of most angels. The Lilim, of course, would dispute the angel, saying they only wanted to live quietly among humans. The traditional alignment dynamic is once again clear cut, with Principality as a Law-aligned angel (or Divine) and Lilim as a Chaos-aligned Night. Seeing as you can reject the Principality’s subquest and side with the Lilim instead, this would be probably the only instance in the game in which you can actively defy the orders of Bethel. However, this doesn’t actually affect your actual allegiance to Bethel, since until the last stretch of the game you still have no choice but to work for Bethel and follow their orders. In any case, siding with Principality and thereby carrying out Bethel’s orders by taking the “Holding the Line” subquest is the obvious Law-aligned choice.

Things get more unusual when you go to the Chiyoda area. In Sukiyabashi you meet Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, who tells you that he has set the rules regarding the distribution of alcohol in Ginza. He claims to be impartial in granting alcohol to all who ask for it, and that this is one of the rules he set. Opposing Dionysus is Black Frost, who calls himself the emperor of Ginza and wants to take Dionysus’ alcohol by force. Curiously enough, both Dionysus (a Fury) and Black Frost (a Night) are actually Chaos-aligned within the game, and even Dionysus responds to the suggestion of survival of the fittest by saying “so be it”, and that those who challenge him will be “put back in their place” because he is strong and not weak. Despite this and the fact that he really doesn’t have all that much to do with the ideology of Law, Dionysus’ quest, “A Sobering Standoff”, appears to correspond to the most to the Law alignment. I can only assume that this is because Dionysus wants to maintain the system of rules he has in place for regulating alcohol whereas Black Frost wants to upend all of that.

The last of these subquests can be found in the Taito region. In Ueno Park, you can meet Futsunushi, the Shinto god of swords, who gives you the subquest “In Defense of Tokyo”. Futsunushi identifies himself as one of the Amatsukami (which doesn’t sound strange, given that he actually was one of the Amatsukami, until we start getting into the Chaos alignment), and tells you that “foreign demons” led by the fallen angel Adramelech are trying to invade Tokyo. He very peculiarly complains to the player that if Adramelech was merely chased from his home and landed in Tokyo then he would not turn him away, but he claims that the “foreign demons” instead steal the land of the Amatsukami and try to “exterminate” them. When Futsunushi was initially revealed for Shin Megami Tensei V, some people saw him talking about “foreign demons” and suspected that he would be a continuation of nationalist themes in the series, and if you think about it, the way Futsunushi talks kind of reminds me of certain anti-refugee talking points we could bring up. In any case, although Futsunushi is a Wargod and therefore listed as Neutral, his quest “In Defence of Tokyo” seems to correspond to the Law alignment.

Altogether, the microcosm of Law presented in these subquests seems pretty straightforward. Law is about order, and that can mean many things: it can mean creating a society where safety comes with dependence on authority, it can mean simply preserving order in general, often on behalf of Bethel and the angels, and apparently it can also mean some sort of nationalism. Keep that part in mind for when we explore one of the central Law characters in the game.

Returning to the main plot, we see towards the final stretch of the game that, after the player defeats the demon king Arioch, the horizon of the Law and Chaos dynamic seems to change. The director of the Japanese branch of Bethel, Hayao Koshimizu, abruptly declares that the Japanese branch is going to break off from Bethel in order to install a Nahobino as the new ruler of creation. This leads to a summit between all the main heads of Bethel, in which we discover that the heads of the other Bethel branches are not angels but instead the various polytheistic gods: Khonsu, the Egyptian god of the moon, represents the Egyptian branch, Zeus, the king of the Greek gods, represents the Greek branch, Odin, ruler of the Norse Aesir gods, represents the Nordic branch, and Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, as well as the serpent Vasuki, represent the Indian branch. It turns out that Bethel is just an alliance between the various gods and the angels of God cobbled together by Abdiel, who serves as its leader and commander, seemingly for the purpose of fighting the forces of chaos under the pretext that God is still alive. Earlier in the game we see a flashback in which Lucifer greets the angels led by Abdiel to tell them that God is dead and that he has killed him. Naturally, Abdiel angrily dismisses the “vile serpent”, believes that he is lying, and refuses to believe him. For much of the game Abdiel continues to hold onto the belief that Lucifer is trying to deceive everyone, and organized Bethel with that belief in mind, assuring the rest of Bethel that rumours of God’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

During the Bethel summit, it becomes clear that the other gods have already figured out that Lucifer had defeated and killed God, that the Condemnation is no longer in effect, and that the world is due for a new cosmic ruler. Abdiel insists that Bethel still exists to preserve God’s world, that the Condemnation still stands, and that the right course of action is to simply wait for God’s return, reasoning that even if God did die he would surely return soon. When Khonsu points out the existence of the Nahobino that is the player and speculates that God wants the player to replace him, Abdiel, unable to counter Khonsu’s argument, decides that in order to prove that God’s order still reigns supreme she has to kill the player. She, of course, fails and is defeated by the player, and as a result the rest of Bethel, vindicated in their skepticism, go their separate ways, with Odin and Zeus in particular heading out to recover their lost “Knowledge” and become Nahobinos themselves, all of which Abdiel considers to be selfish. Until this point, the gods who formed the Bethel alliance may have been convinced that God was still alive and that, with his order via the Condemnation still in effect, it would be impossible for them to become Nahobinos. Thus, they settled for simply working with the angels in order to protect the world by fighting the forces of chaos, which, thinking about it, must seem strange considering that Odin and Zeus seem to have the same ultimate goal as certain “forces of chaos” such as Lahmu: namely, they want to regain their divine status as Nahobinos, challenge the current order, and recreate the world.

In any case, Bethel, from this point onward, no longer represents the Law alignment. Now it’s just the angels of God who constitute the primary Law faction in the game’s story. In fact, the angels of the Herald and Divine clans are among the few consistently Law-aligned demon clans in the whole game. The only other reliably Law-aligned clans in the game are Avians, Raptors, and Yomas. Megamis, previously Law-aligned, are now Neutral except for Demeter and Maria, and even then Demeter’s ambitions in this game have no connection to God unlike in Strange Journey Redux. Viles were also previously Law-aligned, but now half of the Vile clan is Chaos-aligned while the other half are Law-aligned. That’s pretty much the extent of Law representation within this game’s Demonic Compendium. In contrast, and I hate to say this but, there are if anything way too many Chaos-aligned demons in this game!

Abdiel may be defeated but she’s not giving up. She is still committed to ensuring that God’s order is preserved and upheld as the supreme order of things, and as it turns out she, despite being an angel and therefore a creation of God, somehow has “Knowledge”. That would entail that she, like all the other demons, had somehow “fallen” from godhood with the ascent of God, and, in order to restore it, she needs to find a human with her “Knowledge”. This leads us to perhaps the single most important Law character in the game who we have not yet discussed: one of your classmates, Ichiro Dazai.

Admittedly, Ichiro seems like an unusual Law representative. Before the game was officially released, many thought that Ichiro would turn out to be the Chaos representative rather than the Law representative. And you could be forgiven for thinking that since he certainly doesn’t quite look like what you’d expect from a Law representative. Indeed, your first impression of him in-game is that he’s an aspiring internet streamer who’s viewed by the rest of the class as kind of a dork, and when you first see him in the game he’s trying to film his next video, talking about rumours of monsters in the Takanawa Tunnel. He actually looks like Logan Paul, don’t you think? But as the game goes on, you slowly see him develop as a more or less standard, perhaps even cliche, representative of the Law alignment.

When you first enter Da’at you see Ichiro lifted above the ground by an angel, who then carries him off to the Diet Building. After this he expresses an interest in joining Bethel, saying that he really wants to be a part of protecting Tokyo. This of course is right after one of your other classmates, Tao Isonokami (a.k.a. “The Saint”; no, not that one), informs you and your two other classmates (including Ichiro) that the Tokyo you’ve been living in isn’t real, and Ichiro never really seems to reflect on that fact in any serious way. Later, after the defeat of Lahmu and the explanation of “Knowledge” and the demons’ desire for it to the students, Ichiro never contemplates it and avowedly doesn’t care about the subject. A lot of his time in the game is just him talking about how weak and indecisive he thinks he is, how much he admires the player for his strength and ability to confront danger, and his desire to get stronger and more confident himself.

That’s where Abdiel comes in. While she’s busy ruminating about the deposed rival gods in Shinagawa Pier, Ichiro introduces himself to Abdiel and talks to her about how awesome she is and how he wants to know how she can be so strong. Keep in mind, when Abdiel is first seen by the player and his friends, Ichiro is actually scared of Abdiel, and for good reason; she was about to kill his classmate for being a Nahobino. So it’s definitely a little odd that Ichiro would want to follow Abdiel. Abdiel then tells Ichiro that the secret to her strength is her unwavering faith in God, which gives her the ability to act without hesitation based on simple belief. This seems to inspire Ichiro somewhat, and eventually he bonds more and more with Abdiel. During the raid against the demon king Arioch and his allies in the Chiyoda region, Abdiel assists Ichiro by giving him some angels to command so that he could fight on his own. But whether or not Ichiro has gotten much stronger is honestly a matter of opinion, and I would argue that all he ended up doing was leaning on Abdiel for outer strength. For whatever reason, Ichiro seems to hang on Abdiel’s every word. He even calls her “Master Abdiel”.

By the time you get to the Bethel summit, Ichiro is absolutely convinced that Abdiel is right about everything and that only she can bring order to the world. When you see the summit and get the chance to talk to everyone there, you can talk to Ichiro and he’ll tell you that although he sympathizes with Koshimizu’s goal in terms of wanting to protect Japan, if only because Ichiro himself is also Japanese (well, half-Japanese, but we’ll get to that), he simply believes that Abdiel’s words make the most sense. Why? Ichiro doesn’t tell you, at least not at this point. Earlier, when Koshimizu explains to the students that he will be breaking off from Bethel, Ichiro emphatically opposes this move, which he believes to be a betrayal, and naively suggests that Koshimizu simply ask the rest of Bethel to help them save Tokyo, which is at this point rapidly disappearing from existence. In trying to figure out what motivates Ichiro to this thought process, it occurs to me that he legitimately only thinks about the basic mission of protecting Tokyo, and has no interest in any of the surrounding conflicts and contradictions that influence the fate of Tokyo or the rest of the world. And since he associates the mission of protecting Tokyo with Bethel and Bethel with Abdiel and the angels, Ichiro seems to just instinctively side with Abdiel and the angels and with Bethel as a broad whole, and over time he seems to have internalized Abdiel’s ideas about God’s order being necessary for the safety of Tokyo.

When Abdiel is defeated at the summit, Ichiro begs to go and see her again. Eager to continue depending on her guidance, Ichiro begs Abdiel not to give up on her cause. When Abdiel laments that even an archangel is no much for a Nahobino, Ichiro suggests that Abdiel become a Nahobino too in order to gain the power to defeat other Nahobinos, notwithstanding the fact that his fellow classmate who just defeated Abdiel is there to hear him say that. Ichiro pledges to find the human that has Abdiel’s “Knowledge” and bring them to her, only to be informed that it is in fact he himself who has Abdiel’s “Knowledge”. Ichiro is elated and volunteers to be used by Abdiel to become a Nahobino, but Abdiel initially rejects this proposal, because as an archangel she is still bound to uphold the Condemnation. Even though the existence of a Nahobino means that the Condemnation no longer stands on account of God’s defeat and death, the archangels, being created as servants of God, have to uphold God’s law and order anyway. And then, suddenly, the voice of Lucifer echoes into the summit, telling Abdiel, “if your prayer is indeed for harmony, you must bring it about yourself”. In other words, if Abdiel means to preserve the order she believes in, then she must take the power to do so into her own hands, even if that means going against her own rules to do it.

All of this culminates into the final stretch of the story where, at some point, on your way to the Temple of Eternity in Umayabashi, you find Ichiro, standing above, pondering what will happen without Abdiel. Here, his philosophy for what to do with the fate of Tokyo takes shape. He expresses the belief that Abdiel is the only one capable of bringing order, the thing that Ichiro appears to suddenly care about the most, and claims that without her Tokyo and the world as a whole would “tear itself apart”. He then goes on to state that “divine diversity isn’t an answer, it’s chaos”, and that humanity needs “a single ultimate truth” as opposed to “an excess of false opinions”. In the midst of his despair, he recalls what Lucifer said about harmony and comes to the conclusion that, although he seems useless on his own, being useful to Abdiel will be enough for him, and declares that his “Knowledge” alone will serve “the greater good”. And then, he throws his cap to the void, furls back his hair, his eyes seem to glow, and declares that he will rise above the rest and be “the sword of heaven”, before laughing an unusually evil laugh for a Law character.

This is a lot to unpack on its own. Going off of his new look, I remember seeing some fans remark that Ichiro has basically morphed into this game’s version of the Chaos Hero from the original Shin Megami Tensei, mostly due to his hair and his sinister smile. I would point out, though, that the Law representative for Shin Megami Tensei II, Zayin, also has a similar look, at least when he turns into Satan anyway. More importantly, though, this seems to be the point where Ichiro’s focus shifts from the basic mission of protecting/saving Tokyo to “order” as an abstract idea and as governed by broad notions of “ultimate truth”. It’s also the point where we see Ichiro develops what amounts to a fascist or at least quasi-fascist worldview. Remember when I pointed out how Futsunushi’s Law-aligned quest had possible nationalist undertones, and then told you to keep that in mind up to this point? Well, who else do you know in real life who says that diversity can only mean chaos and should be opposed for that reason? Think about it. Hard-right, authoritarian conservatives make the same point all the time, so do right-wing nationalists and fascists. The fascistic nationalist tends to have an agenda of smothering all diversity under the banner of a single, hegemonic state order, with an attendant monoculture, with dissent and difference policed in order to maintain it. That’s the implications of the order that Ichiro would prefer. Only one opinion is allowed to be observed as having weight, all else is “an excess of false opinions”. That “single ultimate truth”, God’s order, is supposed to provide security at the expense of freedom and diversity. Such appears to be the primary concern of the Law alignment in this game, which I guess makes some sense for what it is, and contrary to certain claims that Shin Megami Tensei V represents a broad move away from the “absolutism” of God, this game’s Law alignment is in no way a departure from the series tradition of Law as an absolutist, order-centric ideology revolving around the order of God. Well, except perhaps for the development to come.

But before we get to that point, there’s one thing about Ichiro I should note that is probably incidental in the bigger picture but has a weird connection to the rest of the series. I mentioned that earlier that Ichiro Dazai is half-Japanese. What I didn’t mention yet is that the other half is American. Yes, Ichiro is half-Japanese and half-American. Historically, the association of the Law alignment with America goes back to the original Shin Megami Tensei, in which the Americans as represented by Ambassador Thorman comprise the Law faction for the first stretch of the game. Granted, America was not always represented by the Law alignment in the series, as shown by Strange Journey’s Jimenez being both an American and the Chaos representative, but Ichiro’s partial American identity coupled with his alignment with the angels of the Christian God follows a thematic conceit that had been established in the early days of Shin Megami Tensei, namely that Law tends to represent Western ideas of religion, mostly “Judeo-Christian” beliefs, in the context of a Japanese society that has historically encountered Christianity as either a contradiction and threat to indigenous Japanese religion, a political threat to the Japanese state, or the attendant religion of a humiliating post-war occupation.

Now then, the final alignment-based decision in the game commences when you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity. There you offer the three keys to the temple and then the “Goddess of Creation” shows you your two classmates vying for the right to create the world. You see Ichiro discussing with Abdiel that the only way to maintain order is to give everything, including your own life, over to God, and tells Abdiel that he is here to “do what needs to be done” even if it means to “stray from the path”, stressing that nothing matters so long as his side wins. Abdiel stresses that God’s word is still unchanging and that she is sworn to defend it, and that she is ready to become a Nahobino, thereby blaspheming against the Condemnation set by that very same God, in order to carry out his will. Almost immediately afterwards, the player returns to reality and is on his way to the Empyrean, only to be interrupted by his two classmates and potential rivals, Ichiro among them. Ichiro interrupts the presumptions of his rivals Yuzuru and former director Hayao Koshimizu to preach to them that they need only entrust everything to God. He argues that, because Zeus and Odin each vied for the throne of creation, a world of myriad gods would result in “endless war” with all the gods “eating each other alive” in a brutal contest for dominance, and that, by contrast, everyone will “get their fair share” if they only let God do his thing, on the basis that someone who is all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-knowing can’t possibly be wrong.

And that’s when Abdiel makes a dramatic transformation. After rambling about her sacred duty and her “fettered form” being no much for a Nahobino, she declares that, in the name of the Almighty, she will “embrace darkness” and become a fallen angel. Her body writhes and is covered with purple darkness, she spews black vomit, and then her body radically transforms from her former angelic self to the body of a demon, all topped off with her old face splitting open to reveal a new one. Abdiel then declares that she will uphold God’s will at all costs, even if it means being severed from God’s grace, and Ichiro remarks that Abdiel’s faith as an archangel remains unwavering. In Lucifer’s words, Abdiel has defied God in his own name and traded God’s word for his will. Naturally her fallen angel form has her move out of the Herald clan and into the Fallen clan, but she still maintains her Law alignment. Hence, Abdiel becomes the only Fallen demon in the game, and the series as a whole, to be Law-aligned, since she unlike all the other Fallen demons is still loyal to God and wants to preserve his order.

This certainly is an original take on the Law alignment. But it is also utterly incoherent. Abdiel’s whole purpose is to uphold God’s will, which means God’s word as well. The Condemnation is God’s word and his will as much as each other. The two cannot be separated in isolation. Therefore, the whole premise of her being prepared to fall from grace is nonsense, since the whole act of undertaking that fall emerges from defying his will and his word. Furthermore, if God is dead, and this means his order and power are fading away with him, that means the Condemnation no longer stands, as evidenced from the beginning by the fact that the player becomes a Nahobino. Why, then, should Abdiel need to worry about falling from his grace and defying his word, and why should she transform into a devil-looking thing? If the Condemnation is no longer in effect, then Abdiel could lay claim to human “Knowledge” without needing to undergo a “fall” since the rules that mandated this surely no longer apply. Also, when Abdiel does become a Nahobino, she doesn’t look like any particularly godly being, and instead she seems to more closely resemble what the merged form of Sirene and Kaim from Devilman would look like without their skin. What’s the deal with that? But then, once again, why does Abdiel even have “Knowledge” to be stored inside an unwitting human if she’s not a god? Is it because Abdiel in Paradise Lost was originally one of the angels who followed Lucifer before repenting? Is it for the same reason that there’s a subquest in which Melchizedek says that the “seraphim” (the archangels) were all originally servants of the god Baal? Not to mention, why do Abdiel and Ichiro bother heeding the voice of Lucifer anyway? Isn’t Lucifer the same being that Abdiel previously denounced as a “contemptible snake” and “vile serpent” and hence dismissed his words as lies? Wasn’t the whole point of Bethel to keep opposing Lucifer even after he defeated God? Wasn’t the whole alliance built on the premise that Lucifer had lied about God’s demise?

It’s all just such nonsense. This entire setup seems constructed simply to subvert the traditional expectations of the Law alignment, and I suppose it does, but only on a superficial level. It almost reeks of the tired old dogma that Law and Chaos are actually just two sides of one monistic coin, a trope that also played into some of the worst writing on display in Apocalypse, a game in which all outcomes except Neutrality are delegitimized in this way. But what does it really convey here? Again, I argue that this is not the departure from absolutism that some strive to suggest. Instead, absolutism is the order of the day. It is the nature of the order desired by Ichiro, and fulfilled through Abdiel and the order she enforces (in fact Abdiel explicitly said that God is absolute), it is the nature of the sense of faith cultivated by Ichiro and Abdiel, and it is present in the sacrifices, transformations, and even transgressions that they are willing to undertake for the sole sake of the preservation of order and their own victory. That is the core of the Law alignment as it is present in Shin Megami Tensei V, and it is hardly less absolutist than in previous games.

And while we’re still on the subject of absolutism, let us address the claims made by some that Abdiel is merely a more extreme case in an otherwise more benign angelic faction. It is claimed that this game’s angels want to create a world where order does not exclude the presence of free will. Having played the game, I have not encountered any evidence to support that claim. None of the angels object to the absolutism and determinism of Abdiel’s worldview. There’s not much reason from their perspective why they should, anyway. Only one angel, Camael, objects to Abdiel’s actions, and that’s just because she didn’t kill the player on the spot for being a Nahobino, not because she didn’t believe in free will enough. All of the angels believe in executing God’s word and will without leniency or laxity, all the angels stand with Abdiel by the final stretch of the game, and all of the angels see Tokyo’s destruction as simple destiny as handed down by God, to be accepted and even upheld without objection. In fact, during the demonic invasion of Jouin High School, the angels explicitly state that there is no mercy to be reserved for “evil”, including humans who become possessed by demons. It would not matter if you were a demon or merely a victim of possession, they would smite you anyway. And they say this regardless of whether you choose to prioritize killing Lahmu or helping Sahori, the girl sought after by Lahmu. Further, before you enter the invaded Jouin High School, an angel explicitly instructs you to kill any students that can’t be rescued along with the demons. Exactly how are the angels in Shin Megami Tensei V supposed to be more benevolent and tolerant compared to previous games?

Not to mention, there’s a question relevant for Ichiro in particular. Ichiro repeatedly argues that it is best that everyone just leave everything to God and all will be well. Besides the obvious theological problems we could get into, the obvious problem, within the context of the game’s story, is that God is dead, and has been dead for quite some time, just that Abdiel and the angels have been denying it. Indeed, Ichiro never seems to address this situation directly. Perhaps we can assume he just goes along with Abdiel’s opinion that God is not actually dead, but that would be passive and he never actually takes a stance on that, nor is he ever challenged to confront the reality of God’s death. In fact, doesn’t it seem strange that Ichiro was there for the Bethel summit and saw the other Bethel heads say that God is dead, and never had anything to say about that? It seems to me that Ichiro doesn’t have an answer to any of that, and that might be because Ichiro at heart cares less about the existential question of God and more about whatever is most capable of “bringing order” in the abstract, which he connects in his mind to saving Tokyo from demons.

Anyways, and so we come to the point in the game where you choose between three alignment-based outcomes. Choosing to uphold God’s order sees you siding with Abdiel and Ichiro, and thus represents the path of the Law alignment. Doing so also grants access to two subquests exclusive to the Law path. One of them, “The Seraph’s Return”, features the archangel Michael, who along with his compatriots was imprisoned in a statue in the course of Armageddon. If you complete the subquest “The Holy Ring” with Melchizedek, you can find Michael at the end of the Temple of Eternity, having been set free by Melchizedek. If you took the Law path at this point before entering the Empyrean, Michael, though not pleased about you being a Nahobino, thanks the player for helping Melchizedek free him and praises you for choosing to uphold God’s order. He then sends you to go and defeat Belial at Arioch’s former castle, and joins your side upon you doing so. Of course, if you took the Chaos path before entering the Empyrean, Michael opposes you instead and you have to defeat him. There’s s catch, though: if you chose the Law path but were not sufficiently Law-aligned beforehand, Melchizedek will ask you to pay him 666,000 Macca to earn the trust of the angels. Yeah, that’s a thing in this game, for some reason. Another subquest, “The Compassionate Queen”, is unlocked if you took the Law path and have gained the Seed of Life by achieving 75% completion of the Demonic Compendium. In it you see Maria, a kind of/sort of/not really Virgin Mary expy, who challenges you upon acquiring the Seed of Life. She describes herself as a mother goddess whose form and role changes depending on place and time, and awaits her disappearance with the creation of a new world. If you’re Law-aligned, Maria acknowledges your desire to preserve the world as it was, and faces you as herself. Winning the resulting battle unlocks her as a fusable ally

Once you resolve yourself to uphold God’s order, you fight and defeat the other two Nahobinos that stand in your way, namely Tsukuyomi and Nuwa, and then fight Lucifer, neither of whom seem to have any commentary on why it’s bad that you’ve chosen to side with Abdiel and restore the order of God or why you should have sided with them instead (not that you ever get to take sides with Lucifer). And then, you get to activate the throne of creation to usher in the restoration of God’s order. What does this mean in practice?

Well, for starters, you don’t actually get to see the newly created world or the effects of your rule in the ending sequence of the game. All you see is the player walking towards a big white ball of light that looks suspiciously like Kagutsuchi from Nocturne, while the four archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, and Raphael) are seen suspended in mid-air in all different directions. I suppose at least the presence of the archangels tells you that this is the Law ending after all. But from the narration of Goko, the Buddhist monk seen throughout the game up to the final stretch, we can get an idea of what we’re supposed to expect. The player creates a new world in the image of the previous one, restores Tokyo and resurrects its inhabitants, who are then completely unaware of that this is all a recreation of the Shekinah Glory that was previously established by God. The world is composed of only one truth, one justice, one single order, no diversity. Goko suggests that those who easily lose their way will find unwavering faith in this world. In the world of Law, the newly resurrected humans do not think for themselves, and live to show devotion to God. I can’t quite tell if that means the original God or you, the new ruler of the throne.

Throughout the Shin Megami Tensei series, the Law alignment has been defined primarily by a single goal: the realization of the Thousand Year Kingdom. The Thousand Year Kingdom is a state of paradise on earth governed by God and/or his agents, in which the believers in God can inhabit and enjoy a world of ultimate peace, harmony, prosperity, and order under the aegis of a strictly hierarchical and dictatorial society which compels its subjects to trade freedom for total security. And, of course, only the believers are allowed to live in it. Everyone else is either cleansed by God’s judgement or simply cast out and left to die. It’s a concept that appears by name in the original two Shin Megami Tensei games, and recurs if not in name throughout the rest of the series as I’ve explored in “Ideologies of Law in Shin Megami Tensei”. Yet in this game, there’s no real hint of the Thousand Year Kingdom here, at least ostensibly. It’s neither mentioned by name nor hinted at in substitutes such as “millennium of order” as uttered in the previous duology of games. So is there no Thousand Year Kingdom in Shin Megami Tensei V? On the surface the answer to that would be yes. But here’s the thing: you can infer many of the same components of what makes a Thousand Year Kingdom in what we get from the ending sequence. People live in prosperity and ostensible peace, but they do not think for themselves, and exist mostly to devote themselves to God (again, that could be either the old God or the new God for all I know). We can also bear in mind the underlying Christian base of the concept of the Thousand Year Kingdom, and point to the Last Judgement in which the souls of the dead are resurrected, and then either led to paradise or damned to hell. In the Law ending, those who died in Tokyo are resurrected and restored, and all get to live in the “paradise” you create. There are only believers, though perhaps that’s not because you’ve cast out all unbelievers, but rather because believers are all that you have left, your resurrected humanity has been remade as true believers. But of course, if this is meant to be the old order restored, and the Thousand Year Kingdom an ideal state to be realized and pave over the present world, I suppose the Law outcome in Shin Megami Tensei V doesn’t quite follow the base trope of the Thousand Year Kingdom, except may in spirit to a small extent.

Thus, we have established the nature of the Law alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V. It is an ideology centered around preserving, or rather renewing, the status quo of a monotheistic cosmic order, one defined by the absolute concentration of power into one God, who rules as an absolute dictator, brooking no dissent until his death. As usual, this is to be accepted on the promise of security and order, off the back of absolutism. Being Law-aligned then is about the desire for the supreme being and the willingness to have and observe its order at the expense of your own freedom.


Turning to our next subject, the Chaos alignment is a little trickier to define than the Law alignment, and that mostly comes down to the same basic question: who represents the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V? This is complicated to some extent by the fact that, as I’ve established, the Law and Chaos dynamic in this game seems to shift to some extent. There is, though, a common theme in the Chaos side. The Chaos faction(s) in this game seem to be defined largely by a desire to challenge or overturn God’s order, and in doing so regain the power of divine identity. In this sense, the Chaos faction(s) represent the gods of old, the demons who were desecrated by God through the loss of their “Knowledge”. But that takes more than one form in Shin Megami Tensei V.

It bears repeating that for the majority of Shin Megami Tensei V the dynamic of Law and Chaos is defined principally by the conflict between the forces of order, represented by Bethel and the angels, and the “demons of chaos” who oppose them, and you do not get to choose to take the side of the demons over the side of Bethel. In this sense, we should begin our analysis of the Chaos alignment in this game by examining the forces of chaos that you don’t get to side with.

From the beginning of the game, we are introduced to demons as beings who were originally gods, or Nahobinos, but were debased through their disempowerment by God depriving them of their “Knowledge”. Demons, then, are in the strict sense fallen gods. With their former “Knowledge” now spread out across the human species, the demons seek out humans for the purpose of regaining their “Knowledge” so that they can regain their divine identity and the power that came with it, and that’s why demons go hunting for human souls. This premise is repeatedly reasserted throughout the game’s story, but the first wholesale story arc devoted to it comes with the arrival of Lahmu, a desecrated god based on an apotropaic spirit from Babylonian mythology. Although classed as a Vile, which is traditionally a Law-aligned demon clan, Lahmu is one of the three Vile demons in the game (so basically half of the Vile clan here) who are actually Chaos-aligned instead of Law-aligned. For story-based reasons, that’s no accident.

Lahmu is first seen speaking to Sahori Itsukishima, a girl who’s first seen in the game getting bullied by other high school students. Sahori is tired of being bullied by others, tired of being powerless against them, and tired of not being left alone. In comes Lahmu, who whispers into her head and offers her the power to get her revenge. Some time after this, Lahmu busts his way into the miracle-based Tokyo to hunt for the Magatsuhi (some kind of life force here) of humans as well as find Sahori, who is Lahmu’s “other half”. Sahori is the human whose body contains Lahmu’s “Knowledge”, and so Lahmu intends to fuse himself with Sahori in order to become a Nahobino, regain his former divine glory, and challenge the order of God. He naturally hates the forces of Bethel, blaming them for the sealing away of his former divine self. Lahmu also leads the demonic invasion of Jouin High School to get to Sahori, while other demons make off with high school students in the hopes of getting their “Knowledge” one way or another.

Although ultimately incidental to the broader dynamic, it’s worth spotlighting the Sahori arc to illustrate missed opportunities created by the lack of an alignment break here. As you make your way into the invaded Jouin High School, you see Sahori tremble before and eventually embrace Lahmu, and later on you find her embarking on a rampage of revenge against her bullies with her newfound demonic power. Her classmate Tao tries to get her to stop, and the girls who bullied her yell the same pleas for mercy that Sahori once did. Sahori confronts her bullies over precisely that fact, that they attacked her and destroyed her possessions before, and now beg for forgiveness and mercy as she turns her wrath towards them, now that she has the power to deliver vengeance to them. Sahori’s sentiment is a perfectly admissible one, perfectly understandable, and arguably justifiable. If you were bullied all your life in high school, and you got the chance to get even with them, would it truly make sense for you to turn the other cheek for them when they never did the same for you? Is it really wrong for you to throw their shitty behaviour back in their face when you get the chance to do so? This is a legitimate response to being constantly bullied, and if the game developers wanted to “sympathize with the troubles of the current era” they could have included the option to at least agree with Sahori’s actions, or even if not that at least her thought process. But the game never lets you actually sympathize with her, much less take her side, in any meaningful way. In fact, Sahori demonstrates a remarkable lack of agency throughout the game, such that even her embrace of Lahmu’s power isn’t even meant to be taken as a meaningful choice.

The connection to bullying is not incidental to the Chaos alignment. In fact, it’s your first introduction to the Chaos Hero in the original Shin Megami Tensei, and I think this is worth revisiting for a moment. In that game, the Chaos Hero is bullied by Ozawa and his fellow gangsters for being a nerd with an interest in the occult, and throughout the first half of the game his main interest is in gaining power and getting stronger so that he can stand up for himself and get revenge. To that end, the Chaos Hero joins the player and his party in order to get to Ozawa and defeat him, but Ozawa slips away when you find him and the Chaos Hero doesn’t yet get his revenge. After survivng a nuclear apocalypse by being transported to Kongokai and then being hurled 30 years into the future, the party meets an older Ozawa and the Chaos Hero gets another chance to get his revenge, but the party is overpowered by the might of his demon ally, Take-Minakata. This results in the Chaos Hero deciding to fuse himself with a demon from your COMP in order to become the strongest and most powerful he can be by transcending his human limitations, which allows him to defeat Take-Minakata and finally get revenge on Ozawa.

Since it must be remembered that I’m supposed to be talking about the ideological contours of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V, what I’m trying to say is that there is s connection in that one of the most important aspects of Chaos is being able to take matters into your own hands. For the Chaos Hero in the original Shin Megami Tensei, this means getting as strong as possible so that no one can pick on him again. For Sahori, taking on the power of Lahmu means much the same: gaining the power to make sure no one picks on her again. But the difference between the two games, besides being nearly 30 years apart, is a fundamental difference of agency afforded to the two respective characters, and the legitimacy given to their actions as can be supported by the player. In the original Shin Megami Tensei, the Chaos Hero has agency, indeed agency is the thing he strives to maximize in his quest for strength and power, he acts on his own terms with his own coherent motives and goals in mind, and his actions are legitimate enough as far as the game is concerned that the player can support them within the game, ultimately to the extent that you can take his side for the final stretch of the game as a fighter for the forces of Chaos. For Sahori, the exact opposite is the case. You are never allowed to actively support Sahori’s actions against her oppressors, you can never disagree with Tao or your masters at Bethel about the legitimacy of her actions, and Sahori can only exist as someone whose vulnerability is taken advantage of by Lahmu, who is only supposed to be the villain in all this. Even Sahori’s embrace of Lahmu’s power is preceded by Lahmu forcibly apprehending her, there’s almost no conversation between them that might lead to her embracing his power entirely on her own terms, out of a desire to stop being bullied, and after she gets her revenge she abruptly pivots and no longer wants any part in Lahmu’s plans and is abducted. But then when you find her at the far north of Shinagawa, she starts asking questions as though she wants to know more about becoming a Nahobino, but she never understands or forms a coherent response before being possessed by Lahmu again, and then killed by the player, thus “saving” her, after she almost killed you and killed Tao, under Lahmu’s possession of course (it’s not clear if Lahmu actually became a Nahobino).

It appears that Shin Megami Tensei V only recognises two legitimate outcomes for Sahori: to be a victim of bullying, and to be “saved” from her victimizers by Bethel. I suppose the only other legitimate response is for Tao to try and reach out to her and tell she’s there for her, maybe, as much as “The Saint” can be there for her. For Sahori to stand up for herself in some fashion, for her to take matters into her own hands, for her voluntarily embrace Lahmu’s power and become a Nahobino, and for you to take Sahori’s side in such endeavours, are all forbidden by the game’s narrative. Thus what could have been a credible Chaos-aligned response, consistent with traditional themes of the Chaos alignment, and from there perhaps an early alignment split that might have had significant effects on the overall story, are entirely closed off, ruled out by the story, since that would mean questioning and opposing Bethel’s ideals, indeed really going against them, before the anointed hour in which the game decides you can oppose God’s order. Of course, there are points in the story where you can tell Koshimizu you don’t want to do what he wants, you can tell Aogami that you hate Bethel’s guts, and you can even take a subquest in which you get to actively defy the orders of Bethel. But these are all contained, isolated instances, and have no actual affect on the story or your place in Bethel.

While we’re still on the subject of the forces of chaos that you don’t get to side with, your trip to Chiyoda has you contending with Surt, Ishtar, and the demon king Arioch, in that order. If you take Ishtar as the original divine form of Astaroth, as the series regularly hints, then these represent three of the four generals of Chaos from the original Shin Megami Tensei. Surt may not have much to say, being too busy burning Ginza, but the other too at least have something to say. When you face Ishtar, she monologues about how God deposed all the other gods, viewing even the Queen of Heaven beneath him, warning that no matter how much faith you have in God it will never be enough for him. When you defeat her, she tells you that she believes that change is coming and the gods must side with chaos to defeat God’s order. As for Arioch, his explicit goal is to seize the throne of creation, with its former divine ruler now dead, and reclaim the “Knowledge” of old in order to recreate the world. After you defeat Arioch, he beseeches the player to use your power as a Nahobino to overturn God’s order and recreate the world, and he stresses that only freedom born from chaos can nurture the world.

Arioch and Ishtar, like Lahmu before them, aim to regain the divine identities seized from them by God, bring an end to God’s order, and recreate the world. Bethel opposes this because its leadership considers the idea of any Nahobino other than God occupying the throne of creation to be a blasphemy and a threat to the order of the world. Where the forces of Law represent the order of a monotheistic cosmos, the forces of Chaos appear to consist of deposed gods from ancient, pre-Christian polytheism, as well as the demons of Hell, all seeking to restore their lost divinity. This set-up is not unfamiliar to the Shin Megami Tensei series. In fact, it’s in many ways a return to the original Shin Megami Tensei, which featured an assortment of polytheistic gods and the legions of Lucifer against God and his allies, seeking to defeat God’s cosmic tyranny, restore the gods of old, and bring about an age of anarchic co-existence between humans, demons, and the old gods, buttressed by the belief that chaos is the source of life and freedom and can liberate the world. The difference, of course, is that you can’t decide for yourself that Ishtar and Arioch are correct and take their side instead of Bethel’s side. You only get to tell Arioch that you know that God is dead, but you still have to oppose him anyway because Bethel is still your boss for most of the game. And yet, by the time you defeat Arioch, that all suddenly changes.

Turning away from the main plot, though, we should once again discuss the binary alignment-based subquests. Previously I talked about the Law-aligned subquests, but now it’s time to talk about their Chaos-aligned counterparts in greater detail.

Somewhere in Shiba you can find a Leanan Sidhe who wants to build a society where all subjects can be free to realize their own unique potential, which seems to mean that she gives those who join her side, or at least those she considers worthy, the power to magnify their latent talents in order that they might fulfill their individual dreams. However, this comes with a price. Leanan Sidhe gives demons power in exchange for shortening their lifespan. Her companion, Ippon-Datara, became a master craftsman in exchange for a shorter life, which he considers to be better than only having enough to scrape by in a normal lifespan. So from this vantage point, the choice between Leanan Sidhe and her opponent Apsaras comes down to whether you’re happy with being provided for by a munificent authority which only gives you the minimum to survive or if you’d prefer to unlock your individual potential at the cost of leading a shorter life. Of course, Apsaras argues that Leanan Sidhe is merely deceiving the weaker demons and making them unaware of their own powerlessness, but Leanan Sidhe believes that even if you are still powerless, what matters is that you have been true to yourself and used your potential to lead a worthwhile life. In this sense, we kind of see a brief recollection of the way Law and Chaos were handled in Devil Summoner 2, in that Law and Chaos were more personality types and how you imagine that you should be, with Chaos representing an ethos of following your desires and being true to yourself without heeding the dictates of authority versus Law representing an ethos of living in harmony with society and abjuring ambition for order and duty. Thus, Leanan Sidhe’s “The Water Nymph” is Chaos-aligned and sees you defeating the Law-aligned Apsaras.

At Shinagawa Pier, you can find a group of Lilim who are seemingly hiding from stronger or menacing demons. The Lilim say that if they go to Tokyo (again, the miracle Tokyo, presumably) then there won’t be any demons, but an angel working for Bethel is stopping them from being able to go there. The Lilim claim that they have no intention of killing humans, and that they only intend to take small amounts of energy from them to survive, only to still be refused entry to Tokyo by the angel. Thus the Lilim ask you to dispatch the angel so that they can go to Tokyo and quietly live among humans, and promise to join you if you succeed in completing their subquest, “Those Seeking Sanctuary”. This quest seems to correspond to the Chaos alignment for the obvious reason that you’re defying the orders of Bethel while siding with demons in their quest to inhabit Tokyo.

At Ginza you can find Black Frost, who calls himself the emperor of Ginza and says he was formerly the emperor of Kabukicho. He plans to become the ruler of Ginza by getting rich through loaning money to poor demons, then cashing in on extortionate interest rates, and running high-end nightclubs and making money off of them. Besides some surplus cash, all he needs is alcohol to run the clubs, but Dionysus stands in the way by regulating the alcohol supply to ensure everyone gets a drink. Basically, Black Frost is trying to be the top yakuza of Ginza, and taking the subquest “Black Frost Strikes Back” sees you trying to seize control of the alcohol supply from Dionysus, with Black Frost joining your party as a reward. This subquest seems to correspond to the Chaos alignment, at least in the sense that you’re supposed to be disrupting an orderly arrangement.

Finally, at Umayabashi, you can meet Adramelech, the fallen angel who seems to have a problem with the god Futsunushi for his seemingly “old-fashioned” attitude. He views Futsunushi as “block-headed” for saying things like “Tokyo is our land!” and not coming to the view that justice is decided by the strong, and asks you to defeat Futsunushi. His subquest, “The Raid on Tokyo”, corresponds to the Chaos alignment and in, ironically enough, a very old-fashioned sense. If you choose to fight Adramelech instead of taking his subquest, he doesn’t question it, since from his perspective you are only doing the same thing he would, and after you defeat him, he criticizes Futsunushi for being hypocritical, since he too relies on force despite claiming to want to talk to him. All in all, he’s at least consistent enough that perhaps he can claim to have won the battle of ideals.

As far as these subquests give us a sort of microcosm of the Chaos alignment as a whole, the main consistent thread is that all of them involve you taking the side of the demons in some fashion, whether that means going against angels or going against other gods. This is done on behalf of the freedom to realize your own potential, even at your own expense, the freedom of the demons to co-exist with humans, some kind of might makes right philosophy, or just the selfish ambitions of one lovable yakuza wannabe. There’s definitely a bit of diversity here. One thing I should note, though, is that, as far as this game’s Chaos alignment is concerned, any notion of “might makes right” actually seems to be limited to one or two subquests. So far, the forces of chaos that you fight as part of the main plot don’t seem to advocate any kind of Social Darwinism, and neither do the Chaos faction that is to be discussed next.

So far, we have touched on the forces of chaos that you spend most of the game fighting, without any recourse to take their side instead. However, after you defeat Arioch, you come to a point where divisions form within what was Bethel, the Japanese branch declares independence, and you eventually get to decide between whether or not you want to continue fighting for what Bethel at least claimed to stand for or if you want to see a new world. As Bethel is revealed to just be an alliance of gods and angels cobbled together by Abdiel, and as the gods realize that God is dead and his order no longer reigns supreme, the possibility of replacing the order of Law with a new creation opens up. What does this mean in the context of the Chaos alignment? To understand this, we should start by turning our attention towards the leader of Bethel’s Japanese branch: Hayao Koshimizu.

As the director of Bethel’s Japanese branch who also happens to be the Prime Minister of Japan, Hayao initially answers to his superiors at Bethel, which, for most of the game, means Abdiel and her angelic minions. However, over the course of the game, he slowly starts to act more independently from his Bethel superiors, beginning with his decision to send the player and Ichiro off to Chiyoda to join the assault against Arioch and his forces despite instructions from above to not participate. After defeating Arioch, Hayao announces to the player and his classmates that he intends to break away from Bethel, turn the Japanese branch of Bethel into an independent organization run by him, and install a Nahobino on the throne of creation. Why? Apparently because even though you defeated Arioch, Tokyo is not safe: God’s order as manifest through the Shekinah Glory is fading away and Tokyo is set to be destroyed anyway. Because of this, Hayao determines that the only chance Tokyo has of not being destroyed is to recreate the world and thereby rebuild Tokyo. This means seating a Nahobino on the throne, and since this entails going against everything Bethel believes in, Hayao concludes that it is necessary to break away from Bethel. Although apparently grateful to God for protecting Tokyo, suggesting that his cooperation with Bethel was not quite for nothing, the knowledge of God’s death means that Hayao can no longer be bound to Bethel’s will, since Bethel’s whole purpose is to protect God’s order. And since Abdiel has made clear to Hayao in the past that Tokyo’s destruction is simply the destiny of God, then the only way to save Tokyo from destruction is to defy God’s will. Thus the Chaos path in Shin Megami Tensei V can be understood as the path of secession, independence, and “heresy” that is undertaken for the purpose of your cause, namely the cause of protecting Tokyo, even if God’s order has failed to do so and even if his servants refuse to do so. In this sense, part of the Chaos path means defying God’s order so as to create a new one.

The other important angle to it, of course, is that Hayao Koshimizu is actually Tsukuyomi, the Shinto god of the moon. Yes, in this game the Prime Minister of Japan is actually a Shinto god taking human form. Why Tsukuyomi of all gods is something I don’t quite understand, but the important part for the story is that Tsukuyomi is one of the Amatsukami, the heavenly gods who ruled Japan from the land of Takamagahara. In the Shin Megami Tensei V’s story, Tsukuyomi is actually one of the only Amatsukami left, since most of the others appear to have been vanquished in the battle of Armageddon. Tsukuyomi believes that entrusting the world to one God, who he refers to as a despot, was a mistake, and his stated goal is to create a new world in which a multitude of gods roam free and once again preside over and illumine the world. This would mean that Tsukuyomi cooperated with Bethel in part because of the assumption that God was still protecting Tokyo for a time, and also because most of his fellow Amatsukami fell in Armageddon. Once Tsukuyomi figured out that God has been dead the whole time, he could begin acting upon his true goals against Bethel. Thus taking the throne, in the context of the Chaos alignment, means reshaping the world by restoring the world of myriad gods.

Those who might have intially assumed from leaks that there was no Chaos ending in the game appear to have overlooked the context established from the beginning in the original Shin Megami Tensei. The original representatives of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei, the Cult of Gaia, were defined heavily by their adherence to a polytheistic belief in the return of the gods of old, and establishing a state of anarchistic co-existence with the gods and the demons, albeit with certain might makes right ideals thrown into the mix. In fact, whenever the Amatsukami were not their own demon clan in the games, they did appear as Chaos-aligned demons, particularly within the Kishin clan. Certain Amatsukami, such as Take-Mikazuchi, Hinokagutsuchi, and Futsunushi (although not listed as an Amatsukami in the games except for Majin Tensei 2, Futsunushi was an Amatsukami in the original Japanese myths), appeared as Chaos-aligned Kishin alongside their Kunitsukami rivals in certain games. In the Sega CD version of Shin Megami Tensei, even Amaterasu was Chaos-aligned and classed as a Gaian for some reason.

Another familiar theme from the original Shin Megami Tensei can be discerned in Tsukuyomi’s role as Hayao Koshimizu, director of Bethel Japan and also the Prime Minister of Japan. Early in the original Shin Megami Tensei the game features two factions representing Law and Chaos. Representing Law is Ambassador Thorman, the US ambassador who is actually Thor, the Norse god of thunder who for some reason is on the side of God. Representing Chaos is Gotou, a general of the Japanese Self-Defence Force who is also a member of the Cult of Gaia. Gotou wanted to open up the demon world in order to summon an army of demons, which he dubbed ancient gods, capable of opposing Thorman’s plot to nuke Japan out of existence as part of the will of God, and Gotou, as a Gaian, professed a belief in reviving ancient gods to resist the tyranny of God and usher in a state of co-existence between humans, gods, and demons. Hayao Koshimizu, or rather Tsukuyomi, has much the same goal, and his appearance as the Prime Minister of Japan feels very familiar to the role played by Gotou. Given that he is a god taking human form, he almost seems like what Thorman would be if he were Japanese and had very similar goals to Gotou rather than being a servant of God.

That said, whenever the Amatsukami did appear as their own demon clan in the series, they were Law-aligned, in contrast to the Chaos-aligned Kunitsukami. That includes Tsukuyomi. Perhaps this may have contributed to the idea that there was no Chaos path in Shin Megami Tensei V. But the Amatsukami also represent the ruling deities of the Japanese pantheon of gods. In Shin Megami Tensei V, this serves to more broadly represent polytheism from the standpoint of the Japanese cultural and religious context. Just like in the original Shin Megami Tensei, this indigenous polytheistic context that is juxtaposed against the Christianity that comprises the context of the Law alignment. In the original Shin Megami Tensei, a Law faction heavily inspired by a Western “Judeo-Christian” background clashes against a Chaos faction heavily inspired by Japanese Shinto-Buddhist polytheism, in some way representing cultural tension between Christianity and Japanese religion. That dynamic returns in Shin Megami Tensei V, with Law defined by a Christian context represented by God’s order as upheld by Abdiel and the angels on one side, against Chaos defined by the context of polytheism and especially by indigenous Japanese religion on the other.

Before we move along with the story, you may have noticed that although the Kunitsukami are summonable allies in Shin Megami Tensei V, the Amatsukami are not. Well, all but one anyway. The so-called “proto-Fiend”, Aogami, the entity responsible for the player’s transformation into a Nahobino, is actually Susano-o, who is counted among the Amatsukami in this game. Aogami seems to be an artificially-created demon, built by Tsukuyomi to inherit the power of Susano-o, who presumably is one of the Amatsukami gods who fell in the battle of Armageddon, to ensure that he and the other gods of Japan could still fight despite the events of Armageddon. Aogami is Tsukuyomi’s effort to restore the Amatsukami as the autochthonous protectors of Japan, perhaps to ensure that the Japanese gods can rely on themselves rather than the angels. Tsukuyomi thus seeks to recreate both the world and his fellow gods; in Lucifer’s words, he seeks to rebuild the world as he rebuilt his divine kin.

Tsukuyomi intends to become a Nahobino, and to do that he needs the human who possesses his remnant “Knowledge”. This is where we get to the other Chaos representative: one of your classmates, Yuzuru Atsuta.

Yuzuru is a peculiar case where he looks a lot like the Chaos Hero from the original Shin Megami Tensei, with his glasses and his haircut, but never once acts like him. Whereas the original Chaos Hero was rebellious, despised authority, and wanted little more than the freedom and power to stand on his own, Yuzuru seems to be the honor student of your class, and he appears to respect authority, not merely the power to back that authority. For a character who goes on to be the main human representative of the Chaos alignment in contrast to Ichiro representing the Law alignment, there’s almost nothing throughout the game that suggests Yuzuru is meant to develop in this way. The only thing you hear him talk about is how much he wants to protect Tokyo and his classmates, and you never see him question the whims of the angels or the ideals of Bethel. That’s until Tsukuyomi/Hayao Koshimizu has him stay in the Diet Building while you and Ichiro participate in the raid against Arioch. After you return to HQ and it’s revealed that Hayao Koshimizu is Tsukuyomi and he intends to break away from Bethel, Yuzuru, although initially surprised, never seems to question Tsukuyomi’s actions or intentions nor challenge him on why it’s worth leaving Bethel, and almost immediately signs onto Tsukyomi’s vision of replacing the rule of one God with the governance of many gods, and the game gives us absolutely no idea of how he came to the conclusion that this is the right thing to do. While Ichiro gets a whole full-motion cutscene dedicated to showing us his transformation into a zealot of the Law alignment, Yuzuru only gets a brief and not even voice-acted scene at Shinobazu Pond where he bigs you up as a Nahobino and basically tells you that Tokyo means everything to him, of course, that he too is going for the throne of creation, and that he will compete against you if you do not share his cause. Absolutely no attempt to discuss why he came to the conclusion he did.

At least Tsukuyomi tells us that God’s order isn’t worth following anymore because God’s destruction of Tokyo is seen as inevitable by the angels and that Tokyo obeyed God only to still be destroyed. But with Yuzuru, there’s nothing. Just like Ichiro, he is practically only motivated by the blind fixation on the base mission of protecting/saving Tokyo, with little thought process of his own regarding the surrounding conflicts and contradictions that affect Tokyo’s fate. If you play on the Law ending path, Yuzuru argues to Ichiro that God’s grip has stifled the world and that Ichiro’s beliefs are motivated by him having stopped thinking for himself, but with no exposition regarding how Yuzuru comes to believe what he does, we are left to assume that Yuzuru ultimately is simply going along with whatever Tsukuyomi wants. Given that Yuzuru spends the whole game up to the final stretch just going along with what Bethel wants, respects Tsukuyomi’s authority and attendant reputation as the director of Bethel’s Japanese branch, and stays behind with Tsukuyomi so that he can tell him gods know what (we are never shown exactly what Tsukuyomi was doing with Yuzuru by the time you’ve departed for Ginza), it is logical to conclude that Yuzuru has arrived at his conclusions not through independent thought but through the advice, or even instruction, of Tsukuyomi, who as a respected figure of authority leading the mission to fight chaos and protect Tokyo Yuzuru would be inclined to listen to. Frankly, it is my opinion that had Tsukuyomi/Koshimizu not decided to break away from Bethel and do his own thing, Yuzuru would still be obeying not only him but also, by extension, Bethel, and thus he could have wound up as the Law representative instead of the Chaos representative.

All of this has me come away thinking, without any hesitation, that Yuzuru is the worst, the flattest, the emptiest Chaos-aligned character I have ever seen in the entire Shin Megami Tensei series, due to his fundamental lack of motivation and him simply being uniquely self-defeating from a conceptual standpoint. The fact that he ultimately arrives at his path through deference to authority is an affront to everything that Chaos has represented for the last nearly 30 years of games, since it demonstrates a lack of the values of independence and rejection of authority that have come to define it.

But enough about Yuzuru. This is a path that’s all about the myriad gods, so we can’t spend too much time talking about it without mentioning the other gods, the gods of Bethel. At the summit, you meet Khonsu, Zeus, Odin, and Vasuki serving as a proxy for Shiva, all of whom are convinced that Bethel’s time is up, with God dead and unable to support his order, and that it is time to create a new world. There seem to be some differences between what the gods want now that God is dead. Zeus and Odin go off and find the humans with their “Knowledge” in order become Nahobinos themselves and take the throne of creation, though what they intend to do as rulers once either of them get the throne is left unexamined. Khonsu, however, has no interest in the throne, but does seem interested in gaining the power of the sun god in order to become Ra. His rivals in this quest include Amon, Asura (as in the Asura Lord from Shin Megami Tensei), and Mithras. Vasuki, as a servant and mere proxy of Shiva, cares only that Shiva’s ambition to destroy and recreate the world via the Rudra Astra is fulfilled, and neither Vasuki nor Shiva seem to be interested in claiming the throne.

Shiva actually seems to be an interesting case on his own. He is referred to within the game’s story, but makes no actual appearance in the main plot. Instead, you can only see him after you defeat Vasuki and claim the Key of Austerity, but even then, meeting him is purely optional, and you only have to do it if you want to take on his subquest, “A Universe in Peril”, and fight him in a gruelling superboss battle. As for what Shiva wants, he has no intention of claiming the throne of creation, and believes that those who do contend for it in order to create the world in alignment with their will bring nothing but corruption. Thus Shiva believes that it is not right that the world should be created or recreated by its inhabitants, rather that the beings that inhabit the world should be created by the world alone, and to that end Shiva will destroy the universe on behalf of the god Brahma so that it can be created again. For a Chaos-aligned deity of the Fury clan, the worldview Shiva talks about seems to me like it would actually make for a pretty creative expression of the Law alignment. Traditionally, the Law alignment tends to stress alignment with the order and will of things usually couched in terms of divine law, and if that’s not the order of God as expressed in the traditional Order of Messiah style Law ideology, it can be something more generic such as “harmony with the world” as in Devil Summoner 2 or something more abstract such as the way the Reasons all work in Nocturne.

A Shin Megami Tensei game seeking to present a Law path not defined strictly by the Abrahamic context might seek to pursue Law as defined by a belief that it is the world, or universe, or even a more trans-cultural expression of the Great Will, that bears the sole right of creation and dominion, while opposing any notion of you or anyone being able to create on your own or establish your own order. This can be drawn from multiple contexts, though an easy way to meld both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic contexts would be an abstract “Will of Heaven”, deriving from the use of the term in Confucianism, as the principal agency of Law, of which God and his minions as well as non-Abrahamic gods. It might seem weird talking about this in what is supposed to be the Chaos section, but it is one of the myriad gods expressing this idea, and on that note, it also kind of underscores what I consider to be another wasted opportunity. When I saw Zeus, Odin, Khonsu, and Vasuki being revealed as representatives of Bethel from different international branches, keeping in mind the impression that Bethel was going to be the Law faction in the game, I thought that perhaps we might be seeing a return to Law and Chaos as inclusive absolutes in the way that they were in the original Shin Megami Tensei and Strange Journey. But that turned out not to be the case. Instead all Bethel amounted to was a cooperation pact between gods and angels, which the gods only partook in on the assumption that God was still alive and the Condemnation was still in effect.

But in any case, we come now to the final stretch of the game, at the end of the Temple of Eternity, where the final alignment break occurs and you must choose between three paths towards the end of the game. Choosing “Recreate the world and save Tokyo” is the Chaos path, and puts you on the side of Tsukuyomi and Yuzuru in their quest to bring Japan back under the governance of the Amatsukami and the world under the governance of the myriad gods. A little reminder of just what side this entails, on your way through the Empyrean you can find Ongyo-Ki, a Chaos-aligned Brute demon, who tells you that he and his kind have set aside their differences with the Amatsukami in order to realise the common goal of restoring the world of the myriad gods.

As was the case in the Law path, taking the Chaos path unlocks two subquests exclusive to the Chaos alignment. The first of these is “The Red Dragon’s Invitation”, which requires the completion of “The Holy Ring” to access. It involves you meeting the demon Nebiros in the Empyrean, who invites Chaos-aligned players to come and see Belial at the castle once ruled by Arioch. Of course, if you somehow aren’t sufficiently Chaos-aligned by this point, Nebiros asks you to pay 666,000 Macca before letting you see Belial. When you meet Belial he praises you for your power to defy the Condemnation and considers you as an ally in the goal of destroying the order of God, or the world of order. This reinforces the demons of chaos you fought before and the polytheistic gods you now side with as sharing the same goal: overturning God’s order and gaining the power to recreate the world. Belial then has you go and defeat Michael, who you previously had a hand in freeing, so that Belial will lend you his aid. Of course, if you took the Law path, Belial will instead oppose you and you will have to defeat him. Another Chaos-exclusive subquest is “The Wrathful Queen”, in which the goddess Maria, awaiting her disappearance with the creation of the new world, transforms into the goddess Inanna upon seeing that you have the Seed of Life and intend to “craft a world unlike any that has come before” (seems a tad ironic considering you mean to restore a multitude of gods). Defeating Inanna grants you the right to fuse and summon her.

After defeating Abdiel, Nuwa, and then Lucifer, the last of whom you’d think would join your side on this path considering he is the Lord of Chaos after all, you usher in the recreation of the world as planned, to bring about a world where many gods reign and gods reside in everything that exists. Essentially, you’re supporting a cosmos that is polytheistic and seemingly animistic as well, much like the Shinto cosmos and several Pagan cosmoses. Once again you don’t get to see what that world looks like, all you see is a big white disco ball and the gods Zeus, Odin, Khonsu, and Shiva suspended mid-air in different directions so as to indicate that this is the polytheistic cosmos of the Chaos path, and all you have to go on is Goko’s narration. You remake the world into one governed by a multitude of different gods, and its inhabitants offer their faith equally and live in a diverse, ever-changing society. Supposedly this life is difficult at least for those who lack conviction of their own, while those who think for themselves come together and do great things. Apparently irreconcilable differences in ideology result in constant conflict, and the world is now filled with strife, but to choose and to be able to choose is better than to be chosen for, and those who choose for themselves are responsible for their own choices.

At this point we should note that, between the Law and Chaos endings, the narrator inserts what are the apparent feelings of the protagonist. In the Law ending, Goko tells us that the protagonist is pleased with his work, while in the Chaos ending, Goko tells us that the protagonist is sad but holds to his beliefs anyway. This is unusual for a Shin Megami Tensei game, arguably contrary to its overall spirit, since the whole point of Shin Megami Tensei’s protagonists being silent protagonists is that this gives the player to insert their own values, emotions, and thought process into that character. Here, however, it’s suggested that the story decides how the protagonist feels about certain outcomes, when the whole point is that in Shin Megami Tensei, as Kazuma Kaneko once said, everyone has their own criteria for victory. Not to mention, why should the protagonist be pleased with his work when creating a world where nobody can think for themselves and people mostly just exist to have faith in God, and why should the protagonist be sad to have created a world where diversity means everyone disagrees with each other? It makes me suspect that the game’s narrative implies a bias in favour of the player governing a new world in a dictatorial fashion, or at least in favour of ordered consensus maintained through unitary divine authority, and against any outcome that entails that humans have to fight for what they have and figure things out amongst themselves.

But in any case, the cosmos presented to us in the Chaos ending makes a lot of sense when observed in terms of the cosmoses that we often see in polytheistic belief systems. In a cosmos consisting of multiple divines, divinity cannot be a unitary thing. A singular supreme being, therefore, in the strict sense does not exist. The closest thing to that would be the king of the gods, and in Greece and Rome we see that some philosophers, such as the Stoics, developing towards a more monistic or monotheistic worldview, would sometimes lean towards Zeus, as the king of the Greek gods, as the logical representation of the supreme divine principle, but even the king of the gods is not usually an absolute ruler, he occasionally meets challenges to his authority, and his power is not capable of overriding the fate that is immanent in the cosmos. Sometimes this king also answers to something greater than he, such as Zeus himself who seems to answer to Nyx. But in any case, the consistent polytheist cosmos brooks nothing like monotheistic notions of God, and there isn’t the same notion of a supreme being. It’s interesting that the Chaos ending implies a kind of anarchy, in the classical colloquial sense communicated by the ceaseless strife of a headless society. The etymological root of the word anarchy is in the Greek word anarkhia, which means “without a leader” or “without a ruler”, the word “arkhos” meaning “ruler”. Another similar Greek word is “arkhe”, which means “beginning” or “origin”, can be interpreted as meaning “first principle” or “dominion”, and in ancient Greek philosophy denoted an original principle from which all else originated, which was central to what would become a quest to define the single, supreme principle underlying all things, perhaps presaging an eventual philsophical turn towards monotheism. The polytheism of the Chaos path is anarchy two sense; it is anarchy in the sense that it is without a single ruler, and it is anarchy in the sense that it has no supreme principle. There is no arkhe, there is a diversity and multiplicity of divines, principles, values, that live amongst each other, and occasionally clash with each other. But this in many ways is more consistent with Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei’s traditional context than anything. It is the cosmic fufillment of its most consistent goal: co-existence involving demons and the gods of old, boundless freedom, no supreme ruler. In fact, I would argue that this state of things could be the chaos that Arioch alluded to, from which true freedom is born. Chaos, then, is a state of affairs in which there is no supreme principle ruling the cosmos, as well as the strife that apparently accompanies it. Ironically, however, nearly all of the gods shown here, except Shiva, are officially Neutral as members of the Deity clan (all of whom are Neutral).

Thus, we have established the nature of the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei V. It is an ideology centered around the destruction of the current order of things so as to replace it with a cosmos with no supreme ruler and a multiplicity of overseers. The headless nature of this cosmos implies not just diversity but limitless possibility and freedom, but it is to be taken that this leads to strife, uncertainty, and disorder. Being Chaos-aligned, then, is about being willing to accept the strife and disagreement that comes with the freedom of the headless cosmos.


We have established the Law alignment as represented by angels seeking to preserve and/or renew the monotheistic order of God, and we have established the Chaos alignment as represented by a multiplicity of gods and demons seeking to recreate the world and regain their lost divinity. So what is Neutrality between these two options? Who represents the Neutral path here? There are multiple characters who are Neutral in a very strict sense, in that they don’t formally align with either the Law and Chaos factions. But Neutrality, in the Shin Megami Tensei sense, is not merely a lack of affiliation between both camps, but an ideological stance that is defined in its explicit rejection of Law and Chaos. What does that mean here?

We are introduced to the Neutral path pretty early on in Shin Megami Tensei V, as soon as you enter the Diet Building. There you meet Nuwa, the Chinese goddess who created mankind, who is seen having just slaughtered an army of angels. Given that you’re introduced to the angels as essentially the forces of order or Law, your initial impression may have been that Nuwa represented the Chaos alignment, and as a Chaos-aligned Lady that would make sense, but the game soon makes it clear that this is not the case. After you “defeat” Nuwa (or more accurately whittle her HP down to half), a man named Shohei Yakumo, who calls himself an “exterminator of demons”, appears to interrupt your battle, and initially intends to kill you. When Nuwa persuades Shohei to spare the protagonist, he relents, and you have the opportunity ask who they are and what they want. Nuwa explains to you that Bethel is their enemy because they serve the same God of Law that stole the “Knowledge” of the other gods and turned them into demons, and that she also considers many of God’s opponents to be no better than him, calling them “opportunistic cretins” who only seek chaos to fulfill their own selfish desires. Thus Shohei’s self-appointed mission is to kill both the forces of Bethel and the demons of chaos, and he will oppose you for as long you seem to work for Bethel at least.

It is important to bear in mind what we already established when discussing the Chaos alignment. The forces of chaos that Nuwa is likely referring to are the demons who seek to reclaim their lost “Knowledge” in order to regain their divinity and destroy God’s order. These are concrete goals, not reducible to wantonness, and as a goddess who herself was one of the gods whose “Knowledge” was confiscated thus leading to her desecration, one would assume that she would have a common goal with those demons. But instead, Nuwa’s opinion is that the demons seeking to restore their former divinity, albeit through violent means, are equally as bad as the God that she describes as having stolen her “Knowledge” and enforcing tyrannical absolute rule over the cosmos. It’s like a kind of cosmic centrism.

Much later on, Shohei reappears in Akihabara, in the Chiyoda area of Tokyo, slaying demons and angels left and right, and prepares to confront the protagonist. Here Shohei and Nuwa are shown to disagree with each other. Nuwa appears to see something in the protagonist, it’s not exactly clear what, while Shohei hates you for ostensibly being content to fight for Bethel in spite of your strength. Once you defeat him, though, he begins to change his mind after being sufficiently impressed by your strength, as the one who previously defeated Lahmu, but is still baffled that you seem to still work for Bethel. He views demons as parasites who manipulate and corrupt any human they set their sights on, declares that they are a blot that must be cleansed, and rhetorically challenges you to prove that demons are worth fighting for.

There’s a pretty obvious problem with Shohei’s militant anti-demon attitude. His companion throughout the game is Nuwa, who by the game’s terms is a demon, a being who lost her divinity because of the Condemnation established by God. Thus, she too is one of the desecrated beings that Shohei pledged to exterminate. Apparently Nuwa is the demon who has been with Shohei since he was young. But when Shohei was young, a demon possessed someone and killed his whole family, and that’s his primary motivation for wanting to exterminate demons. Why then was Nuwa not one of the demons he sought to kill? As it turns out, they have a common goal, one that will be explored in good time.

After you defeat Arioch, Shohei appears again to congratulate you on slaying the demon king, who he describes as an “ugly sore”. He thinks that Arioch’s defeat will lead to humanity being on even footing with the demons, since humans are able to not only fight demons but also pit demons against each other. Aogami then interjects, saying that only a few people can fight off the demons, whereas most people can’t and will die as a result. To Aogami, this doesn’t seem good for humanity. Shohei, however, will have none of it, and refuses to listen to Aogami on the grounds that he is an artificial demon, a “Bethel construct”, a “slave to his programming”. He then seemingly justifies the possible sacrifice in human lives by asserting that those who cannot fend for themselves are better off dead, since their will to live is meaningless without the will to fight. He further asserts that those who “give in to temptation” and “betray one’s fellow man” should never have been born in the first place.

Those who played Shin Megami Tensei V and got to that point were probably taken aback by how cruel and cold-hearted Shohei’s philosophy is. In fact, it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that Shohei is basically saying that it doesn’t matter how many humans die in their ceaseless war against demonkind because the weak, that’s what Shohei is referring to, are better off dead and those who were going to be weak-willed and incapable of asserting strength shouldn’t have been born. In Shohei’s worldview, the weak don’t deserve to live. This is a Social Darwinist worldview, albeit somewhat toned down compared to other games in that the criteria seems to be mental strength and the will to fight rather than physical strength and the ability to exercise brute force. This has led many to assume that Shohei is actually Chaos-aligned rather than Neutral, despite the obvious problem with that being that Shohei’s goals are undoubtedly consistent with traditional Neutrality, upholding the sole agency of humanity against God and the demons.

An important thing to note about Social Darwinism in Shin Megami Tensei is that, although typically associated with Chaos both by fans and within the games, the idea that Chaos equals Social Darwinism is, as I have established before, actually sort of a deeply-ingrained myth. While Shin Megami Tensei, Strange Journey, and Shin Megami Tensei IV all have a Chaos alignment that has some kind of might makes right component to their overall ideology, it is generally if not entirely absent in the Chaos alignment as featured in Shin Megami Tensei II, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, Devil Summoner 2, and, as I have elaborated here, Shin Megami Tensei V, as well as the New Chaos route in Strange Journey Redux. So for at least half the series Chaos had barely anything to do with any might makes right ideology, and the extent to which it commits to that changes and varies from game to game. The most consistent thing about Chaos is that it’s all about wanting the most freedom possible, being willing to defy God or the Great Will to realize it, and the will to live with such a world consisting of strife and disharmony. Meanwhile, some extent of Social Darwinism is not exclusive to the Chaos alignment. In Strange Journey, the Three Wise Men, representatives of the Law alignment, say that the “spiritually enlightened whose wills are strong” will get to live in the new world while “the fallen humans whose wills are weak” will be destroyed. Only the strong will live, while the weak will die, but this is predicated on will rather than brute strength, so in that sense it’s not altogether different from Shohei’s philosophy of life except that God is in the equation. In Nocturne, we see three Reasons that are all different visions of a Thousand Year Kingdom as constructed under the auspices of Kagutsuchi, an avatar of the Great Will, and the Yosuga Reason, which I must stress is supported by the angels, is a Thousand Year Kingdom that selects membership based on a concept of “beauty” that is defined by power and brute strength. Even if not predicated on a might makes right style of selection, the Thousand Year Kingdom has always had a sort of elitist undercurrent to it, with its emphasis that only a chosen few get to live in it. So in this sense, not only is Social Darwinism not the exclusive item of the Chaos alignment, it has also been seen to some extent in the Law alignment, and now Shohei Yakumo represents the series coming full circle where Social Darwinism, if anything the same kind seen in Strange Journey’s Law alignment, has been represented as an expression of Neutrality.

Shohei’s Social Darwinism does not come from some vague Hobbesian argument about how too much freedom or the abolition of the state will result in a brutal war of all against all (as is frequently implied for the Chaos alignment) or from a belief in God’s salvation being predicated on strength of will as applied to faith resulting in the exclusion of the weak as defined by their proclivity to temptation (as is occasionally seen in the Law alignment). Instead, Shohei’s Social Darwinism emerges from his exterminationist crusade against the demons, who he thinks are parasites that need to be cleansed from the world. Although Shohei doesn’t ever establish why he opposes Bethel or God’s order in particular, it seems reasonable to assume that he views Bethel and the angels as just more demons, more parasites to be cleansed from the world. His crusade demands strength of will, defined by the will to fight and not be influenced by demons, including angels. If many people die as a result, then that is to be considered acceptable on the grounds that the weak will fall while the strong will prevail, and that those who can’t find it in them to fight the demons and reject their promises don’t deserve to live. Thus, we see a Neutral Social Darwinism, for the first time in the series.

This itself ostensibly springs from another motivation, at least as recounted by Nuwa. Supposedly his harsh philosophy of life, particularly his willingness to leave the weak, “those who’ve given up”, to the wolves is motivated not out mistrust for his fellow man but precisely because of his love for humanity, and his belief in the potential strength of humanity. Nuwa explains that Shohei was born into a family whose men were all law enforcement officers, while his mother was a medium who helped the souls of people who were troubled by “dark spirits”, one of whom possessed a man who then slaughtered Shohei’s family. She then says that those who have neither the desire nor capacity to redeem themselves, and will only ever know violence and evil, should simply be struck down without hesitation, stressing that “pretty words” are not enough to save the world. This is the context in which Shohei comes to form his cruel worldview.

Another important contour of Shohei’s Social Darwinism concerns human potential. Those who give up on themselves are people who abandon their potential, specifically their potential to fight demons, and are thus undeserving of life. There is a philosophy in real life whose ideology seems to align with Shohei’s worldviews to some extent. Its adherents refer to it as “longtermism“, and its basic premises are surprisingly mainstream. Longtermism is basically the philosophy which holds that the long-term potential of the human species is the most important ethical value there is. Under this philosophy, the loss of life in itself matters less than the potential that disappeared with that life. It also means that even the worst effects of climate change and the devastation and death that comes with that is all just a blip so long as mankind manages to recover their “potential”. The Social Darwinist implications of longtermism manifest for some of its adherents in the idea that the lives of the rich, or people in rich countries, should be prioritized over the lives of the poor, or people in poor countries, because supposedly the wealthier countries have more innovation and their workers are more productive, thus the poorer and less productive would be left to die in a world run by longtermist principles. Swap rich versus poor with strong versus weak, and what emerges is the idea that it is better that the strong continue to live and better that the weak either die or not even be born, since the strong (of will, at least) carry more long-term potential than the weak (again, of will at least). That idea is at the heart of Shohei Yakumo’s worldview: the weak, “those who give up”, “those who give in to temptation”, they are bad because they abandoned what could have been their potential as demon exterminators who lead a world meant for humans and only humans. That longtermism should focus squarely on human potential should make it no surprised that it seems to make its way to a Neutral character.

Towards the final stretch of the game, when you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity and the forces of Law and Chaos are arguing with each other and showing their hands, Shohei appears abruptly, interrupting the conversation to announce his own plans for the throne of creation. His plan is to destroy the throne, believing that doing so will allow humanity to shape their own world. And if you take his side and resolve to destroy the throne, that is what you will do as well, and so begins the Neutral path. This also leads to you losing the favour of the Goddess of creation, and it’s here that we briefly mention her role in things.

Tao Isonokami, your classmate, died in the fight against Lahmu. After the Bethel summit, Tao reappears as the Goddess of creation, who seems to literally be the Megami in Shin Megami Tensei V, come to accompany the Nahobino in creating a new world after the fall of God and the disappearance of the Shekinah Glory. Taking either the Law or Chaos paths sees you reshaping the world by assuming the throne of creation, whether that means recreating the old order set by God or creating a new divine order entirely, and so the Goddess supports this. Destroying the throne, however, means denying the process of creation, which according to the Goddess means denying the will of the universe (that will being creation, of course), and she cannot support that, though for some reasons he makes no attempt to stop you from thwarting the literal will of the universe.

Anyways, there is something a tad peculiar about the ethos of Shohei’s quest to destroy the throne. He claims that it will mean humanity will shape their own world, presumably meaning without the demons or the gods, and in this regard we see a kind of humanism that is broadly consistent with the ethos of Neutrality as present in the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei series. But the peculiarity arises in the premise of shaping your own world. In the strict sense, both the Law and Chaos paths involve you, a human, albeit a human that is now also a Nahobino, shaping your own world. Nuwa certainly considers you human enough, at least in that you share his humanity, and, as Goko says, by assuming the throne of creation, your ideal world takes shape in the manner that you choose. In that sense, Shohei’s stated aims are surely already fulfilled in the act of creation, right? Well, the problem for Shohei seems to be that you ostensibly do not shape the world alone and as a human but rather co-create the world as a Nahobino alongside either the angels or the old gods, and it would seem that this renders the process of creation unacceptable in Shohei’s eyes, no doubt since to him this means cooperating with the demons and “giving in to temptation”.

And yet, this objection is ultimately hypocritical. On either the Law or Chaos paths, Shohei and Nuwa interrupt your ascent to the throne, to stop you from assuming the throne so that Shohei can destroy it. Shohei declares that this is “the end” for gods and demons. But how does he try to bring this about? Why, by fusing with Nuwa in order to become a Nahobino, of course! Keep in mind that Shohei opposed the player for being a Nahobino on the grounds that this meant him being a demon. In fact, he’s so sure that Nahobinos are demons and therefore enemies that he proclaims “and you are no exception!” when ranting about this being the end for god and demon alike. Yet for some reason he’s quite content to be a Nahobino himself or help Nuwa become a Nahobino. So if you happen to oppose him towards the end of the game, all that talk of not needing gods or demons ends in Shohei not only depending on the power of a demon/god but also becoming a Nahobino in order to try and defeat you. In this sense, Shohei really can’t complain about humans depending on demons/gods, let alone co-creating the world with them, since at least half of that is what Shohei ends up doing himself, or really the entire time if you want him cooperating with Nuwa for basically the whole game. To be honest, though, I think the whole setup is just constructed in a way so that it arbitrarily matches the dynamic of the Reason boss fights from Nocturne. Just as Hikawa, Chiaki, and Isamu all summoned the gods of their respective Reasons, gain new demonic forms in which they seem to have physically merged with those gods, and then you fight them depending on which ending path you took, the same thing happens in Shin Megami Tensei V for Ichiro fusing with Abdiel, Yuzuru fusing with Tsukuyomi, and Shohei fusing with Nuwa, but in a much more condensed and contrived fashion.

Only one exclusive subquest is unlocked in the Neutral path, and that is “The Noble Queen”. Here the goddess Maria, yet again awaiting her disappearance with the creation of a new world, transforms into the goddess Danu upon seeing that you have the Seed of Life and intend to “have humanity live for themselves”. Defeating Danu gives you the right to fuse and summon her. Curiously, Danu is the only Lady in the game who is Neutral instead of Chaos-aligned.

So, you progress through the Empyrean, Shohei dies trying to fight Abdiel (he’s rather embarassingly killed by the gust of air that flows from Abdiel becoming a Nahobino, and so does anyone you side with before the first Nahobino fight in any path in the game for some stupid reason), laments that he failed to fight for the future of humanity, and Nuwa survives to plead with you to succeed where she and Shohei failed. After this you defeat Abdiel, and then Tsukuyomi, but you don’t get to fight Lucifer at all for some reason, in fact Lucifer doesn’t bother to show up at all to tell you what he thinks about you destroying the throne. Instead, after defeating Tsukuyomi, nothing happens except you fly up to the throne of creation, and then shatter it. Goko trembles in shock and horror as the process of creation is denied, and laments that chaos will continue to grip this world.

And what happens then? Once again, you don’t really see anything except a big white disco ball, and this time your classmates, Hayao Koshimizu, Abdiel, and Goko all standing upside down in mid-air. Goko narrates that the battle of the gods came to an end, but its victor relinquished his right to rule creation, resulting in the denial of creation and the continuation of the current status quo, which means the “agents of chaos” continuing to run amok. The human species somehow survives and finds a way to combat the demons, but forces the demonkind are still overwhelming, and many people are expected to die in the neverending war. We are assured, however, that humanity will definitely find victory somehow, because they have the power of knowledge and creation on their side. The player is left to observe the disarry of things, and is pleased not by the outcome but by the thought of what is yet to come; in other words, the player is kept going by the long-term potential of the human species, which no doubt cushions the thought of all those sacrifices you set into motion.

I’ve made numerous comparisons to Nocturne throughout this essay, and I don’t intend to stop now, because this ending is essentially the Demon ending from that. Not the True Demon ending introduced in the Maniax edition, but the original Demon ending, in which defeat all of the Reason bosses, but you don’t get to fight Kagutsuchi as the final boss, and because you either rejected all three Reasons but lacked courage or tried to support too many Reasons at once, Kagutsuchi leaves in disgust, the process of creation is denied, and the Vortex World remains for a thousand years, thus leaving the world in a limbo state teeming with demons. One difference, I suppose, is that in Nocturne’s Demon ending you’re the last man alive, and the only other humans that survived the Conception were either killed by your hand or sacrificed, whereas here there seem to be some humans left that we don’t know about, given that once again all of your classmates and human allies are dead (which, to be fair, happens no matter what path you take anyway). Interestingly, this ending, rather than the Chaos ending, is the ending in which we are explicitly told that chaos in the sense of the lack of order is present in the world, presumably meaning that, in the Chaos ending, there is ironically still some order, just that there is no supreme, absolute order, but refer a multitude of orders, just that there is strife between them. But whereas, as Pierre Joseph Proudhon might have put it, anarchy seems to be prove to be the mother of order in the Chaos path, in this Neutral path, there is neither anarchy nor order, only the silence of creation and the desperation of mankind viciously struggling against demons, maybe forever.

And yet, in the eye’s of the game’s narrative, the real tragedy of destroying the throne is not so much the lives lost in the ceaseless between humans and demons but rather the fact that the potential to create a new world has been denied. When you begin your mission to destroy the throne, the Goddess laments that you carry the potential of an entire world and yet do not want to use it, and thus declares that you must not proceed to the throne. Goko’s panic and disappointment stems from the same thing: you have elected not to use “the potential of a world”, and thus the process of creation is denied, thus the world will not be reborn, it will not be “saved” from conflict by a new God or absolute ruler. The longtermist premise that it is the “potential” of humanity that is more valuable than the life of humans in itself is thus present not only in the worldview of Shohei Yakumo, but also in the agents of creation themselves who Shohei might have opposed. Every path you take except this one validates the process of creation and thus means you use that “potential” instead of abdicating it, thus the Goddess and Goko approve of the other paths. They do are concerned ultimately and principally that the long-term potential of the world or of humanity is fulfilled, made manifest through the act of creation.

This is where the “Destroy the throne” path ends. But, this is not the only Neutral path in the game, and thus it is not the end for our discussion of Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei V. There is in fact another Neutral ending. A “secret” ending. The “good” or “true” Neutral ending, at least according to some. It does seem to be represented by a shining star when you get it in a clear save file, unlike all the others, and it has somewhat more exposition than the other paths, so clearly it’s supposed to be special. But what is it, what the goal of that path, and what is the outcome of it in the final hand?

To get this alternate Neutral ending, you first have complete a chain of subquests before reaching the Empyrean and choosing to destroy the throne. These are often whole chains of subquests leading up to you defeating certain demons as bosses and unlocking them for fusion. You must gain Fionn Mac Cumhaill as an ally, and to do that you must complete the “Fionn’s Resolve” subquest, which also requires you to complete three more subquests – “The Falcon’s Head”, “Root of the Problem”, and “An Unusual Forecast” – before it can activate. You also have to unlock Khonsu, which requires fighting him in “The Egyptians’ Fate”, and then sparing his life when given the option to finish him off. Then you have to complete “Winged Sun” by defeating Asura, Mithra, and Amon. Then after completing all those quests plus “The Falcon’s Head”, you then have to complete “The Succession of Ra” in order to defeat Khonsu Ra (or, as I prefer to call him, Ra) and unlock both him and regular Khonsu for fusion. You also have to complete “A Power Beyond Control” and defeat Amanozako gone berserk, and then complete “The Destined Leader” after getting all three keys to unlock Amanozako as an ally. You also have to complete “A Universe in Peril”, in which you have to fight and defeat Shiva, the main superboss of the game.

Once you complete all of those subquests, when you advance into the Empyrean into the Neutral path as normal, and then defeat Abdiel, Nuwa then reappears after the fight to reveal her true plan for the world. Although Shohei and Nuwa both wanted to destroy the throne, this was not actually their ultimate or end goal. Nuwa says that the real reason they participated in the struggle for the throne was so that they could claim the throne for themselves and use it to create a world where gods and demons no longer existed, thus making the world a “clean slate” for humanity. After defeating Tsukuyomi as normal, the Goddess approaches you from behind to tell you that you have the potential to rule the world, and beseeches you not to destroy the throne. This unlocks the choice between destroying the throne and the fourth path in the game: creating a world for humanity alone. The Goddess understands this as a world rid of both gods and demons, and determines that this too is the right of the ruler of a new world as an act of creation, thus the player can take the throne. This is where the alternate Neutral path begins.

The requirement of completing subquests to unlock the hidden Neutral path is very reminiscent of Shin Megami Tensei IV’s Neutral path, in which you are required to complete a series of side-quests, or Challenge Quests, in order to advanced the plot by putting you at the top of Hunter rankings, thus filling the Chalice of Hope. But whereas Shin Megami Tensei IV required you to do a lot of Challenge Quests to progress in Neutrality, in Shin Megami Tensei V, you only have to do subquests if you want the “best” version of Neutrality, and the Neutral path per se remains open without them. Still, progressing through Neutrality or unlocking one Neutral ending requiring side-quests does seem to be a weird trend for the last couple of mainline Shin Megami Tensei games. This may be to conjure some sense of Neutrality being harder to achieve than the other paths so as to artificially replicate the difficulty associated with Neutrality in older games. In older games, the challenge of Neutrality consisted in keeping your alignment in balance and fighting every powerful demon in your way. But here, you’re just supposed to complete a bunch of subquests. I suppose when you consider the Shiva and Khonsu Ra fights, it’s not entirely a cake walk. But again, the base idea seems like artificially inflating the challenge of Neutrality. Additionally, your alignment is barely indicated within the game and has no effect on you getting a Neutral path.

But let’s focus on the main goal of this path: creating a world for humanity alone, ridding the world of all gods and demons. There’s already a glaring problem with this premise. Why would Nuwa, a goddess demoted to demonhood, accept being erased from the fabric of existence? If you elect to create a world where gods and demons no longer exist, that means the gods/demons who supported you will be erased and disappear from the cosmos. This includes Aogami, who however artificial is still a demon. But Aogami would go along with whatever you wanted anyway, since he only exists to serve the protagonist and lend him his strength. Nuwa, however, is not artificial, and has a will of her own, yet the question of why she would consent to her own annihilation is simply never addressed by the story. She does say that, as a goddess, she is partial to humans as “her own creation”, but this hardly explains why she should want herself and all the other gods and demons wiped out.

The other question, though, is why should you consent to the annihilation of your demon allies, or for that matter the abolition of your own state as a Nahobino? This question harkens to another glaring problem that emanates from the core premise and mechanic of the game. You want to rid the world of gods and demons, but you wouldn’t be anywhere without them. The desire to wipe out all gods/demons is essentially predicated on Shohei’s belief that demons are no good for humanity and will only destroy humans, but the entire reason for your survival in the world of Da’at is that you were found and saved by a demon, albeit an artificial one, then through him became a Nahobino, thus, by the game’s terms, an at least partially demonic being, and then further still recruited, summoned, and fused demons as allies to support you. And not only has your survival depended on the help of demons, but so too does that of your classmates. Both Yuzuru and Ichiro only have a fighting chance in Bethel because they have demons (or angels, as the case may be) on their side, and the classmates who got dragged into Da’at by Lahmu’s minions might have been killed had it not been for the protection of the demons who live in the Fairy Forest. Even Shohei’s whole plan sees him cooperating with Nuwa and the plan outlined by Nuwa is completely dependent on the assistance of a demon/god and the process of becoming a Nahobino, and from there the process of creation, which is thus co-creation.

Speaking of the Fairy Forest, for a game that likes to frame its basic story setting as a conflict between humans and demons, with demons increasingly established as little more than spiritual monsters, you encounter countless demons in Da’at who are friendly enough to you. You encounter tons of demons that just want you to give them items, you encounter Amanozako who is probably the least threatening personality in the game despite being based on a wrathful yokai goddess, the fairies obviously want no trouble for the humans, and there’s plenty of demons simply have no interest in humans let alone their death. Shohei is convinced that demons are all parasitic threats to humanity that need to be wiped out, and this premise is immanent in both of the game’s Neutral ending paths, but you can play through the whole game and ask yourself, is that really true? Do all gods and demons deserve to die because one demon killed his whole family, or for that matter because Lahmu abducted your classmates is shown to be responsible for the deaths of two people? Could you imagine Shohei applying this logic in reverse, to declare that humans need to be wiped from existence because a human killed a couple of demons or indeed other humans? Or is this all transparently nothing more than the reasoning of pure pogromist hatred?

To “create a world for humanity alone” means the genocide of gods and demons, all of whom are non-human lives, which is to say still lives. You are committing genocide against non-human life, for the purpose of creating a world populated only by humans. Of course, the game doesn’t frame it that way, but I’m sure that’s because if it did you would be acknowledged as the villain in the game’s story, and that’s still a pretty polite way to describe your actions. Thus, the act of a Neutral creation echoes some of the omnicidal aspects of traditional Neutrality. After all, it’s not like the Neutral endings of the older games didn’t have you slaughter everyone who stood in the way of your vision, including all your friends and many gods and demons. But even then, you weren’t in the process of becoming a god who could wipe out all gods and demons through the act of creation.

So, anyways, you ascend to the throne, and Aogami prepares to bid you farewell on account of the fact that he, as a demon, will be erased along with the rest, but then Lucifer interrupts in order to interject on the process of creation. Lucifer warns the player that, because humanity inevitably gives rise to demons, his vision of eradicating all gods and demons is destined to fail. And yet, he suggests that it is still possible to make your new world a reality. How? By traveling to “the realm beyond the earth and heavens”, engaging Lucifer in combat, defeating him, and the consuming his “Knowledge”, so that the world can be freed from the machinations of the “Mandala System”. All of this, of course, bears some explanation.

Given Lucifer’s title as the Lord of Chaos, it may be surprising that I did not cover him in the Chaos section of this essay. This is because, in Shin Megami Tensei V, Lucifer actually doesn’t have much to do with the Chaos path in particular, and is effectively absent for much of the game. In fact, his boss data shows that he’s actually Neutral in this game. Early in the game you see him declaring that God is dead and he has killed him and that he has ascended the Pillar Empyrean, before apparently scattering himself across Da’at. He apparently continues to watch over the player, though, and his voice can be heard encouraging the player when you’re about to have your first fight in the entire game. It seems that, after defeating God, Lucifer consumed his “Knowledge” and transcendent to a “higher level of existence”, “becoming more than He could possibly have imagined”, and learned of the existence of the Mandala System. It’s never actually clear what this “Mandala System” is, but it is described bad a “spatial governing phenomenon”, and it is implied, at least in its Japanese rendition, to be the intrinsic, absolute law of the universe. This law seems to be responsible for the inevitable decay and replacement of each new creation, and the overthrow of its ruler by the next. It is, in other words, the cycle of death and rebirth, not unlike as it appears in Nocturne.

Every ending path, except for the “Destroy the throne” ending, sees Lucifer emerge to tell you that no matter what you do your new world will not last forever, that it will eventually end, a new Da’at will eventually appear heralding the destruction of the current world, and you will be overthrown by a new Nahobino. Each time you fight him he tells you that he has found a way to ensure true freedom, which is for you to defeat him and consume his “Knowledge” just as he did for God, and every time you defeat him he disappears into energy after telling you that you ensured that the world will “truly be free”. Strangely, he tells you this even if you defeat him on the Law path. In fact, he doesn’t seem to have anything to say against reinstating God’s order and create a world where nobody thinks for themselves, or for that matter anything to say in support of you creating a world in the hands of myriad gods despite apparently trying to make it so the demons could become gods again. He doesn’t even seem to oppose you wanting to wipe out all demonkind, despite traditionally being the king of the demons, and his only objection is that if you don’t consume his “Knowledge” then the demons will inevitably return, and if you simply destroy the throne of creation he has nothing whatsoever to say. He only really cares that you overcome him and gain his “Knowledge”, and it doesn’t seem to matter to him exactly what you intend to do afterwards. He tells you same thing in all fights with him. The difference is that in the “true” Neutral ending his base level is higher, he has more skills, and the fight is extended.

But in any case, you defeat Lucifer, and with that the process of creating a world for humanity alone begins in earnest. As before, you see a big white disco ball in space, and this time nothing else. And then, after the credits roll, you see something else. You see Tokyo, apparently restored exactly as it was before the events of the game, you and your friends alive again, it feels a lot like the very beginning of the game. There are also two versions of you in Tokyo, one of them has yellow eyes. Goko narrates that the world of man had thus ended (strange, considering your whole mission was to create a world for humanity alone), and a new world order had arrived. This new world is to be like the old world, but altogether different. This new world was created off the back of the desire to be “free” from demons and the never-ending cycle of creation. But, Goko says, all things must eventually come to an end, and the question is asked, could the world truly exist without Mandala?

In other words, you don’t know if you’ve actually changed anything!

The whole point of this path was to erase the existence of gods and demons from the world, and create a world for humans alone, and that to do that you needed to consume Lucifer’s “Knowledge” in order to break away from the Mandala System in order to make sure your new world lasts forever. But when you actually see the ending play out, it seems possible that you might not actually have exited the Mandala System after all. Goko’s narration all but confirms this. He says, “but all things must eventually come to an end”. Breaking out of the Mandala System means exiting a never-ending cycle of creation, and in theory this should mean that the world you create will last forever. But if all things must eventually come to an end, this means that the world you just created is going to meet the same fate as any other, as though you didn’t consume Lucifer’s “Knowledge”, and the Mandala System might still exist and you and everything else are still in its grip. You have just enacted the genocide of all gods and demons, and consumed Lucifer’s “Knowledge” in order to do so, and yet for all you know, nothing has changed and you haven’t actually freed yourself from the cycle of creation, meaning you erased all gods and all demons for nothing.

This is actually worse than the “Destroy the throne” Neutral ending you might have gotten had you not completed those subquests and chosen to create a world for humanity alone. You went out of your way to clear those subquests, including defeating one of the hardest bosses in the game, you went through an extended final boss fight with Lucifer, and you annihilated all gods and demons through a single act of creation, but for all that, all you get is to see Tokyo exactly as it was, and the assurance that it will come to an end, that humanity can’t live without the Mandala System, and only the cosmos know what’s really going on. Perhaps the demons and Da’at might just come back after all. You did it all for nothing, just because maybe you couldn’t accept any of the other ending outcomes.

Beyond that, creating a world for humanity alone actually seems to play out very similarly to the Law ending. To be sure, you don’t co-create the world with the angels, and you don’t create a world where people only have faith in God and don’t think for themselves, but you restore Tokyo, and seemingly resurrect its inhabitants, things are more or less like the old order that existed beforehand, except for the lack of gods and demons of course, and nobody seems to remember anything that happened. You, of course, are the God of the new world, and the condition of the absence of gods and demons is ratified by your absolute divine will and sovereignty, but you don’t get to do much in your new world except observe things while a clone of yourself apparently lives your life. In that sense, the world for humanity alone can be thought of as the world of Law, governed by an absentee landlord instead of the traditional either God of Law or a similar replacement. In a sense, you have rejected the Law alignment and the Chaos alignment in favour of a somewhat more benign Law ending, sans God.

And what of the objections to Chaos here? No Neutral objections to the plans of Tsukuyomi are ever given. All you see is Ichiro argue that the myriad gods would never see eye to eye with each other and soon devolve into endless warfare and “eat each other alive” in a brutal contest of superiority. If we put aside that the major conflict in the game was started by the monotheistic God of Law, creating a world for humanity alone is shown to never resolve that. Tokyo is restored exactly as it was, which means the Tokyo of this world, the real world in which the game is set. You don’t need a genius to figure out that humans can fight and kill each other just fine on their own, without the influence of God or any demonic agents. Conflict, violence, endless war, these will all continue, and in a world with humans alone, no gods or demons, that all happens with human hands, on human terms, against fellow humans. If the Neutral objection to Chaos is anything like the Law objection in that a Chaos outcome would be bad because everyone disagrees with each other and strife is inevitable, well, with Tokyo restored as it is, disagreement is as common as it is human, and there will always be some discontent, and therefore strife between fellow humans.

Not to mention, in both the Law and Chaos endings, you fight and defeat Lucifer, and Lucifer says that with this the world will surely be free, just as he does in the “true” Neutral ending. Lucifer interrupts both the Law and Chaos paths in order tell you that your new world won’t last forever and invites you to fight him so that you can claim his “Knowledge”. Surely the Law and Chaos worlds too involve breaking out of the Mandala System? But these endings don’t discuss that the way the “true” Neutral ending does. Why does breaking out of the Mandala System only factor into one of the Neutral endings, and not the Law and Chaos endings where you do basically the same thing? But then I’m sure it wouldn’t matter in the end if that weren’t the case since you can’t even say you’ve broken out of the Mandala System anyway.

Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei V is empty in a way that it truly never has been in any other Shin Megami Tensei game. Like all other expressions of Neutrality, its central basis is in the sort of humanism that echoed out from the basic impression of the scientific worldview presented by Stephen Hawking and/or similar atheistic figures, as understood by a Japanese audience of course. Here, though, godhood is the fulfilment of this humanism, thus divinity is embraced alongside its own repudiation. The demon-haunted world is vanquished by the power of a God forged in the flesh one who transcends the boundaries of human and demon. Godlessness is established by an absentee God, who once again eliminates all rivals to his uncontested power beforehand. And for that, the status quo is effectively restored. Or, alternatively, it is the rejection of two possibilities of creation in favour of realizing human dominance through constant violent struggle against demonkind. Both are guided by the belief that the potential of humanity outweighs the life of either humans or non-humans, meaning that bloodshed, sacrifice, and genocide all have no moral impact so long as it means mankind assumes and uses the potential at its disposal.


So, in summarizing the picture of the ideological dynamic at play in Shin Megami Tensei V, let’s recapitulate the three alignments one more time in succession.

Law is the ideology that upholds the idea of the necessity of a single cosmic ruler, and of an order of the cosmos and human civilization predicated on a hierarchy that revolves around the will of this ruler and the inscription of divine design, whose goal for the creation of a new world is simply the reproduction of a single ultimate truth that organizes human life in absolutism and on the basis of one faith.

Chaos is the ideology that upholds the idea of a cosmos that lacks a unifying supreme law, being, or “ultimate truth”, and a multiplicity of orders and gods, which prioritizes a freedom sourced from the lack of the hierarchy of God, whose goal for the creation of a new world is to abolish the old order of the God of Law in favour of a society where people must choose for themselves the gods they worship.

Neutrality is the ideology that upholds the idea of a cosmos that privileges humanity to the extent that humans are the only sentient beings meant to live in it, and where the “potential” of humanity to attain cosmic mastery is the paramount ethical value, which is to be acheived either through the denial of the process of creation, or the assumption of creation so as to wipe out all non-human intelligences that might compete with or exist alongside humanity.

As I have hopefully showm in certain ways Shin Megami Tensei V derives its alignment dynamic from the traditional Law and Chaos dynamic that emanates from the original Shin Megami Tensei, in certain ways it deviates from many conventional aspects of the Law and Chaos dynamic as presented throughout the Shin Megami Tensei series, and in certain ways it seems to bowlderize and simplify that dynamic. All taken together, it presents us with a dynamic of Law and Chaos is presented to us as though spat back out, regurgiated in what could have been construed as an an attempt to reimagine the core dynamic, resulting in a new product that seems to follow Goko’s description of the world created for humanity alone: akin to the old, and yet altogether different.

In my Postcriptum on the Chaos alignment in Shin Megami Tensei (linked at the bottom of this essay), I expressed the hope that, following the Redux edition of Strange Journey, the Chaos alignment would shed the might makes right conceits that were attendant to it in previous games (well, half the series more accurately) in favour of a radical recentering of Chaos ideology in alignment with an ahierarchical, anarchic co-existence with demons, predicated on a freedom born of the lack of a supreme authority over the universe, among many other things. I think that although co-existence with demons isn’t a strong theme in this game’s Chaos alignment, I think the pluralism displayed in the polytheistic diversity of the Chaos ending seems to suggest that, though it bears a great deal of expansion just as everything else in the game needs. Ultimately, however, even the Chaos ending is a disappointmnet, for the simple reason that a disembodied and alienated narration is the only expression of it, with no actual presentation of the new world, and this is the case for almost all of the other endings.

There is one final elephant in the room to discuss when it comes to the game’s story-world as it relates to the way the alignments are presented by the end of the game: the Goddess, that is to say the Megami in Shin Megami Tensei V. The Goddess seems to be partial to the use of absolute power to establish absolute order. When you reach the end of the Temple of Eternity, the Goddess appears in a vision of the Tree of Knowledge in which she proclaims that the Nahobino can reshape the world as they so choose, encourages you to become the divine architect, while also encouraging you to “show no hesitation” to those who want to “usurp your newfound reign”. This is to some extent reflected in the explanation of the three keys needed to open your way to the Empyrean: the Key of Harmony, the Key of Benevolence, and the Key of Austerity, each won by defeating one of the heads of the former branches of Bethel. These represent the virtues and expectations that the ruler of creation is meant to fulfilll. The ruler of creation is expected to preserve harmony, “be prepared to act for the sake of his people”, uphold the “power of benevolence”, “be willing to hear the voices of his people”, and most crucially “uphold austerity”, “show no leniency”, and “expect none in return”. The player is supposed to take God’s place as a “benevolent” dictator, establishing order through absolute power and will, brooking no opposition, perhaps under the presumption that you will be a more benign dictator than the God of Law was.

This reflects in the way the respective endings are treated in Goko’s narration, or more specifically in how he portray’s the player’s emotional response to this. In the Law ending, where you create a new world in the image of God’s former order and a society where no one thinks for themselves and exist only to have faith in God, Goko tells you that the new creator is pleased with his work. In the Chaos ending, where you abolish God’s order and create a new world consisting of a myriad of co-ruling gods, Goko tells you that the new creation is sad at the apparent strife that pervades the new world, just that he holds firm to his beliefs anyway. The “bad” Neutral ending where you destroy the throne has Goko tell us that the player is pleased with the thoughts of things yet to come, from which we can infer the new creator is not necessarily happy with the outcome he brought about. The “good” Neutral ending sees him looking forward to creating a new world with no more gods and demons in it, observing as its new absentee ruler. The paths which see the player take the position of omnipotent ruler of creation, even if in a non-interventionist sense, are to fill the player with gladness, hope, and/or contentment, while the paths in which the player either relinquishes absolute power or presumably shares power with other gods are to fill the player with doubt, sadness, or at least the prospect that it will all be over in the future. This appears to be the bias of the game’s narrative, and it privileges the potential of absolute power over any other conception of power and its distribution.

And with that, I conclude this essay. I hope that you have derived a good understanding of the various ideological contours at work in the story-world of Shin Megami Tensei V, and also that you have had a Merry Yule before reading this essay and continue to have a fun holiday season, as I certainly plan to.

See also:

Ideologies of Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei:

Ideologies of Law in Shin Megami Tensei:

Ideologies of Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei:

Postscriptum on Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei:

Shin Megami Tensei V: a fun but middling Nocturne sequel:

Shin Megami Tensei V: a fun but middling Nocturne sequel

Well, it looks like Shin Megami Tensei V, the game for which I bought my Nintendo Switch in the first place has finally landed as of less than two weeks ago, and I’ve gone through at least one of its ending paths; the Chaos ending, of course. Obviously I’ve been hyped to play the game ever since the first trailer was released in 2017, and increasingly so in the last year as new trailers and new information came out before the game’s release. Now that the game is out, though, and now that I have played it, I can’t help having some mixed feelings about it. I’m glad to have played it, but I’m also rather disappointed by it.

From the standpoint of gameplay and visceral interactive experience, I will say that’s pretty damn good, and aesthetically kind of hits a lot of the right notes. Recruiting, fighting, and especially fusing demons is as addictive as ever, rendered all the more customizable through the ability to confer yourself and your allies skills through fusable Demon Essences, and your exploits accompanied by yet another spellbinding soundtrack composed by Ryota Kozuka, a lot of which manages to capture the feeling of what it feels to play a Shin Megami Tensei game. The game is also visually stunning, even as far as the desolate landscape of the netherworld known as Da’at goes, and I’ve got to say, as somebody who’s spent time working around the Unreal Engine (and by “working around” I mean I was in a university project that used it, and personally barely got to grips with it) it’s very nice to see what an SMT game run on Unreal would look like, and it’s fairly impressive. Being able to collect Magatsuhi is also a nice touch to the gameplay, allowing you to use special skills without costing you a turn or MP and also doubling as a source of healing on the field. It really is a blast to go through Da’at with your demonic allies to a solid enough soundtrack. I also took to the Cathedral of Shadows becoming the World of Shadows, and the introduction of Sophia, really well. It helps that Sophia’s lore colours the existence of the World of Shadows, and the music for it, once again, is enjoyable, especially if you happen to enter the World of Shadows during a new or full moon.

But to be perfectly honest, something about this game feels underwhelming for reasons that aren’t easy for me to explain. It’s true that the world of SMTV, set largely in Da’at, is open and fully explorable. You know, all four sections of it. But each section feels less like you’re travelling across the world and more like you’re running across a city-sized sandbox, almost literally when you consider the landscape of Da’at. You apparently can revisit Tokyo from Da’at, but other than occasionally meeting some classmates on the roof of your dorms, and one part of the story where demons raid your high school, there’s nothing to do in Tokyo. And taken together, overlooking any major challenges as well as side-quests and grinding, it feels like the actual main plot course of the game is pretty compact and short. I’m not saying it’s a breeze to play, but I’ll bet that skilled players could go through the main story before even getting to this weekend, or at least, it feels like it could’ve been over in just a couple of days looking back. The story itself also feels like it goes a similar pace, or, hell, the pace of the story probably dictates some of how fast you feel the game goes. It’s actually to the point that the final level of the game, and I’m talking about the very last place you see in the game, is basically just a corridor with a few bosses, mini-bosses, and two side-quests thrown in.

While I’m here I should cover the story itself, and I’m sorry to say that there are major spoilers ahead.

Here, demons used to be godly beings referred to as Nahobino, neither human nor demon, in a way transcending both states, whose existence God forbade when he assumed power. To that end, God deprived the other gods of their “Knowledge” and they became demons. As such, demons seeking to regain that “Knowledge” must find humans who possessed it and fuse with them in order to become Nahobino. “Knowledge” is never sufficiently defined, but I’m left to assume that it refers to some concept of divine identity. The war between order and chaos begins when Lucifer tempted Man to sway from God’s order, and culminated eventually in Armageddon, which seems to have ended in Lucifer’s victory over God. Meanwhile, the forces of order nonetheless keep fighting the forces of chaos, and Tokyo’s existence is maintained through a miracle set up by God after Armageddon took place, but its time is running out now that God is out of the picture. This means that the Tokyo you see at the start of the game is an elaborate illusion, cast over humanity to protect humans from the reality of the end of the world, and that illusion is slowly fading. And so Bethel, the organisation set up to protect Tokyo and the world from demonic incursions, leads the war against the forces of chaos, only to conclude that, with God dead, their new goal is to place a new creator god on the throne of the Empyrean to reshape the world anew. But the angels oppose this, preferring to maintain God’s order, and so does a man named Shohei Yakumo, who wants both God and the demons off humanity’s back forever. And so you, as a Nahobino yourself, must choose between recreating the world, continuing God’s order, or denying the Empyrean throne altogether. But before all that, you’re just a high school student, hanging around with your high school classmates, before you and your friends discover Da’at and you become a Nahobino.

I like the overall concept, insofar as the narrative of demons seeking to regain divinity goes and the incorporation of the serpent in the garden story, and I definitely wasn’t expecting the wham moment that is Tokyo being revealed to be this game’s version of The Matrix. What I don’t much care for is the way the characters navigate it. Your friends don’t demonstrate much evidence of consideration or thought process that ultimately leads them to their divergent alignment-based paths. The ostensible Law and Chaos champions merely insert themselves into the discussion, with little development towards their conclusion. The closest to this process is Ichiro Dazai slowly becoming friends with the angel Abdiel and wanting to become stronger through her, and then towards the end he starts talking about how there should only be one God and trusting him will make the world run well. Why? How did he come to this conclusion? Because Abdiel said so? He says it bugged him since the Bethel summit, but why? Yuzuru Atsuta isn’t much better. We have no idea how Yuzuru comes to the Chaos alignment and the conclusion that a world run by myriad gods is best. I can frankly only assume that he simply accepts this after Hayao Koshimizu, the director of Bethel Japan, tells him so, and his only argument is something about saving Tokyo. His sister Miyazu has essentially no role in the story besides getting kidnapped by Lahmu and his minions, and after you find her in the Fairy Forest you never see her again until you do a side quest. In fact, three demons who were introduced as major characters ultimately only have their story arcs fulfilled through side quests, which is incredibly disappointing. A demon named Amanozako is frequently implied to have a major role in the story up to the final stretch of the game where she breaks her usual carefree character to explain the significance of the keys to the Empyrean. But this leads nowhere and she goes back to her usual self, and it remains very unclear what her connection to all this is.

Not to mention, what about Aogami, the being responsible for you becoming a Nahobino in the first place? Supposedly he’s the “proto-fiend”, and his true identity is supposed to be the god Susano-o, somehow. But he was created in a laboratory and he’s referred to as an automaton by Shohei Yakumo. So is he supposed to be a robot? He certainly talks like one. Is the Nahobino protagonist really a cyborg? Obviously not, since you can’t unfuse from your cyborg self after becoming one and then go back to being a cyborg when it’s time to kick some demon ass. But that question feels like it doesn’t have an answer. And speaking of Shohei Yakumo, there’s a lot about him that the game never tells you. It’s implied through conversations with him that he knows about Bethel, and he seems to be militantly opposed to Bethel, but you don’t really get any concrete sense as to why, and he never really tells you why Bethel are so bad except for something about God being bad and Bethel seemingly work for him. And what about the Tree of Knowledge shown in the trailers and the title of the game? You only ever see it in the game over screen when you die. Its role in the plot is never explored. We have no idea what it actually does, and the game never tells us.

One aspect of the game’s story that was going to be interesting enough was when Kazuyuki Yamai suggested in an interview back in 2017 that the game was going to “reexamine the characteristics of the era”, defined by a broad set of troubles “such as troubles both at home and abroad, such as anxiety about finding a job and getting old, or terrorists and nuclear weapon”. The impression we got was that this was going to be an attempt to intersect a traditional Shin Megami Tensei story with a broad host of real world issues that older players could identify with and respond to in a diversity of ways. But such admittedly lofty expectations seem to have been dashed upon the game’s release. I see nothing of the sort in the finished game. The only thing even close to “sympathizing with such an era” is having a plot arc centre around getting bullied in high school, in which a girl gets involved with the demon Lahmu to get revenge on her bullies, in which you never actually get to sympathize with her choice. Your only moral conflict is do you emphasize helping her over killing Lahmu or killing Lahmu over helping her, and that choice had no actual impact in the game’s plot, in that there is no actual divergence in terms of what you get to do in the game’s plot. Contrast this with Shin Megami Tensei IV, where at one point you’re asked to kill a demon named Kuebiko, but you can choose to defend him instead and turn against the people who wanted you to kill him.

When Shin Megami Tensei V was shown at E3 2021 in June, the game received a ton of promotion from Atlus between then and the game’s release in November 12th (well, 11th if you live in Japan, Korea, and China). A big part of that meant the daily, and then twice daily, reveal of demons that can be found in the game. This was certainly unprecedented for a major Shin Megami Tensei release, and it was also pretty overwhelming, and a bit bewildering, though it was incredible to see some demon designs from way back return to the mainline series. But as time went on it also raised questions as to just how much was Atlus revealing. It turned out that Atlus had revealed almost the entire roster of demons for this game. As of my writing this post, Atlus has released 208 videos for its demons. After the game’s release, players discovered that the game has a total of 234 summonable/encounterable demons (including the Mitamas and a character who joins your party somewhere towards the final stretch of the game). That sounds like a lot, and it’s definitely more demons than Nocturne had, but there’s also demons from previous games that didn’t make it to the game. The Yoma, Wilder, Raptor, Snake, Avatar, Jirae, Jaki, Haunt, and Drake clans all have significantly less demons in them than they did in previous games, and in some cases there are often no demons in those clans past level 40 or 50. The Divine clan is also missing an angel, namely Virtue, and there are other familiar demons, such as Samael, Azazel, Seiten Taisei (or Qitian Dasheng), Jinn, Vetala, Gogmagog, Titan, Dis, Gurulu, Sarutahiko, Take-Mikazuchi, Hresvelgr, Fenrir, Amaterasu, Omoikane, and many more series staples simply do not appear in this game. Even Masakado himself is absent, with the only hint of his presence being the “Lord’s Sword” that was used to summon him in Nocturne, which just like last time appears only in a side quest.

In fact, some entire clans have been dummied out of the game. The Wood and Tree clans no longer appear, which mean demons like Mandrake and Narcissus got moved to the Yoma and Jirae clans respectively. There is also no Flight clan, although Avians and Raptors still exist. The Reaper clan also does not exist here, which means that Mot has inexplicably been moved to the Fury clan. Nymph no longer exists here, which means Anahita is now in the arguably more appropriate Megami clan. Enigma and Zealot are also absent, which means Attis (previously a Zealot) is now a Kishin and Neko Shogun (previously an Enigma) is now a Wargod. Hero or Famed aren’t here, but the Wargod clan from Nocturne is here, which means the few Hero demons who do appear here are Wargods in this game. While Kunitsukami are summonable allies, their Amatsukami rivals do not appear as summonable allies. Instead the Amatsukami only appear as non-playable characters and are practically only mentioned as the real identities of important characters in the game, or as some of the gods who died in Armageddon before the game’s story takes place.

Suffice it to say, it seems like there’s a bit of a dearth of demons compared to previous games. In fact, a rather embarrassing result of this is that the further into the game’s world you progress, the less demons, or at least types of demons, you will encounter on the field, to the point that the final level has no enemy encounters on the field except for some mini-bosses. Contrast this with the final level of Strange Journey, which has many kinds of demons from a variety of demon clans, or the Great Cathedral (or Basilica) from the original Shin Megami Tensei, and you’ll see my point.

Some demons have made some weird clan changes even with their usual clans around to house them. Orobas, typically a Fallen demon, was reclassed as Beast for no discernible reason. Seth, usually classed as Vile, seems to have been reclassed as a Drake, perhaps so as to finally acknowledge this game’s Seth as having little to do with the genuine article. Ippon-Datara, usually a Jaki, is now a Brute for some reason. Loa, traditionally either a Yoma or a Night demon, is reclassed as Jaki. Cleopatra, a Megami in the first game she was in, has been reclassed as a Femme, though it’s probably questionable that she was a Megami anyway.

Not to mention, out of all the demons that do appear in this game, the ones that don’t have Masayuki Doi’s designs overwhelmingly all happen to also have had their most recent 3D appearance in Persona 5 and Persona 5: Royal. There are exceptions, of course. Loki’s model last appeared in Persona 4: Golden, and Arioch, Turdak, Camael, Mishaguji, Muu Shuwuu, and Tsuchigumo all had their last 3D appearances in Devil Summoner 2. It actually kind of makes me wonder why they didn’t pull more demons from Devil Summoner 2, like Astaroth or Mahakala, or with Nocturne having been remastered the same year, why not bring in some demons that were in Nocturne but not Persona 5? Would that have been too difficult? Or, hell, was there a reason some demon models from Shin Megami Tensei Dx2 couldn’t be polished for this game? I’m surprised they didn’t just bring Centaur back as one of the Yoma, since they brought back Mermaid, Odin, and Danu as Doi designs from the last mainline SMT game.

As for the demons that were designed by Doi, it’s a bit of a hit and miss as usual for Doi, in that some designs really work, while others don’t and are ultimately baffling on occasion. The new version of Jack Frost, for example, is well-suited enough, being merely a touch-up of the original design. The standard Angel gets a radical redesign, and though the bondage suit Angel will be missed, the new Angel design actually seems more fitting of the traditional concept of what an angel is, and even brings to mind the Angels from Shin Megami Tensei II in some ways. The Angel gets a counterpart in Daemon, a Brute demon who serves as a generic minion of Lucifer, but while his design also works really well for the intended plot context, it is a poor fit for the Greco-Roman spirit called Daemon. I maintain to this day that it should have just been called an Imp instead, maybe put in the Night clan instead.

Plenty of brand new demon designs are perfectly acceptable and even refreshing to some extent. Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Hayataro, for example, are standout designs that befit both their original concept and the role they’re given, as do Hydra, Manananggal, and Loup-garou, and Kaya-no-hime definitely shows that there is a lot some range to Doi’s oeuvre. Nuwa, however, honestly baffles me, despite her popularity. She’s given a human form, which looks good on its own but it feels weird that she’s supposed to be some kind of seductive-looking femme fatale character in this one, very unlike her role in Chinese myth at least as I understand it, and then a serpent-like form, which is still just a humanoid but with a giant serpent body extending from the back of her head. I don’t get it. Lahmu is even stranger. Lahmu is apparently supposed to refer to a Babylonian apotropaic spirit that was depicted as a naked heroic man, but the game refers to him as a god depicted as either a large serpent or a man with a red sash. Neither concept is reflected in Lahmu’s design, which I would describe as an oversized quasi-Lovecraftian floating mask covered in hair and tentacles. Is that Doi’s idea of “a large serpent”? I’m not even going to get started on Idun, the Norse goddess who got turned into an Oktoberfest-themed J-Pop idol. Honestly that’s much more humiliating than God turning you into a demon. But one of the worst in my opinion is Amanozako. In Japanese myth, she’s supposed to be a wrathful demon goddess, the mother of the tengus and the amanojaku. But here, she’s basically a fairy who looks like a tengu, for some reason is classed as Genma, and plays the role of this game’s one and off version of Navi. If it were me I would have brought back the Tenma clan just to put her in, or classed her as a Lady, she would look more monstrous and noticeably more adult.

I think that those three examples in particular represent strong examples of an overall tendency of Masayuki Doi’s art for the game to focus principally on pre-set story roles given to those demons, and the scope of their aesthetic relationship to the original myths is dictated by those roles. A particularly strange example of this Khonsu, the Egyptian god of the moon. His appearance in the story seems almost random. He’s supposed to be the representative of the Egyptian branch of Bethel, the main demon-fighting organisation in the game, whose other factions are represented by head gods like Zeus, Odin, and Shiva, who for some reason prefers to use the serpent Vasuki as his proxy. Doi tells us that Khonsu is supposed to have a much larger role in the story. That “larger role” is actually a chain of side quests in which this god of the moon takes on the power of the sun and becomes Ra. Well, Khonsu Ra to be more precise, but come on, look at him: it really is just Ra. Honestly they should have just made Ra the representative of Bethel Egypt and cut out the middle man.

Alignment is very strange here. It seems to exist, the Law and Chaos dynamic is back, and the ending paths you can take in the game are all predicated on it, but your actual alignment choices don’t matter too much in that they don’t affect what you end up doing in the game. Instead, your alignment in the game seems predicated entirely on one choice you make towards the final stretch of the game. Unlike previous games, such as Shin Megami Tensei IV or Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, there are no alignment-based splits in the game’s story, in which you have to make a choice between either doing one thing or doing the other instead. There are, however, certain side quests that seem to vaguely correspond to Law and Chaos, and this is one aspect of the game I actually liked a lot. In each sector of Da’at, you can find a side quest from a certain demon who will tell you to go and defeat another demon. The interesting part is that you can actually go to that other demon and, instead of fighting them, hear their side and help them instead. An example of this is a side quest given to you by Apsaras, worshipped by other demons as a goddess of salvation. Asparas tells you to go and defeat Leanan Sidhe, but you can talk to Leanan Sidhe instead of fighting her, and accept her quest to defeat Apsaras instead, and then Apsaras’ quest could be invalidated. What’s more, by completing these side quests, the demon you help will reward you by joining your party. I like this concept, and I support the idea of SMT games allowing you to nudge your alignment through side quests.

Up to the final stretch of the game, the main impression the game gives of its conflict between order and chaos is the battle between the angels and the forces of Bethel versus the “demons of chaos” who apparently serve Lucifer in his war against God, and after that it becomes defined by monotheism versus polytheism. Up to that point, since you work for Bethel for at least most of the game and Bethel fights alongside the angels against the “demons of chaos”, you are essentially forced to serve what is ostensibly the Law faction for much of the game, until that same Law faction decides polytheism is the way to go and becomes Chaos-aligned, then the game lets you decide if you want to continue working for Bethel. But even there, you are never allowed to choose Lucifer’s side in all this. You are never allowed to decide if you actually like Bethel or if you want to oppose them until the time where they decide to make for the Empyrean. You’re not allowed to decide that, say, Ishtar is right when she denounces the tyranny of God and take her side, or turn against Bethel after Arioch tells you that God has been dead the whole time and that Bethel was on the side that already lost.

Demons have alignments in this game, again, but this time there are cases in which demons within the same clan can have different alignments. The Vile clan is a particularly strange case, in which some of its demons, Baphomet, Pazuzu, and Lahmu, are Chaos-aligned, while the others – Mishaguji, Girimehkala, and Mada – are Law-aligned, for seemingly no reason. Both the Deity and Megami clans are Neutral. In fact, there seem to be very few consistently Law-aligned clans in the game. But, some of the Megami, such as Demeter, are Law-aligned. Danu, who returns in the game in the Lady clan, is probably the only member of the Lady clan to be Neutral instead of Chaos-aligned. Most Beasts are Neutral, but Orobas, also a Beast, is Chaos-aligned. There’s even a Fallen demon who is actually Law-aligned in this game, although the rest are still Chaos-aligned.

What I find most striking about Shin Megami Tensei V, though, is just how thoroughly Shin Megami Tensei V is defined by Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. I’m not just talking about the fact that you can fight the Demi-Fiend, the protagonist of Nocturne, as the boss of a downloadable side-quest. The central plot of the game tells us that Tokyo was destroyed in an epic clash between gods and demons that took place 18 years prior to the game’s setting. The game was released in 2021, and 18 years before that would have been 2003, the year Nocturne was originally released in Japan. That’s one of the main hints that the game was more or less intended to continue on from the plot of Nocturne. And if that’s not enough, Hayao Koshimizu, one of the major characters, explicitly refers to the apocalyptic event in question as “The Conception”, which is what the event was called in Nocturne. The protagonist himself fuses with a being who is later referred to as a Proto-Fiend, a term that is never directly made sense of in the game’s own plot context and thus can only be understood as a reference to the Demi-Fiend. The world of Da’at that the protagonist explores is a very similar in appearance and general feeling to the post-Conception landscape of Tokyo as seen in Nocturne, where basically everywhere with some exceptions is covered in sand and rocks with little signs of life to be found.

The other more important resemblence to or echo from Nocturne is in the fact that nearly all ending paths have the same final boss, and that final boss happens to be Lucifer. Even the ending where you destroy the throne of creation, as I understand it, could be seen as this game’s version of the Demon ending. In both, the creation of a new world never takes place, and instead the status quo of a post-apocalyptic desert filled with hungry demons is all that remains. And yet, the dynamic of Reasons that plays out in Nocturne isn’t present. Instead, the dynamic of Law and Chaos that wasn’t present in Nocturne in returns here, but in a peculiar way. In the Law path, the idea is that the world needs to depend on the absolute rule of just one god, while in the Chaos path, this order is rejected in favour of a new world overseen by a diversity of gods. Essentially, instead of choosing between Reasons, you’re choosing between monotheism and polytheism, or the rejection of both. Lucifer’s own goals seem to be very similar to his goals in Nocturne, in that he wants to end the cycle of creation, destruction, and rebirth so as to bring about true freedom.

The main difference, though, is that you never get to take Lucifer’s side, and it doesn’t seem like you ever get to see eye to eye with him. Even if defeating him means “taking his knowledge” and he claims that this will bring freedom to the world, you never do see any indications of this being a thing, let alone having any impact on the ending path you take. In fact, as far as the endings are concerned, you don’t really see the new world of each ending. Take the Chaos ending that I got, for example. You’re told that the world you want to create, a world ruled by myriad gods, will inevitably lead to strife and conflict, but because you don’t see any of your new world, you don’t know that. All you know is that you’re walking towards a giant white disco ball, itself yet another allusion to Nocturne, with all the gods floating upside down and sideways. The same goes for the other endings really, based on what my brother tells me after taking one of the Neutral endings.

Again, you need only contrast this with previous games. In Strange Journey, after the credits you get a glimpse of the outcome you’ve created for each ending path you take. In Shin Megami Tensei IV, you actually see what happens to Mikado when you help the demons take it over, as well as when you destroy all of Tokyo on the Law path. Even in Nocturne, there’s something of a glimpse of what you get for the ending paths you take. But here in Shin Megami Tensei V, there’s nothing.

I don’t want to go into too much else about the game’s story until I start delving into the alignments, which I plan to do in a post titled “Alignment and ideology in Shin Megami Tensei V”. Between exploring the other ending paths of the game, spending time doing some serious reading, and honestly getting into way too much leisure per the spirit of the holidays, I’m expecting to get this post out in January 2022 at the earliest. If I can get it out earlier than that, great, but I personally don’t expect to do so. For now though, in the overall, I think Shin Megami Tensei V represents an odd stage in the Shin Megami Tensei series where Atlus tries to simultaneously call back the traditional substance of Shin Megami Tensei while also completely reimagining the series. Insofar as they hoped to achieve a best-selling RPG, I have no doubt that Atlus was successful, but it did so at the expense of much of the substance that went with being an SMT game in the past.

All in all, Shin Megami Tensei V is by no means a bad game, and in certain ways it’s actually pretty enjoyable, and if you’re not trying to appreciate it as a continuation of the Shin Megami Tensei series you might even love it. But as a story experience, and a continuation of the Shin Megami Tensei series, it has serious flaws. In fact, as a story, it actually seems to be going in a trajectory that I’m struggling to compare positively with Shin Megami Tensei IV. It’s obviously not as viscerally appalling as Apocalypse, don’t get me wrong, but it represents something worrying that’s for certain.

But, would I recommend playing it? Ultimately, my answer is a soft yes, with a but.

Consumerism, mythology, Shin Megami Tensei, and the Sacred

Although it may seem strange of me to interject on the subject of Shin Megami Tensei again, or more specifically the attitudes of its fans, I thought it pertinent to address the subject because it seems there are currents within the SMT fanbase that suggest a severe ignorance towards the care of what the series is all about.

As the release of Shin Megami Tensei V draws closer, Atlus has released a lot of teasers, showcasing ever more content from the game to be. Some of that has included new demons, and re-designs of old ones, and we’ve seen new characters and slithers of information about the game’s story, but a great deal of it consists of what demons from previous games are returning in this one. One of them happens to be Demeter, and unfortunately it’s her design from Strange Journey Redux (which, to be fair, was her first series entry). Demeter is a Greek goddess of fertility and the harvest, and was a central figure of the Eleusinian Mysteries in addition to being a mother goddess. However, in her first appearance, rather than appearance as a mature mother goddess, she appears as a little girl carrying a cornucopia. Demeter was designed by Masayuki Doi, who seems to have taken over as the in-house demon desinger since Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, with the legendary Kazuma Kaneko having already stepped back from the series as part of a long-term plan to expand himself as a producer and let future generations take charge of the series. Unfortunately, Doi has an entirely different design ethos from Kaneko’s. Kaneko was unique in that he combined contemporary creative eccentricity and even playful interpretation with a usually remarkable commitment recreating the original mythological content of the demons he designs. Although there are occasional blunders in that department, along with the research team at Atlus, his style and approach has made his designs as distinctive and they have aesthetically served the ethos of the SMT series magnificently. Doi, on the other hand, often does his best to approximate the broad design trends of the series but has the habit of designing demons based on two key criteria: their role in the game’s story (in contradistinction to their myths), and the sensibilities of the Japanese video game and anime market. Whereas Kaneko’s approach was more authentically artistic, motivated by what was observably a genuine interest in the matters of the SMT series, Doi’s approach is more commercialist.

This has naturally divided the fanbase, with one side embracing Doi’s designs as a fresh and interesting new approach, and the other side concerned that Doi’s design decisions take away from what made SMT such a unique series: its treatment of myth. In full disclosure, I consider myself part of the latter side. That debate has resurfaced again with the discussion of Demeter’s return to the series in Shin Megami Tensei V, which, to be honest, was probably inevitable ever since we saw Mermaid return earlier. Demeter’s design by Doi has been defended, and it’s these defenses that I’d like to consider here. Here is one given argument:

It’s inherently imaginative because it is different than the standard depiction of Demeter, which humanity has seen countless times over literal millennia. This is different, and therefore had more effort put into it than what traditionalists beg for.

The criteria for “imaginative” rests solely on it being wildly different from source material, rather than simply a creative interpretation of the base source (as is the sort that has happened anyway throughout the history of myth). Doi’s Demeter is no mere re-imagining of the historical goddess Demeter, but instead can be treated as essentially an original character with Demeter’s name and a little bit of her basic symbolism grafted onto her. In fact, Doi himself regards Demeter’s design less as an emanation of his own design expectations and more from an external expectation design Demeter as a distinct character, intended to fill a role that, for whatever reason, required her to be sweet-looking and diminiutive even though it’s a complete divorce from her original context.

From the same person:

I get mythology purists want an accurate design, but demon designs have always been strange and imaginative. Let them have fun with it.

Similar debates occur over the design of Amanozako, whose design direction follows a similar pattern to Demeter’s. Amanozako was a fearsome tengu goddess from Japanese myth, traditionally depicted as a grotesque and monstrous being, but Doi depicted her as pixie-like being, intended to be cutesy, and depicted. This depiction, of course, has its defenders, and one of their arguments is as follows:

“Some say she’s the ancestor of the Japanese Tengu and Amanojaku, but the legitimacy behind these sources is debated”.

A detail you are ignoring.

Also, the SMT series is a part of the otaku culture which plays a part in the moe culture that exists in Japan.

There’s nothing wrong with her design.

It is a case that there is freedom to draw her as a cute entity.

It is an infuriatingly bizarre argument on many fronts. Doi’s questioning of the legitimacy of sources is taken for granted as a license for what is, again, practically an original character with the name grafted onto it. In fact Amanozako’s design is another one where her intended role in the story is, by Doi’s admission, the primary determinant of her design as opposed to their myth and its historical representation. Most glaring is the consignment of SMT to the realm of “otaku culture”. Just what is “otaku culture” supposed to mean, anyway? Is it supposed to just be a synonym for anime culture in general? Given the reference to Japan, I doubt that the Japanese anime scene would accept the term “otaku” to refer to themselves and their culture as a whole and instead use the term to refer to the kind of perverted obsessives that happen to exist within the scene. In fact, even within anime itself, otakus are depicted as gross, creepy obsessives, because that’s what the term sort of signifies in Japanese society. It’s like a worse, and more culturally specific, version of calling someone a geek. Besides, Shin Megami Tensei is not specifically the product of “anime culture”. Strictly speaking, it’s the product of Atlus, a video game company, but in a broader sense, it began life as the Megami Tensei games that were based on series of esoteric sci-fi fantasy novels written by Aya Nishitani, which are to this day seen as obscure. If you want to count that as “anime culture”, then that’s your bag I suppose, but it would be reductive at best, ultimately not quite accurate.

There’s also the idea some fans have of having demons in SMT be voiced by the actors that portray characters from the Fate anime series simply because their characters corresponed to the demon. Fate is based on a video game called Fate/stay night, in which teenagers representing the various mythological characters take part in a ritual called the Fifth Holy Grail War, a competition in which people duke it out in order to claim posession of the Holy Grail. It’s a popular series, no doubt, but while both Fate and SMT deal in myth, Fate is known not so much for the appearance and context of the myths themselves but instead for a freewheeling take on myth that situates the identities of the myths in an idiosyncratic context specific to Fate. Despite that, because Fate is a popular anime that happens to feature a cast of mythological characters, some feel that a crossover between Fate and SMT is a good idea, and feel that this should at least take the form of having Fate voice actors dub the demons of SMT. An argument in defence of such crossover goes something like this:

they wouldn’t be separated if we had a collab or something similar in those games. Having the same VA would be, at max, a nice reference

theoretically speaking they are somewhat the same character since they are born from the same legend, although in completely different universes.

every single reference or cameo is pointless if it isn’t an important part of the plot. It’s just a neat little piece of trivia or passion from the developers to the gamers, so… Yeah. Pointless as any reference can be

Fate and SMT are separate properties, but the argument goes that collaboration in the form of shared voice actors might erase that separation. Of course, let’s ignore the fact that the collaboration would represent its own intellectual property even as a synthesis of two separate ones, and simply pivot to the fact that we would still have to bypass the fact these are two separate contexts. Beyond this, you could apply the logic of consumer references to any other property that features mythological characters, and there are several. Should Atlus hire Chris Hemsworth, the actor portraying Thor in those Marvel movies, to portary SMT’s Thor, even though Marvel’s Thor is rather different to SMT’s Thor, or for that matter the original Thor of Norse myth, simply to have a throwaway reference to the Marvel films? And if they did, what would become of the SMT series? What would it represent? I would argue that such developments would lead to Shin Megami Tensei losing the creative identity that makes it what it is, and indeed not having any real sense of creative identity because its only “identity” will have become a confused mess of references to other products that, in contrast to previous games, are not weaved into the fabric of its own story-world or narrative in some way.

The example that springs to my mind is The Simpsons, a cartoon show that, over the course of its interminable run, has featured countless celebrity guest appearances and references to other media to the point that you can’t watch an episode of the show that doesn’t feature said references. It’s even to the point where the show has had episodes making fun of those constant references being a thing, and not much has changed. In the realm of video games, I also think of Super Smash Bros, a fighting game series that consists simply of characters created by Nintendo (well, for the most part anyway). Super Smash Bros has very little creative identity of its own, since that identity consists simply of other creative identities from other games, but then at least all of those consist of Nintendo properties. However, ever since Super Smash Bros Brawl introduced Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog, non-Nintendo characters, as guest characters, it has become an expectation among fans that all sorts of characters from outside of Nintendo’s games (as in, games created by Nintendo themselves, not just games released for Nintendo consoles by third party companies) appear as guest characters, and more of them have appeared, and now the series looks like a total free-for-all whose core premise can’t be taken seriously. Such a fate might await Shin Megami Tensei if the demands of some fans are heeded.

Presented for consideration: both of these images represent Tezcatlipoca, the Aztec god of the night sky among numerous other things; on the right is Tezcatlipoca as depicted in the SMT series beginning with Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, on the left is Tezcatlipoca as depicted in the Fate series; Fate is a series where male gods that have never been female in any myths or traditions are very often depicted as female for reasons that clearly escape my understanding; this is something to consider before entertaining Fate/SMT crossovers.

All of these currents represent a broad attitude with certain sectors of the SMT fanbase in which the SMT series is treated as essentially but another product, almost interchangeable with many others, disregarding the core of what makes the series what it is, and as such lacking any consideration for its internal context. Any appreciation for the series emerges not from what the series represents, or what it, as an aesthetic and narrative experience, communicates to them, but instead as merely exceptional entertainment. It is, in this view, something beautiful and fun, but ultimately it is just something to be consumed. And so, the insistence that the game’s content has more meaning and internal context than just vague notions of coolness and entertainment, and thus should be treated accordingly, is often treated by some fans with derision, and even hostility in some cases, the thought being almost painfully inconvenient for those who might find themselves compelled to overcome their consumeristic mindset and appreciate the series as more than a simple entertainment product, by appreciating all the contours that make it the unique product they claim to admire.

Since we are dealing in a series that focuses on mythos and religious narratives, and whose identity is built on representing them as part of its own narrative context which is informed by them, I have, for the purpose of this post, considered the discourse of the Sacred as perhaps illuminating. When we use the term “the Sacred”, we are dealing with a phenomenon described by sociologists since Robertson Smith and Emile Durkheim, who have described it as divided between its right and its left, and in this respect I’m drawing specifically from an article written by Rhyd Wildermuth for Gods and Radicals, even though its overall thrust is not really relevant to the point I’m making (we’re not exactly talking about cultural appropriation, although you could certainly make good points with that subject in mind). The right of the sacred is that which concerns itself with the observance of boundaries between the sacred and the profane, while the left of the sacred transgresses these boundaries. For the gods, the former can mean keeping them in a set place, while the latter encourages the gods to transgress boundary between sacred and mundane and overflow into the everyday world.

In Rhyd’s explanation of the left view of the Sacred, the Sacred is that divine Other that is always trying to push past the boundaries of the mundane world, in this sense it is always trying to enter and be one with the world. For instance, when people talk about Walpurgis Night or Halloween in terms of the time of year when the barrier between “the spirit world” and the human world are at their most porous, meaning the spirits have an easier time entering the world, that can be thought of in terms of the Sacred trying to become at one with the world. He adds that because of this, it’s no surprise that you see the gods of India inked onto the arms of Westerners. It’s easy to take from the conservation of Shin Megami Tensei that the insistence on creative context trumping consumer imagination is predicated on a sort of mere traditionalism, because it’s easy to think of the whole matter in terms of upholding a Sacred by way of erecting boundaries and establishing purity, and such is a view that might carry with it notions of the right of the Sacred. But we need not labour under this impression, because, when the left of the Sacred is practiced, that Sacred is surely still engaged with on its own terms, and the transgression entailed does not necessarily consist of manipulating the Sacred to the whims of the individual. Indeed, engaging the Sacred in just about any form, through any kind of religious thinking or ritual mindset, involves the acceptance of the premise that you are engaging an Other larger than the self, that cannot be engaged with only on your own terms, in other words is not necessarily contingent on individual imagination. The transgression of the left of the sacred also entails a dissolving of the boundary of self and other as manifest in the meeting of the human and the Sacred that the consumer imagination doesn’t conceive of, since it desacralizes and contains mythos in terms of its own imagination, or rather desire, alone. Thus, even in terms of transgression, a transgressive Sacred still calls on its devotees to engage with it on specifically its own terms.

Shin Megami Tensei is a series that, in its own unique and creative way, deals and dabbles in the Sacred of some conception. In fact, the whole theme of demons pouring into the human world, in its own perverse way, almost echoes the theme of the flooding of the Sacred into the human world. In fact, when set in juxtaposition to the humanistic Neutral paths, which very often set out ultimately to banish this phenomenon on behalf of humanity, we see that, insofar as Law and Chaos might represent distinct expressions of the Sacred, and the way it manifests in the world, Neutrality alone sets out to banish the Sacred from the world, whether that’s in the form of the old gods as demons or of YHVH. But even in that sense, even in terms of a narrative that often almost favours Neutrality, we see in the treatment of mythos in the games a sign of engaging something like a Sacred on its own terms, through taking the mythos, for the most part, on its own terms and not simply grafting it onto its own original characters (especially while pretending the opposite) or completely altering mythological context for the purpose of your own narrative. The approach that is opposite to the traditional SMT approach can be seen more recently in Record of Ragnarok, a manga and anime series where champions of humans and gods fight to the death to determine the fate of humanity. The gods there in no way resemble the gods of their respective myths, and in some cases whole backstories and even entire gods are invented for the sake of the plot. For example, the series features a god of conquest named Adamas who did not exist in Greek mythology but is presented as a Greek god anyway, in fact he’s supposed to be the older brother of Poseidon, and, most egregiously, the entire Adam and Eve story is revised to depict neither Adam nor Eve as responsible for eating the apple and instead the serpent (who, by the way, is a god here) frames Eve after trying and failing to rape her. I honestly hope that’s not how fans want SMT to turn out, but if it does turn out that way, it will be because the market takes priority over genuine creative output, artistic originality, and, in true capitalist fashion, just about any consideration of any kind of tradition, even that which exists within itself. Those who object to you when you point this stuff out and tell you that anything goes as long as it’s vaguely entertaining have already told you what side they’re on.

ADDENUDM (03/08/2021): I’ve been told multiple times that the image I chose for this post is a fairly bad example, because apparently Fate’s “Tezcatlipoca” is not actually Tezcatlipoca, but instead Jaguarman. I think it still makes the point, but I respect that it is erroneous to treat it as a representation of Tezcatlipoca. I didn’t want to just delete it and replace it because it’d probably fuck up the thumbnail for this post, but in order to address that criticism, let me present a different and much more egregious example from the Fate series below:

Both of these images are representations of the Hindu god Kama, or Kamadeva, the god of love and desire. On the right is Kama’s artwork from Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, in which Kama’s design is faithful to his representation in Indian myth and represents many important characteristics of seen in his traditional iconography. On the left is Kama from the Fate series, who is not only female but also a loli, and is thus not only completely unrepresentative of the Kama of myth but also brazenly exploitative.

New reflections on autism and other topics (RIP Near)

So yesterday I had become aware of the tragic news about the suicide of Near, who I had never heard of until today but was the inventor of several emulators, notably bSnes and Higan. Although I had no idea who Near was before, I remember playing Shin Megami Tensei using the bSnes emulator, and its sequel using one of the emulators they made. So on some token, they’re responsible for my getting the chance to play the original two SMT games. That at least is how I know them, and from what I can see many others have only just found out that it was Near who made their emulator experiences possible. After a ceaseless stream of harassment from KiwiFarms users who were trying to bully them and their friends out of public life, Near posted a thread on Twitter announcing their intention to commit suicide, and according to a friend of a friend of Near they overdosed on codeine and guanfancine before hanging themselves.

If you’re wondering at all what Near could possible have done to deserve the abuse, you won’t find anything other than some drama levelled against them by Kiwifarms users, not that you could get the full story easily since Kiwifarms got DDOS’d for causing Near’s suicide while either gloating about their suicide or denying it ever happened. The only obvious motivation that I could piece together is that Near was transgender, non-binary, autistic, and might have spoken out against Donald Trump or something to that effect. It sounds petty and bigoted, but as I’ve come to understand that’s pretty much the exact purpose of KiwiFarms. Their whole agenda has been to ruin the lives of anyone they find funny, which KiwiFarms has literally stated to mean mentally abnormal people, and they openly target autistic and trans people to ruin their lives, not to mention that the site’s owner and many of its membership either lean to the far-right or even comprise actual Nazis.

For many people, this is the first time they had even heard of Kiwifarms. I had some awareness of Kiwifarms for a few years before this, but for a while I didn’t understand them much. I had a vague idea that they were a strange and dubious website where people go to share and exchange information anonymously. It seemed creepy even back then, but apparently you could also find stuff about the activities of groups like the Order of Nine Angles (as I’ve covered a few years ago). But because I didn’t think about it too much and didn’t do a lot of following up, I hadn’t yet realized that Kiwifarms was started solely to target autistic people as well as trans people, kinksters (apparently), and others who offend them in some way. I would have thought this would be the behaviour for whom “cancel culture” or some variation thereof would be reserved but I guess not in our worthless and hypocritical culture. The fact that they laugh at Near’s suicide, primarily because of their transgender identity, is probably all you need to know. And then some of them try to turn around and claim that they did nothing wrong as though we’re stupid enough not to see through their obvious lies, and many of them unbelievably and callously claim to be the victims of an extortion attempt.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve been angrier for most of my life, and I often try not to be. Near was nice to everyone who bothered to approach them as a friend. They didn’t do anything to deserve anyone being suicide-baited. They even went to Kiwifarms to try and settle things with the owner Josh Moon, pleading with Moon to take the thread down, and Moon refused to show any compassion. These Kiwifarms people bullied Near, watched them suffer, and actually hoped to see them commit suicide. They wanted Near to die. They wanted Near dead for no reason other than Near was a public figure who was trans and also autistic and whose suffering they have already deemed a source of amusement. And after Near’s suicide they gloated and celebrated their death, thus admitting themselves to be responsible for Near’s death even as some of them also deny that the suicide happened or that Near was ever cyberbullied. So they engineer the deaths of others through an onslaught of psychological abuse, celebrate it, and then turn around and claim actually they did nothing wrong and in fact are the victims themselves. What irredeemable monsters, especially considering that Near is by no means their first victim.

The fact that Near was autistic on top of being the bSnes developer and that their autism might have been a reason for him being targeted filled me as an autistic young man with so much revulsion it’s immeasurable. Just having to think about it to write this post weighs on me and makes my blood boil. All it does is remind me that we in the autistic community live in a world where not that many people give a shit if we live or die unless it’s people we know, in some cases the government practically wants us dead, and there’s an entire community of people who make it their business to make sure that autistic people as well as trans people live in fear for being online or at least for being public figures and will make excuses for it. Lots of us also don’t have much power over our lives due not only to our neurological condition but also what it appears to mean for many of us interacting with society. We’re chaperoned from a young age up until we complete out education entirely and in some cases even after that, that is when we’re not being neglected or bullied, and our lives or robbed of what “neurotypicals” enjoy. Meanwhile people still occasionally see us as invalids and parasites coasting off of the welfare state. We don’t conform to society in a way that’s not always our choice, so we treated as some kind of alien other to be shunned.

When I see people who aren’t those Kiwifarm psychopaths come together in support of Near, expressing understanding for him in all his travails, it makes me think that sometimes, sometimes, autistic people have friends in the world. Everything takes me back to the tendencies towards “self-loathing” regarding my own autism that I had experienced. More than once I would consider the fact of my having autism to be a curse because of how impeded my life has often been and my lacklustre ability to communicate with others, and I even recalled some private thoughts about how I would accept a “cure” for it. But when I see the hatred of the Kiwifarms psychos, juxtaposed with the solidarity of Near’s friends and fans, I feel like the attitude I just described has no place, is out of line, and is probably if anything a sign of how alienated I really was. The big problem with us autistic people is not only the hand that we’ve been dealt but also that we, like many others, live in a society that is indifferent and even cruel in a way that it simply doesn’t have to be, and not enough people challenge that. But the other problem for us, one we do share with the masses at large, is powerlessness. Imagine what life would be like with not only control of our own lives, but also the sense that we could show anyone who wants to oppress us who’s boss. Wouldn’t it be better if the people who try to abuse people into suicide lived in fear instead of their victims?

But speaking of suicide, I should also use this moment to talk about how I have reconsidered some views I once had on suicide. I used to view it as something of a “selfish” act, but I have changed my mind on the grounds that this view requires a decontextualization of the act of suicide. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a good thing in itself, it’s horrible for you and everyone around you, but you can’t place an absolute moral judgement on suicide because to do so can mean ignoring the reason why people kill themselves and end up gaslighting them instead of saving them. There will always be people who commit suicide for decidedly not so admirable and perhaps reasons, but you can’t treat all cases of suicide the same way. Near would not have committed suicide if it weren’t for a concerted effort at cyberbullying carried out by people who openly state that their goal is to get people to commit suicide. That’s not “selfishness” in the sense that people clearly mean. That’s an attempt by a man tortured by endless suffering and with no view to a way out to try and escape that suffering, and it would not have come about if it weren’t for those torturers. This isn’t like Jon Nodtveidt who just killed himself in a circle of candles because he decided calmly and happily that his business with life was finished, and it’s not like someone who offs himself after shooting up a school or something to evade arrest. You simply cannot treat the circumstances as equivalent, because that is arbitrarily decontextualizing the sufferings of an individual. The idea that you can make an absolute moral judgement of suicide as a “selfish” thing requires you to remove the context of what the individual committing suicide has gone through and instead focus solely on the fact that he has removed himself from this world, and the bonds that were once forged between them. If anything, thinking about it, that’s more “selfish” than the act of suicide, and thinking like that only means that people like Near never get any empathy or support. That’s something that, upon reflection, just seems unconscionable.

Rest in peace, Near. From one autistic gamer to another, you’ll be missed for the wonder you brought to gaming. May you find rest in the bliss of the night, and may fate come with brutality towards your abusers. I don’t care much what happens to Kiwifarms, or even if their users live or die.

Postscriptum on Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei

I would like to follow the series of articles I wrote about the Shin Megami Tensei alignments by getting down some thoughts in detail about how I see the Chaos alignment and what direction I would prefer it to go. You might also see me take the chance to flex some of the Chaotic thinking that I so like to indulge in.

There are two themes that persist in Chaos that are rather observable, and in some ways dovetail together: the first is freedom being more important than order, and the second is personal power. The elephant in the room with that is always Social Darwinism, it is always “might makes right”. This was originally portrayed as something of a consequence of the freedom emphasized by the Chaos alignment, in the vein of the classic criticism of anarchism, either that or simply the removal of a government or state, but it has had a habit of metastasizing into an ideological current in itself as an expression of Chaos. The irony with that, of course, is that a lot of Chaos endings didn’t include any ideas of a might makes right society at all. In the Chaos ending for Shin Megami Tensei II, all that happens is you put an end to the rule of Tokyo Millennium and create a world of freedom for humans, demons, and Mutants. In the True Demon ending for Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, there’s no talk of a world for the strong at all, and while you’re destroying the universe to abolish the cycle of death and rebirth, the whole auspice of that is that it’s done to realize free will in an ultimate sense, removed from the bonds of The Great Will, not to create a might makes right world (that project is instead one of the avenues of The Great Will being realized). The Chaos path of Raidou 2 is predicated entirely on individual free will and desire, living for yourself, in opposition to duty, “harmony with the world” (society), and living centrally for others. In the New Chaos route for Strange Journey Redux, any concept of Social Darwinist selection is eschewed entirely in favour of simply a world based in free will and co-existence with the demons. Between the games, the theme of Social Darwinism is in no way consistent.

There is a tension between the two themes that creates an obvious problem for the ideology of the Chaos alignment. At its core, in pretty much every incarnation of Shin Megami Tensei, Chaos is the alignment that values freedom above almost everything else. Its opposition to Law is predicated fundamentally on the fact that a world of Law means to some degree the abolition of freedom or at least the reduction thereof as the price to pay for a world of eternal peace and order (sorry, but the New Law ending path in Strange Journey Redux is fundamentally inconsistent for this reason), to say nothing of that order being contingent upon the absolute rule of God. The major problem with throwing “might makes right” into the mix is that, through that emphasis, it is entirely possible through that emphasis on freedom to become subverted, for tyranny to be supported on the back of power being exercized over others. Nocturne’s Reason of Yosuga, which can best be described as “officially Chaos but at the same time not really”, this manifests in the valorization not of freedom, but of hierarchy, which sets itself above and against freedom. If you think about it, to embrace might makes right as an ethical imperative leads only to self-defeat, considering that your enemy is YHVH, and YHVH got where he is by essentially knocking out the other gods. As the most powerful being, he would have the right to govern as he desires, even if that meant oppressing everybody. More consistent not only for the pursuit of freedom against the will of God and for traditional connotations regarding the namesake of Chaos would be the abolition of hierarchy itself as an enemy of freedom. It would certainly be a perfect opposite to Law, which fundamentally cannot oppose hierarchy, and you could probably count on Neutrality to be the side that deems this to be “unrealistic”. It would require that even any notions of a hierarchy shaped by the strong to be thrown out of the window.

But what to do about the question of power itself? That’s something that can’t really be divorced from the discourse of Chaos without entirely disregarding series tradition itself. But I believe I can present a take on this that may prove interesting. It all starts with how we look at power. The observation that power rules everything could be framed as in some ways different from the ethical imperative that might makes right. In fact, if you understand the state as an instrument of class rule, it’s not that much of a stretch to see politics as something that comes back to the exercise of power, or more specifically who exercises it. A small selection of people have power over the vast majority of others, and the vast majority of people have little real control over their own lives due to the nature of the economic system they live under. When you don’t have any real control over your own life, you don’t have any power that can be exercised usefully in your own sphere, you end up developing all kinds of pathologies and insecurities. Lots of older people like to complain about how people today are “perpetual children” or some nonsense, and never do talk about how they have very little access to housing, and little of the financial security their parents might have enjoyed. With independence, autonomy, power over your own life, foreclosed or at least delayed by economic realities, people lose the sense that they might actually assume power over their own lives, and can you really be surprised if people act like that’s the case? Even politicians serve as spectators as much as rulers, many of them having no real power to alter the system into which they enter, and so their recourse is spectacle and narcissism.

And so the proposition arises: the idea should be that, for freedom to be universal, power should be universal. Instead of power being afforded only to the one guy who can punch out everyone in his way, at which point you already have either the rule of YHVH or a Neutral outcome, why not create a world where everyone can freely assume power over their own lives, free from the confines of existing hierarchies and structures of authority, free from the grasp of ruling gods or gods of law, and free from the ambitions of any would-be despot. At its base, this is part of the core of the way Chaos tends to emphasize the flourishing of free will, without the order of God in the context of a mythic universe, because part of having that free will is the ability to exercise power over your own life.

But we would not be doing well to sideline some of the other themes involved, such as nature or co-existence with demons. Let’s start with nature in this regard.

Strange Journey Redux introduces a split between Mem Aleph’s vision of the “return” of savage nature and the new vision of Jimenez. Mem Aleph represents the “old” Chaos, with its emphasis on the rule of the Mothers, wrathful goddesses of the Earth, who want to kill most if not all of mankind in revenge for the ravages of the planet by turning the world into a society of brutal selection of fitness, while Jimenez, should you take the New Chaos route, represents the creation of a world of limitless free will and thereby equally limitless possibilities, where humans can become anything they want, co-exist with demons, and everyone can create their own new rules in a world of freedom. The difference is pretty noticeable, and it seems that Louisa Ferre (Lucifer) prefers this New vision to Mem Aleph’s narrow-minded view of humans. But where does this leave the theme of nature, which has been important to the traditional discourse of Chaos?

Nature could either be thought of this state of homoestatic balance and purity to which we are to return, akin to the idea of the return to the Garden of Eden found in certain mystical traditions, or it could be thought of as an existential state of chaotic and primeval spontaneity. The former can be seen as a Chaotic idea from the lens of a mother goddess, but is probably more consistent with Law. The latter can be thought of in terms of Taoist ideas such as “ziran” (meaning “spontaneity”, or more literally “self-so”), which designates something spontaneous, self-arising, and therefore natural, or a state of being those things, and is sometimes related to the nature of the Tao itself. In Japan the term ziran is often translated as shizen, and while shizen is often translated in English as “nature”, from the Japanese perspective this doesn’t actually mean the way “Nature” often does in the West (basically a way of designating raw natural environments such as forests or life outside the bounds of human civilization), and instead refers simply to spontaneous flow, without coercion or contrivance.

But, to incorporate a theme of wilderness might prove to yield interesting results in any case. Remember Jimenez in Strange Journey talking about wild souls. Louisa Ferre in the Redux version refers to impulsive souls, or “araburu tamashii”. In the Kojiki, the phrase “araburu no kami”, which can mean wild, savage, or unruly gods, is a term used by the gods of Takamagahara (the high plain of heaven) to refer to the indigenous gods of the land, otherwise known as the kunitsukami. These were simply the gods of the land, not evil beings, whose land their heavenly lands sought sought conquer, and they may even include gods who were worshipped before the ascent of the Yamato dynasty. In later syncretic Buddhism, the gods of Japan were divided between the honsha-no-kami, who were provisional deities that were actually manifestations of the Buddha, and the jissha-no-kami, the “real” kami who are deemed wild, evil, demonic gods unworthy of reverence, and this category tended to include the gods of Izumo, who were kunitsukami, such as Okuninushi. Here the native gods of the land are juxtaposed against gods from heaven who seek to control that land, as part of what is ultimately a mythic narrative created for the ruling Yamato dynasty, and are later recast as demons of the wilderness. Their designation as “real gods” is fascinating in that, although clearly intended from a hardline Buddhist perspective for “real” to mean the same thing as “your true colours” in the negative sense, can from a certain point of view be used to point to a broader chaotic reality, an idea that Bernard Faure sort of points to in his discussion of Bishamonten, Daikokuten, and Enmaten in Gods of Medieval Japan: Volume 2: Protectors and Predators. We see this in some other pantheons as well. We would note that the gods referred to as Asuras in Indian myth dwelled in the underworld, where they were the guardians of substantial wealth that resided there. The Asuras had their own natural source of wealth that the Devas did not. And so, since the Asuras did not share what belonged to them to the Devas, they became the enemies of the Devas, and are remembered as demons. In a weird way, Asura Lord and Surt being paired with Astaroth and Arioch makes some sense, Asura Lord representing the rebels against the devas and Surt representing the giants lead by Loki against the armies of Odin alongside two demons who join Lucifer’s rebellion against God. Christian culture also came to see the wilderness as a gateway to the demonic powers, not unlike how the Bible viewed the deserts surrounding the Holy Land as teeming with demons.

Of course, one other way of addressing the nature theme as a distinct current may be to, and I hate to say this, borrow from Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse in terms of its “monotheism versus polytheism” conflict, or some variation thereof (it doesn’t have to be framed in such a silly way, but let’s go with it provisionally). The “monotheistic” side of Chaos would obviously be represented by the forces of Lucifer, and would probably emphasize radical free will, while the “polytheistic” side of Chaos would probably be represented by wrathful mother goddesses in the fashion of Strange Journey, with a view towards an ideology of nature similar to the one propounded by Mem Aleph and the Gaians. Under this framework, we might even finally see Gaia in the game, unless it turns out that Mem Aleph was already the “Gaia” in the Cult/Ring of Gaia. The Law-aligned application of this would be that the “monotheistic” forces are obviously YHVH and his angels representing their order while the “monotheistic” forces comprise possibly the head gods and goddesses of various pre-Christian pantheons, or perhaps the Amatsukami, thus comprising the “gods of law”. But of course it’s much more interesting and less contrived to simply have Law and Chaos as inclusive, trans-cultural absolutes that comprise of much more than just YHVH versus Lucifer, as was the case in the original Shin Megami Tensei and in Strange Journey, which thus represent an intermingling of ideological concepts that form a whole.

As long-winded as that lead was we can move on to another theme, co-existence with demons. Insofar as the games like to emphasize Chaos as “the side of demons”, in contradistinction to Law being “the side of angels” and Neutral being “the side of humanity”, there is an angle that should be emphasized within Chaos more than anything: that demons do not have to be our enemies. It’s a hard sell considering that demons can be in many ways nasty to humans and it does require not only factoring in God being a million times worse than any demon but also the willingness to take an alternative perspective on familiar mythological tropes. For me that’s no problem, usually, but at the same time it’s not at all easy for many. But, in the process of all Shin Megami Tensei games, even though it is easy to frame relationship to demons as solely in terms of them serving you, you can realistically picture that, eventually, the demon summoner and the demons can seem quite close to one another indeed, to the point that it’s not impossible to imagine the human devil summoner being as something close to a friend or a comrade by the demons he summons, or simply the summoner in turn taking certainly a less-than-hostile view of demonkind. That’s the natural outcome of getting involved with demons for long enough. It’s also a product of demons and humans existing as opposite sides of a mirror. Demons, however they may be presented as something inhuman, have always been hinted to be, in truth, all too human, being drawn from the power of desire in humans, which is something communicated rather didactically in Shin Megami Tensei IV but has probably always been present in the series to some extent or other. We can see Isogai Shougo for instance refer to “the chaos that dwells in every human” in terms of passions or desires as the basis for Jimenez’s demonic transformation. As they come from the Abyss, or Makai, or the Expanse, whatever you want to call it, the demons represent a power dwelling in the human psyche that, as much as it can be said to be “dark”, accompanies Man forever as its eternal, timeless Other, always connected and yet separated by fear. That’s why the demons can’t live without humanity, and even if many demons don’t know that, Lucifer certainly does, and Jimenez certainly figures it out in Strange Journey’s New Chaos route while Mem Aleph was counting on him not thinking that through to its conclusion.

Free will, per Chaos parlance, may partly mean exactly the freedom to explore this Other, the power associated with it, and its potential for humans. As strange as the idea of co-existing with demons is, there exist myths and lore which do contain this idea. In fact, certain folkloric traditions in India and China, adjacent to Hinduism or Vajrayana Buddhism, apparently contain a belief that it is possible for humans in search of siddhi (spiritual powers) to access the underworld realm of Patala, home to the Asuras and the Nagas, through what are called “Asura’s Caves“, and stay with the Asuras (and Nagas) to live among them, acquire knowledge, access treasures, or even have sexual intercourse with female Asuras. Vedic Indian myth and folklore depicts the women of the Asuras as exceptionally beautiful and the bearers of magical drugs, which can apparently be procured by going to the mansions of the Asuras. In medieval European folklore, particularly within Germany, there is the legend of Venusberg, in which Tannhauser goes to the mountain in order to frolic with “the fairy queen” or worship a pagan goddess and he ends up living with them, sort of following a similar theme to the “Asura Caves”. If medieval beliefs regarding succubi and incubi are to be believed, the idea of demons living around humans and interacting with them was simply par for the course in the Middle Ages, just that the Christian culture of the day considered this a bad thing. In medieval Sweden, background folklore concerning spirits such as nymphs assisting hunters, fishermen and others may have transformed into the idea that those same spirits were agents or even manifestations of the Devil, and apparently there were some individuals who confessed to making deals with and even having sex with those spirits (though, confessions like this should usually be taken with a grain of salt). More saliently, in Japanese folklore, while there are many dangerous and hostile yokai, there were also many yokai who were considered rather friendly or at least simply amusing, some of whom are actually encouraged to live alongside humans, and the idea of yokai and humans co-existing seems to have been established enough in Japanese folklore and culture that there’s countless manga and anime that run with that premise.

In the games, it’s hinted that this is tied to peace with or liberation of desire, or even the invocation of it as a source of power. That’s not for nothing, in that in many religious cultures the “demonic” element is interpreted as a representation of desire that is usually seen as an obstacle to the realization of whatever spirirtual teaching or divinity the religion in question has in mind. Aleister Crowley recognized the spirits of the Goetia as “portions of thr human brain”, with the demons of the Lesser Key of Solomon representing the “lower” aspects of the psyche. But, it could also point to the theme of broader reality that we went over earlier. As Bernard Faure points out, again in Protectors and Predators, there was once a time when Mara was seen as an ambiguous source of reality, in the fashion of hongaku (“original enlightenment”) interpretation, at least according to Yusuke Takahashi (as in not the tennis player). Hongaku interpretation stressed a duality and unity between ignorance and enlightenment, the latter deriving its source from the former, which is reflected not only in some hongaku interpretations of Mara, but also Kojin, Mahakala, Matarajin, and Susano-o, positioning the wild realm of chaos, darkness, demons, and even desire and ignorance as an ambiguous source of enlightenment. That is a position that can seem very congruous with the conceits presented within Chaos, because it is the forces of Chaos, and uniquely them, who might take this view, since it is they who consider the demons to be potential the brothers and teachers of humans.

But there is one theme that hasn’t really been addressed at all here, one that Shin Megami Tensei IV introduced for Challenge Quests but never explored further: the dispensation of the universe. The Law-aligned Ancient of Days, representing God, seeks to carry it out, while the Chaos-aligned Sanat seems to oppose it. The game does not explore the theme further, but perhaps it is something worth exploring in a sort of return to the theme of free will and a core tenet of Chaos. Sanat, at least from his perspective, is trying to save humanity from the dispensation of the universe by getting mankind ready for war against the Ancient of Days, and presumably God. But what does “the dispensation of the universe” mean? The game never really explains that, but perhaps we can piece something together. Judging from Ancient of Days’ dialogue, he makes it seems like this is supposed to be some sort of destructive act of purification, at least in that he seems intent on destroying what’s left of humanity, but perhaps there’s more to it than that. Apparently the Japanese line for it is “uchuu no setsuri”, which means “providence of the universe”. Dispensation is a word that seems to mean, at least in certain contexts, the order of things that prevails at a given time, but in Christian theology it can mean certain ages of history or God’s plan, the distribution of good and evil, or it can mean something like divine providence. Providence can mean the governance, guidance, or the will of God. In context, the destructive act of purification presented by Ancient of Days can be thought of on similar terms. Remember that, in Nocturne, The Great Will’s whole deal is that it imposes a ruthless of death and rebirth for the purpose of destroying and creating new universes again and again until it can create a universe of perfection, free from sin but also devoid of free will. Even Apocalypse’s version, The Axiom, still seems to carry that over. A brutal regime of fate may thus be the true nature of the dispensation of the universe, which conflicts with the flourishing of free will. This, I think, should be explored more, and in a different way to Nocturne where completing the Amala Labyrinth meant annihilating the universe.

To finally summarize everything, we have a world to work with instead of the classical might makes right vision that, if we’re very honest, only serves to justify the order of things rather than smash it. Again, if the strongest has the right to rule, then logically YHVH would be the rightful ruler pf the universe because he is almost the most powerful being in the universe and got where he is by smacking down the other gods (as is explained straightforwardly in Strange Journey). Indeed, does YHVH not invoke his power to justify his authority and rule and therefore your obedience to him? But then I suppose that pint could also be turned into something salient from the Chaos perspective: namely that anything else YHVH justifies his rule is ultimately arbitrary or illusory and that it is power that is ultimately the real basis of his justification. In any case, the summary for what I’d like to see can be presented in bullet points for a collection of ideological flanks that form a broad ethos:

  • Freedom and the flourishing of free will as the primary emphasis, rather than strength as a way of organizing hierarchy, and because of this opposition to the Great Will/Axiom – or, to put it another way, freedom from God’s control
  • To that effect, hierarchy, at least worldly or human hierarchy, as something distinctly opposed to Chaos and therefore to be opposed by Chaos – such is consistent with the way Lilith talked about destroying existing structures of authority in Shin Megami Tensei IV
  • To the extent that power is still important for Chaos, the idea should be that everyone is able to attain power over their own lives, rather than be subject to a hierarchy of interchangeable absolute rulers who win and reign by brute force at the expense of freedom
  • Co-existence with demons as a key flank that separates Chaos from the other alignments, given greater emphasis as an expression of harmony between the two poles of human life
  • The gods and demons of Chaos as the representatives of a kind of wild nature defined not simply by the lands of the Earth but by a nature found within humans, something raw that is obscured by the order of God and civilization
  • The war between Law and Chaos as war over the dispensation of the universe, as the mechincal providence of The Great Will/Axiom, with Chaos on the opposing side whose mission it is to give mankind the power to oppose The Great Will/Axiom

If you are looking for something “extreme” from this, to fit the ambiguousness and difficulty of the choice between Law, Chaos, and Neutrality, I’d say you could still make the point that what the zen of Chaos amounts to could be described as Anarchy (no, not the shitty Apocalyse ending), not only in the sense of doing away with worldy hierarchies and authority but also in the sense of existential anarchy, doing away with the supreme authority over the universe itself, to leave only the flourishing of freedom among humans and demons. To realize Law is to realize the Thousand Year Kingdom or the dispensation of the universe, to realize Chaos can be to realize Anarchy, and to realize Neutrality is basically to just do neither of those in favour of, well, anything really.

With Shin Megami Tensei V on the horizon it is still too early to say what Chaos wilI mean here, but beyond that there are reasons to be excited. Arioch, one of the four demon generals of Chaos from the original Shin Megami Tensei, is making his grand return to the main series, and with Surt also featured in one of the trailers, it’s easy to be left wondering if Astaroth and Asura-Oh will make it as well. That’s a big deal because it means that, at last, the Four Archangels of Law might be paired against four Chaos counterparts once again for the first time since the original game. With Mara, Beelzebub, and classic Lucifer in the mix too, it’s safe enough to assume that the old gang of devils is getting together again, and we can safely assume the presence of Lilith as well. Without knowing exactly what Chaos entails in this game this says little, but it should be a welcome development in the time that remains.

And now, in the words of the Chaos Phantom in Shin Megami Tensei, let us walk the path of Chaos, from which everything is born.

Can’t wait

Ideologies of Neutrality in Shin Megami Tensei

So far I have written articles that serve as deep dives into the alignments of Shin Megami Tensei – first Chaos, then Law. This leaves us with the third and final installment, which focuses on Neutrality. Neutrality is, simply put, the option of rejecting both Law and Chaos in favour of a third path. But what that means is not always the same from game to game. To reject both Law and Chaos can seem to be a reactive stance in the context of the larger war between Law and Chaos, but Neutrality as we can see throughout the games is powered by its own ideological contours, and these allow us to look at Neutrality as a proposal for the world in the same sense that Law and Chaos are.

The same conditions as the previous two posts apply except for a key difference: unlike the previous two posts, this post will actually have a section focusing on Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. This game was excluded from both of the previous posts on the grounds that, although it has Law and Chaos endings, the Law and Chaos dynamic is noticeably downplayed in favour of a narrative in which both Law and Chaos take a backseat to the conflict between a cabal of polytheistic gods and mankind. This time, however, we can include the game on the grounds that the game’s overriding premise is actually a narrative of Neutrality, in fact it is a game that not only starts off from a Neutral path in the original Shin Megami Tensei IV but also explicitly operates from the premise that Neutrality is the only path to take, and accordingly, as you’ll see, embellishes the conceits of Neutrality to a ridiculous extent.

Also, unlike the other two posts, which featured commentary on Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abbadon, I have decided not to do that for this post on the grounds that, although there does seem to be a Neutral path and a Neutral ending, there doesn’t seem to be any content for it other than you get to fight Masakado, and the Neutral ending path appears to be basically the same as that of the Chaos path, so there’s really no point in covering it.

For the last time, this entire post will contain spoilers for all of the games featured here.

Shin Megami Tensei (1992)

As with so much else in the SMT series, the first game in the series is the first to introduce the dynamic of Neutrality between Law and Chaos as we understand it throughout the series. Here, the game posits a war between Law and Chaos, and a balance between the two rent asunder by this conflict. While Law means creating the Thousand Year Kingdom of perfect order under God, and Chaos means a kind of anarchic freedom that is enjoyed through co-existence with the demons (or “ancient gods”), Neutrality ostensibly means balance between order and freedom on behalf of humanity that can only be achieved by rejecting both sides. But, as with the other alignments, there is so much more to it than that.

It’s worth stressing that there is no “Neutral faction” in this game to counter the Messians of the Law alignment and the Gaians of the Chaos alignment except for an early part of the game in which there seems to be a Resistance movement in Tokyo. By this point in the game, there is an established conflict between the Self-Defence Force, commanded by Gotou, on one side, and the American army, represented by Thorman, on the other, and both seem to want some kind of martial law in Tokyo. Opposed to both factions is an underground Resistance movement led by the Heroine, who Gotou’s underlings are hell bent on capturing. The Resistance movement sees both Gotou and the Americans as merely seeking to impose their own will on Tokyo, and consequently they oppose them, although at this point all they can do is carry out petty sabotage against both forces, and they are unable to confront them head-on. Both the Law and Chaos Heroes want to help her for their own reasons: the Law Hero is interested in the fact that his girlfriend has the same name as the Heroine and has been kidnapped along with several other girls by Gotou’s minions, and the Chaos Hero is interested because Ozawa, a gangster who bullies him at the beginning of the game, is working with Gotou’s forces and he sees the opportunity to get revenge. Unfortunately, Yuriko, who is working with Gotou’s forces, kidnaps the Heroine, and tries to hold a public execution of her until the party intervenes and rescues the heroine. Although Yuriko and Ozawa are working for Gotou, Gotou claims that this whole incident had nothing to do with him personally. Of course, after both Gotou and Thorman are defeated, once “Thor’s Hammer” reigns down on Tokyo, the city is destroyed, the Heroine dies and is reincarnated, and we can only assume that the Resistance movement ceases to exist.

There are, of course, other representatives of Neutrality. Not terribly many of them, mind you, but they will be explored. There are non-aligned healers that the player can use instead of the Gaians or Messians if they want to stay Neutral. These are referred to as Kaifuku, which seems to just be the Japanese word for “healer”. And they do exactly it says on the tin: they just heal you, and do similar services to the Messians or Gaians, but with no alignment to Law or Chaos, and so no alignment shift for using them. The inside of the Kaifuku appears to a resemble some sort of Shinto temple, and its proprietor a kind of Shinto priest. You might count the Heroine herself as a de facto representative of Neutrality, though she follows you whichever path you take. You might also count Cerberus, the hound of hell (who for some reason looks like a lion in these games) fused from the protagonist’s pet dog Pascal, who scores bonus points for being, as a Majuu/Beast, actually Neutral-aligned. Alignment in this game is contingent not only on plot choices but also on consistent play. Going to the Messians or the Gaians for healing and fighting demons of a certain alignment can shift your alignment one way or another, so maintaining Neutrality is all about staying in the middle and keeping the balance of your alignment. In fact, after the battle with Gotou and/or Thor, there aren’t very many Neutral options between the Law and Chaos you have to navigate. Of course, though, there is an alignment lock towards the final stretch predicated on what you do in Tokyo Destinyland and Shinagawa. If you defeat Haniel in Shinagawa and then refuse to support the Gaians, or if you defeat Echidna in Tokyo Destinyland and then refuse to support the Messians, you become locked into the Neutral path, and that’s where you encounter someone important.

Not long after the start of the game, you find an unnamed old man who tells of a war between the forces of Law and Chaos and the balance being in danger. After you get locked into the Neutral path, you meet the old man again on your way to the Great Cathedral. There he tells you that it doesn’t matter if Law or Chaos win control of the Cathedral, because neither outcome will bring happiness to humanity, because whichever side humanity casts its lot with will merely use humanity as a pawn in their own domination, and says that the only one who can prevent this from happening is you, the player. When you’re about to fight either Michael or the Asura Lord on the Neutral path, the old man reveals himself to be Taijorokun, though he doesn’t really stay to introduce himself. Taijorokun seems to be a Japanese transliteration of Taishang Laojun, a Chinese deity venerated in folk Taoism who also goes by the name Daode Tianzun. Taishang Laojun is venerated as one of the Three Pure Ones, deities who are believed to be pure manifestations of the Tao itself, and as the divine origin of Lao Zi, the mythical author of the Tao Te Ching on which the religion/philosophy of Taoism is largely based, in a sense the divinization of Lao Zi himself. Given that the old man tells you to protect the balance between Law and Chaos, it’s very obvious that the game is invoking Taoism in popular understanding as a way to communicate the theme of balance. Because get it? Balance? Neutrality? Yin and Yang? Law and Chaos? It’s not that hard to guess where this game is going here. In the Neutral ending, he says that there are good things to be said about the Thousand Year Kingdom, because “one cannot deny that laws and regulations are necessary to preserve peace”, but that under God’s iron-fisted rule humans would not have the freedom they need to be happy. He also says that the world of Chaos envisioned by Lucifer also has its strong points, “such a world would be quite alluring, overflowing with excitement and exhilaration that naturally comes from such unfettered freedom”, but says that such freedom would lead to neverending conflicts and competition which would mean people never live in peace. Pursuing either of the two extreme produces only sorrow, and happiness is attained only through balance. He also proclaims a humanistic ethos that is familiar to Neutrality going forward, saying that the future of humanity will be built neither through God nor through the demons but by the hands of the people (humans) themselves.

There is an irony to the proposal that humans should not rely on gods or demons being put forward by a literal god, but the other irony consists in the fact that the representation of Neutrality is to be found in Taoism. Most people think about Taoism in terms of a belief system that encourages balance, owing to the dialectic of yin and yang, but Taoism has aspects to it that actually have more in common with Chaos than anything else. One of the core myths of Taoism is the myth of Hundun, a being embodying primordial chaos, who one day received guests who, believing they were doing him a favour, poked orifices into his body so that he can have eyes, mouth, ears, and other things he was missing, which caused his death. The clear message of this myth is that human civilization errs in its meddling with nature and that teleological order errs in deprivation from the spontaneity of the Tao, likened to primordial chaos. In addition, if you look at the history of Taoism, you’ll find comparisons to anarchist thought as well as links between Taoism and anarchism in modernity, and during Jin dynasty you see the Seven Worthies of the Bamboo Grove eschewing Confucian piety and norms in favour of a life of rustic freedom in, as the name suggests, a bamboo grove where they enjoyed booze, sex, liberty, and the celebration of nature, and many of them such as Ruan Ji openly expressed contempt for authority and Confucian social custom. We can see that, if we were to somehow apply Law and Chaos to the history of Chinese religious and philosophical tradition, it would be the Taoists who come the closest to Chaos while the Confucians undoubtedly embody Law, and based on this I would argue that, despite Buddism being taken up the Gaians, it would arguably be more fitting for Neutrality to be represented through Buddhism if it needed an Eastern religion to represent it.

Despite the way Buddhism, and esoteric Buddhism in particular, gets fitted very tantalizingly onto Chaos, baseline Buddhism in many ways actually fits the Neutral alignment in terms of its humanism and its appeals to balance. For starters, Buddhism promotes the idea of the Middle Way as the path to enlightenment, which means rejecting two extremes of eternalism (the belief in an eternal unchanging self) and annihiliationism (the doctrine that everything is annihiliated upon death), which do not necessarily correspond to Law and Chaos but it is a dynamic of extremes to which the middle is the answer. Buddhism also believes, as part of is broader belief in the eternal cycle of reincarnation, that the best hope of achieving enlightenment is in the human realm, because only humans experience just the right balance of suffering and comfort that at least gives them the potential to achieve enlightenment. You can be born as a deva, but the devas, living in the highest realm, are too arrogant, too comfortable, and too addicted to heavenly pleasures to pay attention to the quest for enlightenment, while those born in any of the lower realms experience so much suffering or strife that the beings who dwell in them are forced to think too much about their own survival to think about enlightenment. In a weird way this idea may in fact influence the alignments here. If you think about it, it’s probably not for nothing that the leader of the generals of Chaos is the Asura Lord, king of the enemies of the devas. There are devas in the Chaos alignment (such as Agni and Bishamonten) but the leader of the devas, Indra, is a Law-aligned Majin/Deity, and so is Vishnu who is the most reliable and uncompromising benefactor of the devas and essentially an enforcer of their cosmic order in Hindu mythology. It is also probably not for nothing that, in the Sega CD version of the game, the buddha Dainichi Nyorai appears inexplicably as the only Neutral-aligned Maou/Tyrant and the most powerful Neutral demon in the game. And in fact, one of the names given to the protagonist, Futsuo, is apparently supposed to mean either “ordinary person” or “Contact of Buddha“, as if the Buddhist symbolism of Neutrality wasn’t clear enough.

Still on the subject of Buddhism, you might also count En no Ozuno as a representative of Neutrality, or at least every time you need need the Neutral theme plays over him. En no Ozuno, otherwise known as En no Gyoja, was a somewhat mythologized Buddhist ascetic who is believed by some Buddhists to be the founder of Shugendo, a syncretic esoteric Buddhist sect that mixed Buddhism with elements of Shinto, Taoism, and local shamanistic practices. In 1799, well over a thousand years after his death, he became honoured as a bodhisattva and given the name Shinpen Daibosatsu (“Great Bodhisattva Shinpen”), which may explain what he’s doing hanging around in Kongokai and why he’s depicted in later games as basically a being of awesome spiritual power. Indeed, buddhas and bodhisattvas actually make perfect sense as representations of Neutrality since, unlike the gods, the angels, and the demons, a Buddha is simply a being, typically a human, that has achieved Buddhist enlightenment, and a Bodhisattva is a being who delays his own attainment of Nirvana in order to save all sentient beings. These categories emphasize the transformation of humans into beings of enlightenment on a human level, and, frankly, would be better for the Light-Neutral milieu on this basis than the Majin/Deity clan, which was originally Light-Law.

Another representative of Neutrality that is established in this game is Masakado, the guardian spirit of Tokyo. His actual role in the game is very minor, but it establishes some plot conceits and devices that can recur in later games. After Tokyo gets flooded, on the Neutral path you can go to the Imperial Palace and find Masakado. There he laments that Tokyo has become a battlefield for the forces of Law and Chaos, that the conflict has led to the destruction of Tokyo, and that his time as the guardian of Tokyo may soon be over. When a Neutral player meets him, Masakado will deem you worthy of possessing his sword as the potential new guardian of Tokyo, and hopes that you triumph over the forces of Law and Chaos. After this you can also pick up pieces of the Masakado amor hidden beneath the ocean surrounding the palace. Both the Masakado armor and Masakado’s sword are exclusive to the Neutral alignment, so only Neutral players can wield them. Masakado himself is a fairly interesting character to consider. The real Masakado was a prince of the Taira family who, after a series of legal and military adventures, waged a campaign of insurrection against the imperial court, possibly in order to increase his status within the court or seize power himself, before being killed in battle by the forces of his cousin, Sadamori. He wasn’t too well-liked in his day, and indeed most of the records written about him were written by officials who despised Masakado and imagined him suffering after death. But over the centuries, he became an object of superstition and eventually reverance, his severed head believed to fly and possess magical powers, causing earthquakes and other disasters when it settled in Tokyo, and to this day his spirit is believed to be the cause of natural disasters whenever his shrine goes untended. Apparently even in the 20th century it came to be believed that Masakado’s spirit was still there, protecting his shrine from any who would dare topple it, based on some very strange incidents such as his gravesite somehow surviving the American bombing raids on Tokyo and a bulldozer meant to overturn the shrine suddenly collapsing and killing its owner. In Shin Megami Tensei, this restless spirit somehow came to be the guardian spirit of Tokyo itself, a symbol of the simple interests of the city, unconnected to the ambitions of Law and Chaos.

But there is another character, perhaps more than any other, who represents something core to Neutrality in this game in particular. That character is Stephen, a man in a wheelchair who is very obviously based on the late physicist Stephen Hawking. Whereas the real Stephen Hawking was a renowned physicist known for among other things his discoveries regarding black holes, in this game Stephen is a computer programmer responsible for the creation of the Terminal system as well as the creation and distribution of the Demon Summoning Program. When you first meet him, he’s being held prisoner by the forces of Gotou, who was one of a number of people he previously worked with to study how to summon demons, at Echo Building. After this, you meet him in different points of the game where he can upgrade your COMP in various ways, including expanding the number of demons you can store within it. He distributed the Demon Summoning Program in the hopes that someone might use its power to save Tokyo from being destroyed in the coming conflict between Law and Chaos. He also represents Neutrality by way of the context that he embodies within the game, according to its developers. One of the many things Stephen Hawking was famous for is demonstrating that the universe and its origination can be explained entirely through physical principles and without appealing to the concept of God. Ryutaro Ito, one of the writers, explicitly stated that Stephen is intended to be a symbol of Neutrality because he visually represents an ideology in which science-based secular humanism, archetypally embodied by Stephen, is the guide to a world filled with gods and demons in which you’re meant to head in a different direction to both of them. So the idea for Neutrality in one sense that it was supposed to represent secular humanism asserting itself against Christian monotheism on one hand and the demons or “ancient gods” on the other. Of course, Lucifer himself during the Romantic era had a similar symbolism, but situated as the other side of the binary against the old religious order and political system, particularly in the context of post-revolutionary France, and is frequently invoked similarly to this day. But in Shin Megami Tensei, Lucifer, clearly positioned as The Devil, may be billed as one more spectre, and as the king of the demons the representative of those demons that Stephen would have intended you to ultimately oppose, and additionally also stands in for one of two ideological extremes that are usually opposed by the secular humanist, who is very commonly a liberal.

We see thus a marriage of secular humanism and Buddhism, and maybe Taoism. But there is an irony in all this. At the same time as you are supposed to follow Stephen’s humanistic goals of ridding Tokyo of the influence of gods and demons, you are constantly receiving assistance from demons, often the very same demons that you fight or were previously your enemies, and that was the whole idea behind Stephen distributing the Demon Summoning Program to begin with. Not to mention, as we’ve established, your Neutral allies include a restless spirit protecting Tokyo, the guard dog of Hades, a bodhisattva who was himself a man believed to possess mystic powers, and a Taoist god. All told, for a path whose ideological impetus is freedom from reliance on supernatural powers, you sure do depend on some of the same supernatural powers for much of the game and in fact might not have conquered the forces of Law and Chaos without it. I suppose that is a simple necessity of the fact that those powers are real in the game. However, we should also reckon with the fact that Stephen, at the same time as he’s meant to represent scientific rationalism, is ultimately responsible for creating a means by which demons literally travel into the world. It’s fiction, sure, but it begs the question: exactly what interest does the normally scientific-rationalist mind have in the reality of demons? But then again, Ito probably gives us the answer to that too. In the same interview where he talks about Stephen Hawking’s ideas, he also talks about how Japanese audiences weren’t as shocked by those ideas in the way that Western audiences might have been. He says this because the Japanese are not monotheists, obviously referring to Judeo-Christian monotheism, though if you think about it, it probably also has something to do with the fact that, in Japan, secular society integrates time-honoured tradition, custom, and even superstition, that is inherited from the interaction between mostly Buddhism and Shinto.

There is, though, for all the apparent positivity, a very profound negative to Neutrality, one that haunts Neutrality very noticeably but is usually smoothed over in favour of the usual discourse about how the extremes of Law and Chaos are inevitably worse. In order to ensure a Neutral Tokyo, in order to drive away both Law and Chaos, you basically have to kill your friends, and almost everything around you. Your friends, the Law and Chaos Heroes, now oppose you ideologically, and since they’re fighting on the side of Law and Chaos respectively, you must fight them to the death. But, even if you didn’t take the Neutral path, this was inevitable. If you take the Law path, you will join with the Law Hero as friends, but when you get to the bottom of the Great Cathedral you find that he’s been killed by the Chaos Hero, and you are forced to fight him to the death in order to defeat the Asura Lord. If you take the Chaos path, you will join with the Chaos Hero as friends, but when you get to the top of the Great Cathedral the Chaos Hero swipes the Devil Ring for more power and dies because of it, and then the Law Hero confronts you and you are forced to fight him to the death in order to defeat Michael. But in Neutral, both deaths are on your hands and yours alone, and so are those of countless Messians and Gaians, to say nothing of demons.

Yet another irony that emerges from this is that, while the Neutral player would oppose Chaos because its adherents talk about how the strong rule the world as essentially a way to play the negative consequences of a world without authority, who else but the strongest human alive, is shown to prevail and win the right to impose his own will upon Tokyo? After all, in the Neutral path you oppose all the forces of Law and Chaos, including optional bosses, and defeating them may let you accumulate considerably more experience, this strength and the ability to summon ever more powerful demons, not to mention getting access to the strongest equipment in the game at least for Neutral players, so from a gameplay standpoint you would conceivably be the strongest person in the game.

The unspoken reality within the game is that all of the three choices given to the player require a great sacrifice, there is no path that does not pay its own violent price, and so the question that emerges is what is the cause that you are prepared to make that sacrifice for? For Law, that cause is the Thousand Year Kingdom, a world of perfect order presided over by the absolute rule of God or his angels. For Chaos, that cause is to defeat YHVH and create a world built on anarchic freedom and have humans co-exist with demons. What then is the Neutral proposal? There actually is an answer to this that extends beyond just balancing order and freedom, but it takes us into the backstory of the sequel, and so we must bridge nicely there.

Shin Megami Tensei II (1994)

The sequel to Shin Megami Tensei is set several decades after the events of the original game, and so a direct sequel necessitates continuation from only one of the three paths. Naturally, the path of choice is the Neutral path, and so the story follows from a protagonists who had followed the Neutral path and this defeated the forces of Law and Chaos. Needless to say the Neutral protagonist fails in his endeavour to create a Neutral society and Tokyo is controlled by the Messians, but let’s focus on the story of how Tokyo got to where it is by the beginning of this game’s events.

According to the game’s original manual, the Great Cathedral is destroyed during the battle between the forces of Law and Chaos, and after this, with the defeat of Michael and the Asura Lord, the Neutral protagonist establishes what is referred to as a “Communal Cooperative Society”, a Neutral and “free” society in which, theoretically, everyone can live and co-exist in harmony, whether they be Messians or Gaians. This must have been intended to be an essentially secular democratic society, built on religious pluralism, meant to foster mutual co-existence and cooperation between all parties, without the influence of either God or the demons, without either the forces of Law or the forces of Chaos. A decade later, however, the Order of Messiah somehow takes over the government of the Communal Cooperative Society and converts it into a theocratic regime ruled by the Messians. Rather predictably this inspires the Gaians to try and overthrow the Messian government, so they start riots, which are soon quelled by the Messian Temple Knights. As time passes, the Centre is built as the central organ of a whole municipal government, built on the ruins of the Great Cathedral. The Messians also create artificial life-forms called “Demonoids”, humans and animals that are transformed into demons, to be used as either slave labour or livestock, whole facilities such as the Factory and Valhalla (the entertainment district) are designed to accomodate more people in what comes to be known as Tokyo Millennium, and several Gaian protests are suppressed by the Temple Knights, who then become the offficial elite police force of Tokyo Millennium. Meanwhile, most of the world around the city became uninhabitable as a result of climate change, widespread nuclear radiation, and the depletion of the ozone layer, resulting in many people from outside Tokyo Millennium migrating in order to live in its self-contained environment. By the time of the game’s events, Tokyo Millennium is established as a city whose citizens are stratified by a rigid class hierarchy, policed by the Temple Knights, and controlled by a corrupt and totalitarian leadership from its Senate and the Centre, all with the goal of creating the Thousand Year Kingdom and under the hope of the appearance of the Messiah. But as time passed, the Messiah never appeared, so the Elders of the Senate decided to create an artificial Messiah to do their bidding, as well as other artificial humans most of which would be his companions. This is how this game’s protagonist, known initially as Hawk, came to be.

As grim as that all must seem, the fate of the Neutral protagonist is even more tragic. Evidently he ended up working for Tokyo Millennium in the decades after the Messians took over the Communal Cooperative Society he helped create, which means that, although we can assume he didn’t align himself with Law, he did cooperate with the Messians. He founded Valhalla, the entertainment district of Tokyo Millennium, where people can pursue everyday worldly pleasures, and also watch people fight to the death in the Coliseum. Valhalla is also relatively “free” in that it is the only part of the city not directly controlled by the Center, who instead lend control of the city to a woman named Madam. The Neutral protagonist worked with Madam, and his old demon companion Cerberus, to build Valhalla into what it is, but although he ended up working with Tokyo Millennium he refused to blindly obey orders from the Center. Eventually he died in what appeared to be a cave-in but was actually an assassination carried out on the orders of the Centre and made to look like a cave-in. Meanwhile, a statue of him can be found in the Coliseum in Valhalla, and at some point the statue for some reason can be seen shadding tears. So ends the story of the Neutral protagonist, his dream of a Neutral society shown to be a depressing failure that was captured by the forces of Law.

Meanwhile, Madam remains in Valhalla, and is probably one of the main representations of Neutrality earlier in the game at least in the sense that she is a link to the late Neutral protagonist. After the Neutral protagonist died, Cerberus found Madam outside the cave where he died, joined Madam as her servant, and loyally serves his new mistress in building and looking after Valhalla. Madam governs Valhalla more or less independently from the designs of the Centre or the Senate, and they allow for this arrangement for as long as it they can still use it as a means by which to select individuals worthy of being admitted into the Thousand Year Kingdom and the Centre. Once the Centre decided that they no longer needed it, the Senate summoned Abaddon to swallow the entirety of Valhalla, and Madam along with it.

Masakado returns in this game, and this time his role is actually much more significant than in the previous game. Here, Masakado’s body has been torn apart, and each body part is guarded by various Kunitsukami gods who are sealed away in shrines across the Underworld. His attendant, Hiruko, requests the player to retrieve each body part so that he can restore his master with the help of the Cathedral of Shadows, where you typically go to fuse new demons. If you can find all the body parts and bring them to Hiruko, the master of the Cathedral of Shadows will fuse them together to restore Masakado’s body, who at point appears as a menacing and soulless warrior. Fortunately Hiroku has retained Masakado’s soul, which when fused with the soulless body of Masakado fully restores the guardian spirit of Tokyo to life and his former glory. Masakado then goes to open the Sealed Cave so that the protagonist can free the Amatsukami who were imprisoned there, and gives you his Katana and a Sun Pillar (one of several pillars needed to open the front passage to Makai). Masakado’s Katana is actually important to completing the game in the Neutral path, since it allows the player to get past the entrance to Kether Castle and make his way to Lucifer, so Masakado can be seen as a significant benefactor of the Neutral path.

Also returning is Stephen, who you can regularly encounter in Virtual Reality training sessions. Just like before, you can find him throughout the game and he can upgrade your COMP in various ways. You can even find him in Makai, where he somehow manages to link up the stone pillars that serve as Save Terminals to the Terminal System that he created. He becomes somewhat more important in this game’s Neutral path, since in that path he becomes one of your main allies and it is he that ensures that the player can access Eden for the final showdown against YHVH (as opposed to Satan in the Law path and Lucifer in the Chaos path). Just as in the previous game, he is once again looking for someone he can trust with the Demon Summoning Program he created about a century prior, and he deems a Neutral player worthy of that trust. Of course, there is the obvious and unanswered question of how in the world is Stephen still alive after so long? The real Stephen Hawking died in 2018 at the age of 78, but in this game Stephen apparently survived well past 2018 towards the end of the 21st century! The only explanation at this point seems to come from the GBA remake of the previous game, in which he is implied to actually be a reincarnation of Abe no Seimei, a 10th century onmyoji who performed esoteric services for the Imperial Court and, much like Taira no Masakado, became a subject of legend. Thus for both games the representation of Neutrality can be seen in spiritual protectors of Tokyo, even though one of them originally wanted to overthrow the Imperial Court for probably ambitious reasons.

But what actually happens in the Neutral path? Again, we must present the two other choices for context. The Law path, once again, means constructing the Thousand Year Kingdom, this time by taking all the believers to space and wiping out the unbelievers so that the chosen can repopulate the Earth. The Chaos path, by contrast, wants to destroy the dominance of Tokyo Millennium to bring freedom back to Tokyo, bringing forth not only co-existence with demons but also bringing light to the Underworld and the Mutants. So what is the Neutral proposal?

At some point you are introduced to Lucifer, who tells you about God, Satan, and his plans for Tokyo Millennium, and later Gabriel shows you Eden and your friend Zayin tells you about how he wants to rebuild the Thousand Year Kingdom. The Neutral path starts when you, first of all, say no Zayin’s proposal to build the Thousand Year Kingdom, and then, after defeating Astaroth, refusing Lucifer’s proposal to ally with him. After defeating Abaddon, making your way through Makai to Kether Castle, defeating the generals of Chaos and eventually defeating Lucifer, Lucifer warns that humans are not strong enough to survive on their own and that, with him defeated, the dragon called Kuzuryu that sits in the mountains of Makai will go berserk and destroy everything in its path. In the Neutral path, and only the Neutral path, you are given the chance to fight and destroy Kuzuryu in order to save Makai, the Underworld, and Millennium. Once you defeat Kuzuryu, Stephen encourages you to go to Eden to save Millennium. When Zayin shows his hand as Satan and kicks you out of Eden for the second time, Stephen tells you about God’s plan to use the Megiddo Ark to destroy all life on earth, and after this he teleports you to Eden to defeat the forces of YHVH and save the world. When you defeat YHVH, you return to Millennium, where Valhalla has apparently been restored. Then Hiroko stands outside the city to tell you that, with YHVH and Lucifer both defeated, there’s nobody left for humanity to rely on except itself, but assures the player that you and Hiroko have each other, and the two set out to rebuild the world with their own hands. With that, the sun rises on what remains of Tokyo Millennium.

Essentially, whereas the Law and Chaos paths both entail the destruction of Tokyo Millennium in some way, with the forces of Law destroying Tokyo Millennium in order to repopulate the world and the forces of Chaos destroying Tokyo Millennium in order to free the oppressed dwellers of the Underworld and Makai, the Neutral path sets out to preserve Tokyo Millennium, though not without bringing down the forces of Law who were behind the scenes. What happens to the Mutants dwelling below the surface is not clear. Indeed, the most that we can be sure about is that YHVH will not be able to interfere with a Neutral project, and consequently nor will his angels since, as you see in the Law ending, they disappear without him. But this is far from nothing, since that must surely be a mighty blow to the ambitions and morale of the Messians. With them possibly out of the way, perhaps there is room to use what’s left of Tokyo Millennium to restore the Communal Cooperative Society to what it once was. But with both YHVH and Lucifer warning that humanity is not strong enough to live on its own and that God and the demons will return one day, it does make you wonder how long it will be before the Neutral project fails again.

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2003/2005)

As complicated and difficult as the boundaries of Law and Chaos are in Nocturne, Neutrality nonetheless is actually fairly easy to point to and discuss in the context of the game. If we account for the Maniax edition introducing the True Demon Ending, we see a de facto division between the three Reason endings on the side of Law and the True Demon Ending on the side of Chaos, that leaves two Neutral endings: the Freedom ending, in which the world is restored to exactly as it was before the Conception, and the Demon ending, in which nothing changes, a new world is not created and the old world is not restored, and the Vortex World remains indefinitely until the next Conception. Both paths present different aspects of Neutrality that only become more pronounced later in the series.

In this regard, probably the main representative for Neutrality in this game is, without any doubt, Yuko Takao, the protagonist’s teacher who led him and his friends to the Shinjuku Medical Centre just in time for them to survive The Conception and compete to create a new world. Initially she works with Hikawa in order to bring about The Conception and serve as the Maiden for the Assembly of Nihilo, Hikawa’s organization for bringing about the Reason of Shijima. She does this because she believed that humanity has become hopelessly weak and irresponsible and that only by creating a new world and destroying the old one will set things right. But while she may have had a world of freedom in mind and thought that she was herself creating a new world, in reality she was simply being used by Hikawa as a vessel to gather Magatsuhi, the power to create a new world, so that he could realize his own goal of a world of stillness, and Hikawa has nothing but contempt for the freedom that Yuko would later refer to.

When the player rescues Yuko from the Obelisk, she is freed from Hikawa’s control, and over time she begins to try and form her own Reason to compete with Hikawa and stop him from realizing Shijima. Her Neutral colours display nicely when, in Yoyogi Park, she says that the world should neither remain in chaos nor be turned into a world of silence by Hikawa. But Yuko is ultimately indecisive, she struggles to come up with a Reason on her own, and so she petitions a god from beyond the Vortex World to grant her a Reason. That god (or rather goddess) is Aradia, the goddess of freedom based on none other than the witch goddess of Charles Leland. Aradia possesses Yuko in order to communicate with the player, and in general protects and accompanies her. In Yoyogi Park she tests the player’s resolve by asking a series of questions about whether they can face the consequences of following their own path. Answering her questions with fear paves the way for the Demon ending while answering her questions with courage paves the way for the Freedom ending.

Freedom is indeed the watchword for Aradia, since she believes resolutely in freedom. She proclaims that her duty is to bestow freedom to those who seek it, tells people not to obey others and instead do what they believe is right. When confronting Hikawa, Aradia states that his choice to believe in Shijima is a type of freedom to rebut his rejection of freedom. Yuko expresses an opposition to Shijima that more or less expresses the same ethos of freedom. Her objection is that the world of Shijima cannot even called a world, just an endless spinning of time without change, with no potential. Ot is possible that the Reason that Yuko desired may have been a Reason of freedom. But, Aradia never grants Yuko the Reason that she desires, and the laws of Amala ensure that she is unable to affect creation in any way. She is a false goddess, from a space in Amala outside the Vortex World where gods were not meant to exist gather. Aradia was born from the wishes of witches who prayed to a goddess for deliverance from their persecution at the hands of the Catholic Church, but all she can do is offer hope to her followers, and no deliverance ever came. In just the same way, all she can do is offer Yuko some hope and moral support, while being unable to actually give her any power to affect creation, and ultimately she leaves Yuko behind, albeit at Yuko’s request, before she is sacrificed by Hikawa so that he may summon his god, Ahriman. I can only suspect that this is to some extent an elaborate jab at the psuedo-historical nature of the Aradia myth, in that it was an invented myth that Charles Leland passed off as the long lost legend of Italian witchcraft or paganism.

Masakado returns, but his role in this game is honestly not too different from his role in the fitst game. After collecting all Magatamas, the demon bugs that confer abilities upon the player, the master of the Cathedral of Shadows gives you the Lord’s Sword, which you can present to his grave in order to open the way to Bandou Shrine, where he resides. Defeat the Four Heavenly Kings, his servants, to lower the temple where he rests, and he will greet you in order to ask you why you have summoned him. If you seek his assistance, he will ask you if you want to bring peace to Tokyo. At this point he gives you the Magatama Masakados, which makes you almost indestructible.

The Freedom path sees the player reject all three Reasons and try restore the world to the way it was before the Conception. As you enter the Tower of Kagutsuchi, Kagutsuchi attempts to see within his heart, but cannot determine if the player’s will is in accordance with his own. When the Freedom player meets Kagutsuchi, Kagutsuchi describes said player as having “a heart that follows no rule” and the “kingdom of freedom” he longs for as having no set future. He opposes the Freedom path because, he says, the Great Will once gave the world freedom in hopes of triggering its evolution into something better, but it supposedly led to evil, darkness, and destruction. And so Kagutsuchi considers freedom to be the fruit of ruin and the seed of disaster, compares you to Lucifer for being “a slave of freedom”, and fights you to the death. When you defeat Kagutsuchi, he warns that the “kingdom of freedom” promises only suffering, and with that his light restores the world to what it was. The player wakes up in his room to find Isamu alive again, and then we see everyone else alive again, and an email from Yuko, who tells you that she’s soon to be discharged from hospital and that she no longer feels hopeless about the world. And then, Lucifer tells the player that he has chosen to follow his own will and tread the path of thorns, just as he himself once did. He then warns the player that his true adversary, presumably referring to the Great Will, will hunt him down eventually, but assures him to stay strong.

By rejecting the three Reasons, the player is rejecting the three avenues by which the Great Will may realize his drive to perfect the universe into a cosmos devoid of free will. He does this under the auspices of an ideal passed onto him by Yuko, or perhaps more accurately through Aradia. By restoring the world as it was, you affirm the potential of humanity to do what it can to better itself and the world under its own power, in spite of its mistakes. There is talk of the kingdom of freedom, yet to build this kingdom you restore the world as it was. Why? Perhaps it is because it is in that ordinary world that the freedom Aradia seeks after is to be realized. Following the avenues of the Great Will is destined to destroy it, whichever path is taken, leaving the Vortex World in its present state achieves nothing, and destroying the cycle of creation may not lead to whatever Aradia imagines to be freedom, perhaps Lucifer and Aradia have different ideas as to what that means. And yet, that is not the case, since Lucifer sort of endorses the Freedom path as the player following his precise example. By denying the Great Will’s creation, the player has become a kind of fallen angel, treading his own path, off the back of his own will.

The Demon path sees the player either trying to support too many Reasons at once or responds to Aradia’s questions with fear while rejecting all the Reasons. Kagutsuchi, just like before, cannot see into your heart and cannot determine if your will is opposed to his. When you meet him, he laments that the dreams of those with Reasons were shattered, and the possibility of a new world forever destroyed by the hand of a demon. He says that although the player may have sought the power of creation, but a demon can never acquire a Reason no matter how strong his conviction, and, whether you realized it or not, you purged the world of those who sought creation. He praises your strength, but judges your soul to be empty, and declares you the incarnation of ruin itself, a false seeker of power, and the one responsible for the death of the world. At that point, unlike any of the other endings, Kagutsuchi doesn’t even deign himself to fight you, he simply curses your name and sends you on your way out. At that point, the little boy version of Lucifer appears to seemingly give you his blessing, remarking that you can do without the light that no longer shines on you. Chaos reigns, which is to say that the primordial chaos of the Vortex World remains as it is, and Lucifer declares that you have created a millenial kingdom of demons. And there you stand, in the desert of the world you have preserved.

On the surface, this actually looks like a Chaos ending rather than a Neutral ending, especially if Lucifer’s words about you having created a kingdom for demons are anything to go by. But you haven’t created anything. At most, you have tried to create a new world and failed. You didn’t bring about this outcome as a result of a resolve to fight God on behalf of the forces of Chaos. You brought this about because of your fear of freedom, or your lack of commitment to any particular cause. You raged against the three Reasons but with neither a Reason of your own (which you can’t create as a demon anyway), nor the resolve to restore the world, nor the resolve to destroy creation itself. As a matter of fact, you don’t even know why you climbed your way up to the Tower of Kagutsuchi to start with. Simply put, the Demon path is when you lack a vision for creation, or even for destruction, and have nothing but the void of the Vortex World that already exists. Maybe you prefer it like this, or maybe you just can’t decide what it is you want to do.

Yuko herself ultimately embodies both forms of Neutrality in the game. On the one hand, she embodies the Freedom path in the sense of her at least gradual belief that humans are supposed to be the ones resolving their own conflicts and destinies, and with it takes on board classical SMT Neutrality in terms of her obvious rejection of both chaos and absolute order. On the other, she also embodies the Demon path version of Neutrality because of her fear and, to some extent, indecisiveness. For so much of the game since her rescue from the Obelisk, all she knows is that she wants to stop Hikawa from realizing the Reason of Shijima and pursue creation on behalf of mankind, but at the same time she has no idea how to go about that, she constantly feels powerless even with Aradia around, and she cannot summon a Reason on her own which is why she attempts to petition Aradia to grant her one, never realizing that she is the one who has to establish a Reason herself. Plagued by a lack of self-confidence, she almost unwittingly allows herself to be manipulated by Hikawa, whose self-confidence and ambition are unfortunately stronger than hers. This lack of confidence leads fundamentally to an inability to conceretly choose her own vision, and this is an indecisiveness that, ultimately, metastasizes further in future games, in another female Neutral character. But that’s for later in this post.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2009)

In Strange Journey, a version of the Law and Chaos dynamic more or less returns, with Law wanting to a create a Thousand Year Kingdom in all but name wherein perfect order is the object and Chaos wanting to create a kingdom where humans and demons live together in anarchy but in a much crueller context than in previous games. In a setting where the angels and the demons are competing for the power of the Schwarzvelt, Neutrality pretty straightforwardly represents humanity, or more specifically the interests of the Schwarzvelt Investigative Team and the Joint Project.

The aim of the Schwarzvelt Investigative Team was, as the name would suggest, to explore the Schwarzvelt after it began to appear over Antarctica, and originally this meant collecting information about its formation to understand what it was. Once the expedition crew realized that it was full of demons, and that the demons began attacking them with the intent of killing humans, the goal changed from wanting to investigate the Schwarzvelt to wanting to escape from it. Eventually, the Joint Project changes its focus and tries to destroy the Schwarzvelt, after thinking that the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team had successfully escaped. The Joint Project detonating nuclear weapons on the Schwarzvelt as the team escapes, but this plan falls flat on its face as the nukes do nothing to disperse the Schwarzvelt and the crew is once again stuck deeper within.

Humanism is, once again, the conceptual leitmotif of Neutrality, and this is reflected in the way the player can respond to alignment questions. The player’s alignment can depend largely on answers to the various questions posed to the player by your crew and the demons. With respect to the demons in particular, there are plenty of Neutral answers, and these all involve repudiating the challenges of the demons and the angels and asserting faith in mankind’s potential to solve its own crises without their aid. Or, failing that, you can always rig your way to balance by doing some mining with a Goblin in Sector Antlia.

Speaking of alignment shifts, before we come to the representation of Neutrality in terms of characters, there is one important thing to note. In Sector Grus, there is a potential alignment shift moment where, in order to access the path to Maya, you ostensibly have to choose between assisting the demons led by Grendel and killing Jack’s Squad in a revenge attack, or instead assisting Zelenin and having her sing her song in the demons’ headquarters to neutralize them. The former represents a major shift towards Chaos, while the latter represents the opposite shift towards Law. But there is actually a third option: simply force your way through to Maya on your own by fighting Grendel. If you don’t want to either be responsible for the death of Jack’s Squad or unleash the powers of the angels, all you have to do is go back to Grendel and, instead of joining him, initiate a fight with him. What’s curious is that this is the easy option that would allow the player to ignore the ethical dillemma the game intended for you, but Zelenin doesn’t endorse this option despite it meaning you refusing to listen to demons and instead actually fighting them. I suppose with the angels it really is their way or the highway?

Anyway, a figure who comes to represent Neutrality is a man named Gore, the commander of the Schwarzvelt Invesitgation Team. At first it seems that he doesn’t last too long, dying on the first mission of the game in Sector Antlia to protect the player from the demon Orias, which leaves command of the crew in the hands of Arthur, the AI unit of the Red Sprite. But as the crew progresses into Sector Delphinus they notice that Gore’s body has disappeared, prompting a search. They soon find that Gore has seemingly been resurrected, but controlled by the Mothers and proclaiming the will of the earth against mankind. After defeating Ouroboros, the resurrected Gore begins wander, as the Mothers’ control of him increasingly weakens. Eventually, when the player reaches Sector Horologium, Gore has fully broken from the control of the Mothers, and is now an ubergestalt entity seeking to impart knowledge to humans and help them escape the Schwarzvelt. He has thus changed from an opponent of humanity to its benefactor, from believing that humans are hopeless and beyond salvation to believing they are capable of anything. Then, if the player is Neutral, he tests the player with a series of questions designed to lock his alignment one way or another and determine his commitment to humanity.

Should the player answer those questions Neutrally, Gore accepts you as a champion of the human species and comes up with a new plan to destroy the Schwarzvelt. This plan is referred to as Plan Omega, in which, instead of simply escaping the Schwarzvelt, the crew is to use the nuclear warhead aboard the Gigantic, one of the other ships, to destroy the Schwarzvelt. So instead of creating a world of Law or a world of Chaos, Neutrality is essentially “Nuke the Schwarzvelt!”. With that, Gore can no longer sustain his ubergestalt form, his knowledge apparently “crushing” him somehow, and so he dies again. So whichever path you take, Gore dies, just that in the Neutral path you don’t kill him. With that, the mission remains in the command of Arthur, who elaborates on Plan Omega based on the information Gore give him (as opposed to just telling you before he died). Arthur explains that the plan is to destroy the Schwarzvelt from within through a high-energy detonation. This requires gathering high-energy matter, the substance referred to as Cosmic Eggs, with the power to create or swallow an entire continuum of space-time. These Eggs are what both Mem Aleph and the angels want use to create their new worlds, but which Neutral humanity will instead use to destroy the Schwarzvelt. The eggs are to be used as fuel for the nuclear warhead aboard the Gigantic in order to convert their creative energy into destructive power.

After gathering the four Cosmic Eggs, the next task is to claim the Exotic Matter that belongs to Mem Aleph. With her defeated, the crew prepare to head for the Vanishing Point in Sector Eridanus to escape. In order to facilitate this, the Red Sprite divides into two sections, the carrier section and the engine section, the latter of which is how the ship will escape. But Arthur will not be joining the crew in their escape. Instead he will stay with the carrier section to ensure the bomb’s detonation. He says this is because he has acquired too much information in the Schwarzvelt, the knowledge he has accumulated has the power to alter the whole course of human civilization, and Arthur calculates that, if he were to return to Earth, humans will become dependent on that knowledge and worship Arthur as a god, which Arthur believes to be improper and would stop humans from being in control of their own fate as a species. Somehow the fact of his coming demise has caused Arthur, a machine, to hesitate in his plan, and so he requires the player to “transfer the brilliance within you” to Arthur, whatever that is. With that, the plan to blow up the Schwarzvelt goes exactly as Arthur intended, the Cosmic Eggs are detonated, and the Schwarzvelt explodes before shrinking rapidly, thus the Earth is rid of it. The crew, meanwhile, successfully escape and find themselves in Antarctica, back on Earth, where their mission began, and they see that the Schwarzvelt has disappeared, thus their mission has been a success. The Joint Project contacts the crew and announces that they’ll send out a rescue squad to pick up the crew from Antarctica. All of the demons have disappeared along with the Schwarzvelt, and even though Arthur was destroyed in the process, the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team was able to produce a report of their findings. The report apparently shocks the world, as it would, but it remains unknown if humanity understands its repurcussions. Considering the fact that a sizeable amount of people still don’t take climate change seriously, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

It is on this note that we should probably talk about Arthur’s calculation regarding knowledge and human self-determination. On of the core points that the game relentless hammers away at the player is that the Schwarzvelt is essentially a response to the way civilization interacts with Earth in a harmful and decadent relationship. The demons within it position themselves as antibodies to a virus that gnaws away at the Earth, and the structure of the Schwarzvelt often reflects various vices in human societies. But then that’s not even getting into potential rammifications concerning energy and the use thereof. There’s all kinds of matter in there that would be utterly foreign to human understanding, certainly very novel for scientific discovery. Obviously this knowledge must be quite a lot to bear for humanity, for Arthur to talk about it like it would lead to him being worshipped as a god, let alone for Gore to talk about it “crushing” him in his ubergestalt state. But it also seems like there’s no reason humanity wouldn’t benefit from it immensely, radically altering the way we perceive reality itself and compelling humans to reckon with their own actions with a new perspective of the way they treat the Earth and each other. It sounds like something that could have pushed humanity forward, if Arthur had allowed it to happen. But on the other hand, there’s a good chance that, if it were released, humans might not have listened too much anyway. I cracked wise about the real world response to climate change a moment ago, but that’s honestly a good point to consider, especially considering that environmental degradation is a core theme of the game’s story. It has been decades since we have had some idea that the Earth’s climate was changing rapidly because of human industrial activity, but not much sign that human civilization is making much real progress in combatting anthropogenic climate change, and not only that but there’s still an alarming amount of people (and yes, I’d say this consists largely of Americans) who are pretty convinced that climate change isn’t even real. So, if Arthur were to share what he knew to humanity, would humanity even believe him, let alone worship him? Perhaps his real concern should have been the total opposite of what he posited. But in all that, can we really say that humans have been rendered more or less in control of their fate by such knowledge than they were before it dawned on them?

Shin Megami Tensei IV (2013)

By now we’ve already established the Law and Chaos dynamic for this game pretty concretely. Law represents the preservation of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and its realization as the Thousand Year Kingdom, a place of perfect order under the angels that lasts forever, off the back of the elimination of anything considered to be “unclean”, as well as representing the abstract concept of “preservation” in general, whereas Chaos represents the pursuit of anarchic freedom for humans and demons through a world where “the strong can shape things as they please”, achieved through the destruction of existing hierarchies and the current order, as well as representing the abstract theme of change as something that should be pursued even if it leads to conflict and discord. So what is the Neutral path between these two points? To hark to the more generalized interpretations of Law and Chaos employed in this game, what is the middle of the road between preservation and radical change?

Well, for a start, there are really two endings to this game that could be counted as Neutral endings. The first is what could be called Neutrality proper, in that it sees you defeating the final Law and Chaos bosses to achieve a Neutral outcome (which we will discuss), while the second is what is referred to as the White ending, in which you side with a cabal of beings known as The White to return the universe to nothing. Both are Neutral in the exact sense that they affirmatively reject the conflict between Law and Chaos, taking neither side and opposing both, but differ noticeably in how they intend to defeat the forces of Law and Chaos. One would not resort to destroying the entire universe and replacing it with nothing, and the other would.

Actually acheiving Neutrality in this game can be much more of an incredible pain in this game than most others. Your alignment is determined by a series of choices that can be made throughout the game, and unlike in most of the series there is no third option for the final alignment lock. The last alignment choice in the game has you choosing between preserving the status quo or destroying the current order of things, and the third option is “I don’t know”, which is not an option and means that there is no choice to affirm Neutrality towards the end of the game. This means that getting to the Neutral path requires the player to carefully callibrate their alignment by alternating between Law and Chaos choices all their way to the end of the game in order to arrive at a Neutral outcome at the final stretch. If you arrive at Monochrome Forest and find Jonathan or Walter at the end of it, you’ve failed and have to stick it out on the Law or Chaos paths. There are very few third options in many alignment choices and often the ones that exist serve only to paint you as indecisive, such as one where Burroughs, who is basically the AI navigator for your Gauntlet’s computer, reprimands you as being incapable of forming your own opinion. This results in a player who alternates between two different sets of often diamertically opposed convictions in order to achieve “balance” between Law and Chaos, which is honestly much more indecisive than simply not agreeing with two of a given set of opinions.

Speaking of indecisiveness, the closest thing to a Neutral paragon among the Samurai of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado is Isabeau, who also happens to be the only woman of the group, but to call her a paragon is somewhat inaccurate. Isabeau seems to reject both Law and Chaos, but is laughably indecisive for much of the game. When faced with major choices between Law and Chaos, Isabeau may seem to reject both but never expresses much of a coherent opposition to either choice. In the Passage of Ethics, Isabeau never makes any choice either way, and probably can’t if she’s supposed to be the stock Neutral character since there’s only two doorways in each section of the passage. Then, when the party is split over the decision to either go with Jonathan and kill Lilith or go with Walter and kill Tayama, you are only allowed to choose between one of either of those outcomes, there’s no Neutral option between them, and even after you make your choice for one or the other, Isabeau never comes to form any solid opinion on it, still finding herself needing think about what the best outcome is for everyone. The entire conflict in that sense is motivated by her concern for Fujiwara and Skins, two Hunters, in fact leaders of the Hunter Association, living in Tokyo, whose initial goal is to head up to the surface and seek co-existence with the people of Mikado. When Gabriel tells the Samurai that anyone living in Tokyo will be killed if they try to enter Mikado, Isabeau is fraught with concern for them, but the game never addresses this by giving you the option to perhaps go with Isabeau instead of Walter or Jonathan and try to warn the humans of Tokyo about the angels. When Isabeau is making a concrete choice, it’s when you return to Tokyo on the Law and Chaos paths, and that choice is to oppose you. In the former, she indicts Law for its pursuit of genocide for the sake of Mikado, and in the latter, she indicts Chaos for what she believes to be its pursuit of an endless war of succession. But even then, she laments her own lack of conviction next to the strength of your ideals, being unable to make her decision until the very end. Even when you find her on the Neutral path, she apparently has no idea what to do, no cause to set on her own against Law and Chaos, and it is only with the revival of Masakado that she finally arrives at the choice she has been longing for.

After the alignment split between Jonathan and Walter, or more specifically after the Yamato Perpetual Reactor is activated and a gate to the Expanse is opened, the game introduces you to The White, mysterious beings who, according to the official art book, represent ancient races that were destroyed by the angels, and who in the game set out to convince the player to wipe out all of existence in order to end the war between Law and Chaos and free all life from God’s control. The White seem to be based on the Great White Brotherhood, a group of perfected beings in Theosophy who were supposed to guide the human race towards enlightenment through the spread of mystic teachings, but the White in this game have goals that are radically opposed to the Brotherhood on whom they are based. To the White’s desired end of returning the universe to nothing, they send the player, along with Jonathan and Walter, to two alternate versions of Tokyo where the previous incarnation of the player chose a Lawful or a Chaotic outcome in order to demonstrate the futility of either choice. In Blasted Tokyo, the original hero sided with the angels of Law and allowed God’s Plan to destroy Tokyo and the world, leaving nothing but a desert populated by a handful of survivors who wait in vain for God to save them, while in Infernal Tokyo, the original hero sided with the demons of Chaos and joined Kenji in driving the angels out of Tokyo, which resulted in a lawless city where humans can become Demonoids to gain more power and keep humans as their Neurishers. After you pass through both of them, the White will tell that only by destroying the universe will you be able to fulfill your role as Messiah and save everything from God, and at that point you are given a choice: either agree with them and return the universe to nothing, or refuse them.

If you agree with them and return the universe to nothing, the White tell you that they created the Yamato Perpetual Reactor as a means to generate black holes, declare that mankind has finally won, and send you to Camp Ichigaya where you face the Yamato Perpetual Reactor, which makes no effort to oppose you. When you finish fighting the reactor, you get it to create a massive black hole that swallows Tokyo, the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and the entire rest of the universe, thus all of creation has come to nothing. It is here that some very familiar undertones come into play. Obviously this ending is as close as the game gets to having its own version of the True Demon ending from Nocturne, but without the final war against God at the end of it. Instead of leading the forces of Chaos to victory over the Great Will to usher in an eternal age of freedom, you’re just saying “fuck everything let’s destroy the universe because life is mean”. Nihilism has been invoked to describe the motives of the White or the impulses they represent, and I think that in a loose sense this is an accurate descriptor but at the same time I would point out that “nihilism” in this sense can carry connotations that more accurately describe pessimism. Nihilism is not inherently pessimistic, as the belief that life is absolutely without meaning can be taken in a positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic direction, and pessimism conversely is not inherently nihilistic, in fact you may find that Christians, despite their belief in an omnibenevolent God and the constancy of the possibility of redemption, can nonetheless be some of the most pessimistic people around. The White in this sense stand as essentially both nihilistic and pessimistic; nihilist, because they believe life to be inherently and absolutely meaningless, and pessimist, because they believe that all forms of human action in the conflict of Law and Chaos leads only to different forms of ruin. Not even traditional Neutrality is spared from this attitude, since they think nothing leads anywhere except to despair.

If, of course, you refuse the White and pledge to keep the universe intact, they mock you and your “messianic tendencies” and ask what you would prefer to do instead. As I said before you are given a choice to either preserve the status quo or destroy the current order of things, the former pushing you to Law and the latter pushing you to Chaos. Your only third option is to say “I don’t know”, which just sends you back to the previous question, so your only option to move forward is to pick one of the two choices and, if you intend to do a Neutral playthrough, pray that you don’t get stuck in the Law or Chaos paths. But, if you manage to balance your alignment in just the right way, carefully gliding between Lawful and Chaotic choices all the way to the final stretch, you will achieve the Neutral path and, as confirmation of that, you will see a familiar face: Stephen.

Stephen was a staple of the two classic games in the series, but other than Shin Megami Tensei NINE, he didn’t make any appearance in any games after the second one as anything other than a cameo or a reference, so for him to return properly in this game would have been very welcome for long-time fans of the series. At first he makes some fairly brief appearances early in the game, guiding the protagonist and hinting at the role of a mysterious little girl with a hoop. After acheiving the Neutral path, Stephen reappears to tell you that you have chosen your own path instead all three others, and Burroughs tells Stephen that the player has taken essentially the same path as his previous incarnation, which as you’ll see is a big deal for the Neutral path. Stephen then tells you that, if you are the reincarnation of the previous hero, then you must revive “the goddess of Tokyo” order to save both Tokyo and Mikado. This is quite a shift in theme when we consider the secular humanism and scientific rationalism Stephen was supposed to represent and for which he was intended as a symbol of Neutrality. True, he still favours humanity and represents the rejection of both the angels and the demons, but now he seems to place the hope of humanity on some unspecified goddess, as well as the spirit of Masakado.

We should point out that the game never really gives you a good idea of who this goddess is and why it’s so important for you to revive her. What we’re told, though, is that the little girl carrying a hoop is actually the goddess of Tokyo and that Burroughs’ likeness is based on the original image of that goddess. After defeating the White, Stephen congratulates you for defeating them and gives you some pep talk about Neutrality. He says that the Neutral player chose “a world without bias”, but warns that though its people yearn for joy they will probably only feel more sadness. While this seems like Stephen knocking down his own non-alignment, that apparently is what the goddess of Tokyo (who he says is “Tokyo itself”) is for: to embrace those people who feel sadness. He elaborates that the previous hero answered her cries to protect Tokyo, but while erecting the firmament protected the people from nuclear annihilation, it resulted in the people of Tokyo being divided into two separate populations, and so reviving the goddess of Tokyo means removing the firmament over Tokyo, restoring Tokyo to normal and somehow the goddess’ true form along with it. This also means petitioning Masakado, whose body is that very firmament, to assist you in your quest.

So, essentially, the Neutral path consists of bringing Tokyo “back to normal”, back to the way it was before the ICBMs fell on the city. But there is an obvious problem that the game never really addresses. Where was this goddess when Tokyo was being besieged to start with? Was she not able to do her part along with Masakado in protecting the city? What are her actual powers? And we still don’t have a reason why we’re supposed to care about this goddess other than she’s Tokyo itself. There is never any real address of this in the entire game, and that is a serious problem for this games’ Neutral path.

Then Stephen teleports you back outside of the Expanse so you can go back to your own world, and you end up at the Counter-Demon Force base in Kasumigaseki, where you find Isabeau who fills you in on what happened since you disappeared. Demons are all over Tokyo, order in Tokyo has esssentially collapsed, Tayama is dead, the angels are planning to completely destroy Tokyo, the Monastery of Mikado is defunct, Yuriko/Lilith is nowhere to be seen, and the angels and demons are gearing up for war. Amidst all that, poor Isabeau has no idea what to do and insists on going with you. Then you make your way back to Cafe Florida to find Fujiwara and Skins, who tell you that they themselves are at a loss, with Lucifer being resurrected in Tokyo. Just when Skins says it doesn’t look like there’s anything humans can do, Burroughs interjects and says “why not turn to a god?”. The god in question is none other than Masakado, the guardian deity of Tokyo, who Skins explains is a “patriotic warrior” and a National Defense Divinity. Skins gives the player Masakado’s Katana, the medium by which Masakado can be summoned, to see if you can unsheathe it, which you can, which proves that you are the reincarnation of the previous hero, a young member of the Counter-Demon Force who defeated and was sacrificed to Masakado to protect Tokyo from ICBMs and thus became the ceiling that protects Tokyo. You’re then instructed to go to Ginza and unsheathe Masakado’s Katana before a giant boulder sitting there, and that’s when Masakado appears. Masakado then discerns that you are the reincarnation of the previous hero who has come to remove the dome above Tokyo and revive the goddess of Tokyo, which Isabeau somehow embraces as the answer she was looking for the whole time on the grounds that she thinks it will mean the people of Tokyo and Mikado will live together at last.

There’s obviously a lot to unpack just from this alone. For starters, the humanism that came to define Neutrality in the first game is pretty much rendered a joke here. All that talk about humans not relying on any gods, or angels, or demons? That’s basically gone, at least in practice. Now humans are powerless to do anything, according to the Neutral humans themselves, and so they turn to the power of a god, with the object of restoring the power of a goddess. But it’s OK, because instead of relying on foreign gods and their angels and demons, this time you’re relying on the spirits of Tokyo, representing the goodness of the city, or hell perhaps even the nation more broadly. Speaking of the nation, there’s also that bit about Masakado being a “National Defense Divinity”. The National Defense Divinities are a group of Japanese deities who pledged loyalty to the nation and were originally enlisted by the Counter-Demon Force to protect Japan, but over time fell into the hands of the Ashura-kai after the dome was erected. Besides Masakado, they consist of Koga Saburo, Tenkai, Yaso Magatsuhi, Omoikane, Michizane, and Yamato Takeru, some of whom were never really considered guardian deities and quite a few of whom are deified persons from history, many of them not even warriors (for instance, Michizane is the soul of a poet-politician who somehow became a god of thunder). These are more of the gods that the humans are to rely on, since they cannot rely on themselves, an assortment of deities and deified souls retconned as gods of the nation who can repel foreign demons and gods. Essentially, we have a sort of vaguely nationalist or “patriotic” undertone, wherein the solution to the problems affecting Tokyo, which here also affect the entire rest of the world, is to gather around jingoistic national solidarity, which is too often called “patriotism”, though is more accurately called nationalism. At the centre of this of course is Masakado himself, the “patriotic warrior”. Obviously this status is extrapolated from his status in lore as a sort of protector spirit of Tokyo, which it is important to stress has nothing to do with the real Masakado. After all, what was so “patriotic” about Masakado’s campaign against the central government of the Imperial Court? Nobody really knows why he rebelled, but a lot of the possibilities concern ambition, failure to secure a government post through legal means, or even dispute over a woman, none of which particularly scream “patriotic loyalty to the nation”, to say nothing of the fact that “nations” in the modern sense did not exist yet. But I suppose it is true that “patriotism” can often serve as a front for ambition and power-seeking.

And then there’s just the fact that only now does Isabeau finally have the answer she was looking for. Ever since the alignment split with Jonathan and Walter, Isabeau has been particularly indecisive about what to do regarding Tayama or Lilith, and the lynchpin of her indecisiveness comes down to concern for the fate of Fujiwara, Skins, and anyone from Tokyo who will try to live in Mikado, spurred on by Gabriel’s declaration that any of the “unclean” who enter Mikado will be eliminated. Finding her in the Neutral path, she still has no idea what “the best outcome for everyone” could be, and only now that you see Masakado and he talks about you wanting to remove the dome does she now find the answer. By removing the dome that is the firmament, she now thinks, the people of Tokyo and Mikado will be able to live together. Of course, the obvious problem for the Mikadoans is that this would mean the complete destruction of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and, if not the destruction of its people, certainly their dislocation. They’ve been conditioned to live exactly as their society set out for them, and destroying Mikado would force them to relocate to Tokyo and perhaps assimilate, thus possibly robbing them of their previous cultural connections. But then when has nationalism cared about complex things like that? The nationalist’s answer is to just tell refugees and immigrants to “be like us”, and then treat them with chauvinistic contempt anyway because as it turns out being made to assimilate is never enough to earn the respect of people who partake in perpetual and pathological mistrust of foreign Others. But Isabeau? Arguably she’s actually worse and more naive, if only off the back of the fact that she seems to assume that this all won’t happen. At least the Chaos ending makes sense to the extent that Mikado still exists and, although you’re invading Mikado, you’re not completely dislocating its people through the complete destruction of their land.

In any case, Masakado can’t remove the dome just yet. For you see, his “essence” has left him to become the dome, and he’s now just a floating head who can’t lend you any power. But there is a way to restore his power. How? By forming “a singular great soul” by uniting the people of Tokyo, the “Great Spirit of Hope”, and offering that hope to him so that his head can return to his body. So, yeah, the Neutral path, traditionally a path where you’re encouraged not to rely on gods or demons and which is usually represented by an icon of secular humanism, has you very literally make an offering to a god in order to progress. And that offering is literally just a cup (chalice) filled with literally just the hopes of Tokyo’s people. And how do you fill that chalice? Simple. You do a bunch of Challenge Quests until you make it to the top of the Hunter Association’s ranking scheme. This, we’re told, would inspire the people by the fact of a foreigner, a Samurai from Mikado, would make you a hero that everyone can pin their hopes on. You know, as opposed to the other Samurai who also made it through the rankings much earlier in the game. Anyways, should you succeed in this arbitrary mess of a plot point, you become the “champion” of Tokyo and people start talking about how they suddenly feel hope, which of course means the chalice you’re carrying starts to fill up with their feelings of hope, and after enough instances of being accosted by crowds who want to tell you who awesome you are, you eventually start seeing a glowing green orb that is apparently the Great Spirit of Hope. Then of course you offer that spirit to Masakado, who swallows it, which allows him to lend some of his strength, but as he tries to remove the ceiling over Tokyo, he encounters interruptions from two other presences called “the Great Spirit of Goodwill” and “the Great Spirt of Spite”. These feelings normally “buttress” hope, but now act as obstacles to it, the former “blindly moving only to preserve” and the latter “running amok solely for upheaval”. And who are these spirits? None other than Merkabah and Lucifer. Yes, in the Neutral path, God’s chariot and the Demon Lord themselves are reduced to vague abstractions that exist only to serve “hope”, and must be put down if they disobey. Naturally, they must be slain in order to allow Masakado to remove the dome from Tokyo.

Nothing but questions ensue from this. For starters, why are you making a literal offering to a god if your whole conceit is that you’re not relying on any gods? Second, if the whole idea is to inspire hope in the people of Tokyo, then even if you need something arbitrary like a “Great Spirit of Hope”, wouldn’t it be more straightforward and make more sense to just make it so that you only have to defeat Merkabah and Lucifer to create that spirit? That would actually mean a sign, from the Neutral perspective, that humans may no longer have to fear either the wrath of God or the presence of demons, and therefore it would constitute real hope for the people, and you would get the obstacles to the ceiling removal out of the way right at the same time as you create the Great Spirit of Hope. Third, just what is meant by “Goodwill” and “Spite” in relation to Merkabah and Lucifer? Is it “goodwill” when Merkabah declares it’s time to commit genocide on all of Tokyo? Is it then “spite” when Lucifer seeks to oppose it, along with freeing Mikado from the mystic tyranny of the angels? Notice that the option that entails the “preservation” of Mikado through genocide is practically given the benefit of the doubt by being referred to as “goodwill”, a positive trait, while the option that entails you saying “stop that, that’s wrong!” and defeating the genociders and liberating the Mikadoans from their rule is referred to explicitly in terms of negative sentimentality. Imagine applying that to the real world that the games sincerely strive to reflect. It would mean that fascism is considered an expression of the best of intentions that merely devolves into extreme violence while anti-fascism is considered inherently spiteful and interested only in upheaval for its own sake. This, quite frankly, bears familiarity to the kind of moral equivalences conjured by conservative talking points, but especially from liberals. But, ironically, if we want to talk about upheaval, which is honestly more disruptive for the Mikadoans? Being invaded by demons and having their whole corrupt and oppressive system of government overthrown, or having the entire land of Mikado destroyed as part of the removal of the ceiling? Of course, we’ll get to that in more detail soon.

One interesting thing to note is that, here, Masakado can be seen not only as an “earth spirit” (as the game puts it), the guardian deity of Tokyo, and an embodiment of the spirit of Tokyo or even the nation itself, but also as a representation of the abstract concept of “hope” itself. Thus the Law and Chaos dynamic is complete as a trifecta of abstract concepts. Law represents “preservation”, Chaos represents “upheaval”, and Neutral represents “hope”. Masakado says himself as he swallows the barrier erected by the angels in Naraku (yes, you heard me) that “there is no barrier that cannot be overcome with hope”. We should examine this hope. Hope in what? Perhaps by following SMT conceits we might understand this as hope in humanity, hope that humans will overcome the crisis in Tokyo and dispel the forces of Law and Chaos? Humanity in this framework would be the point of focus as usual, but then the whole basis for hope consists in your reliance on the power of the god of Tokyo. Or, in this game, the god of hope. If we are to take Masakado as a stand-in for the abstract concept of hope itself, then perhaps we are to surmise that hope comes from hope itself, as in you derive hope from placing your hope in hope itself. It certainly sounds like a tautology, and what we get us essentially hope without object. Let’s consider hope in relative terms when dealing with Law and Chaos. For Law, the object of hope consists in the survival of the order of Mikado and the quelling of chaos from below, and this is relative to the interests of the Mikadoans as conditioned by the angels. For Chaos, the object of hope consists in the destruction of the existing and oppressive hierarchies of Mikado and Tokyo, and is relative to not simply demons but also to all humans who yearn for freedom. But for Neutral? Well, it’s supposed to consist in Tokyo returning to normal and seeing sunlight for the first time since the dome was raised, but is ruthlessly telegraphed as simply hope itself. But if it’s hope you’re after, you can find that anywhere and base it in anything, including within Law or Chaos.

At any rate, let’s cut to the ending. So the player goes to Purgatory and defeats the armies of angels and their leader Merkabah, leaving Isaebeau in the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado to convince its inhabitants to evacuate to Tokyo. Well at least we can be sure the Mikadoans won’t all be killed by Masakado. Then of course the player makes his way to Lucifer’s Palace to defeat Lucifer and his devils. With this the Great Spirits of Goodwill and Spite have been recovered and the player returns to Cafe Florida to find the Mikadoans and the Tokyoites socializing and probably drinking together, looking forward to the removal of the dome covering Tokyo. Then you offer the Great Spirits of Goodwill and Spite to Masakado, who of course swallows them, and then Masakado grows three sizes and merges with the ceiling. At this point everything trembles around you and we see some bedrock fall from the firmament, then Masakado rises up and the ceiling is lifted up from Tokyo, letting sunlight into the city for the first time in a long time. Then the player beholds that the goddess of Tokyo has been restored and the drab waste she once inhabited transforms into a lush, verdant beach.

Probably the most noteworthy thing about all of this is that this is a rare instance in the series where the “goddess reincarnation” element encoded in the title of the games explicitly manifests in the story. But again, what does it mean and why do we care? The goddess does nothing, ever, has no identity, no goals, and really no reason to be here except to be the Megami in Shin Megami Tensei. And her relationship with Masakado is never explored at all. We don’t know if she’s supposed to be an ally or consort of Masakado, or really anything. Speaking of Masakado, it is here that Masakado briefly reaffirms the series’ core conceit of Neutrality, saying that humans have regained control of their own world, albeit while depending on Masakado to do it. But just as soon as that he also insists that humans are destined to repeat their own mistakes, and his farewell will be but a brief one. Already you get the sense something will inevitably go wrong again, but then such is the struggle of life. And yet, even with the sun returning to Tokyo, what might we expect? Tokyo has ostensibly returned to normal, but the demons are actually still here. Even after you’ve defeated Lucifer, you can still encounter demons on your way back to Cafe Florida, and in the ending sequence you can see some demons looking up to the sky to behold the ceiling removal just as the humans are. Are the demons going to go back to the Expanse or will they stay in Tokyo? And if they stay, will they co-exist with humans or will they try to prey on humans? The game leaves this open. Keep in mind also that this is obviously after the gate to the Expanse had opened, the “flood of demons” that Tayama warned about had already come to pass by this point. Exactly how this is to be reckoned with is in no way addressed in the Neutral path. For Law the answer is obviously that the demons running around in Tokyo are to be annihilated even if that means genocide against the people of Tokyo, and for Chaos the answer is to embrace the demons and learn to live and forge a new world with them even if that means life being unstable, but it seems that there is no Neutral answer to this question.

And of course, with no obvious purpose for the goddess of Tokyo needing to be “revived”, let alone existing to start with, exactly what purpose is there to removing the dome other than so Tokyo can have sunlight again? Meanwhile there’s lots of fresh water and arable land and space in Mikado, and with the angels out of the picture there’s nothing stopping the Tokyoites from coming to Mikado, beholding the sun, and rebuilding Tokyo there, figuring out how to co-exist with the Mikadoans, maybe even modernize Mikado and lead to the creation of two prosperous and harmonious societies; well, for the most part at least. The only reason that’s not on option in the Neutral path is because the goddess of Tokyo doesn’t want that and won’t be revived, but there’s not enough reason to care about the goddess’ existence or desires for that to matter. Why should the land of Mikado be destroyed when it’s perfectly fine land to live on just because that’s what some unnamed goddess wants? Because it divided the people of Tokyo? Well couldn’t that also be solved by having the people of Tokyo live in Mikado with the Mikadoans? No, because that’s not what the goddess, Masakado or Stephen want, because reasons. Maybe Masakado just really doesn’t like the thought of there being a seemingly separate people on his back. Or maybe, it’s just a consequence of the fact that the whole goal of the Neutral path is to bring Tokyo back to exactly as it was. In a sense, though, I suppose it really does combine the two ideals of Law and Chaos in a very specific sense. It represents preservation, or rather restoration, of the status quo of Tokyo, thereby meeting the game’s minimal criteria for Law, but in doing this it also means upheaval because doing that means removing the firmament, which if anything is far more of a total upheaval of the Mikadoan way of life than simply having Lucifer invade it, and so arguably exceeds the scope of the Chaos path. The White are more or less on point when they describe what the Neutral player wants to do, preserving the status quo and upending it at the same time, even though they’re wrong in the final hand, and I think this is what you get when, in an attempt to blindly emulate series tradition, you present what is essentially a Platonic archetype of “neutrality” or “balance” whose fidelity matters more than the actual outcome or values thereof.

The last elephant in the room that must be addressed before we move on is Akira, the man who came to rule Mikado as King Aquila. While this could be covered more in the next section, the previous two posts talked a lot about him in the context of his incarnations in the Blasted and Infernal Tokyos, so he’s worth bringing up here in the context of his actual incarnation. He isn’t really talked about for much of the game, but it seems that Akira was a member of the Counter-Demon Force alongside Skins and the previous incarnation of the protagonist. When Masakado erected the firmament leading to the creation of the land of Mikado, Akira wanted to go up there to find and save his sister, who was “chosen” by the angels and placed in a Cocoon. When he finally got up there, though, he found the angels already there, and then it seems plans changed. He decided to cast his lot with the angels, became the king of Mikado, and sealed off Naraku so that no can get in or out of Mikado. After some time, Akira was killed by the angels, presumably they no longer had any use for him or they kind of got sick of having one of the “unclean” rule their kingdom. The exact purpose behind Akira’s actions is laid out in the Apocalypse version of the game, but for now let’s just run with that to make the point that, in this game, as in the second game, the Neutral outcome initiated by the previous hero seems to have led into the creation of a Lawful outcome for the land that is now Mikado. For whatever reason, Neutrality sometimes seems to lead to the forces of Law seizing the moment and gaining ascendancy.

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (2016)

Centrism, yay

The sequel to Shin Megami Tensei IV that only the developers really asked for, Apocalypse represents an alternate timeline within the fourth game’s overall setting which begins from when the previous protagonist, henceforth referred to as Flynn, chose the Neutral path and set out to oppose the forces of Law and Chaos. In this alternate version of the Neutral path undertaken by Flynn, we see another demon summoner, officially termed Nanashi and that’s how we’ll refer to him because that’s what the game does anyway, an apprentice Hunter who dies, forms a contract with a god named Dagda and is brought back to life, and ends up being responsible for the emergence of a new faction, the Divine Powers, who interrupt the war between Law and Chaos with their plan to “save” all of humanity by killing all humans. As I said at the outset, I chose to ignore this game in the Law and Chaos articles because these are downplayed by the game’s heavy emphasis on a Neutral timeline and especially by the introduction of the conflict between polytheistic gods and YHVH, but now we can cover this game on the grounds that it stems off from the premise of a Neutral path, radically emphasizes Neutrality, and in its own way offers many different shades of Neutrality. I suppose this also counts as my way of talking about the game in general, which I never really took the time to do after its release.

I suppose the best place to start would be the Divine Powers, since they, more than anything else in the game, radically alter context of the setting they establish themselves in. The Divine Powers are a Neutral faction in the precise sense that they reject the forces of Law and Chaos. But whereas traditional Neutrality has a general focus on humanity and human power against supernatural forces, the Divine Powers operate on the theme of a reassertion of pre-Christian polytheism against Judeo-Christian monotheism. Some SMT fans or at least readers of the Chaos article might take this to be more familiar to the Chaos alignment at least in the sense that this sounds like what the Gaians advocate for; indeed, the Ring of Gaea in this game seems to be divided between those who support the Divine Powers and those who oppose them. But the Divine Powers have nothing to do with Lucifer, they claim to represent humanity, and in fact as you’ll see in time the game retcons the forces of both Chaos and Law as two factions of the forces of monotheism against polytheism. Yes, this means that the same Lucifer who in the Chaos ending of the last game mocked Mikado for only allowing the worship of one god, now finds himself in the camp that stresses the worship of one god, which is a patently absurd revision of his characterization, and frankly not the worst as there is more to come.

The Divine Powers consist of numerous deities, but are led by Krishna, an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu and thus can be taken as representing the series’ own bowdlerized version of Hinduism, which is important to keep in mind. Other deities found in their ranks include Odin (who received a complete makeover for this game), Maitreya (who is notably a buddha and NOT a polytheistic god), Inanna (here erroneously portrayed as a mother goddess), Shesha (the serpent of Vishnu), Zhong Kui, Quetzalcoatl, Pachacamac, Pales, Ba’al, Seth (not Horus, for some reason), and Apsu. It’s also mentioned that some kunitsukami side with them, or at least “lap up the Allfather’s lies”, but you never really see those kunitsukami in action, only seeing Sukuna Hikona opposing you for trying to unseal Krishna. Their ranks also seem to include monsters or beings who are neither gods nor buddhas, such as Mushussu, Fafnir, Medusa, and Titan. The latter two seem to billed as Greek gods for some reason: I guess they couldn’t enlist gods like Zeus or Poseidon for the job.

They claim one goal: the salvation of all of humanity. But what does that mean? They talk about how “the Creator” (meaning YHVH) assumed himself to be the only true god, took control of the universe, and imprisoned all souls into bodies of matter bound by the power of word. This means two things in practice: making Flynn into their “Godslayer” to kill YHVH, and killing as many humans as possible to collect (or “save”) enough souls to gain the power to create a whole new universe. There is an unmistakable resemblance to certain “Gnostic” teachings, in which the universe is created by a false god who imprisons spirit within matter for the purpose of having people worship him as God. YHVH, being cast here as imprisoning souls into matter and proclaiming himself the one true God, the implication being that in fact he isn’t, is thus this game’s version of the “Gnostic” Demiurge, or rather specifically the Demiurge as envisioned by certain “Gnostic” sects such as the Sethians. You might then be tempted to imagine the gods of the Divine Powers as essentially the other Aeons rebuked by the Demiurge and whose mission is to free spirit from its bondage to matter. Of course, Krishna being their leader makes perfect sense, because Hinduism tends to have a similar theme in its doctrine: the ultimate goal of Hindu spirituality is to achieve moksha (liberation), which means to attain unity with God and transcend the illusory nature of the universe. Krishna also refers to Flynn as Kalki, which is the name of the tenth avatar of Vishnu who appears at the end of the Kali Yuga (the “age of strife”, ruled by sin) to purge evil or adharma and usher in a new Satya Yuga (the “age of truth”, ruled by the gods) and thus a new cycle of ages.

Of course, there are other gods not affiliated with the Divine Powers. One of them is Danu, based on the Irish goddess. Here she inhabits the body of Nozomi, a Hunter, with whom she jointly watches over the fairies, which is pretty much a direct continuation of a Challenge Quest from the previous game in which Danu appears and becomes part of Nozomi. Danu in a certain sense represents traditional Neutrality, emphasizing “balance” in opposition to Law and Chaos. She also represents one side of a different dichotomy: friendship versus isolation. These can be taken as yet more shades of Neutrality but are also the basis of the two main endings of the game. On that note we must also pivot to Danu’s son, Dagda. He’s the god responsible for Nanashi being returned from the dead early in the game, and himself sort of stems from another Challenge Quest from the previous game in which his cauldron was to be acquired for the Tuatha De Danann. Dagda here is almost nothing like his original mythological character, and is very interested in using Nanashi to kill every other god, demon, or buddha in order to create his own universe where humans live in isolation from each other and don’t engage in friendship (what he means by “true individuals”) and, as the game later reveals, gods like him can escape the confines of “understanding” (the roles given to them by human thought through the power of God) and return to being formless aspects of the universe or nature.

Dagda’s version of Neutrality is worth examining here. Very clearly it ratchets up two negative aspects of the Neutrality of old, namely isolationism and omnicidal rage. The isolationism is resplendent in Dagda’s pathological contempt for others and the pursuit of friendship. He prefers that you disregard your comrades and think of them as essentially dead weight, he thinks of friendships as inevitable sources of disappointment and failure, you being mean to your friends brings you closer to him, and if you take his side and fulfill the destiny he assigned to you towards the final stretch of the game, you kill nearly all of your friends, hence it is referred to as the Massacre route, signifying in no uncertain terms which outcome the game prefers you to pick through its negative juxtaposition to the Bonds route – this, incindentally, represents a sheer deviation from the fundamental moral ambiguity and its resultant scope of legitimate choice that is absolutely central to Shin Megami Tensei. When you become crowned king of the Cosmic Egg and thus of the new universe, your only companions are those who are essentially your slaves – a Flynn who has been conditioned to serve you and Dagda, and one of many slain comrades who can be revived at your leisure to be your partner. Isolationism, thus, morphs into solipsism. Dagda considers this to be free will, but for someone who claims to want “true free will”, he might just as well consider Lucifer since all he does in the series is champion free will to some extent or another, but I suppose that’s out of the question because demons, in the series, represent a fundamental Other to humanity, and Others are something that Dagda wants to entirely cast off. The omnicidal rage is clearly manifested in the fact that, insofar as he opposes both Law and Chaos and is thus a Neutral character, his answer to the struggle of Law and Chaos is to kill all of the gods and demons of Law and Chaos, along with any other gods and demons who get in his way, and he’s perfectly content with destroying the universe on the grounds that he deems it to be worthless, in a certain sense echoing the nihilism of the White from the previous game. It also dovetails with the militant isolationism in the fact that killing everything necessarily includes killing your friends, echoing the main negative aspect of Neutrality in the first game except in the sense that, now, you’re killing your friends because you actively despise them and consider them to be worthless instead of just being forced to fight them for ideological reasons. It further positions Dagda in proximity with the Divine Powers; like the Divine Powers, Dagda wants to create a new universe through the Cosmic Egg, but Dagda ultimately opposes the Divine Powers in terms of the world they want to create because he doesn’t like the thought of a new universe not being controlled by him and Nanashi and seems not to agree with Krishna’s ambition to turn humanity into a “great singularity” and portion out all souls to all gods.

The Neutrality of the Bonds route, expressed by Danu and your comrades, is in many ways the polar opposite. Danu’s Neutrality is one in which the universe as it is remains intact so that everyone can, well, it’s not actually clear what you do except work together to rebuild Tokyo and Mikado through cooperation, which apparently applies not only among humans but also extends to gods and demons – you know, the very beings Danu was quite clear in saying they needed to be out of the equation in the end? Also friendship. Just friendship. That’s the whole lynchpin of the Bonds route, that friendship is what matters most. As lame and anodyne as Dagda’s pessimistic nihilism is (at least the White’s nihilism had some content), Danu’s optimistic vision is not much stronger. Her objection to Dagda’s plan essentially comes down to the universe being diverse, containing many different deities and worldviews, and that this diversity needs to be embraced for the betterment of all life, and that only this can allow humans to seek the truth and better themselves. In fact, the first half of the back-and-forth between Danu and Dagda is entirely focused on “views”, with Dagda wanting to kill all the gods because he finds their views “toxic”, as though he himself isn’t particularly toxic, like some kind of angry liberal. Dagda almost reads like someone who’d like to turn the whole universe into a safe space for himself by killing everyone else, with Danu preferring a cosmos consisting of diversity of thought, which to be honest tells me that the underpinnings of this game’s Neutrality are constructed by a certain empty, air-headed rhetoric about campus culture that briefly pervaded the internet before everyone just sort of forgot about it by the outset of the 2020s, with Dagda being the “angry SJW” caricature and Danu being the “last liberal”. And I assure you, this is far from the only trope of bad writing the game has, just one that you wouldn’t recognize at first glance. But then, on the other hand, I suppose it could be looked at the opposite way too, and Dagda’s rhetoric about toxicity is only camoflage for him being the “toxic troll”, merely seeking to use modern liberal rhetoric against its advocates, such as Danu, in order to rationalize pure, irrational contempt for others. The second half, though, comes down to something more substantial: the nature of humanity. Danu wants to preserve humanity as it is and preserve the bonds between humans while Dagda wants humans to become self-contained gods and shed their humanity to live in isolation from each other except in their oneness with the universe. There’s also the role of the gods, with Dagda wanting the gods to become essences of pure nature, one with the universe, and Danu not really having any problem with being anthropomorphized deities because of human evolution.

Although most of Dagda’s philosophy is just empty and not to mention nakedly hypocritical gibberish – deriding influence while influencing Nanashi and condemning dependence on others while offering you a companion to depend on should you side with him and also making you depend on him as his puppet for the entire game – what he says about gods here is interesting enough because it touches on a question about the development of religious thought in regards to the divine. Why exactly did humans go from seeing the gods as formless aspects or spirits of nature to seeing them as anthropomorphic controllers or governors of natural forces or more frequently human functions (such as law, war, or marriage etc.)? How, or better yet why, did we go from animism to polytheism, let alone monotheism? In this game, it is explained by humans being granted the power of “observation” by the Great Will, or rather “The Axiom”, to give life and shape to, but also potentially kill, the beings called gods and demons. But what of the real world? Humanist psychoanalysts like Erich Fromm would tell you that it’s because the development of human religion occurs as an evolutionary process, beginning with animism and arriving eventually towards a concept of one God as a blank void encompassing reality itself without a name, but this still invites questions. It is easy to take this as a rational process of progression towards a view of the divine that marches ever closer to the truth, but when we account for Fromm’s description of polytheistic idolatry as an alienation of human thought and creativity through Man’s surrender to his own graven images, as well as beyond that a much more general observation of polytheism entailing a cosmos governed by irrational and moody intelligences, you have to ask yourself, to what extent is it more rational or closer to the truth than the idea of gods as formless spirits or aspects of nature? Of course, we can’t expect the game to fully dive into such questions, but they are interesting to consider and unfortunately it doesn’t really go anywhere in this game. On the other side of the in-game debate, Danu says that it’s good that the gods changed because humans gained “new understanding”, but we never get to examine what that is or why it is so good, because evidently Danu is an avatar of Good whose ideals and motives cannot be questioned for any reason (that would be a sign of you “surrendering your humanity” after all).

In any case, there really is nothing complicated or too deep about the Bonds form of Neutrality than the general idea that it’s better to have friends than be alone. That’s not a bad thing in itself, of course, and there are good points made in favour of the idea of bonds with others as being a part of human nature, but it’s something that requires less analysis because, throughout the game, the progress towards the Bonds route is just your friends talking about how great it is to have each other. Besides which, it doesn’t matter, because it’s not really a meaningful choice. The three shades of Neutrality in this game are as follows: (1) overcoming the conflict of Law and Chaos by turning all of humanity into a singularity ruled by the gods of old, (2) overcoming the conflict of Law and Chaos by killing everything around you to create a universe where everyone’s alone and the gods are all formless aspects of nature, and (3) overcoming the conflict of Law and Chaos through the power of friendship. Each have different contours and you might argue that some have more content than others even if they’re all malformed and absurd, but the choice is not a meaningful one. You obviously can’t side with the Divine Powers, not that you’d want to anyway, you can join with Dagda but doing is so is played as an unambiguously callous and evil choice to make, and the entire game, even on the Massacre route, more or less conditions you into supporting the Bonds route as the objectively correct choice. This conditioning is facilitated not by your own individual sense of morality or values when faced with the ontological dillemma of order and freedom as would be the case for previous games but instead by the gameplay, which favours cooperation with the other characters by design through the Assist system, its emphasis on having a cast of characters represent the game, and the sentimental value of the characters, including the sentimental reaction to you having to kill them in the Massacre route.

But even if not for that, Neutrality of some kind is the only choice that matters in the game in any functional sense. There are Law and Chaos endings in the game, and you can access one of them during the final showdown between Merkabah, Lucifer, and Flynn at Camp Ichigaya. During the showdown you see the Samurai of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and some Tokyoites rallied behind Merkabah, the Ashura-kai and the Ring of Gaea rallied behind Lucifer, and the Hunters rallied behind Flynn. But if you choose either Law or Chaos, the game ends almost abruptly, with your friends condemning you for your choice and Dagda calling you a coward, and for your trouble your only reward is to see a snapshot of Mikado under either the Law or Chaos outcomes, narrated by either Jonathan or Walter respectively, and both explicitly suggest that you’ve actually made the wrong choice. Let’s briefly examine both paths.

For the Law path, Merkabah offers you, “poor child torn from your humanity by the hands of a demon”, the choice to join him, right after you just saw him annihilate humans who oppose him, and “know peace”. The characters, of course, preach the Gospel of Neutrality at you ad nauseum before the choice is even made. If you do choose to side with Merkabah, your friends all leave you in disgust and confusion (they are, after all, dogmatically Neutral), Flynn (well, Shesha, by this point anyway) leaves the scene even though he could conceivably oppose you, which leaves Isabeau in despair, you fight Lucifer with Merkabah on your side, and after defeating Lucifer you pick up the remote control to the Yamato Perpetual Reactor and once again summon a black hole to destroy Tokyo and the “filth of civilization”, killing yourself and Merkabah along with all of the “unclean”. Jonathan narrates that peace has returned to Mikado, but laments that this peace will not be eternal, and that somehow “the world our Lord desires” has not yet arrived despite everything, and the gods are trapped in an endless war with Flynn. Didn’t you literally just annihilate Flynn and the other gods, though? Wasn’t the whole point of the whole point of “Great Abaddon” (the black hole of the Yamato Perpetual Reactor) to destroy all the “unclean ones”, the demons, and the gods who opposed YHVH? And then there’s the Chaos path. If you choose to fight Merkabah instead of join him, you defeat him, and then Lucifer congratulates you and, after preaching the Gospel of Chaos to you, offers you his own bargain: join with him, and gain a new life free from Dagda’s control. Interestingly enough, your allies wait until after you rebuke Lucifer to preach the Gospel of Neutrality this time. If you side with Lucifer, pretty much the same thing as before happens except this time Lucifer releases you from the service of Dagda and it is implied that, although you are free from Dagda, you have more or less become a demon. After this Lucifer readies everyone to make for Mikado, taking it over after taking over Tokyo, and everyone accepts his rule “with fear in their hearts” (very subtle). After Lucifer conquers the world, Walter narrates about how you changed Mikado and brought free will to its people and a world “for the strong” like in the last game, but he laments that the “false messiah” (Flynn, but not Flynn) still exists and the people need a leader against him, and so a new king emerged in a world ruled by the strong. Walter laments further that the very world he wanted was only the beginning of an eternal nightmare, with cries of agony echoing endlessly, and the gods still in endless war with Flynn. Isn’t Flynn still in the possession of Krishna? Isn’t that what Shesha disguising as Flynn was for? To fool the people?

But again, it doesn’t matter. Nothing meaningful happens if you take the Law or Chaos endings. You don’t get to fight Shesha-Flynn, or Dagda, or your friends, even though that would probably be justified, and you don’t get to fight Krishna and the Divine Powers even though you’ve taken the opposite side of the “monotheism vs polytheism” conflict the game puts forward. All that happens is you sit through what are not even cutscenes showing you what happens, each time the game hammers away exclusively negative interpretations of your actions in a way that not even Strange Journey did. The plotholes and contrivances seen at the end of each path serve explicitly to design Law and Chaos as meaningless, incomplete, unambiguously terrible, and unsatisfactory paths, which of course is designed to enshrine Neutrality as the objectively correct path, not through putting forth any actual merits of Neutrality or any process of forcing you to weigh the pros and cons of all sides in concord with your own values and judgement but quite simply because the narrative has already decided that for you. This is entirely out of step with the core ethos of Shin Megami Tensei, in which you are forced to choose between three imperfect and in some ways ultimately equally legitimate paths based primarily on your own criteria of value.

And the artificial devaluing of Law and Chaos in favour of Neutrality doesn’t stop there. As you progress in the game, and as you reject both Merkabah and Lucifer in favour of Neutrality, the game tells you that both Law and Chaos were all just machinations of YHVH, with even Lucifer, the literal opponent of YHVH, being a tool of YHVH, his scapegoat by which his order is ultimately reinforced. YHVH is the ultimate creator, or manufacturer, of the war between Law and Chaos, which is his way of keeping humanity and the universe under his control. And so, in order to end the war of Law and Chaos for good, you must defeat YHVH in both the Bonds and Massacre routes. This is the most absurd, nonsensical retconning of Law and Chaos on behalf of Neutrality in any SMT game, and it’s only in this game where it happens. Even in the original game where Lucifer tells you that he was a part of YHVH, he also tells you that YHVH discarded him, and so this establishes his independence from YHVH and the separation of Law and Chaos. In this game, however, that context is jettisoned to establish Lucifer as a piece of YHVH, utterly dependant on YHVH even as he opposes him, just to arbitrarily establish Law and Chaos as equally meaningless in an unprecedented retcon. In fact, Law and Chaos are so established as one and the same that during the final dungeon Merkabah and Lucifer fuse together into Satan, here “the arbiter” who has decided, for no reason, to oppose his master YHVH.

But then I suppose, if you think about it, the foundation for it was already laid by the White in the previous game, who espouse that even the Chaos path plays into the hands of God’s rule which is why the only true way to be free is to annihilate the universe. Of course, there’s never any actual good reason for why that’s the case other than “too much freedom means people destroy themselves” and so I guess God steps in. But if you kill God, what then? All it means is that maybe he comes back, and you have to stop him again until people finally abandon God. But is that “playing into God’s hands”? And if it is, why is killing the demons and Lucifer to build a world of Law not “playing into the hands of Chaos” because it means one day the demons return for Man’s flaws or desire for freedom (depending on perspective)?

In any case, the conflict with YHVH is all very contrived and abrupt, instigated entirely out of the blue at least in the Bonds route (at least the Massacre route leads to a logical enough explanation), but establishes yet more conceits for this game’s version of Neutrality, and to get to that we should discuss the context into which the journey to YHVH begins. You are abruptly introduced to YHVH by Stephen, after having just defeated Krishna (as Vishnu-Flynn), who tells you about how unless you defeat him humans will never know true freedom (or, in the Massacre route, you will not get to create your new universe unless you defeat him). He also tells you about the Axiom, a force of reality itself, which granted humans the power of “observation” and tasked them with “observing” the whole universe, which gave rise all manner of faiths, truths, and eventually gods, who all fight each other and humans for the sustenance they derive from the power of “observation” which is exclusive to humans. Belief becomes a sort of McGuffin that can give a god life or death, and this becomes important to the fight with YHVH (and only that fight), where damaging him in the first half of the fight is facilitated by denying his very existence; this is very amusing when you consider the fact that in-game he’s right in front of you and your lying eyes! In the Bonds route, you and your friends team up to argue against the existence and goodness of YHVH to his face. In any case, sustained assault on YHVH by both brute force and force of argument leads to his degradation into some kind of Final Fantasy monster and his eventual defeat and death.

But has the player punched out God himself? No. Because here YHVH is not the true God, and certainly not the creator of humanity. That distinction belongs to The Axiom, which appears to be the new name for what was originally called The Great Will. YHVH is framed as some unruly avatar of The Axiom who broke with its will in assuming control of the universe, and so The Axiom summons two Messiahs – Flynn and Nanashi – to defeat him. One Messiah apparently wasn’t enough this time, as it was in the second game. This is, without a doubt, a premise inherited from “Gnostic” Christianity or certain sects thereof, in which the Demiurge defies the true God by creating the universe and claiming himself to be God, and the messiah, the Christ, being sent by the true God to spread the truth and liberate spirit from the rule of the Demiurge. It also side-steps any notion of the morally ambiguous theology unique to Shin Megami Tensei by lazily resorting to rewriting The Great Will as a benign, non-aligned force and in that respect the real Good God. For such a benign God, however, he still subjects all beings to a merciless cycle of death and reincarnation just like in Nocturne. But, by somehow contacting The Axiom, you can apparently become a transcendent being who has surpassed the cycle of reincarnation to become almighty.

That seems to be what happened to Stephen, according to the developers. Ever since his original experiments with the Terminal System and his encounter with demonkind, Stephen somehow made contact with The Axiom and, as a result, exited the cycle of reincarnation in order to become a transcendent, superhuman agent of The Axiom. Nobuyuki Shioda notes that exiting the cycle of transmigration would mean achieving Nirvana and becoming a Buddha, which means that, according to the developers, Stephen is actually a Buddha, and apparently so are Mido (master of the Cathedral of Shadows) and Saint Germain (a mystic count with whom you can trade gems for items). Indeed it is fitting enough that in a DLC Challenge Quest we see that he appears in the Diamond Realm (Kongokai), the same place where you met En no Ozuno (who appears in another DLC Challenge Quest) in the first game. Thus, it seems as though the Buddhist themes associated with Neutrality in the first game return in this game. Even him just talking about “the middle path” makes me think about it as a reference to Buddhist teachings. But there is no “True God” to meet and connect with in Buddhism, so what we get for Stephen and the transcendence he partakes in is essentially a hybrid of Buddhism and “Gnostic” Christianity. Buddha here also seems to be a way of saying “higher being”, which is a generic way of referring to transcendent beings in a context familiar to New Age teachings. In all, we seem to arrive at a fourth shade of Neutrality: transcending and overcoming the conflict of Law and Chaos by connecting with The Axiom and becoming a Buddha/higher being.

This leads us to a particular ideological contour to this game’s vision of Neutrality, and by proxy the previous game’s if we account for the point regarding the White. The ultimate and fundamental message of Neutrality here is that all ideological and material divisions are ultimately artificial, a point that is expressed by the ultimate non-difference between Law and Chaos (ignoring that said non-difference is, itself, rendered artificial by the writing), and that the player can overcome this conflict by following the advice of a transcendent genius whose motivations are not up for observation or debate and who thus cannot be questioned. That’s what Stephen is, he’s just better than you in almost any way (except for when you get to beat him in that DLC Challenge Quest). It reeks of a very familiar trend of ideology found in two currents of mainstream political thought. The first is that of the liberal establishment in which societal divisions are not recognized as anything other than something artificially exaserbated by demagogues, and that all will be well if we simply listen to the smart people who supposedly transcend ideology, and who just so happen to dictate policy – this is levelled against essentially all critics of the system, whether their ideas are good or not. The second is its populist counterpart, often found in right-adjacent populist movements and more recently exemplified by certain libertarian movements today: the idea that all ideological differences are artificially created and exaserbated by the elites (and in this game’s world, who could be more elite than YHVH himself?) and that we need only ignore those differences in order to form a coalition with any and all enemies of the establishment (yes, even the ideological factions that literally will try to kill each other if you give them the chance). Both rely on the idea that you can obfuscate real conflict by handwaving it away as an illusion.

Through it all, though, aren’t we forgetting someone? Yes: the goddess of Tokyo. You know, that random made-up goddess meant to be Tokyo itself (that is what Stephen tells you, anyway). Your mission is still to restore her, and it seems that this can only be done in the Bonds route. If you defeat YHVH in the Massacre route, she stays a nameless little girl with a hoop, wails at your actions, and disappears to be pursued by Stephen, who warns you that one day she may summon a new Messiah to destroy you in order to restore herself. In the Bonds route, she is restored and tells you about The Axiom. This time, though, her restoration doesn’t mean removing the firmament over Tokyo. After you destroy the Cosmic Egg in the Bonds route, Masakado says that, after Shesha bore through the dome, he realized that it is no longer necessary to remove the dome because the Tokyoites and the Mikadoans can co-exist on the surface. Incidentally, this is Masakado’s only appearance in the entire game. Well that’s real nice, but why couldn’t Masakado have realized that in the previous game? And if the dome isn’t to be removed, how does the goddess of Tokyo manage to restore her form? By you killing YHVH? Apparently you didn’t need to fight YHVH last time to restore the goddess of Tokyo, so why do you need to do that now? The only clue the game gives us is that she responds to the hearts of the people of Tokyo, and became diminiutive as a result of the people of Tokyo becoming divided. Well, Masakado straight up says that the people of Tokyo and Mikado can be one without removing the dome, and the forces of Law, Chaos, and the Divine Powers have all been defeated, removing all the major threats to peace, so how come the people of Tokyo and Mikado haven’t been unified yet? It’s all very arbitrary, and again, just like in the last game there is no actual reason to give a shit about this goddess enough to want to revive her, except that maybe now The Axiom itself wants it to happen, but that only raises the question why The Axiom cares so much about some random unnamed goddess of what is just one city in Japan. The goddess of Tokyo, for a figure of such grand importance to the plot, makes remarkably few appearances in the game’s story, and so is afforded very little exposition; that bit about her being the embodiment of Tokyo itself responding to the hearts of its people is pretty much the only explanation of her nature you’re given in the game, and that’s all you’re told about why you should care about the goddess.

And then, there is the whole protagonist reincarnation plot carried over from the first game, and how that plays into everything. In the same sense that Flynn is the reincarnation of the hero who sacrificed himself to Masakado to create the firmament, Nanashi is the reincarnation of Akira, who we talked about before, his partner who became king of Mikado. As the game progresses we see flashbacks of Akira’s life and thus get a better picture of his actions and motives. He along with Skins and Fujiwara and many other Hunters were part of an expedition crew to the surface of the firmament and they discover Mikado, but are immediately beset by the angels who attack all non-Mikadoans who enter, and so the Tokyoites are forced deeper back underground. Gabriel, however, offers some of the Tokyoites a chance to live in Mikado, if they pledge to abandon civilization (by which she means Tokyo) to become a citizen of Mikado and have complete faith in God and the angels. Then Akira tells Skins and Fujiwara that his plan is to stay in Mikado with the angels, which naturally shocks his comrades who had up to this point been struggling to survive the angelic onslaughts against them. When Skins complains that leaving Tokyo isn’t worth it if it means being slaves to the angels, and Akira responds by questioning if Skins means to give up after coming all the way to the top, proclaiming that it’s not worth leaving because that’s what the angels want. Akira states further that although humans are weak, it would be the end of them if they gave up, and that he’ll use whatever he can, including angels, to save the people of Tokyo. Akira tells Fujiwara that his plan is to outsmart and control the angels to create a country for humans, and this is what he calls finding the middle path. Akira and his comrades then agree to have him rule Mikado with the angels while they return to Tokyo to restore order, and then meet each other in the middle when their missions are complete.

Of course, the overlooked part of all of this is that Akira didn’t really succeed in this mission. In fact, if this continues off of the backstory of the previous game, then we know exactly what happens. Akira, now King Aquila, is dead. He was killed by the angels up in Mikado before he could complete his mission. After that, his legacy, at least in the form of a statue, was demolished under the new regime of the Four Heralds, and he reincarnated into the body of some juvenile Hunter who died, and was revived, only to spend the majority of the game as a pawn of a manipulative, genocidal deity who doesn’t even reflect his original myth. Maybe in the Bonds route it becomes possible to argue that the reincarnation effort was worth it after all, since you do sort of acheive what Akira had in mind, but that still means Akira had to die thinking he was going to “use” the angels to his own benefit, like someone playing cosmic backgammon with angels and demons. It was a dumb idea Akira had, and as in the previous game the “middle path” ended up just paving the way for the Law outcome for Mikado, or at least just its whole feudal society.

There’s one final thing to note with regards to this game’s version of Neutrality. Stephen very explicitly encourages Nanashi to take “the neutral path”, but there is more than one Neutral path. After Danu and Dagda first outline their competing visions in the Fairy Forest, Stephen appears and tells you that both Dagda’s and Danu’s visions are the middle path, with both rejecting the angels of Law and the demons of Chaos, but adds that there is more than one middle path, and tells you to “walk your own”. The problem? Dagda’s path is represented as the Massacre route where you kill everything to create a new universe with Dagda, Danu’s path is represented as the Bonds route where you overcome Dagda’s ambitions to have the Tokyoites, Mikadoans, gods, and demons live in harmony in Mikado, and in some ways this means you are choosing between Dagda and Danu, and there is no third option between them. Contrary to Stephen’s encouragement, the game does not let you walk your own version of the middle path, and only allows you to choose between Dagda’s and Danu’s version of the middle path. For once, in a Shin Megami Tensei game, you are presented not simply with a false choice but a false encouragement of choice, the presentation that you can make a choice independent of two choices followed by the reality of only having the two choices originally presented to you. This, among so many other contrivances found in the game’s plot unrelated to alignment, leaves us with what is without hesitation the worst game in the entire series, and certainly the worst expression of Neutrality in any series. But then, how even does Stephen tell you to choose your own path while also constantly getting you to do as he says and restore the goddess of Tokyo?

To interject a little in regards to polytheism and the conflict with monotheism, this also means that Neutrality, despite its conceit about placing humanism above reliance on any gods or demons, invariably places you in the side of polytheism. Danu defends a universe with a diversity of gods and opposes the rule of YHVH, herself appears in the game as a sort of Mother Nature figure, herself and her son representing pure powers of nature and her presiding over a forest, and in the Bonds route Dagda basically tells you that you’ve actually helped the gods. The Divine Powers, then, are simply well-intentioned extremists as Danu herself basically says, who would be on your side if they weren’t trying to kill everyone. You can even re-summon Krishna at Kanda-no-yashiro after defeating him in order to enlist his service in the fight against YHVH. Dagda and Danu are positioned as gods or spirits of the earth, just as Masakado is billed as an Earth Spirit, and again the primary object is to restore the power of some unnamed goddess. Thus the forces of polytheism are arrayed against monotheism and one way or another Neutrality means you lead them to victory.

It’s all so confused and contrived, let’s just move on to the last game already.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (2017)

The Redux edition of Strange Journey offers an alternate take on Law, Chaos, and also Neutrality by way of the introduction of New endings for each alignment path. These are alternate versions of each ending that can be accessed by completing the Womb of Grief dungeon and collecting all pieces of a Fifth Cosmic Egg. It also involves a new character named Alex, a daughter of Lucifer who travels back in time to change the future created by the protagonist, the exact content of which depends on the ending path being taken. The New Law route sees Zelenin create a world where she is the absolute ruler of a world where everyone has their urge to fight removed through song, and the New Chaos route sess Jimenez create a world where co-existence with demons and free will trump the rule of the strong. So then, what is the New Neutrality in this equation?

Much of the Neutral playthrough, much like the rest of the game’s story, happens exactly as it did in the original game up until you complete the Womb of Grief and make it to Sector Horologium. Just after Mem Aleph is defeated, Alex appears to confront the protagonist and tell him what happens in the future. Her AI, George, presents this information as “good news” and “bad news”. The good news is that the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team will succeed in its Plan Omega to destroy the Schwarzvelt and return to Earth, the human race is saved, and peace follows this success. The bad news, however, is that despite all the calamity of the Schwarzvelt, humans did not change, and in fact the knowledge that the Schwarzvelt can be destroyed led humans to ignore the opportunity to change. Without the danger of the Schwarzvelt humans soon resumed their previous ways of war, decadence, and environmental disregard. This ultimately leads to the Schwarzvelt eventually re-emerging, and bringing with it a demonic invasion to destroy civilization and mankind, and this time humanity has no means to counter it, having forgotten all about its horrors, leaving humanity overrun within one week. When Alex pleas for you to change the future and you ask her what needs to be done, George proposes that he share information with Arthur, the Red Sprite’s AI, and the two machines discuss plans for dealing with the Schwarzvelt. and Arthur concludes that the destruction and monitoring of the Schwarzvelt are imperative for preventing future catastrophe. This means destroying the Schwarzvelt as originally planned, but it also means enlisting a sentry to monitor the Earth and the Schwarzvelt and destroy the Schwarzvelt’s entry point whenever it returns to Earth, which is much easier than destroying the Schwarzvelt as you do in the game. The Fifth Cosmic Egg will be used to give the protagonist the power to persist long enough to perpetually monitor and destroy newly formed Schwarzvelt entry points every time they appear. Essentially, he will be an immortal guardian of a complacent humanity.

Then Demeter appears to claim the Fruits that form the Fifth Cosmic Egg, offended that the humans seek to claim them as their own. She opposes the player using the Cosmic Egg because apparently it’s too much for a human to handle, and so she takes the Fruit back to her masters, the Three Wise Men. Then Louisa Ferre appears to tell you to go to the deepest level of the Womb of Grief to go and find the Three Spirits. There, the Three Spirits congratulate you for reclaiming the Fifth Cosmic Egg, and tell you that, so long as you do not disturb the god of law’s creation, you will be left alone, but warn that if you decide to dabble in creation then they will destroy you. And then they come together to form Shekinah, who proclaims that the Earth belongs to her and her alone, and that you will accept her “mercy” whether you like it or not. Defeating Shekinah grants you the Fifth Cosmic Egg, and you return to the Red Sprite, where the crew is eager to destroy the Schwarzvelt. Then the crew arrives at the Vanishing Point to escape, and just like before Arthur tells the crew that he will not be returning to Earth. This time, however, Arthur informs the crew that he and the player will stay to monitor the Schwarzvelt, and the protagonist will “transcend space and time” using the Cosmic Egg. The crew despairs at having to lose two more comrades right as their mission is over, but Arthur insists that their course of action is the best for humanity.

The New Neutral ending sequence at first plays out like the original did, with the crew successfully landing back in Antarctica after escaping, albeit with references to the player still fighting somewhere. Then, we are panned over to the moon, on whose surface we see the protagonist and Arthur watching the Earth, 150 years after the game’s events. Then the Schwarzvelt appears or at least an entry point does, apparently this is the seventh time they’ve seen it occur. Arthur asks the protagonist if he still feels human, he looks at the ring Alex gave him, clenches his hand, and marches on to destroy the Schwarzvelt again. And so, the protagonist is now an immortal protector who will keep watching over the Earth and destroying the Schwarzvelt as many times as it takes until it stops appearing…which may never happen.

This ultimately brings us to the question of just what has changed in the New Neutral outcome. Alex disappears into the new timeline that you have set into motion, and I suppose we could safely assume that Alex didn’t get stuck in the Schwarzvelt and maybe die there, but the world doesn’t actually change for the better. The problem with the original Neutral outcome still remains: humans are still complacent, and still resume their faulty ways, and there is no actual means of addessing the problems that remain. The only difference is that now you and Arthur watch over the Earth forever to destroy the Schwarzvelt whenever it appears. The Schwarzvelt will reappear each time humans remain complacent, the Earth and the species continue to face severe existential problems, and from what we are shown the Schwarzvelt has appeared seven times over the course of 150 years, which means that humans have come no closer to solving or even addressing the problems of the planet in all that time. All you’ve gone and done, if anything, is ensure that humans can keep being complacent as long as you keep destroying the entry points to the Schwarzvelt. Thus nothing actually changes and Neutrality consists only in maintaining the status quo and practically foreclosing the possibility of change for the world.

We are shown or rather told by Alex that, in the original Neutral outcome, the Schwarzvelt overruns humanity and consumes the world. If you remember what that means, you’ll understand that it entails quite possibly Mem Aleph returning to once again remake the world in her own brutal design to kill off humanity, and this time without the possibility of creating that wonderful world of free will and co-existence with demons on even slightly human terms. Or alternatively perhaps the angels and the Three Wise Men gain the upper hand this time and so Shekinah wins the right to rule the world and with no chance to have the somewhat more seemingly benign utopia Zelenin had in mind. So in this way, Neutrality may yet give way to one of two horrible outcomes from either alignment. Thus the sad truth about Neutrality for both the original and Redux versions of Strange Journey is that, although it means saving the human race, it’s also not much more than preserving the status quo for human civilization, and all that this entails.


I could have gone with any image, but I settled with this in lieu of art

Insofar as we take Neutrality to mean the broad rejection of Law and Chaos in favour of middle path, we can see that this tends to mean many different things throughout the series, and in a way Stephen is correct when he says that there is more than one middle path.

In the first game, it means rejecting the forces of Law and Chaos to “restore balance” and create a new society of cooperation. In the second game, that same project fails but by defeating YHVH and Lucifer you preserve Tokyo Millennium to begin the process of reconstruction, which seems to take priority over “balance”. In Nocturne it can mean either committing you restore the world as it was while also defying The Great Will, or caving into indecisiveness and retaining the status quo of the Vortex World. In Strange Journey, it means choosing the human race over the ambitions of the angels and the Mothers, but it also means preserving the status quo for human civilization without addressing its errors. In the fourth game it can mean either arbitrarily following the desires of some random godddess while claiming to represent human power, or literally just destroying the universe to free all beings from God’s control. In Apocalypse, it means getting humans away from gids and demons but at the same time cooperating with them to rebuild the world under the auspice of nature spirits, or just replacing YHVH as the new ruler of creation, or the gods of old getting together to share the souls of humans, or becoming a Buddha by knowing the true God. In Redux, it just means preserving the status quo forever by becoming an immortal demon-killing space marine. All of those represent different ideas, but are united pretty much singularly by the rejection of both Law and Chaos.

Neutrality in general tends to be framed in terms of a focus on humanity and/or humanism, and while that’s generality true, even if in some cases more in emphasis than content, it’s also true that there are forms of Neutrality that seem to entail post-humanity, the state of becoming more than human. This is what happens in the New Neutral outcome in Strange Journey Redux, it’s sort of what happened to Stephen in Apocalypse, and in the same game becoming “more than human” is part of the whole point of the Massacre route. Neutrality can entail a very broad change for the world, but in many cases it seems to simply mean preserving the status quo or restoring one, without much vision for how to solve the problems of the world in relation to the demons and the way humans live going forward. But I suppose this might just be a more distinct product of later games than some of the earlier ones. Insofar as that is the case Neutrality seems to get emptied in terms of content by its elevation in terms of some a priori assumption of Neutrality’s inherent superiority, which in turn affects the writing of the alignments leading up the Apocalypse.

Neutrality can sometimes bear a certain relation to the other alignments in terms of its outcomes. In the second game, a Neutral outcome initiated by the previous game’s protagonist ultimately gives way to a Messian theocracy and thus a Law outcome. In the fourth game and its sequel, the original incarnation of Flynn sacrifices himself to Masakado and becomes the firmament, which leads to Akira’s plan to somehow “use” the angels as part of a “middle path”, which leads to him becoming a king of the feudal, Law-run society of Mikado, and ends in his death. Sometimes, however, it runs the other way. If Alex in the Neutral path in Redux is to be believed, Neutrality conceivably gives way to the designs of Mem Aleph (though the possibility is open for the Three Wise Men to be victorious instead). Beyond that, Lucifer often seems to support Neutrality to some extent throughout the games, at least in the sense that, if your path still means you defy the forces of Law and The Great Will, it will have his blessing on the grounds that it fulfills his will or goals in some way, and (at least from his perspective) sets the blossoming of free will into motion. That’s why the Freedom ending in Nocturne ends with Lucifer telling you that you have walked the same path as him.

Neutrality is held to be the best, most gratifying path in the series, though the whole point of the series is that it’s ultimately relative to your own opinion or values. But I suspect that a certain consensus regarding the merit of Neutrality has gradually led to an increasingly artificial elevation of Neutrality within the series, or at least just the fourth game and its sequel, and this is often done without a good deal of supporting content for Neutrality. You’re just supposed to be Neutral because Law and Chaos bad, and that’s not really a merit in itself especially when you consider the fact that all of the alignments are supposed to come with a raft of ambiguities that you have to choose from. Even Neutrality is frought with uncertainty, namely the fundamental lack of a guarantee that the gods and demons won’t just return again and once more initiate the struggle of Law and Chaos. That struggle itself is interesting, because later games seem to play it off as a sort of alien conflict, in the sense of being alien to humans in the sense that the drama of the gods and demons is of little import to humans. But demons are as much human as the humans themselves, and sometimes not even as malevolent as them, and the struggle of Law and Chaos is a human one, the struggle of order versus freedom, whether it’s framed as a struggle to realize the latter or a struggle for the triumph of the former, and this echoes from real human strivings just as much as the demons, as one side of the coin of humanity, echo from the psychic content of humans. In earlier games, you could reckon with this even if they don’t hammer it away at you. But in later games, this is to be side-stepped in favour of some dogmatic assertion that Law and Chaos are inherently bad and Neutrality inherently good because of artificial plot demands.

Now, to bookend this post, let’s note that Shin Megami Tensei V is set to be released in November 11th-12th in an almost simultaneous global release, and new content keeps being revealed and new speculation keeps emerging. It is too early at this point to tell what the whole story is going to be, and as such what the dynamic of Law and Chaos, and Neutrality, will mean for this game, so we are left with questions. So far, it looks like the game centers around a conflict between angels and demons, and so we might be able to assume that Law and Chaos will probably revolve around those camps to some extent, just like they did in the fourth game, Apocalypse, and Strange Journey. But in Strange Journey this conflict could still mean all sorts of gods and goddesses joining the side of the angels and their God, and the forces of Chaos consisting not only of demons but also wrathful gods and goddesses, which entails the possibility of Law and Chaos as inclusive, trans-cultural absolutes. Whether or not this actually is what the game runs with is unfortunately still a mystery, and will probably remain a mystery for months until the game is actually released. It also means we can’t really talk about Neutrality for the game yet, since we don’t yet know what it means to reject Law and Chaos for this game. Maybe it’ll have something to do with that Aogami man you fuse with, maybe it’ll involve quasi-humanist polytheism again, maybe it’ll go back to the form of the first game? Who knows. But we have only to wait and see, and fortunately it looks like we need not wait too long in the grand scheme of things.

And with that, my series on the ideologies of Law and Chaos is concluded.

Part 1 – Chaos:

Part 2 – Law:

Ideologies of Law in Shin Megami Tensei

Last time, I wrote a long post discussing the ideological contours of the Chaos alignment within the Shin Megami Tensei universe, as part of a series of articles discussing this for all three of the alignments. This second article is focused on the Law alignment, the polar opposite of the Chaos alignment in many respects. Much as is the case for Chaos, Law contains its own very specific contours that colour its broad ideological character. Of course, I’ve never been a big fan of the Law alignment, and I suppose the last post betrayed a certain sympathy towards Chaos, but that’s only a matter of disclosure.

Once again, the same conditions as the previous post apply. The majority of spin-off titles will not be included on the grounds that they do not sufficiently present a Law and Chaos dynamic as in the main line titles. And as before, this entire post will contain spoilers for all of the games featured here.

Shin Megami Tensei (1992)

In the same sense that the central conceits for Chaos are established in this first game, so too are they established for Law. Law tends to refer to a general ideology where the establishment of order is prioritized above the pursuit of freedom, and is represented by God/YHVH, the angels, as well as the gods of Law. As before, there is much more to Law than this basic description alone, but of note is that Law has an impeccably concerete ideological goal: the establishment of the Thousand Year Kingdom (or Millennium Kingdom in newer translations).

What is the Thousand Year Kingdom? The name probably echoes part of the Bible, specifically the Book of Revelation where Jesus Christ reigns as the king of Israel and the world for a thousand years with Satan imprisoned in Hell. After a thousand years, Satan is released from Hell to wage one last battle against God before ultimately being defeated, and then the final judgement of souls occurs, before a new Jerusalem is established where the souls of the faithful and the righteous live with God and Jesus in peace and without suffering and sin. Some Christians, long after the Book of Revelation was written, have imagined the kingdom of the millennium as an earthly reality of the future, and some modern Christians have envisioned a literal kingdom ruled by Jesus for a thousand years in a future end of days. In Shin Megami Tensei, the Thousand Year Kingdom is the goal of the followers of the Order of Messiah (who we will explore in more depth later), who believe that it means a paradise on Earth where those who live there will live in peace and security and have their needs met by God. There is, however, a catch: this paradise is not for everyone. Only a select few of the world’s population will be allowed to live in the Thousand Year Kingdom when it is established. Those who are not part of that select few will not be allowed to live there, and will be kept out, presumably left to die (Gotou’s interpretation is that those who don’t get admitted into the Kingdom get killed by the American army on God’s orders).

Already you may get the sense that this isn’t quite what Christian teaching has in mind, and if it is consistent with any trope of Christianity, it is doubtless that this would be Christian fundamentalism or extremism, which is broadly suited to an ideology that, we should remember, is very much intended to be seen as extreme within the game. The irony of Chaos being associated with a might makes right project is that the Thousand Year Kingdom is rather brutally elitist in a way that baseline Christianity tends not to be. The Thousand Year Kingdom is a societal order where people are selected into it based on faith in God (or, perhaps, allegiance to Law) being sufficient enough to be allowed to live in it, which in practice establishes that only those who are willing to agree with the movement’s goals have the right to live in the new world to come. We can see a bowlderization of Christian teaching, in that Christianity usually stresses that God’s salvation is open to everyone willing to accept it. Of course, heaven in Christian doctrine is ultimately contingent on belief in God insofar as that acceptance is necessary for the salvation of the soul, but with the Thousand Year Kingdom this is then extrapolated into a kind of worldly stratification, namely in the sense of stratification between those “fortunate” enough to enter the Kingdom, and those who are left to die. Of course, this says nothing about life within the Kingdom. Insofar as the basic idea is a regime of order overseen by God, and given the nature of God in the Shin Megami Tensei universe, we can assume that those who live in the Kingdom have to live strictly in accordance with God’s orders, wishes, and desires. Those who deviate from them are punished, presumably rather harshly (which could mean the sinner is either killed or expelled). We might also presume that the society of the Thousand Year Kingdom is rigidly hierarchical, with said hierarchy supported by the absolute word of God. In this sense, Christian teaching appears to be filtered through a kind of fascistic ethos, as it was in the case of the American dominionist movement, which is a far-right Christian fundamentalist movement aimed at establishing America as a Christian theocracy.

And speaking of Americans, the first major alignment choice in the game concerns a conflict between a man named Gotou on one side and the Americans on the other, and this early point in the game establishes a sense of foreignness in Law relative to the Japanese context. The main representative of the Law alignment here is a man named Thorman, the American ambassador to Japan who, like all Americans in the game, speaks terrible Japanese (or, in the English emulator translations terrible English). He wants to get rid of all the demons running around in Tokyo, and to do it his plan is launch a cluster of ICBMs towards Japan. This means America once again dropping nuclear bombs on Japan. You can choose to help Thorman by defeating Gotou and this pushes you towards the Law alignment, though whatever you do at all he sends “Thor’s Hammer” down upon Japan anyway and it will be too late to stop that. Of course, just before Tokyo gets destroyed Thorman eventually reveals that he is, in reality, the Norse god Thor (rather poorly disguised at that), who for some reason pledges his allegiance to the Judeo-Christian God and supports the Thousand Year Kingdom. Some fans believe that the character of Thorman was based on Harry Truman, the 33rd President of the United States who ordered the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is, of course, not true, as the developers have confirmed not only the basis in Thor but also that they did not know at the time that Harry Truman was the name of the President who bombed Japan, but the idea is understandable for multiple reasons. There is, first of all, the incidental fact of Thorman being an American official, then there is the simple fact of Thorman ordering nuclear weapons against Japan which lines up with Truman to a tee, but in a broader sense there is also his juxtaposition against Gotou, whose design is clearly based on Yukio Mishima. It does make sense in theory that, since Gotou was based on a real world historical figure, Thorman must have also been based on a real world historical figure, let alone a President of the United States.

It cannot be lost on the informed player what the presence of American soldiers in Japan means for the Japanese. It represents military occupation, such as the bases that remain in Okinawa to this day, or the domination imposed on the country through nuclear fire in a series of bombings that more or less amounted to a show of force. And here, the Americans come to Japan, once again bringing nuclear bombs, to “save Japan from demons” by destroying the country, a stock-in-trade American method of establishing peace and order as can be seen throughout the Middle East, and under the auspices of a form of apocalyptic fundamentalist religious sect dedicated to the Judeo-Christian God of Law. This God of Law is a god of exceptionalism, declaring himself to be the sole authority of the world, suppressing all who stand against him. Such has also been how America has engaged with much of the world since at least World War 2 with its proclivity of bombing other nations into submission while installing puppet regimes who will favour their interests, not to mention the previous colonial empires who marched into the third world with a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other. That the God of Law and American exceptionalism and imperialism join hands is not a coincidence, not just because of the inherent political connotations of American military presence in Japan but also because of ths historic marriage between religious exceptionalism and imperialism, which is further codified in a lot of conservative and nationalist ideologies.

The other thing to note about Thor’s presence is that Thor as a pre-Christian deity who nonetheless aligns with God would seem strange given Law’s ostensible alignment towards Judeo-Christian entities and concepts, though perhaps it makes more sense when the alignments are thought of as inclusive absolutes rather than just stand-ins for the Judeo-Christian conflict. Not only is Thor in the Law alignment but also, by the last stretch of the game, you also see Vishnu as a representative of the Law alignment, opposed to the Chaos-aligned Ravana and his son Indrajit, and he joins the party if you are Law-aligned and opposes you if you are not. Both Thor and Vishnu are of the Majin (Deity) clan, which typically consists of the major or head gods of their respective pantheons. In this game that includes the gods Odin and Indra, but around half of the clan is comprised of some very weird entries such as Loki (who should be a Chaos-aligned demon and is so for the rest of the series), Arahabaki (who may or may not have even been worshipped in Japan and for most later games is Chaos-aligned), and Fudo Myo-o (not as strange but as a wrathful deity he makes more sense as a Chaos-aligned Kishin or Fury). In the Sega CD version of the game we also see the gods Brahma, Baal, and Freyr. There is also the Megami clan, which features famous goddesses like Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Ame-no-Uzume, Kikuri-hime, and Kushinada-hime (though the latter two would end up becoming Chaos-aligned for the most part), and in the Sega CD version there’s also the Norn goddesses Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld. There’s also the gods Hanuman and Ganesha appearing in the Yoma clan, divine birds like Garuda and Yatagarasu in the Reichou/Avian clan, Sarutahiko in the Chirei/Jirae clan (which has since been Neutral for the rest of the series), and also a Jashin/Vile clan containing gods like Mishaguji, Tezcatlipoca, Orcus and (in the Sega CD version) Seth, as well as the monster Taotie, some of whom are chthonic gods and who definitely don’t seem like the kinds of gods who might be big fans of heaven. Indeed, for some reason Echidna, the snake monster who represents Chaos in Tokyo Destinyland, is in fact a Jashin/Vile and therefore actually Law-aligned (for her case being a Jaryuu/Drake would have made more sense). It is safe to assume that these gods are not here as part of the idea of returning to the religions of the gods of old, an idea that is seen more frequently in the Chaos alignment and never in the Law alignment. Rather, in the sense that Law is an inclusive absolute centered around order, these can be thought of as gods who gather gather with God and his angels as a pantheon of cosmic order, in opposition to the gods of chaos and freedom. Such an idea is actually one of the more interesting aspects of the original game, and sadly it is only repeated in a few future games, mostly spin-offs. It is still not clear to me why these pre-Christian deities would agree with the Messians and support the Thousand Year Kingdom, but they do seem to and thus appear to consider themselves servants of God, and such is the case that the Law Hero refers to Vishnu, a Hindu god, as “Master Vishnu” after you defeat him in the Neutral path. Also there’s robots. Machines are Law-aligned and ironically the Law Hero sends you to destroy them.

The main representatives of the Law alignment that you meet throughout the game are the Order of Messiah. You can recognize them by the fact that their members were white and blue robes, often with crosses (which are sometimes red, in line with traditional Christian symbolism, in which red represents the blood of Christ and can also denote the Holy Spirit), in contrast to the Gaians who prefer to wear red and black as well as the occasional S&M gear instead. Indeed, every conceivable connection to Christianity at least in aesthetics is present with the Messians. In the Messian healers, which you can’t access while Chaos-aligned, they give you items such as Rosarios (or Rosaries, as in probably those rosaries), as well as things like Angel Hair (which in this case probably isn’t meant to mean spaghetti), the most powerful Law-exclusive armor in the game is called Jesus armor, and wherever you encounter Messians as healers or angels as enemies, you see a space that looks like a church with a big cross at the center. You can also find a rare Law-aligned Fiend in the game called Pale Rider, based on one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who gives you the strongest Law-aligned weapon in the game, the Angel’s Scythe. The Messians encourage people to have faith in God throughout the post-apocalypse Tokyo and, in a world teeming with demons, offer security and order in exchange for obedience to the Order of Messiah and unquestioning faith in the God of the Messians. The main goals of the Messians include, as the name would suggest, the arrival of a Messiah who will lead their followers and bring salvation, and the construction of a Great Cathedral (or Basilica), which is supposed to facilitate the arrival of God from the heavens and herald the beginning of the Thousand Year Kingdom. However, once the Great Cathedral has been completed, the Gaians invade the lower half of the Cathedral, and afterwards God summons a flood, possibly at the behest of the Messians, which covers nearly all of Tokyo in water except the Cathedral and certainly meant death and destruction to almost anyone outside the Cathedral. This of course flagrantly violates the agreement God made with Noah to never again flood the world and I’m sure the Messians would have a devil of a time trying to rationalize getting God to do this, but then this surely a familiar enough problem with the Christian fundamentalists – along with their Jewish and Islamic counterparts – that the Messians obviously resemble. Also distinct from mainstream Christianity is that the Messians in the Great Cathedral talk about sacrificing animals to God, an idea that has more in common with the Judaism of the Old Testament than with Christianity as we know it. At least the Gaians, as much as they like to talk about power being everything, never talk about ritualistic sacrifice.

The Messians look at the devastation of Tokyo as essentially a test from God to see if the people of Tokyo have preserved their faith in him – a peculiar ordeal for a country where Christianity is a very marginal religion and is sometimes, to this day, still practiced mainly in secret by some Japanese Christians. After exiting the realm of Kongokai and returning to Tokyo 30 years into the future, one of the first things you see is an Auroravision screen displaying a sermon from one of the Messians who says that the destruction visited upon Tokyo in “the great war” was an ordeal sent by God to see mankind if humans could endure the destruction and not abandon their faith in God, stressing that only “those who have not forgotten their love for God” will be allowed to live in the Thousand Year Kingdom and that faith is of the utmost importance – indeed, “faith is everything”. Faith most certainly is central to Christianity to the point that it believes that it is impossible have knowledge without faith, but here the role of faith enters dimensions that are familiar less to mainstream religion and more to what we would call cults. In a Japanese context we need look no further than to Aum Shinrikyo, a syncretic pseudo-Buddhist cult that believed that the world was going to end in a nuclear apocalypse and only the believers of the cult would survive (by the time this game was released the cult was already notorious for their beliefs, their leader, and investigations into criminal activities before the infamous Tokyo subway attack that would occur in 1995). In a Western context, there’s no shortage of examples of wacky cults with similarly apocalyptic beliefs, and no shortage of evangelicals pointing to major world events as signs of the apocalypse and certain disasters as either a warning, a test, or even a punishment from God, not unlike medieval beliefs about the Black Death. Certain cultish iterations of “faith is everything” may also tap the form of something like “follow the plan”, and in a contemporary context this takes the form of QAnon, the right-wing conspiracy cult centered around the idea that Donald Trump is secretly arresting his political enemies and critics.

No messianic cult or religion would be complete without a Messiah, and true to their name the Messians seek out a Messiah to help bring about their Thousand Year Kingdom. At first they try to use the Heroine, who was reincarnated after dying to save the player just as the ICBMs (“Thor’s Hammer”) hit Tokyo, as their Messiah. But when the player enters her mind with the help of the Psychodiver and frees her from the demon Arachne, she leaves the Messians behind to go with the player instead. So when the Law Hero is killed by the Black Baron in Roppongi and his soul is freed by his defeat, an apparent messenger of God tells the player that his friend’s faith in God was strong enough to “save” his soul, and by the time the player reaches Shinagawa the Law Hero has reincarnated as a champion of the forces of Law and the Messiah of the Messians. Thus, after dying for his friends and also “for God”, he returns almost like Jesus as a Messiah. And this Messiah also gives somewhat more detail to the ideology of Law. As a staunch Messian, the reincarnated Law Hero makes it painfully clear that all those who oppose God and stand in his way are to be put to death, even including the player who was once his friend if you are not on the Law path. He opposes Neutrality on the grounds that he believes that humans are lost, weak, and ultimately worthless without God, humans who try to have power on their own become demonic, since power without God is inherently evil, and as a result the pursuit of balance between Law and Chaos is an illusion. On the Law path he proclaims that mankind has destroyed itself, but God has not forsaken them, and is saving manking through his mercy – no doubt the “mercy” of killing nearly all of Tokyo in a flood. Of course, all this has come a long way from a man whose primary motivation was to rescue his girlfriend and who talked about how if only the world could be saved with a prayer. In that latter sense there is a familiar religious belief that has since become the stepping stone for something much grander in scope.

The last thing about Law we can mention is its core representatives in the form of God and his angels. God, of course, doesn’t really say anything and doesn’t really make any appearance in the game other than you have some idea that he’s flooding the world later in the game, so the main representatives of God would be his angels. Obviously the player encounters multiple types of angel lifted from Christian angelology. Some of them, though, are not based on the orders, and are fought as bosses. The angel Haniel is represents Law at Shinagawa whereas Echidna represents Chaos at Tokyo Destinyland, and he oversees slave labour in the construction of the Cathedral. Another angel named Kazfiel can be fought in a side-quest at Tokyo Tower, where he tries to kill you for refusing to help the Messians. However, the real stars of the show in this case are the Four Archangels – Uriel, Gabriel, Raphael, and Michael – listed under the Daitenshi (or “Seraph”) clan. These angels are forthfright agents of the god of Law, and their primary goal is to cleanse the Great Cathedral of his enemies. They hope that a Law aligned player and Heroine will be a new Adam and Eve, signifying their desire for a new Garden of Eden in their Thousand Year Kingdom. Naturally, opposing them means you’re a heathen, deceived by demons, or a demon yourself in their eyes. These Archangels thus serve to complete the circle of the zealous order of Law, which stands at odds with chaotic freedom or indeed anything that opposes Law, in perfect contrast to the archetype of Lucifer. Then there’s the unnamed “messenger of God”, who you see at the end of Law path after defeating the Asura Lord. He tells you that that soul of the Law Hero is in heaven with God and that the player and the Heroine are now the Messiahs who will usher in a world of tranquility through the Thousand Year Kingdom. Insofar as these are all representatives of the God of Law the will they express is clear: a utopian kingdom where all confirms to the will of God, and thus is supposedly free of conflict and suffering.

Shin Megami Tensei II (1994)

The second game in the series presents a Tokyo ruled by the Messians, and a shift in the dynamic of Law and Chaos. After the protagonist of the previous game chooses Neutrality, humans apparently fail to uphold its tenets and choose Law, and so after a coup d’etat the Messians establish Tokyo Millennium, a new city upon the ruins of old Tokyo in which you may live only in the way that the Messians tell you to live. Law is defined centrally around YHVH, his angels, and their overall mythos, with Chaos defined largely around Lucifer and his devils.

Before we go any further let us establish just what the shift in conceptual emphasis within the conflict Law vs Chaos has meant for previously Law-aligned demons. The Majin/Deity clan is now Neutral, which means that Thor, who previously supported the God of Law and his Thousand Year Kingdom, now rejects Law in favour of Neutrality (and, judging from future games, seemingly never to return), and the same appears to be true for Vishnu (or at least his avatar Kalki who stands in for him). The Megami, Seijuu/Holy Beast, Yoma, Chirei, and Jaki clans have all also moved from Law to Neutrality, while the Ryuuou/Snake and Yama/Night clans have moved from Chaos to Neutrality. As a result it seems that there a lot more Neutral demons around and not so many Lawful demons. That said, the forces of Law are joined by a new clan of gods: the Amatsukami, base on the Japanese deities who were of the heavenly order of kami. Although they oppose YHVH for having most of them imprisoned in Makai, they are nonetheless Law-aligned in opposition to the Chaos-aligned Kunitsukami.

Anyways, the Messian-run city of Tokyo Millennium is the main setting for much of the game and it is essentially run as a dictatorship following their designs. Built atop the ruins of the Great Cathedral, the entire purpose of the city is to prepare for the coming of a Messiah who will save mankind and to realize the Thousand Year Kingdom and its goal of a world of eternal peace and order. Tokyo Millennium is controlled from the top by a senate of four elders, who are in reality the Four Archangels, though the public face of its leadership is a man referred to as the Centre Bishop, who as the name suggests oversees the Centre of Tokyo Millennium. Tokyo Millennium is divided into several sectors: there’s the Center, the exclusive central sector of Tokyo Milennium from which the rest of the city is tightly controlled, there’s Valhalla, the densely-populated leisure district, Holytown, the main religious center for the population, the Factory, which is the industrial centre for the city, and Arcadia, a virtual reality sector designed to simulate the future Thousand Year Kingdom. Tokyo Millennium also has its own news network, which reports whatever propaganda the Centre wants them to, and the Temple Knights serve as the police force of Tokyo Millennium.

Life is cruel in Tokyo Millennium, and the Messians who run it display a remarkable lack of scruples in doing so. In Valhalla, entry to the Centre is won through brutal gladiatorial contests that often end with the death of the loser. In the Factory area, people are imprisoned, brainwashed, and forced to work until they die. Arcadia’s virtual utopia is, in reality, a facility where people are bound to chairs and hooked up to computers, unable to move, slowly atrophying, and will die if Arcadia is destroyed. The Four Archangels who run Tokyo Millennium, well three of them anyway, are willing to use demons like Abaddon and Belphegor to either swallow up the entire sector Valhalla or enslave the workers in the Factory sector. In order to suppress dissent from one of the Messiahs, Zayin, the Centre threatens to cut off all air going to Holytown unless he returns there. In fact, once the time was right and the Centre was sure that the Thousand Year Kingdom was at hand, Tokyo Millennium would be eliminated. The Messians you fight in the game include, besides the kind of religious minions you’d expect from the last game, factory butchers with giant axes, crazy neophytes, men dressed like Leatherface and wielding chainsaws, knights double-wielding machine guns and flying on jet packs, and whatever the fuck these Gyrator guys are. The hallmarks of totalitarianism seem fairly evident, topped off with the knowledge that those who don’t follow the Messian religion are killed by the Temple Knights.

Law here sounds quite cruel even when compared to the last game, but even here there is room for some nuance, for you see not all of the forces of Law are happy with the way the Messians are running things. Zayin, comes to see the errors of Tokyo Millennium’s leadership and eventually raises rebellion against the Centre for betraying the ideals of the Thousand Year Kingdom. According to one of the Four Elders, who is in reality the archangel Gabriel, God himself is unhappy with the way Tokyo Millennium turned out, because apparently a society built on nothing but the domination of the many by the few isn’t what God wanted after all, despite the antics of the forces of Law in the previous game which took place decades before this game’s events. As time passed Tokyo Millennium became much more decadent and corrupt, as as such neither God nor the Messiah ever appeared in Tokyo Millennium and the Thousand Year Kingdom remained a distant dream, so three of the Archangels lost patience and, breaking with God’s command, decided to create an artificial human who they thought would be given a soul by God and be the Messiah, as well as other artificial humans who would be his companions.

But if what the Archangels did was the wrong way to bring about the Thousand Year Kingdom, what was the right way? It’s already established that artificial Messiahs weren’t part of the plan, but how about the fact that Valhalla’s whole purpose was to determine who was worthy to live in the Thousand Year Kingdom and weed out the rest? God didn’t seem to have a problem with the logic of this last time. Or what about the fact that Arcadia was essentially a test run for what is apparently going to be the Thousand Year Kingdom itself? Zayin, when he first takes the player to Eden, tells you Tokyo Millennium must not be destroyed because it protects the people from demons, so clearly Tokyo Millennium is still part of the plan…or so it would seem at first.

Eventually, towards the final stretch of the game, Zayin reveals that he is in fact Satan, who is not to be confused with Lucifer but is instead an angel of punishment and an instrument of God’s judgement against humans and demons alike. His plan, on God’s orders, is to activate the Megiddo Arc in order to carry off the chosen few to live in the Thousand Year Kingdom floating through space, while also destroying both Tokyo Millennium and the underworld with its laser weapon. Inside the Arc is a place called Eden, obviously named after the Garden of Eden from the Book of Genesis, where those who are chosen by God give up everything, including their knowledge, to live in a place where peace and freedom last forever and there are no demons, but also no freedom. In the Neutral path, Satan explains that God has abandoned Tokyo Millennium, that God never intended for the Messiah to appear in Tokyo Millennium, and that as long as humans had knowledge they would always give into temptation and stray from God, and so from his perspective the plans of the Messians and the Archangels were doomed from the beginning. In the Chaos path, Satan argues with Lucifer and states that the knowledge Lucifer brought is the cause of all the violence that has plagued humanity. In the Law path, the player joins forces with Zayin/Satan and Gabriel to carry out God’s plan, and thus the Thousand Year Kingdom happens in much the same way that Zayin had previously condemned: a select few are chosen to live in salvation while Tokyo Millennium is completely destroyed, along with all life. Everything happens according to God’s design until, out of nowhere, Satan suddenly decides to judge YHVH himself, after just moments ago having executed his plan to destroy everything with the Megiddo Arc. With YHVH defeated, Satan as his instrument crumbles to dust, but not before nominating the player as the Messiah and Hiroko as the Holy Mother, and the two thus strive create a Lawful utopia without YHVH. As much is this might seem like ultimately a happy ending for some, don’t forget that this all right after Satan and the Law-aligned player just finished committing genocide against everyone who didn’t get chosen by God to live in Eden, and Satan’s sudden opposition to YHVH for the sin of genocide seems perplexing and without basis considering he was quite happy to destroy all of humanity just before turning to fight YHVH for almost no reason.

Despite Satan saying in the Neutral path that the Thousand Year Kingdom was doomed from the start, the Thousand Year Kingdom was always the goal of the forces of Law in this game, just as it was in the last one. Whether it’s as it was envisioned by the Messians, by the Archangels, or by God himself (as well as Gabriel and Satan by extension), the end goal was always the same: to create a society inhabited only by those who are chosen by God, ruled in strict harmony with God’s direct rule, and everyone else is either killed or left to die. The disagreement among the angels is that, according to God, some of them are doing it wrong. In the same sense that Nikolai Bukharin talked about the aim of fascist revolutions being a “speedy reorganization of the bourgeois ranks”, God and the forces of Law, after three of the Four Archangels break his commands and even create a fake image of YHVH, embark upon a speedy reorganization of the Thousand Year Kingdom by changing who is responsible for bringing it about, replacing those who have the wrong idea with those who have the right idea of how to achieve essentially the same end. After defeating Lucifer on the Law path, you ascend with Satan to Eden, and watch as the Megiddo Arc destroys life on Earth with its lasers, thus killing everyone who didn’t make it to Eden. Then, after you and Satan defeat YHVH, the pyramid containing Eden is seen descending from space towards Earth, presumably to settle upon the remains of Earth, with the inhabitants of Eden thus being the only humans left on Earth, with you as their Messiah and therefore the spiritual leader of all mankind. It is unclear from that scene whether or not the idea is that the denizens of Eden go on to repopulate the world, but I suppose from a certain point of view God’s whole plan was to create living space for his chosen few. I don’t think I need to explain what the idea of “living space” created by genocide sounds like.

And on that note, let’s address one last thing about the Messians. Sometimes you see fans talk about how Law represents some vague ideas of egalitarianism, which would thus be opposed to the might-makes-right anarchy so frequently associated with Chaos. I’m sure this idea is extrapolated from later games, but for the last two games so, Shin Megami Tensei and Shin Megami Tensei II, it’s just not evident that the Messians or the forces of Law are such bastions of egalitarianism. Focusing on this game in particular, besides the elitism already inherent in the logic of “only a chosen few will be allowed to live in my utopia” as seems to be the idea presented by the Messians and YHVH, the Tokyo Millennium run by the Messians is a pretty obviously stratified society. There is a clear hierarchy between elite ruling classes who control every aspect of society, and many underclasses who exist beneath them, while only a handful of individuals from the underclasses are ever given access to the Centre. It is unclear what things are like in Eden, though nothing suggests that it’s essentially hyper-egalitarian commune or something like that, unless maybe. And what about the Mutants, the humans who were transformed by the nuclear radiation that hit Tokyo? They were cast out of Tokyo Millennium by the Messians and forced to go underground. And as far as I can tell, no Mutants ever made it to Eden, or at least we don’t see them anywhere (and, if there were any in Eden, the game would no doubt tell you that they’re Mutants like they do for all the Mutants in the game). So do the Mutants somehow not figure anywhere in this “equality” attributed to the forces of Law? Or is it only equality for a certain set of people? Either way, the “equality” sometimes attributed to Law does not seem evident here.

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2003/2005)

Talking about Law and Chaos in this game cam seem very difficult, since there really isn’t a traditional system of Law and Chaos here in plot or in gameplay. There are three Reasons, ideologies formed by the last surviving humans in the world, to be presented to Kagutsuchi, an avatar of the Great Will, who will then lend the power of creation to whoever fights their way to the top of his tower to present their Reason to him. You, playing as the Demi-Fiend, are unable to present your own Reason due to being half-demon, and so the player is expected by Kagutsuchi to choose one Reason over the others, but there are also three endings that see you rejecting all of them.

Ostensibly, the main analogue for the Law alignment would be the Reason of Shijima, as propounded by Hikawa. The main goal of Shijima is to create a world of stillness and silence, where there is no individuality, no selfhood, no passion, and everyone is in complete harmony with the universe, supposedly equal to God. In a sense, there are plenty of Law hallmarks here, particularly the emphasis on order and harmony over individuality and freedom. But, if this is the Law alignment, why do the minions of Shijima include fallen angels, incubuses, and demon lords, and why is its demon sponsor Ahriman, the demonic adversary of Ahura Mazda? We even see Surt, a Chaos-aligned demon and previously one of the four generals of Chaos in the original game, under the service of the Assembly of Nihilo, which the organization that Hikawa forms to gather the power needed to summon Ahriman. What would he be doing in what is ostensibly the Reasom of Law? And what would the bearer of Law be doing as a member of the Cult of Gaia, albeit as an apparent heretic? But then again I suppose the question can be inverted: what is a member of the Cult of Gaia doing in the Law alignment and talking about how God is going to help him create a new world?

Not to mention, as I have already established in the previous article, concerning Chaos, Yosuga, the Reason of Chiaki, by the same token does not fit into the old dynamic either, because even though its core concept is a might makes right utopia and this is often (though like I said not always) associated with Chaos, might is predicated on beauty and this idea is not presented under the auspice of freedom but instead a vision of perfect order, which inevitably the angels flock to as their new Thousand Year Kingdom of beauty. Indeed, the angels seem to support Yosuga at least in part because of its valorization of hierarchy in principle, an idea that makes no sense as a precept of Chaos because part of its whole point is to abolish authority and is also necessarily anti-egalitarian, which is why they despise the Manikins who try to create a Reason based on equality – truly befitting of that reactionary axiom first pronounced by Nicolas Gomez Davila: “Hierarchies are celestial. In hell all are equal.” In any case, the whole point of all of the Reasons is to establish what is suposed to be a new world of perfect order, just thst what you see is a competition of visions of a perfect order. Even Musubi, the arguably most chaotic Reason of them all, sets out in its isolationist vision a perfect harmony of isolated bubbles, whose mutual non-interference and alienation are the basis of said harmony.

Hikawa himself blends conceits of Law and Chaos similarly to the way Yosuga does, but not in the same form. Hikawa was a member of the Cult of Gaia, so in theory he should be considered part of the forces of Chaos. But his ambitions are almost completely different from the rest of the Gaians, and from the forces of Chaos. He was branded a heretic by the Cult of Gaia, which must seem strange because the Gaians tended to be inclusive and syncretic in their approach to spiritual doctrines. But whereas the Gaians simply wanted to bring about harmony with the demons or “ancient gods” in an anarchic society and for them Chaos meant a state of natural freedom that involved this co-existence, Hikawa wanted to activate the Conception in order to invite God’s presence via Kagutsuchi so that he could grant Hikawa to create a new world, his desired world of silence and stillness. In a sense, not unlike how Yosuga seeks a Thousand Year Kingdom whose chosen few are selected in a might makes right contest of strength, Hikawa sought to gain God’s power to realize a Lawful outcome through the primordial chaos of the Vortex World.

Ultimately, all three of the Reasons exist as functions of the process by which God hopes to create a new world out of the Vortex World. Although the world of this game is intended to be modelled around Chaos, and in many aspects it is, in the end you see Kagutsuchi right at the center of it, and his whole purpose as an avatar of the Great Will is to create a new world through the annihilation of the current world. Thus, distinguishing the Reasons between Law and Chaos is ultimately futile, since all of them are functions of the Great Will. The Great Will sets into a motion a conflict that simulates that of Law and Chaos but is in reality a contest between three avenues of realizing the goal of the Great Will. And so, ironically for a world constructed with Chaos in mind in contrast to the previous game built around the triumph of Law, all three Reasons can be considered functionaries of Law insofar as all of them serve God.

As such, you can’t really talk about the Law alignment in this game without talking about the Great Will. The Great Will is the teleological presence in the universe that consciously drives all life in a constant cycle of death and rebirth towards perfection. The Great Will keeps perpetuating the same process in countless other worlds and universes as is presently taking place in this game’s world, and it will not stop until it creates a cosmos devoid of sin and free will. Kagutsuchi is but one avatar of this Great Will, as is presumably YHVH who proclaims that the Great Will will restore him again and again after being defeated. God, of course, seems very interested in making sure that the Demi-Fiend acts in accordance with his will, and when the Demi-Fiend is about to reach the very depths of the Amala Labyrinth, he sends the angel Metatron, who the demons refer to as “the voice of the universe”, to deter and eventually destoy the Demi-Fiend, though of course he fails. The leitmotif accompanying the “noble voice” that is Metatron affixes him to the canon of Law, and as that sound plays Metatron warns you about the wrath of the Absolute One (or presumably “God’s vengeance”, which is to strike “this cursed land”). Kagutsuchi wants the Demi-Fiend to inaugurate a new world under the designs of whoever’s Reason prevails, and does not tolerate the Demi-Fiend either using the power of creation to restore the world to its pre-Conception state (which he says would be nothing but a world of suffering) or joining with Lucifer in stopping that whole cycle entirely. This is the design of the Great Will, and when the Demi-Fiend descends further into the Amala Labyrinth, Metatron, as champion of the forces of Law, is sent by the Great Will to stop you. Thus the forces of Law have as their goal the manifestation of a perfect world through the power of creation and a ruthless cycle of death and rebirth orchestrated by God.

The Messians who appear in the Second Kalpa of the Amala Labyrinth, after being killed along with Gaians by Hikawa, say much of the same things as they would do in the previous two games, about how it’s important to pray to God more than anything because he will save you. One Messian states that everything happens according to God’s will and warns you to “leave this dreaded place and fulfill the part which you were originally intended for”. It is obvious that the Messians would be found on the side of God whenever they appear, but in this context the Messians can be seen as the advocates of a peculiar form of philosophical determinism that stretches out into ethical conduct: in other words, because everything is determined by God, you should not try to do anything that isn’t fated for you, or goes against the “purpose” that has been given to you by God. We should note for posterity at this point that, as minor a role the Messians play in this game is, this is almost the last appearance the Order of Messiah makes in any Shin Megami Tensei game. After Shin Megami Tensei: IMAGINE, the Messians have so far never returned in any future games, and it’s not clear if they will return for Shin Megami Tensei V.

All taken together, in this game Law appears as multi-dimensional in a way that it often isn’t in other games. There is here not one path of Law but multiple, many roads that lead to God. God calls upon the survivors of the Conception to present their own vision of a perfect world under his auspices, so that his cycle of creation can continue, and so that he might have a chance to create his own desired world, without sin, suffering, or freedom. Whether it is a kingdom that flourishes in the stillness of time, a kingdom rooted in solitude, or even a kingdom which rejoices in conflict, Kagutsuchi approves of it because all of them are avenues by which the Great Will realizes its goals, and all of them represent thus represent their own Thousand Year Kingdoms of order achieved through the destruction of the world and mankind. And all of this, of course, is fate, more specifically the fate that is the will of Amala, of the Great Will, and, whereas Chaos via the True Demon path represents the rejection of fate and the power of the Absolute One in the name of free will, Law here represents the acceptance of this fate and consequently moving through the will of God to realize his creation.

Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon (2008)

In this game, the dynamic of Law and Chaos is profoundly scaled down compared to previous games. In this game they are not so much ideologies as much as ways of life, though in this sense they may function as inclusive absolutes. Simply put, it’s less about creating a new world under the auspice of broad metaphysical forces and instead about how Raidou Kuzunoha, the titular character, lives his life, and what his values are.

Whereas Chaos seems to denote living your life for yourself and acting out of your own principles and desires, Law denotes acting in accordance primarily out of duty towards others, in spite of your own desires or personal principles, and “living in harmony with the world”. The Law-aligned Raidou does what he does because he is a Devil Summoner, sworn by oath to the Yatagarasu, and so his actions stem from the role he assumes rather than his personal identity and drives, and so he abjures his desires under the auspice of a life lived for the sake of duty – perhaps even for duty’s sake. “Living in harmony with the world” in this game’s context probably doesn’t have the same connotations as the idea of harmony with nature that you sometimes see from the forces of Chaos in other games, particularly the Gaians, and instead probably refers to the idea of conformity to society as a principle virtue, which the angels of God seem to support on the grounds that it is how the world’s order is maintained, and that makes sense because few things are more important to Law than order.

Although it is more or less connected to a general attitude regarding individual way of life, the subject of divine will is still very much connected to Law in this game. During the fight with Mikaboshi, a Law-aligned Raidou will be greeted with disdain over his service to the Yatagarasu, whereas a Neutral or Chaos-aligned Raidou is not given the same treatment. Yatagarasu, in the Raidou games, is very simply the divine will, represented by an unnamed messenger referred to as the Herald of Yatagarasu. In Japanese myth, Yatagarasu is the name of a sacred crow whose appearance signified the presence of the will of heaven, and it is believed that this crow guided Jimnu, the mythological (as in, not actually historical) first emperor of Japan in his campaign to conquer the Yamato province. Sometimes the Yatagarasu crow is associated with the goddess Amaterasu, who is also the patron goddess of the Yamato imperial dynasty and divine ancestor of the Imperial House of Japan, in that perhaps this divine will signified by the Yatagarasu crow is the will of Amaterasu. But in this game, there’s even more context added by the fact that apparently Kazuma Kaneko treated Yatagarasu as a messenger of YHVH. So is Amaterasu YHVH? Is Raidou a servant of YHVH, and does a Chaos-aligned Raidou entail rebellion against YHVH? Make of this little detail whatever you want.

Another illustration of the theme of Law in relation to divine will is illustrated in an alignment question found in the final dungeon. It posits that you are granted divine protection by a deity and become a sort of saviour figure, but the deity is just using you, you eventually learn the truth, and so you must decide if you would simply accept being a tool of the deity to keep his protection and keep being a saviour figure and the price of consciously surrendering your free will, or renounce the deity, thereby casting off his protection and going back to being a normal human while also being considered a traitor. The obvious Law answer is to continue serving the deity and accepting his protection, even knowing that the god was simply using you, in order to continue being a saviour figure, whereas the obvious Chaos answer is to renounce the deity because he used you even if that meant becoming a pariah. In this sense, a central and much broader theme to Law is the ideal of willing self-sacrifice, or at least the voluntary surrender of personal freedom, in the name of service to a god, or at least to the community in some regards.

This self-sacrificial ethos has echoes of the Christian elevation of martyrdom, in which willingly giving up your life for God is the highest of virtues, to the point that even suffering from persecution is attains a kind of nobility, which is why Christians have gone to great lengths to exaggerate the extent of their persecutions, and still irrationally claim persecution for themselves to this day. It is also most pronounced in the game’s main representative of the Law alignment: Akane Narita. Akane is a woman who, although patient and reserved, constantly frets over the actions of her impulsive brother Dahn. She’s also the daughter of a man named Akijiro Tsukigata, the leader of the Tsukigata clan who serve as the leaders of a village that is terrorized by beings known as the Tento Lords. In this village, the Tento Lords occasionally receive daughters of the Tsukigata Clan as sacrificial “brides” so that they may reproduce, since the Tento Lords apparently do not have females of their own, and Akane wants to go through with it on the grounds that this arrangement will ensure the safety of her community. The Tsukigata Clan dislike this arrangement, but they know if they stop holding Marriage Rituals for the Tento Lords, their village will be brought to ruin and the clan will lose status, and since Akane knows this, she agrees to the ritual. According to Cole Lastie’s article on GameSpite, this is meant to be a difficult dilemma for Japanese audiences, whose value for the group would have presented conflict between the needs or rather wants of the collective and the suffering of the individual.

The Law ending for this game sees the player join forces with Akane for the final stretch of the game. After the defeat of Shinado, who assumed the mantle of King Abaddon, Akane sets out to rebuild Tsukigata Village as head of the Tsukigata Clan, considering the effort a tribute to the fallen who sacrificed themselves. Here it all comes back to duty, and it’s not obvious that Akane does what she does because she wants to do it, however noble the effort may be. Presumably, though, the Tento Lords are no longer an issue, so perhaps the Marriage Ritual no longer becomes necessary in the end? The issue doesn’t seem to be resolved, and as such remains open. Uniquely, though perhaps not suprisingly, Law also appears to be the least rewarding path in the game. Completing a Chaos playthrough rewards you with extra missions in the New Game Plus mode in which you can test your mettle with Lucifer who can become your ally, and a Neutral playthrough can allow you to summon Masakado after completing all other quests, but the only thing you get from a Law playthrough is the notice of having beaten the game.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2009)

In the would-be-fourth installment of Shin Megami Tensei, the dynamic of Law and Chaos is contextualized in terms of two forces seeking to take control of the mysterious multi-dimensional realm called the Schwarzvelt in order to remake the world. The Schwarzvelt one day appears in the sky over Antarctica, and as it expands demons start pouring into the Earth, killing humans as they enter. It seems to be a response to broad civilization decay – the prominence of greed, war, decadence, corruption, consumerism, and especially neglect for the environment, all of this provoke the emergence of the Schwarzvelt as a kind of antibody by which to cleanse the world by removing human civilization. The forces of Law and Chaos seek to direct its energies towards their own respective goals by activating the Cosmic Eggs.

The Law alignment, in this context, represents not only its typical ethos of order as the primary value even at the expense of freedom, but also the idea that all of humanity is to be governed by absolute spirit, in total harmony with God, and the idea of uniting all life on earth under God through an absolute, total community. The general ethos of Law in this game also seems to come down to what side you take on the question of humanity’s role in the world, and by that I mean in particular that the Law-aligned player would view both humans and demons as being in the wrong. This attitude is summarized by the perspective of the angels given by Azrael. His opinion is that a country created by humans leads only to decay and if a country is created by demons it leads only to ruin, the obvious conclusion from his perspective being that only God can create a country.

The main representative of the Law alignment in this game is Zelenin, a Russian scientist who was originally part of the crew of the Elve, one of the ships that were sent to investigate the Schwarzvelt, before joining the Red Sprite, after the rest of her crew were captured and mostly killed by the demons of Sector Bootes. She is professional, intelligent, compassionate, level-headed, though apparently somewhat cold as well. She also seems fairly optimistic, and somewhat naive, about humanity, in that she appears to believe the problems of the world can be solved if everyone is convinced to observe order. Unlike Jimenez, she has little trouble getting along with her human crewmates, but is deeply afraid of demons. This is no doubt because of her capture, and that of the crew, by the demons at Bootes. The only demons she trusts are the angels, including one angel in particular named Mastema (who we will explore soon enough), who helped her escape from Bootes and later grants her the protection of an angel. As the game progresses, Zelenin’s friendship with Mastema grows further and eventually she agrees to become an angel herself.

After the mercenary crew called Jack’s Squad is nearly massacred by Jimenez, after they were about to kill him, they return for a revenge attack against the Red Sprite, led by Ryan who had already killed some of the Red Sprite crew and also declared his plans to create an “ultimate demon army”. Zelenin had previously stopped Jimenez from killing Ryan as he was about to surrender, but after this incident crew comes to the opinion that Zelenin was wrong to spare him and that they should kill Ryan and his squad, and Zelenin is the only one of the crew to object. Thus, in search of an alternative to violence, she once again turns to Mastema, who transforms her into an angel and gives her the power to pacify humans through angelic hymns. Her hymn causes Jack’s Squad to surrender before firing a single shot, and the crew that previously doubted Zelenin then praises her for her success. However, the crew also sees her powers as dangerous: while it can stop humans from killing each other, it also destroys their free will, and after Jack’s Squad hears the song they become capable only of taking orders from Zelenin. Later, a decision is to be made. In Sector Grus, the demons who were freed as a result of the surrender of Jack’s Squad propose that they would open the way to Maya if the crew kills Jack’s Squad in revenge for holding them captive. Zelenin refuses to cooperate with the demons, and if you side with her you instead see Zelenin use her hymn to destroy said demons, who unlike humans experience pain upon hearing the hymn, and force your into the part of Sector Grus where Maya dwells.

Another major representative of Law in this game is Mastema, who also broadly serves as the main repesentative of the angels. Mastema is an angel found specifically within the Book of Jubilees, in which he is the angel of persecution who carries out punishments and tests the faith of humans on God’s behalf, and in other apocrypha he basically takes responsibility for many cruel and irrational behaviours that are otherwise canonically attributed to God (such as getting Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, randomly trying to kill Moses, and the tenth plague of Egypt). As tempter and punisher of Man in the employ of God, Mastema could be said to fill the role of the Satan in the Hebrew Bible. In this game, Mastema assists the crew in their mission to investigate the Schwarzvelt, though this ultimately with the intent of having them pursue the path of Law, which he which hopes will restore his apparently diminished position within the angelic hierarchy. Mastema here also expresses some beliefs that are more or less expressive of what the Law alignment represents. When asked about the violence between crew members caused by the Delphinus Parasite, he views such carnage as simply the fate of those who let the Holy Spirit guide them. He believes that technology, as well as demons, as a source of deception for humans, and views any knowledge “that is unclean in the sight of the Lord” as a vice (just like Satan said in the second game). He views human trust as inherently unreliable because of its dependence on “the freedom of the heart” – in other words, free will – which is a problem because the human heart is susceptible to errors, which means that trust is easily betrayed under hardship. And when you fight him in the Chaos path, he expresses a belief that humans are pawns that exist simply to be guided, or by his terms manipulated, by higher beings (including himself). But Mastema and the angels are not totally closed to the potential of humans, as Mastema acknowledges that humans have shown themselves capable of coping with distrust, and an angel in Grus tells you that humans will become “wrapped in light” if their spirit is pure.

Other angelic forces are also found representing Law in various EX Missions. In Sector Eridanus you can meet the angels Aniel (formerly known as Haniel) and Kazfiel, who say they have come to reclaim a world of order and challenge you in combat trials to see if you are worthy of slaying Mother Harlot in a Law-exclusive EX Mission. In another Law-exclusive EX Mission, you see the angels sacrificing themselves to summon Seraph, who then we you on a quest to defeat Mara so that you can declare you a saint. Metatron returns, disguised as a human, in a New Game Plus EX Mission which sees him attempt to restore God. Yes, God himself also appears in this game once again…er, well, sort of. In this mission you fight Demiurge, a part of God who seems to have been reduced to a false god, not to mention the hardest boss in the whole game. After defeating him, Metatron will attempt to fuse with Demiurge in order to restore the “holy spirit of our creator”, and the player is given a choice: a goddess tells him to remove his visor so that she can seal Metatron and the Demiurge away; if the player refuses to do this, the fusion is a success and Demiurge reappears before the player. Demiurge tells the player that his actions have allowed him to regain power which will allow him to restore his apparent true form, before telling him that the “true enemy” is “the spirit of the Earth itself”, implores the player to “drive those wicked heretics back below the ground”, and offers to join the player’s party. The main conflict, in this context, is between God and the mother goddesses, with, according to Metatron, God having protected humans from their wrath so long as they worshipped him, and as humans stopped worshipping God his protection faded, and so the mother goddesses seized the chance to seek revenge against Man and somehow subdue the power of God. Thus the conflict of Law versus Chaos in this game is framed as a conflict between God and the goddesses of the earth respectively. In fact, if you spare Mother Harlot in that other EX Mission, she tells you that the Mothers, from whom she originates (no doubt based a supposed connected between the Whore of Babylon and Ishtar – who, ironically, is Law-aligned in this game) represent the souls of those who were cursed or hated by God and that she herself is the mother of those scorned by God, thus she and the Mothers represent Chaos (even though she herself is Neutral, as a Fiend).

It is also worth noting that the supporters of God’s will in this game do not consist solely of angels. Of the two Lawful guardians of the Cosmic Eggs, at least on the Law and Chaos paths, one of them is Yatagarasu, the sun crow of Japanese myth. In Sector Bootes, where you find him, the goddess Pallas Athena chastises non-Lawful players and warns them that they will receive “heavenly judgement” for opposing “the god of light and order”, while telling Law-aligned players that they hope to hear Zelenin’s song again. In Sector Delphinus, the tree god Kukunochi tells Lawful players that he was guided by Mastema, while the goddess Scathach warns non-Lawful players that death awaits them for “having spat upon God’s open palm”. In Sector Horologium, Ganesha talks about trembling when he considers the march of the forces of Chaos. This might sound strange in theory for the same reasons as it does in the first game: why indeed would these pre-Christian polytheistic gods line up to side with the Judeo-Christian God? As strange as that sounds, it does show that, once again, Law is treated as more of an inclusive absolute. Yes, God is at the center of it, but there are these other gods as well who subordinate themselves to God’s cause, probably out of a belief in the order that they think God represents, in contrast of course to the gods of Chaos.

Towards the final stretch of the game, after defeating Maya, we can see what the world of Law looks like, and it’s here we come to another major representative of Law: the Three Wise Men. These mysterious and unnamed beings appears to the protagonist in a series of visions over the course of the game, usually remarking about the futility of the player’s mission. Mem Aleph seems to believe that the Wise Men have some sort of obligation to her, but it’s never explained what that obligation is. When they take over Arthur, the Red Sprite’s AI, they show a vision of a previous global civilization ruled by a different species, who just like humans were unaware of their corruption and negligence and so were consumed by the Schwarzvelt in obliviousness. They then present what they believe to be the solution to a cycle of ruin: a world where all of mankind, and indeed all life, is unified by a single spirit, which is comprised of “the spiritually enlightened” who are chosen to rule the new world. All things are guided by the power of the song wielded by Zelenin and the angels, all desire is eliminated, there is no conflict, but thus is all because now humans exist only to sing the praises of God forever and can’t do anything else.

All of that is, of course, nothing unusual for the Law alignment, in fact some would say it sort of looks like the Law path of the second game and Shijima from the third out together. What is strange, however, is that even the forces of Law talk about the strong prospering and the weak crumbling. In the vision they present after the defeat of Maya, the Three Wise Men proclaim that the “spiritually enlightened whose wills are strong” will be chosen to live in their desired new world, while “the fallen humans whose wills are weak” will be destroyed. It’s obviously not the same thing as the familiar contest of might makes right selection that takes place in this game’s Chaos world, but what we do see is that there is a Social Darwinist selection for the Law world, or at least the logic seems familiar to Social Darwinism, but instead of being predicated on strength or force it is predicated on will. Though, it is just as possible that this but another way of saying that only whose who believe in God, or rather follow the song of Zelenin, will be allowed to live in the world of Law, while everyone else is eliminated. In that sense, the world of Law in this game is essentially just the Thousand Year Kingdom from previous games. In any case, yet again we see problems in positioning Law as essentially egalitarianism versus the “meritocracy” of Chaos, although I suppose there is equality if only in the sense that everyone is equally a vassal of God, and everyone who would not be equally pious would be eliminated.

Anyway, after the Three Wise Men show up, Zelenin decides that they are correct and leaves the Red Sprite, taking with her some of the crew who decide they want to be “saved” and so follow her. After this, a re-animated Commander Gore appears and the alignment lock moment of the game arrives. If you are Law-aligned by this point, Gore declares that you are “the true threat to humanity”, which is very interesting when you remember that on the Chaos path he calls you a demon wearing the uniform of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team. After defeating Gore in the name of Law, Zelenin returns to the Red Sprite and sings her song, causing the crew to become practically mindless zealots who exist mostly to obey Zelenin, the Three Wise Men, and you, and praise God’s name. After gathering the Cosmic Eggs and defeating Mem Aleph, we see the world of Law take shape. God’s power is released onto the Earth and selects the believers to live and spread his word, while annihiliating the non-believers and “those who clung to their greed”. This power also apparently destroyed the Schwarzvelt, even though just moments ago the player saw the Schwarzvelt cover the Earth with the power of the Cosmic Eggs albeit under the influence of the powers of Law. The humans who are chosen to live in the new world stand atop skyscrapers that serve as altars through which to commune with God, Zelenin in her Pillar form stands at the center of this huge valley of skyscrapers which seems to cover the new world and trasmits her song to the whole world, and everyone is singing the name and praises of God, seemingly forever.

Immediately my mind turns to the Rapture as believed by some evangelical Christians, but of course it happens very differently. The Rapture is supposed to take place at the end of the world, those chosen to dwell in heaven will be sent to heaven and everyone else lives on Earth, awaiting subjugation by the forces of Satan and eventually destruction, whereas the world of Law begins after the end of the world, with the creation of a new one, but the two scenarios have in common the salvation of the believers and the destruction of the godless. This of course is not uncommon for the dominionist branches of Christianity who, just. Then there is the nature of the harmonious rule being implemented. All beings are directed by a singular presence with which they are theoretically one, and which stands central as the channel through which God’s will is made manifest. A human standing as the absolute regent uniting the people on behalf of God, that idea is central to the Catholic Church in whom the Pontifex Maximus, formerly the High Priest of the pre-Christian Roman religion, becomes what is now popularly known as the Pope. The regimentation of the masses under one will, or spirit, together with the elimination of those who will not submit themselves to it, is the basic of totalitarianism, itself a hallmark of fascism. In fact, if you read some of the literature written by people who considered thenselves fascists and wanted to construct fascism, you’ll find that they treat their concept of the state, or total state, as a spiritual and metaphysical project, a Geist as it were, not just a political one.

And on that note, as I was contemplating and writing this article and revisting Strange Journey I could not help but think back to the design of Zelenin’s Pillar form. It shows Zelenin (who also has horns, for some reason) affixed to what is clearly intended to resemble a cross but without actually directly representing Christianity. But he cross itself actually looks a lot like a different symbol: the Algiz rune. You can see that two spokes of the cross where the hands are nailed to both point diagonally upwards rather than span in straight lines, which leads to a shape in line with that of the Algiz rune, or a least a fairly jaunty version thereof as you can see in the image I used here. The Algiz rune was originally just a letter of the Futhark runic alphabet, but it was one many pre-Christian symbols that were appropriated by the Nazis, who then folded them into their own ideological context. Thus the Algiz rune was turned into what the Nazis called the Lebensrune, or “rune of life”, which was used as a generic life symbol in medical establishments, birth and death certificates, and gravesites (that last practice was apparently still in use long after the fall of Nazi Germany). The Algiz rune is not inherently a fascist symbol, but the Lebensrune is to this day utilized by volkisch nationalists and fascists as a symbol of their ideology. I don’t think Kazuma Kaneko intended for any resemblance, but the irony is surely not lost. And to add to that, when I notice the horns on Pillar Zelenin, I can’t help thinking that they look an awful lot like the helmet horns that appear in Odin’s artwork for most of the series (and Odin, you’ll remember, used to be Law-aligned). It would be very ironic to see a marriage of contexts between volkisch Odinism and apocalyptic Christianity, though since there’s no evidence of intent of design this is all very probably a coincidence. Still, it dovetails fairly well with the way that the world of Law operates.

Shin Megami Tensei IV (2013)

At last the fourth instalment of the series, this game presents a dynamic of Law and Chaos that departs from the previous game while broadly taking together aspects of the first and second games. Law here is defined by an ideology familiar to both the first and second game and is represented again chiefly by the angels, though with an added theme of focusing on preservation, and Chaos has a more or less expanded form of the ideology found in the first game and represented primarily by the forces of Lucifer instead of the wrathful mother goddesses, with the added theme of focusing on upheaval. However, just as was the case for Chaos, this is only the surface, and there are more and deeper contours to be explored.

Once again, the setting is instructive for this inquiry, for the context of Law it is worth focusing on one part in particular first: the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. Established atop the firmament created by the back of a giant and stony Masakado, this is a kingdom ruled by a faction representing the forces of Law. Founded by King Aquila, in reality a man named Akira from before the events of the game, Mikado is a feudal society based loosely around those that existed in medieval Europe, consisting of a class of peasants, merchants, and labourers, called Casaulries, who are dominated by the elite class of nobles, knights (or rather “Samurai”), and aristocrats, as well as the clerical leadership. The Samurai, notably, tend to often wear blue and white uniforms, as does Sister Gabby, the right-hand woman of the Monastery of Mikado Castle, and this is the same colour-coding that designates the Order of Messiah. The Messians don’t appear in this game, but then they probably don’t need to, since the Mikadoans tend to have broadly similar beliefs to the Messians and even fulifll the same function. The idea of a society ran by a religious order based in some hardcore (at least quasi-) Judeo-Christian belief system represented by clerical leadership, and as we’ll soon explore secretly ruled by Archangels, actually seems like a medieval version of Tokyo Millennium from the second game. Tokyo, being beneath the surface of Mikado in this case, would almost fill the role of Makai or the Underworld in the second game, just that it’s not actually the realm of the demons – that would be the Expanse, as is explained in the game. Of course, this setup can be seen as just one of a litany of call-backs to previous games found within this game. In addition, Mikadu is a deeply authoritarian and regressive society from the outset. Class stratification is permanent in Mikadoan society, meaning that most people who are born into the ruling or working class tend to stay there for their entire lives, and the only possibility social mobility for Casualries consists of passing the Gauntlet Rite and becoming a Samurai, which would mean becoming a Luxuror. Class divisions are deep-seated, masked by religious order and harmony, and Casualries come to resent the Luxurors to the point that some of them gather together to read books referred to as Literature, which supposedly encourage skepticism of Mikoadoan society, with the side-effect that readers sometimes become demons. Class rule is brutally enforced by the Samurai, who kill dissenters on the orders of the clergy, and public executions are considered national holidays. It’s worth noting briefly that, in the Apocalypse version of the game, the angels are shown to offer the denizens of Tokyo a chance to live in Mikado, if they choose to “abandon civilization and become His servants”, so living in Mikado entails commitment to a patently regressed social order.

Very early in the game, you are introduced to the Law and Chaos heroes of the game via a series of dreams. For the Chaos alignment there is Walter, and for the Law alignment there is Jonathan. In the visions where you see Jonathan, you find yourself in a desert with nothing in it except the head of a statue (likely the statue of King Aquila). Jonathan tells you that he was waiting and praying for your arrival, that his future is with the player, and that you and him are going to create “a world where the peace we know today lasts forever”. This clearly establishes Jonathan as the main representative of the Law alignment, and this is further supported by his personality. Jonathan is typically a meek and cautious personality who tends to have faith in the orders he’s given and trusts authority. Similarly to Zelenin, he abhors the use of violence to end a person’s suffering, but unlike Zelenin he’s not above going along with missions of murder if it means securing the order of the kingdom. He is also very interested in “preserving the world”, in keeping things as they are, and in the last vision before going to Naraku, Jonathan tells you that the player shouldn’t let suspicion (of the status quo) “fester into idle fear”, questioning whether the player would “destroy what our forebears have wrought over a passing delusion”, and tells the player that they must not “go to the underground” because the Samurai are charged with keeping the peace of today for the children of tomorrow. All of this sets the tone for much of what else Jonathan has to say for the rest of the game, and establishes what is, as you’ll see later on, easily the most absurd degree of conservatism you’ll see in any Law-aligned character. And “conservative” is what best describes Jonathan’s ideals to a tee. His whole raison d’etre is to preserve the status quo, which means to preserve hierarchy and order, no matter how unjust. Furthermore, just like his Chaos-aligned rival Walter, there is a class component to Jonathan’s personality and ideals. Unlike Walter and the protagonist, Jonathan was born into the Luxuror class before becoming a Samurai (who are already Luxurors, even if they were previously Casualries). Radically the changing the system, getting rid of the unjust hierarchy in Mikado, would threaten the position of the Luxurors, Jonathan’s class. Although it’s said he believes that everyone should be treated equally regardless of class, you would never find him willing to change the system to make that possible, and he doesn’t seem to actually get along with dyed-in-the-wool Casualries like Walter.

Once you descend to Tokyo, you find that the city is divided between two factions: the Ashura-kai and the Ring of Gaea. The closest thing to a Law faction in Tokyo is the Ashura-kai (or Hachibu Rengou Ashura-kai, as is their full name), a yakuza organization based in Roppongi Hills which controls most of Tokyo. This no doubt has something to do with the fact that, in a Tokyo now filled with predatory demons, the Ashura-kai offer protection and maintain order in exchange for extracting money (and, as you’ll see, Red Pills, unbeknownst to them) from the citizenry. In this context, alignment shifts toward Law typically involve assisting the Ashura-kai in some way. For example, there’s the quest to remove Kuebiko from Shinjuku, which is given to you by a member of the Ashura-kai during the course of the main story. Whereas for Kuebiko we can see long-standing grievances about how he lived in Shinjuku for thousands of years, the Ashura-kai’s business is simple: they want the land of Shinjuku and they want Kuebiko off of it. They try to offer Kuebiko another residence and even try to bribe him with Red Pills, which he refuses. Defeating him, of course, pushes you ever so slightly towards Law, in contrast to the substantial push towards Chaos you get for refusing to fight him. Before that, there’s also the quest to kill all Corpses, which culminates in a fight with a Hunter who was giving out Red Pills to humans, and ultimately ingests one himself, in order to overthrow the Ashura-kai and end their control of Tokyo by becoming demons. The Hunter becomes a demon named Dullahan and defeating the demon gives you a choice to either finish it off or spare its life. Killing Dullahan brings you towards Law while sparing her brings you towards Chaos, the former probably based on killing Dullahan meaning you defend the status quo of Tokyo and the latter probably based on sparing Dullahan meaning you sympathize with the cause of the rebels.

Much later in the game, the party is introduced to Tayama, the boss of the Ashura-kai, who has one of the Samurai held hostage in order to coax the party to do him a favour or two, by which I mean a set of assassination missions. Tayama, for his part, has his own vision of society, his “utopia” as it were. He ostensibly wants Tokyo to be a place where humans and demons live together in harmony under his leadership through the distribution of Red Pills, because humans and demons are stuck together with seemingly no way of escaping the borders of Tokyo. On paper, this can seem to be a reasonable proposal, but it isn’t long before the foundation of Tayama’s plan is revealed. The party soon encounters a facility called Reverse Hills, located beneath Midtown. There they find humans strapped to chairs and locked in rooms where they piss and shit in buckets and have parts of their brain extracted in order to create the Red Pills. So, in order to stop predatory demons from eating humans, they abduct humans take a small part of human brain for the demons to eat instead. What a world of difference. As if that wasn’t enough, apparently the Ashura-kai have been thinking of taking in children as seed beds. Tayama, of course, finds out that they’ve been in Reverse Hills, is confronted by the party, and justifies everything the party saw on the grounds that, when the firmament appeared and Tokyo was sealed, humans began fighting each other over food and electricity and started killing each other and destroying their surroundings, and as a result thought only of themselves and became almost exactly like demons. He views himself as acting in the best interests of humans, and everyone who has a problem with that as not having those same interests in mind, though also as noble sacrifices. Easily we see the conceit of the Platonic autocrat, right down to the use of “noble lies” to support his goals.

All of this brings us back to the Law alignment, Jonathan, and the overriding focus on preservation. When fighting Tenkai at Midtown, the player is asked about the ideals they possess. When Tenkai askes you what kind of Tokyo you want to see, the ideal Tokyo of the Law alignment is “a peaceful city of order”, and when Tenkai asks what you plan to do when the truth about the Ashura-kai is discovered, the Lawful answer is “to sustain it, thereby preserving order”. Jonathan, of course, endorses this answer, arguing that “many have built their lives atop the world as we know it now” and that “none have the right to steal that away”. Considering that the truth of the Ashura-kai that Tenkai is talking about is quite literally a place where people who don’t like the Ashura-kai, and even children, are harvested for pieces of their brain to turn into Red Pills, you would think that Jonathan would think more carefully about that point. In fact, these revelations barely seem to have much impact on Jonathan at all. All he can tell Walter is that he loathes Tayama as well, but that killing Yuriko (a.k.a. Lilith, the Black Samurai) is more important. Being on the side of preservation is also central to Lawful alignment shifts in the Passage of Ethics in a previous story quest. In this passage, you answer questions by taking either the left door or the right door, the left door corresponding to Chaos and the right door corresponding to Law. In the first question, you’re the the ruler of a country gathering the population for a game, and one of the attendees is taller than all of the others. You are asked whether you would exclude the tall attendee for the sake of fairness, or include the tall attendee regardless of his height. The Law answer is to exclude the tall attendee for the sake of fairness, which Jonathan justifies by saying that it would be “unsporting” to the shorter players for the heights to be uneven. Keep in mind, he’s not saying it would be unfair, or unequal, just “unsporting”, just to dispel certain ideas about Lawful egalitarianism again. Anyways, the second question has you be the chief of a village that has lived the same way for 1,000 years until one day a man comes bringing some unspecified revolutionary technology, which would improve the lives of the villagers at the cost of abandoning their continuous way of life. You are asked if you would expel the visitor to preserve your village’s way of life, or welcome the visitor in order to adopt his technological innovation. The Law answer to this question is to expel the visitor, which Jonathan justifies by saying that it is not worth “upending the stability of a culture and causing confusion amongst the people”. The third and final question places you before the love of your life, lying in a hospital bed, alive but unconscious, with no visible hope of regaining consciousness and all efforts exhausted. You are whether you would stay beside this person and keep them alive despite no sign of recovery, or stop all treatment and let natural death take its course. Staying beside the person for the rest of their life is officially the Law answer, but Jonathan can’t seem to decide on an answer himself.

All in all, though, we can see that Jonathan prefers preservation of the status quo to an absurd degree. It’s to a point where, during the conversation with Lilith, he can only seem to respond to what Lilith says in terms of kneejerk contradictions borne less of a consideration of what she says, and more from the knowledge that Lilith is the Black Samurai (who is therefore an actual demon) and from there his unquestioned commitment to killing her. For instance, he asserts that humanity “has no true role” just because Lilith and Walter talk about a true role for humans. After the party meets the Four Archangels at Shene Deuqe (they themselves are very important for Law), Jonathan uncritically decides to obey their instruction to continue the quest to kill the Black Samurai, describes Walter’s newfound sense of doubt as simply “lamentable”, insists that the duty of Samurai is to “protect today, so that the people can see tomorrow, as they always have”, and, most strikingly, asserts that neither Tokyo nor the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado must change. This is what I mean by the most absurd form of conservatism in any Law-aligned character. At least Zayin rebelled against Tokyo Millennium because he thought they were doing the Thousand Year Kingdom the wrong way. It would be easy enough to imagine why Jonathan would want Mikado to stay the same as it is even with its brutal class hierarchy, but why Tokyo? Tokyo at this point is a society literally controlled by the yakuza, whose leader also seems to be implied to be a pedophile by NPCs by the way, and whose members ensured that three of the Four Archangels remained imprisoned in Kagome Tower until you showed up, there’s poison floors and deserts everywhere, as well as domains that are designed to trap and kill humans who wonder inside, there’s no daylight and therefore very little produce, certainly no agriculture, people and demons kill each other on a regular basis and the humans turn that into a sport via the Coliseum, and countless other horrible things. Of all places, you’d think Jonathan would want Tokyo to change more than anything, maybe even “save” its citizens by converting them all to Mikadoans and then lifting them up to the Firmament where they live instead. But that’s just not entertained in the slightest, since that would actually be a radical change for Tokyo’s status quo, it would be upending what the people of Tokyo “built” according to Jonathan, and apparently that’s more important than anything for him.

And so we come to the major alignment shift towards either Law or Chaos in the game. Do you side with Jonathan and go to Tsukiji Hongwanji to slay Lilith, or do you side with Walter to go and kill Tayama instead at Camp Ichigaya? For Law, the answer is to side with Jonathan. But, when you approach Jonathan at the entrance to Naraku, before you actually choose to go with him, he gives another monologue, this time telling you about the errors of creating a new world – needless to say a complete shift from every other SMT game in which the forces of Law wanted nothing but to create a new world in the name of God. He questions what the result of creating a new world would be, asking if you believe that a new leader could create a new world for the people without experience, and insists that “a state of chaos” would result from you “rebuilding everything from bedrock”. He believes that Lilith is laughing while seeing the party panic after tempting them with words, and actually warns against being swayed by “the concept of reform”. After this, you move on over to Tsukiji Hongwanji, headquarters of the Ring of Gaea, where it seems that some members of the Ashura-kai were already sent by Tayama to try and fight Lilith and the Gaians, but failed. Once the party makes their way to Lilith, Jonathan pronounces “the regrets of those you beguiled into abandoning their humanity” and the “grief” caused by her apparently interfering with his friendship with Walter, once again edifying his sole motivation for killing Lilith. All he has to say to Lilith when she tries to explain her position mid-battle is that she’s spouting blasphemy and that everything she says about Man’s demonic half is just an excuse that demons “trot out” so that they are “suffered to live”. After Lilith is defeated and Jonathan figures out that Walter is trying to open a gate to the Expanse, the party immediately heads off to Camp Ichigaya, where they find that Walter has already powered his way through the Ashura-kai’s forces. By the time they find the Yamato Perpetual Reactor, Tayama is dead and Walter has the remote that activates the Reactor and is on the verge of pressing the button. When Walter explains his plan to summon demons through the Reactor in order to create a situation where the prevailing structures of law and authority collapse, Jonathan is horrified, but unfortunately he has little to say before the button is pressed.

After all that, we come to the alternate versions of Tokyo, which you encounter thanks to a cabal of mysterious beings called The White, who want to return the universe to nothing. They try to get the player to support their cause by showing you what they believe to be the futility of the war between Law and Chaos, and to do that they show you two outcomes of a previous incarnation of the player either siding with Law or siding with Chaos. For the purposes of this article, our focus is on the Law outcome, which is referred to as Blasted Tokyo. Blasted Tokyo is the outcome of a timeline in which the previous incarnation of the protagonist chose to side with the angels and didn’t raise the firmament above Tokyo, which meant the city was blasted by nuclear weapons as part of God’s Wrath. All of Tokyo is now a desert covered in massive craters, and even other nations have been struck with ICBMs meaning that much of the world is now like this too, and only a few survivors live an impossible existence where they’re constantly threatened by poisonous air emitted by a machine called Pluto. Another few of the population, sealed in Cocoons, were lifted up into the sky before all of this happened, “chosen” to start a new humanity after the destruction of the old. The survivors are led at least officially by a man named Kiyoharu, who is covered in cross marks and has gone mad with the hope that God will save him and his people. Despite his faith in God, he was one of the people not chosen to be “saved”, but nonetheless he kept praying in hopes that God would listen. Of course, Kiyoharu’s weakening sanity means that, although he is officially the leader of the survivors, much of his actual decisions are made and implemented by his right-hand man, a man named Akira.

Akira, just like Kiyoharu and indeed the other survivors, is a man who believes in God, but was not chosen by him to be “saved”. What this means is that he, at least at first, accepts resignation to the fate that God has given the people of Tokyo, and is patient for the moment when they too will eventually be saved – just not to the same insane degree as Kiyoharu. It’s probably not for nothing that a version of the Law theme from the first game plays in the shelter. He sends you on a mission to destroy Pluto the Tormentor, a machine responsible for spreading poison into the air. Pluto has his own castle somewhere in the godforsaken desert of Blasted Tokyo, which is guarded by tiny robot versions of him, copies that serve as grunts who fight on his behalf. Pluto himself tells you, as you fight him, that he is a “tool of the Lord”, suggesting that he was created by God and placed in Blasted Tokyo for the purpose of poisoning those who were not “the Lord’s chosen” to death. This troubles Jonathan, but only at first. He doesn’t think much about it afterwards. Only Walter, although he too thinks little of it, bothers to consider that perhaps God’s will might be malevolent. After defeating Pluto, naturally Kiyoharu and the other survivors are elated at the return of fresh air, and Akira gives you the remote to the Yamato Perpetual Reactor. But as he does that, Akira expresses a desire to change the way things are in Blasted Tokyo.

Jonathan warns Akira that opening the gate to the Expanse would mean Blasted Tokyo having more demons come in, but Akira says that he is prepared for this. He says that some people used to promote the idea that demons are the embodiment of our desires and that humans should live in harmony with them. Before Jonathan can point out that this is exactly what Yuriko/Lilith said, a version of the Chaos theme from the second game plays in the background as Akira declares his understanding that the world needs passion rather than words or ceremony, and that if demons come into Tokyo he will take control of them and put them to use. Surprsingly, Jonathan praises his plan as “bold”, and expresses his view that Akira, rather than Kiyoharu, should lead the survivors. Akira also says that he plans to rebuild Tokyo and, in honour of the party, call the name city the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, thus he would be re-enacting the real timeline in which Akira founded a kingdom atop the ruins of Tokyo. What’s curious is that, even though this is presented as a shift towards Chaos, Walter has nothing to say, and he doesn’t even present any visible agreement, or indeed any reaction of any kind, to Akira’s views that demons are embodiments of desire and humans should co-exist with them, even though that’s exactly what Walter has come to believe, and neither does Jonathan seem to present any meaningful skepticism or opposition in the way that Walter would later do for the Akira of Infernal Tokyo when starts talking about making a Tokyo where everyone is equal. But although it’s implied that Akira here is making a path towards Chaos, it might just be that, for Akira, the demons are the means upon which the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and from there a new order, is to be built.

Later, in a downloadable Challenge Quest, the player can return to Blasted Tokyo to find Akira and the rest of the survivors running from a being named Ancient of Days, which refers to itself as an avatar of God, and using the recently conquered Pluto Castle as shelter from his wrath. Akira explains that he and the survivors tried to create a new nation that resolved to “venture up to the world above”, only for Ancient of Days to suddenly appear and begin burning all cities in the land, seemingly intent on destroying everyone who wasn’t killed off after Pluto was destroyed. Powerless, and with his people on the verge of extinction, Akira once again calls upon the player to assist him and save the survivors of Blasted Tokyo. When you face Ancient of Days as he besieges Pluto Castle, he introduces himself as a “part of the Lord” who serves as his messenger, and as “the one who casts many beasts into the burning fire”. He states that his mission is to destroy humanity as it exists on Earth and replace it with a new humanity guided by God, thus he is here to destroy the last of the survivors of Blasted Tokyo. He charges mankind as a wicked race that violates “the dispensation of the universe”. We are in no way certain about what that means, though we can probably assume it involves the destruction of mankind in some way, possibly under the auspicies of “purification”. Perhaps the forces of Law, in this context, seek to “purify” the cosmos by creating a new human race to replace a humanity that they deem to be beyond redemption. In the middle of the fight, Kiyoharu wonders in and sees Ancient of Days, believing him to be God come to save the survivors and the answer to his prayers. However, Kiyoharu soon realizes that Ancient of Days is here to destroy mankind, and falls into despair as he realizes that his rival Kenji was right and the last 25 years of prayer were for nothing.

And now, we can move on to the other main representatives of the Law alignment: the Four Archangels, or the Four Heralds as they are referred to in this game. For most of the game you only see one, Gabriel, who takes the form of Sister Gabby. Then, after the public execution of the Black Samurai, Gabby sends the party to Kagome Tower to liberate the other three archangels, held prisoner by demons with the help of the Ashura-kai. After they are rescued, and after the party discovers Reverse Hills, the party is summoned to Shene Duque by Gabby in order for them to meet the new rulers of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado: none other than Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel. According to Gabriel, the humans living in Mikado became warped, while its leadership manipulates them and trumpets their authority while taking God’s name in vain, and so the Four Heralds have “cleansed the land of those found wanting”, which could seen as a large-scale purge of the leadership, and elimination of those were found reading the subversive Literature. The Heralds also have no plans to brook the residents of Tokyo within Mikado. When Isabeau tries to ask them about two Tokyoites named Fujiwara and Skins, who talked about going up to Mikado to live away from the demons, Gabriel explains that the people of Tokyo are “tainted souls” who are not chosen by God, and are consequently forbidden from entering Mikado. Anyone from Tokyo who tries to enter Mikado will be eliminated. Thus, the Thousand Year Kingdom is once again the goal of the angels.

Almost the same thing that takes place in the second game is taking place here. The Four Heralds have embarked upon a swift re-organization of the hierarchy of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. To signify this, every trace of its former leadership is destroyed. Most notably, the statue of King Aquila that you see in the beginning of the game is now gone in the new Mikado. The Samurai are ordered to stomp on effigies of the Black Samurai (who by this point was already executed) to prove their loyalty to Mikado, or lack of loyalty to the Black Samurai; those who don’t are executed. In addition to that, the people of Mikado are now even more controlled by the new leadership than they were under the old leadership. Before the return of the Four Heralds, reading Literature (books that apparently cause people to question the way Mikado is run, and occasionally become demons) was, although officially forbidden, is implied to have been fairly widespread among the Casualries in Mikado. After the Heralds take over, people who previously enjoyed reading Literature not only lose interest but also somehow actually believe that they’ve never read any books in their entire lives. These seem to be the extent of the changes to Mikado. All of this very much follows the formula of classical fascism, with the leadership of the existing system rapidly and brutally re-organized in order to preserve its foundations, accompanied by totalitarian control of thought and action. Strasserism in particular brings together the formula of the rapid re-organization of the bourgeoisie (the ruling class, in this case of Germany) with a distinct emphasis on feudal organization via guilds. We may also speak of both the old and new phases of Mikado as representing an idea known as Synarchism, an ideology which was created by Alexandre Saint-Yves to be the polar opposite of anarchism and which advocates for a harmonious society built on hierarchy and the erasure of social conflict, not to mention certain idealized views of medieval society, that is presided over by a secret society (in this case, the hidden rule of the Four Heralds). And, despite the implication in Infernal Tokyo that belief in equality represents the Law alignment, it’s not clear what actual equality there is in the new Mikado, other than maybe in the sense that everyone is equally subservient to the Four Heralds. Uriel even talks about the Mikadoans as being a chosen race for God’s sake, while the Heralds in general view the humans in Tokyo as “Filth” needing to be eliminated. Supposedly, according to the Apocalypse version, the caste system was abolished, but you still see class divisions between the Luxurors and the Casualries, and supposedly the Monastery holds less power, though that’s mostly just because the Four Heralds take over and assume direct rule.

A Law-exclusive Challenge Quest has the player facing a demon named Azazel, spotted in Kiccigiorgi Forest, and also gives you a good idea of what the angels think about freedom. Azazel is basically taking the place of the Black Samurai from earlier in the game, spreading knowledge in the hopes of getting people to question the leadership of Mikado while also, according to him, making them “greater than angels”. After you defeat Azazel, Gabby says that even though it is true that knowledge will set people free, that freedom also causes suffering, and also adds that freedom does not necessarily lead to salvation. Freedom, then, is less important than living life under the guidance of God, and that is Gabby’s justification for suppressing any knowledge that goes against the leadership of Mikado or leads to people questioning God’s will.

If you tell the White that instead of destroying the cosmos you plan to preserve the status quo, and don’t end up Neutral, you become locked into the Law path for the final stretch of the game. At that point, you arrive in their Monochrome Forest and are greeted by Jonathan, who tells you that he made the same choice as you, and also by Gabriel, who refers to you as “warriors of light”. After defeating the White, the Monochrome Forest disappears and you return to Shene Deque, where you might the other Heralds again. Shene Duque is now the new Mikado Castle, “the eye that watches over the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado” – in other words, the new center of government in Mikado. Michael explains that the angels have “purified every last Filth in the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado”, which sort of means that they’ve purged the country of anyone who either they regard as corrupt or whose belief in God has proven insufficient for them. Meanwhile, the gate to the Expanse has been opened in Tokyo, Tayama is dead, and Raphael laments that order has been lost. The angels have sealed Naraku in response, thus blocking out any entrance to Mikado from the outside, but Uriel says that “the Filth”, meaning the people of Tokyo, will still try to enter Mikado again. Thus, the Four Heralds have decided that Tokyo must be annihilated in order to prevent “Filth” from entering Mikado. Jonathan is, at first, horrified at the prospect of completely destroying Tokyo and thereby killing all of its inhabitants, but Gabriel explains that Tokyo is infested with demons its people are “possessed by “knowledge””, and thus only by destroying Tokyo may they be purified. To that end their plan is to use the Yamato Perpetual Reactor as a “Great Abaddon” to “swallow up Tokyo”, just like the Archangels did to Valhalla in the second game.

In addition to all of this, Uriel reports that Lucifer has resurrected in Tokyo. Since Lucifer would pose a significant threat to the plans of the angels, they decide upon a plan to match his power: by having the Four Heralds fuse with a human chosen by God, the power of “God’s chariot”, believed to exceed that of Lucifer, would be summoned. This, however, means death for any human who agrees to fuse with them. Jonathan accepts “martyrdom” (dying to fuse with the Four Heralds), and goes on a monologue about the selfishness of humans and demons and about how he wants to drive away everyone’s fear and doubt to create a world where peace lasts forever. When the fusion happens, Jonathan re-emerges as Merkabah, “the Lord’s chariot”. The name Merkabah is a Hebrew word that literally means “chariot”, and seems to refer to a chariot of heavenly beings that appears in a vision in the Book of Ezekiel. Here Merkabah declares that “Filth” and doubts must be cleansed from the world, and that Armageddon has begun between Mikado and Tokyo. And true to that effect, Merkabah proves to be utterly ruthless towards former comrades like Isabeau, for whom the only justification he needed to eliminate her was her obsession with manga. After the Law-aligned player kills her, Merkabah has the gall to use her death at your hands as an example of the “victims” that will pile up if Tokyo is left untouched. You must wonder if, if Tokyo isn’t annihiliated, you and Merkabah will just keep killing more people and grandstand over their corpses until Tokyo is saved somehow. After defeating Lucifer, Merkabah declares that it is time for “Great Abaddon” to swallow all of Tokyo, including the player and Merkabah himself because both of them have encountered “Filth” and been stained with their blood – thus, by the standards set by the Four Heralds, they have been incontaminated by the time they spent in Tokyo. Before you say anything Merkabah presses the button of the remote activating the Yamato Perpetual Reaction, destroying all of Tokyo along with himself and the player, and afterwards Jonathan shows you a vision of the protagonist being remembered as a Messiah who somehow brought peace to Mikado. Nobody has desires, at least that contradict either God or his angels, supposedly nobody fights each other any more, and with Tokyo completely annihilated and the rest of the world having already been destroyed before the events of the game, the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado becomes the sole civilization left on Earth, and it is like a fascistic form of the utopian Nestorian kingdom of old.

If you fight Merkabah on the Chaos path, he chides you as a “pitiful son of man who sold his soul to demons”, condemns the forces of Chaos for “mistakenly believing chaos is an expression of free will”, champions “a new millennium of order” (again sounding a lot like the Thousand Year Kingdom there), and in general just insults you in all sorts of grandiose ways. As the fight drags on Merkabah remains confident that your defeat is simply the natural order of things. When Merkabah is defeated on the Chaos path, he expresses bafflement at how humans and demons struggle to deviate from what he sees as God’s order, supposedly followed by all of nature otherwise, and then you hear Jonathan’s voice, what’s left of him after fusing with the Four Heralds, asking in fear what it is the player desires. If you fight Merkabah on the Neutral path, you first hear Jonathan address the party and in the process explaining his belief system a little more. He argues to the party that demons are born from human suffering, that humans are weak and need faith founded on an absolute that can banish their despair, that this absolute is God, and that God wanted humans to become extensions of his order so that they could be free of anxiety. He then asks why the Neutral party can’t see that, only to argue that they don’t see his worldview because they are humans “of common stock” (his Luxuror class prejudice seems not to have left him after all). For the high crime of Neutrality, Merkabah declares that salvation is no longer open to the party and that God has withdrawn his mercy for them forever. Whereas he denounces the Chaos player for devoting himself to “unclean lusts” and casting aside order and even refers to the Chaos player as a demon, he chides the Neutral player as believing in nothing while waging a battle too severe for a human. When Merkabah is defeated in the Neutral path, he warns that humans are not strong enough to live without God, meaning that those who yearn for the angels will inevitably return, and when that time comes, so will the angels.

There’s one final element to consider regarding the forces of Law: Mastema. He returns in this game, and he’s about as shady and dubious as he was in the previous game. However, he also seems to be in a strange position where he appears to see himself as fulfilling the will of God in his own way. You first meet him at the top of Midtown, where he at first appears hostile to the party, only to call his own bluff and introduce himself as a messenger of “the powers that be from the kingdom of light”. His business in Midtown is to work with the Ashura-kai in order to protect the production of Red Pills, which he rationalizes on the grounds that, without the Red Pills, order will collapse in Tokyo. Despite this, he allows the party to access Reverse Hills, presumably as part of him fulfilling God’s will. In a series of downloadable Challenge Quests, it’s revealed that Mastema was the one responsible for three of the Four Heralds being imprisoned in Kagome Tower, and that he did it because he believed that the Four Heralds had abandoned God’s will by intervening in the governance of Mikado. According to Mastema, the Four Heralds were originally only supposed to assist the establishment of Mikado, and then leave humans to their own devices, but they eventually began taking over with the ultimate goal of wiping out humans under the auspices of protecting them from demons. His goal for Tokyo seems to be a city where the humans are its rulers, albeit in a way that still follows God’s will. You can also fight Mastema, but only in a Law-exclusive Challenge Quest in which Gabriel (who refers to him as “The Great Raven”) sends you to defeat him because they consider him a threat.

All-in-all, Law in this game appears to consist of a brutal quest to purify the human race by killing nearly all of it, as is the remit of the Thousand Year Kingdom, and also the mysterious and unexplored prerogative of “the dispensation of the universe”. The conceits of the Law alignment are more or less consistent with previous games, and if anything appear to have been expanded significantly in scope. Law is here defined not only by an obsession with preservation but also an obsession with purification. The Thousand Year Kingdom is to be brought about through the annihilation of all undesirables, and mankind is to be purified through dispensation. The regressive nature of Mikado society presents a mixture of the utopian idea of Prester John presiding over a kingdom free of strife with not only dominionist Christian conceits but also, on some level, Wahhabist Islam, both of the latter presenting a vision of a religious society in which any expression of free will that conflicts with God’s will, at least according to the remit of the doctrine, is seen as a threat to human salvation. Thus, the world of order and the world of purity are inseparable goals.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (2017)

The last entry for this post, the Redux edition of Strange Journey presents a very different take on the Law and Chaos dynamic by means of a new set of endings in addition to the three original endings. These New endings are alternate versions of the Law, Neutral, and Chaos endings that are made accessible by completing an optional dungeon known as the Womb of Grief and facing a new character named Alex, who somehow travelled back in time to interfere with the mission of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team in order to stop the player from begetting a terrible future into which she is born. The exact content of that future depends on the alignment chosen by the player, but for our purposes, the focus will be on the Chaos alignment.

Most of the game’s story happens exactly as it did in the original except for when Alex shows up at certain intervals, and that means the Law path happens exactly as it did in the original game until just after the fight with Mem Aleph, if you complete the Womb of Grief. At that point, Alex reappears to try and convince you and Zelenin one last time that you’re about to make a mistake. Alex and George explain to you and Zelenin that they came to prevent the party from creating a hell in the name of god of law. Zelenin is initially taken aback by that statement, on the grounds that no kingdom created by God could be hell. But Alex explains that, although what Zelenin talks about sounds nice to her, and George explains that the world Zelenin will create results in the division of humanity between two groups: those who her song successfully imprinted ceaseless praise for God in, and those who the song had no effect on, who are soon disposed of. Zelenin initially dismisses this as something that cannot be helped, and even as George expalins that it regards the lives and emotional needs of humans, Zelenin is initially adamant that it is the only way to save humans from extinction. After Zelenin further argues the need for selection, Alex points out that the angels massacred those who the song did not affect, and questions Zelenin on if those people were “evil”. Alex explains that she and the others who weren’t affected had no choice but to fight desperately to avoid being slaughtered, and states that if this is what awaits humanity than extinction is much better. Zelenin is pained to learn from Alex that a massacre takes place in her future world, and is forced to consider the possibility of giving humans who reject her song the freedom to live. This is where the turning point begins.

If the player agrees with Alex, Zelenin comes to terms with the need to save even Alex and others like her, on whom the song has no effect. At first, however, she still insists that there is no other way, on the grounds that “the Lord’s guidance” is the only way to bring peace to humanity. Alex states that she will never be convinced that she deserves to be forsaken or forced to live in fear of the angels, and George says that even if “order” is required it should mean people have to die for it. Zelenin begrudignly says that she does not condone this, but still asserts that Man is imprudent and that constant resentment and fighting leaves no other option for salvation. Then Alex figures that Zelenin is motivated by her hatred of fighting, prompting yet another monologue by Zelenin about how if people could just get along then the world would be saved. Zelenin laments that this is impossible because fighting is written into human DNA, to which Alex retorts that Zelenin can erase hostility with that song, and implores to make her own version of order instead of God’s version, and to make an order that at least means she and others like her have freedom. Zelenin, quite naturally, objects that what Alex asks would defy God’s will, since the song is supposed to be a form of deliverance carried forth by a messenger of God, but Alex retorts that she was denied that deliverance, and so was everyone she met. but insists that Zelenin can save them, and wants her to give her the freedom to live instead of absolute order. Zelenin comes to terms with this in terms of reckoning with a life that she alone can save, and resolves to save Alex, and now confidently asserts that she will create an order in which people may be free to live, even if it defies the will of God. She even resolves to become order itself. With this resolve, a new timeline forms and Alex disappears into the new future, though not before giving you a fruit and her mother’s ring.

Here the difference between the old and the new Law paths is characterized by the role of God, which is honestly the most stark break from tradition you can find. In the New Chaos path, the shift comes from the abandoning of one established conceit in favour of another, focusing on anarchic co-existence with demons instead of a might makes right society. But in the New Law path, we see the rejection of the literal core grounding of the Law path. For essentially the entire SMT series, God as a concept was the anchor of the Law alignment, aligning with Law meant accepting the premise that human life needs God to survive and fulfill itself, to the point that the forces of Law in nearly all games refuse to accept the idea of a world without God’s rule. Even pre-Christian gods aligned with Law in the games are insistent on this point. Now, though, we see a Law path in which God himself is rejected in favour of Zelenin, a human, serving as the embodiment of order itself – thus Zelenin, instead of God, would be the absolute ruler of a new world. This is not even a pivot towards the idea of “fulfilling the Lord’s will in my own way” as Mastema put it in the fourth game. Instead it is the idea that you will create order in your own way, without God, and not only that you will create an order that supposedly involves the preservation of freedom. At the outset, at least, this actually sounds more like a Neutral path in the traditional sense than a Law path, both because of the rejection of God and because it actually tries to ideologically balance the axes of order and freedom, whereas Law traditionally prioritizes order as the dominant axe. On the other hand, though, it does more or less continue off of the precedent by the second game, in which Satan, after unquestioning carrying out YHVH’s will for essentially the entire game, turns his judgement on YHVH and leaves the Thousand Year Kingdom to the protagonist and Hiroko. But when Lousia Ferre describes Zelenin’s vision as “a world without demons or mandates from the god of law” determined instead by human hands, which Zelenin agrees is what her new vision is, that is Neutral to a god-damned tee! It is Law without God, but it almost seems like Law without Law. At that point, what’s next? Chaos without demons?

Anyway, after all that, Demeter appears to congratulate the party for retreiving the last fruit, thereby completing the fifth Cosmic Egg, which she offers to the Three Spirits, otherwise known as the Three Wise Men. Demeter, then, is another new representative of Law for this version of the game, but she does not quite represent the New Law path that Zelenin, but rather the “old” Law path represented by the Three Wise Men. She is also one of the main players in the Womb of Grief side-dungeon, in which she has you collect the pieces of the fifth Cosmic Egg, as her “Harvest”. Her alignment with Law is established clearly enough towards the end of the game, whether you take the New routes or not. In fact, if you reject Alex’s pleas to change the future, which causes the fruit to rot, Demeter is merely disappointed but supports Zelenin anyway, because in the end the “old” Law path is essentially the same as what Demeter wants, whereas in the “old” Neutral and Chaos paths she angrily curses humanity and hopes that the player and his allies die horrible deaths. In any case, she asserts that the Three Spirits have regained their divinity and await the player and Zelenin for their efforts.

All of this, including Zelenin’s resolve to create her own order, amuses Louisa Ferre, but it shocks Mastema, who is alarmed at the return of Three Spirits. Louisa explains to Zelenin that she was to be the Magus for the Three Spirits, who they only needed because Mem Aleph had limited their power. Now that the fifth Cosmic Egg is complete, and with Mem Aleph out of the way, the Three Spirits are free to use the power of the Cosmic Eggs to do whatever they want directly, without needing a Magus. Zelenin realizes this and now concludes that she must challenge the Three Spirits, which apparently means challenging God. Louisa Ferre, despite opposing Zelenin’s goals, respects this as the manifestation of human possibility. Mastema, on the other hand, takes it very differently, and at first disapprovingly asks why the Three Spirits have their power back. When Zelenin explains what happened, Mastema is taken aback, but begrudgingly accepts this as a magnificent, though not ideal, end. Then, however, when Zelenin explains that she intends to stand against the Three Wise Men, he is even more shocked than before and wonders if Zelenin was deceived by a demon. Mastema then reprimands Zelenin over her having not “come to her senses” and complains that it was he who gave her the power of the song to start with. He then angrily forsakes Zelenin, furious because apparently the Three Wise Men no longer need him now that they have the Fifth Cosmic Egg, and proclaims that Zelenin and the player have turned their back on “the Lord’s Providence” while they and the planet will only know despair, although for all that he never actually fights you over it.

And after that we come to the Three Wise Men, the other representatives of the Law alignment from the original game. At the end of the Empyrean Ascent, the Three Wise Men initially congratulate Zelenin and the player on helping them get the Fifth Cosmic Egg and defeating Mem Aleph, proclaiming that they will now become the leaders of the new world of law and order. Zelenin objects to this, however, on the grounds that Alex showed her that the world can only be saved by the hands of man (again, this is a conceit of Neutrality that is traditionally alien to Law), and says that the Three Wise Men will not save humans but instead give them hell on earth. Naturally, the Three Wise Men are offended by this suggestion, they declare Zelenin and the player to be nothing more than apes, and assume their true form – Shekinah. Shekinah declares that the earth belongs to her alone, that humans and the ancient gods are unnecessary, and that Zelenin and the player have abandoned God and will die to build her new world. With Shekinah defeated, Zelenin and the player return to the Vanishing Point to create a world where everyone can live in peace and harmony, ostensibly anyway. Her plan to do this, of course, is to wipe out the urge to fight, the root of all conflict according to Zelenin. This of course leads us to the creation of the world of Law in the New Law path. In this ending, the energy of light and order is released onto the Earth from the Schwarzvelt and annhiliated the demons and the Schwarzvelt, just as happened in the original Law ending. This time, however, we see the human spirit apparently cleansed of its competitive, aggressive nature. All conflicts – racial, religious, economic, political, all kinds – cease across the world, and people seek solutions to opposing perspectives without resorting to violence. Zelenin that the Earth is now “free” from demonic ambitions and the rule of humans, but also from God’s will, and humans will no longer fight amongst themselves. In fact it seems that humans are now so pacifist that they somehow slowed their development and are unable to fight, meaning an entity may one day show up to take over the world by force. Zelenin, however, promises that she will watch over the world forever, and sing her song forever, and at the end we see her standing erect as that giant Lebensrune-shaped pillar as in the original game.

There is obviously no mention of everyone singing the praises of God forever, because Zelenin had just said that the world of order will be created without God’s rule. Therefore, instead of belief in God and praise for God being the focus of life in the new world, the most important thing is that there is no more violence, no more conflict, no more desire for battle. I see that this ending is one of the most popular in the series, or at least that is the impression I get, and some people come away thinking that the best of Law was nothing but positives. But, let’s think about this for a moment. For starters Zelenin spent the New Law path proclaiming that the future is to be determined by humans, but now says that the Earth is “free from the hopeless dominance of humans”. So it seems she’s switched from having faith in humanity again to lamenting human rule as “hopeless dominance”. But both “the hopeless dominance of humans” and God’s rule have been rejected, and with the demons annihilated, what is the actual anchor of the New Law world? The only thing left is Zelenin herself. Without God and the Three Wise Men, it is only Zelenin who stands at the center of the new world, and instead of being a vessel for their power, she exerts her own power over the world as its absolute ruler. And that power is her song, which brings us to the question of freedom. Zelenin promises Alex that her order will be one in which there is the freedom to live even if it means defying God’s will. True, we can assume that the song no longer compels people to do nothing but praise God’s name without end, but the whole power of the song is that it alters people’s behaviour at the expense of their free will or at least the scope thereof. In this sense, the only reason people now solve their problems through “open dialogue” and cooperation is because they really have no choice to do anything else, because the capacity and from there choice to do otherwise has been erased. The “freedom” consists in the fact that everyone, whether they believe in God or not, has their ability to conflict, attack, or really be at odds with one another, taken away by force of the song in almost exactly the same way that the song took away their freedom to not believe in God beforehand. In the “old” Law route, uniformity is introduced by force of the song of Zelenin which buries all conflicting interests by means of divine force, and so follows the formula of fascism in its classical sense, which also typically entails the division of society between the pure and the undesirables. With the New Law route, in all reality, the same thing happens except that the erasure of violence in theory means this distinction is no longer possible, but it still means that free will and conflict are sublimated in the same way. In this sense, the initial impression that this is a Neutral path in Law clothing dissipates resoundingly. And there is still an absolute ruler, Zelenin, whose song is the absolute power over the world, and who is presumably the only protection the world now has against any invaders, and it is safe to assume that the invaders are going to be the avatars of the Great Will who may yet be more furious that an avatar of Law defies them than they are contemptuous of the forces of Chaos.

The biggest problem I have with both the New Law and New Chaos routes is one simple thing: they’re both apparently predicated on making a world where freedom is either preserved or expanded, at least that’s what you get from hearing Zelenin and Jimenez talk in their respective New paths, but there is no squaring that with the fact that, before all of that happens, they have still essentially brainwashed the entire Red Sprite crew into agreeing with them. This is especially incongruous for the New Law path because even though Zelenin now commits herself to having an order in which freedom is preserved, but she still robbed the crew of the Red Sprite of their free will by the power of her song, turning them into mindless parrots of God, and in the New Law path there is no evidence of her reconciling with that fact. And to be honest, there really can’t be, because the song is still absolutely essential to the Law path, New or “old”, just that the power to erase free will is directed towards the altering of human nature, which in practice would mean taking away some of the scope of human freedom, and indeed a way for humans to solve problems that cannot be solved otherwise. It is said that all political conflict would be eliminated, but since conflict, even if it is not bloody conflict, is the overriding reality of all politics, all politics entails disagreement, that means humans are less able to progress politicially.


Fan art by log178 on Tumblr

Insofar as we take Law as an inclusive absolute, what can we establish about it across all the major SMT games in which there is a Law and Chaos dynamic? Whereas Chaos, though it can be seen to have a consitent core, tends to have certain variations throughout the series, perhaps befitting the name and even overall ethos, Law tends to be consistent in not only a general ethos but also a clearly defined goal that is present in almost all the SMT games. The overriding goal of the forces of Law is to create a world that is removed of sin, conflict, desire, and free will, and everything is in harmony with one higher power and consciousness. Freedom is necessarily undermined by this arrangement, and this is naturally rationalized by the prioritizing of the values of order, harmony, and (in many cases) hierarchy as the main values that are meant to be realized by a Lawful society under the auspice of God. The consistent expression of this goal is the idea of the Thousand Year Kingdom, in which God, or his angels on his behalf, select those who are worthy of living in the new order and exclude those who are not, typically be means of determining their faith. Any impulse that leads to Man’s separation from God, be it knowledge or desire or whatever else, is to be eliminated, and this can mean either killing off any humans who display contradiction to the will of God or just removing the ability to separate yourself from God or harmony in any way. Even “the best of Law” (as the New Law route has been described) still necessarily entails the abolition of free will, because this is the only way to generate the kingdom of permanent harmony that is desired by the forces of Law.

Still, there are multiple contours present in Law, though it is defined by a single goal involving a world of perfect order presided over by God. Fate, and the acceptance thereof, is one such contour, though it is one which emanates naturally from the idea of God and his will, rather than the will of humans, as the anchor of human life. Indeed, it makes perfect sense to emphasize the acceptance of fate as a virtue in itself when in Law we also see the Great Will and its cycles as something to be accepted axiomatically. It also blends into Lawful complaint that Man is incapable of flourishing alone because he is incapable of transcending the will of God. The Lawful emphasis on civic harmony, that is to be contrasted with the Chaotic idea of harmony with nature or the ancient gods, lends itself to a sort Lawful character stereotype in which their alignment means they are more pathologically agreeable with others, even as they ultimately go on to try and exterminate others if they don’t conform to “the will of God”. Whereas Chaotic harmony with nature is a signpost for a kind of inner and outer freedom in terms of a kind of natural liberty that isn’t perturbed by society, Lawful harmony with the world signifies agreeability with society as a principle of behaviour, in this case entailing the fundamental sublimation of individual will to some sort of collective. Authority as an inherent good is a necessary component of Lawful thought, because order and hierarchy are reified constructs in Law and because the whole point of Law is to create a kind of mystic dictatorship built on an authority capable of erasing anything that might threaten its stability. Speaking of stability, that’s another major contour at least insofar as Law is motivated by a pathological aversion to change, such that preserving order as it is can be a hallmark of the Law paradigm. And of course, there is much to be said for the obsession with purity, which undergirds the necessity of the dispensation of the universe from the perspective of Ancient of Days, the revulsion against ungodly knowledge expressed by Satan and Mastema, the hatred of “the unclean” seen in the Four Heralds, and in the fundamental basis of selection for the Thousand Year Kingdom.

The perfect opposite to Chaos in the way that Chaos is perfectly opposed to Law, we can see by its many contours and its overriding goal why Law is not always the most popular alignment in the series. In fact I have seen some fans make the complaint that the games are biased towards Chaos, or at least just against Law. Of course, I would observe that most of the games if anything tend to favour Neutrality, portraying Law and Chaos as both negative, often equally so even as the forces of Law are the side most typically behind acts of genocide against humans, while portraying Neutrality as at least generally positive. But if we took for granted a bias against Law, might we not grant that this emanates from a core theme of Shin Megami Tensei? The games are all about choice, and the general ideology of Law posits an order that necessarily either takes that away or reduces the scope of human agency. But having said that, it is also true that Law is necessary for thw scope of choice to have meaning, and the teleological quest for perfect order as defines Law versus the embrace of the uncertainty of anarchic and wild freedom as defines Chaos present a necessarily harsh choice for the player, Neutrality notwithstanding.

The last thing to note concerns the role of God, and the nature of Law as an inclusive absolute. God is the central ground for Law, and I believe that things like the New Law path in Strange Journey Redux, although it can be seen as an echo of Shin Megami Tensei II where Satan judges his own creator, represents something of an aberration from this trend. It can seem like this should doom Law to being a stand-in for the clique of YHVH and his band of shady angels. But God is a fairly universal idea, whose application, though familiar to Western cultural sensibility, is in no way limited to it. We have seen multiple hints within the series of non-Abrahamic avatars of the Great Will that serve as signposts for Law once again being as broad as it can be in the original Shin Megami Tensei and in Strange Journey, both within the games and from the mouth of Kaneko. Kagutsuchi, originally a Shinto god of fire, inexplicably serves as the main avatar of the Great Will in Nocturne. In 1996, Kaneko said in an interview that, in Devil Summoner, Hachiman, the Japanese syncretic god of war, is an expression of “the One True God”, and in Strange Journey he is necessary to fuse Demiurge. Given that Kaneko thinks Yatagarasu is a messenger of YHWH, it can be implied that Amaterasu is also supposed to be an avatar of the Great Will, I guess. Digital Devil Saga (mind you, a spin-off series without the Law and Chaos dynamic) gives us Brahman, based on the absolute divinity of Hinduism from which all the other gods emanate. There’s plenty of scope for God to be a very universal thing that allows for Law to, once again, serve as a broad trans-cultural absolute in the way that both Law and Chaos used to be.

This has been the second in a series of posts dealing with the ideological contours of the Shin Megami Tensei alignments, focusing on Law. The third and final post will focus on the Neutral alignment, and will be published soon.

Part 1 – Chaos:

Part 3 – Neutrality:

Ideologies of Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei

Every once in a while I think back to that wonderful meme that set the course of my life irrevocably into motion towards the self-identity and sense spiritual path whose quest for realization has defined me since: Chaos. That is to say, the Chaos alignment as it appears in the Shin Megami Tensei game series. However problematic it would be to actually believe in something like the generic Chaos ideology in real life, given that both Chaos and Law can be seen as intentionally extreme ideologies within the narratives of Shin Megami Tensei, I find that something about it always persists for me for some reason, despite its often problematic tendencies. So many ideas go into Chaos, along with the counter-alignments of Law and Neutrality, that I lately I have been thinking of doing a post outlining what I see as the main contours of Chaos in its manifestation throughout the series, and seeing as we have the remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne coming next week, as well as Shin Megami Tensei V potentially coming this year or possibly next, this seems like decent timing for such an effort. These are games that center around competing visions of how the world should be organized, and so to discuss in terms of ideology is rather appropriate.

A few things to note before we proceed. This will mostly cover the main games , and will generally avoid spin-off games. An exception, however, will be Devil Summoner 2: Radiou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon, which features definite and concrete Law, Chaos, and Neutral pathways with their own ideological undertones and themes. Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne represents a distinct problem in that it doesn’t really feature the same Law-Chaos dynamic as the rest of the series does, but it cannot be excluded either, since it is one of the main titles of the series and it does in its own way contain aspects of the Law-Chaos dynamic in complicated expressions. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, although it is part of the main series, will be excluded on the grounds that, although it does feature Law and Chaos, the game itself ultimately downplays the dynamic in favour of a narrative where both Law and Chaos are sublimated in favour of a grand battle against the Divine Powers, an assortment of gods from polytheistic belief systems who for some reason want to destroy the universe in order to “free” the souls of all humans. Shin Megami Tensei if…, although ultimately part of the main series, will be excluded on the grounds that it does not have alignment-based paths and endings. I will also not be covering Shin Megami Tensei NINE and Shin Megami Tensei IMAGINE, both out of mercy and also because I can barely find anything coherent about their alignment paths. The Devil Survivor games will be excluded because techincally their multiple endings aren’t really alignment-based and instead are strictly character-based, and even the supposedly Law and Chaos paths may not necessarily fit traditional depictions of Law and Chaos.

And, of course, after this post, I’ll do follow-up posts in which I do the same discussion for the Law and Neutral alignments throughout the series, since they too have their own unique ideological contours and themes as expressed throughout the series.

Needless to say, this entire post will contain spoilers for all of the games featured here.

Shin Megami Tensei (1992)

The first Shin Megami Tensei game is also the first game in the series to establish the series’ main conceits concerning the Law and Chaos dynamic as inclusive absolutes. While there are cases where standard good vs evil choices can be mapped as Law and Chaos in the game, generally speaking Chaos seems to mean an ideology that is based on the prioritizing of personal freedom over order, which is here represented by the idea of aligning with the forces of Lucifer and/or the gods of Chaos against the angels of YHVH and/or the gods of Law, and creating a world where everyone is free to do whatever they want, so long as they have the strength to survive on their own.

Of course, there is much more to Chaos than just this, but for now we can consider that this is intended to be the game’s way of expressing what it believes to be an anarchist outlook. Both Law and Chaos can be seen as representations of extreme ideologies, and anarchism is generally perceived as “extreme” in the sense that it wants to do away with the state entirely. The Social Darwinist component typically attached to Chaos in the Shin Megami Tensei games can be interpreted as an interpretation of the popularly-perceived consequences of an anarchistic society, of the abolition of the state, which is perceived to be the abolition of all forms of order. It is thus possible to interpret it as a bowdlerization of anarchist ideology, since in practice most of the anarchist movement throughout history has broadly rejected Social Darwinism due to its alignment with socialist politics. Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t anarchists who do in fact believe in some form of Social Darwinism. This of course would include anarcho-capitalists, whose propertarian beliefs dovetail with the broader right-wing libertarian movement, as well as some egoists and the even more marginal “anarcho-fascists”. Then again, however, there certainly were left-wing anarchists who did believe in some form of Social Darwinist ideas, such as Arthur Desmond (who may have been the real identity of “Ragnar Redbeard”) and Stansilaw Przybyszewski. Indeed, while the natural temptation is to refer to fascism as regards Social Darwinism, even fascism is not always consistent on that trope, given that the Strasser brothers (who, despite any assertion to the contrary, were fascists) seemed to reject the Social Darwinism that Hitler might have espoused, and in the Chaos context it ultimately makes little sense to invoke statism of any sort.

Early on in the game, we meet a character named Gotou, who seems to resemble Yukio Mishima for some reason, and his appearance is part of an early point in the game where you are confronted with a choice between Law and Chaos. On the Chaos side, Gotou is a general of the Japanese Self-Defence Force who, after coming into contact with demons, declares martial law in Tokyo and tries to summon lots of demons into the city, because he believes that this will help protect Tokyo from God’s plan, which apparently involves having America send nuclear missiles to annihilate Japan. Here a man who would in normal times be seen a crazy nationalist extremist can situationally be placed as the lesser evil, depending on your perspective of course. The American forces are represented by Ambassador Thorman on the Law side. You can, of course, choose to oppose both Gotou and Thorman, thus taking the Neutral path early on, and no matter what you do Gotou does eventually die either by your hand or in the coming nuclear assault, but this does go to show the early point in the game in which you are faced with a hard choice on your alignment.

In any case, what is notable for the purpose of this post is the much broader ideological conceit Gotou expresses. On a TV screen in Shinjuku, Gotou announces to passersby that civilization has rotted to its core because of its foundation in the exploitation of the planet, which he refers to as Gaia, and meanwhile humans eat away at each other with hatred, mistreatment, and prejudice. This situation compels Gotou to invoke “the ancient gods known as “demons”” to save Japan and the world from a conspiracy to destroy Japan and usher in a new totalitarian regime, and then, once the Americans and God are defeated, usher in a new age where humans and demons co-exist with each other in harmony. This is another idea of Chaos that persists in later games in different forms. Chaos here, in addition to representing freedom over order, represents harmony with nature, represented by the gods of Chaos and Gaia. Here, then, the major conceits of Chaos, such as freedom and strength, also construct a broader idea where this is situated in terms of a paradigm of “returning to nature”, in the sense that man “recaptures” what the Gaians might believe to be a more authentically natural way of life that is lost or forgotten as a result of thousands of years of civilization and then modernity. The basic return to nature idea does have analogues in real world philosophy. One of its main exponents is Taoism, which advocates for humans to realign themselves with the natural state of the Tao, which is ironic given that Chaos doesn’t really use any Taoist imagery (preferring esoteric Buddhist imagery instead) and instead it is the Neutral path here that uses the most Taoist imagery. Certain forms of Shinto and Buddhism, such as Ise Shinto and Zen Buddhism, also follow this formula, though it can be argued that harmony with nature may indeed be baked into the Shinto religion more broadly. In ancient Greece, the Cynics shunned social conventions in order to live a life in accordance with nature as understood by reason. Satanism can be interpreted in a similar light, with its egoist-hedonist philosophy from their perspective representing the more natural way of life that is suppressed by all the major religions, while anti-cosmic Satanists express this trope through an entirely different “Gnostic” philosophy based around the return of all creation to its “pre-cosmic” and acosmic origins. And of course, there are many neopagans who embrace broad ideas about living in harmony with nature and the gods.

Speaking of Gaia, the main representatives of Chaos in this game, and other games in the series, is the Cult of Gaia, of which Gotou seems to be a member. The Gaians seem to be devotees of Lucifer, who they believe sacrificed his place in heaven to disobey God on behalf of human freedom. In that sense, they can be thought of as Luciferians. But they are not just a sect of demon-worshipping Luciferians, for they believe also in the ancient gods and the veneration of nature, represented by Gaia. By ancient gods, of course, this seems to mean the gods that are aligned with Chaos. Gods like Vishnu and Thor are not among them, since they are aligned with Law. Gods like Yama, however, are. Although Lucifer represents the forces of Chaos, their actual commander during the final showdown in the Great Cathedral is an unspecificed king of the Asuras, referred to simply as Asura Lord (or Asura-Oh). He is joined by Surt, the giant who ruled Muspelheim in Norse mythology, and the demons Arioch and Astaroth, the latter of whom talks about originally being the goddess Ishtar. So there is a sense in which some of the “ancient gods” represent the adversaries of the head gods of the existing pantheons, such as Ravana and his son Indrajit, or simply the chthonic gods in the case of Yama. Insofar as this represents a kind of paganism, it is a paganism that is explicitly aligned with gods of the earth, as well as various Eastern warrior deities.

Gaians incorporate Buddhism into their overall aesthetic, largely to serve as a contrast to the obviously Western Judeo-Christian Order of Messiah, though this Buddhism, if it is not purely aesthetic, reflects a broad subversion. Examples of Gaians you can encounter as enemies (or allies) in the game include Hakai-zo (sinful Buddhist monks), Oni Jorou (meaning “demon prostitute”, apparently they are kunoichi or female ninjas), and Yami Hoshi (“dark priests”, heretical masters of Shingon Buddhist mantras). There is even a rare Chaos-aligned Fiend in the game called Daisoujou, who is based on a Buddhist mummification pratice known as Sokushinbutsu, and gives you the strongest Chaos-aligned weapon in the game, the Reaper’s Bell. In the Sega CD version, even Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, appears as a Gaian for some reason. Gaians also serve as Chaos-aligned healers, using their service brings you closer to the Chaos alignment and if you are Law-aligned they will reject you entirely, and they sell all manner of Buddhist items, such as Amida Beads (which protect you from having your energy drained) and Nyorai Statues (or Buddha Icons; these resurrect Chaos-aligned characters), as well as things like Pentagrams and Asura’s Palms. As the above screenshot shows they tend to embrace a cyclical view of nature that is largely consistent with certain forms of paganism. One possible angle to consider in light of Gotou’s views is that the emphasis on the East, at least aesthetically, plays into an assertion of native identity against the Messians, under whose God America can be seen waging imperial conquest against Japan through nuclear warfare. Small wonder how a lot of the gods of Chaos you can summon in the game tend to include numerous Shinto deities in the Kishin clan as well as Hindu-Buddhist deities in the Tenma clan (please bring that back Atlus). Indeed, the Japanese aesthetic makes quite a bit of sense for the Gaians when put in the context of the broad reputation of traditional Japanese culture to be built upon harmony with nature. Thus, in a sense, we see Chaos in this game as a marriage of Japanese ideas about harmony with the kind of libertarian individualism found in the West, and at that mostly in America. In general, though, we see the Chaos faction animated by broad ideas about restoring a more natural outlook as expressed by the theme of restoring the old gods, who were demonized by YHVH. The Asura Lord expresses this by stating that he was once a god named Ahura Mazda before he was cursed by God.

This brings us to the actual goals of the Gaians, which are usually presented within the game as mostly opposition to the Messians: namely they want to stop the Messians from bringing about the Thousand Year Kingdom. Before Tokyo is nuked, Gotou, who we should remember is an avid Gaian, mostly talks about stopping Japan from getting destroyed by the American missiles and, to this end, summons demons or “ancient gods” to erect a barrier to protect Japan. After the nuclear holocaust, things obviously change. While the Messians plan to build a Great Cathedral (or Basilica) to summon God himself to Japan, the Gaians and the forces of Chaos obviously want to stop the construction of the Cathedral, a cause that they at multiple times try to convince the player to join, and towards the final stretch of the game they decide to simply invade the Cathedral to perturb the forces of Law. The invasion succeeds in capturing the lower levels of the Cathedral, which are thus encamped by the Gaians, and this leads to the forces of Chaos changing plans. They originally intended to destroy the Cathedral to prevent God from being summoned, but now the plan is to simply take it over and convert it into a new temple for the Gaians, which the Asura Lord describes as a symbol of friendship between humankind and demonkind. That idea, in this sense, does of course link back to the ideological goal established by Gotou earlier: to bring about a state of harmony between humans and demons, and in turn harmony with the earth. Of course, disrupting God’s rule on Earth and defeating his angels also has the implicit goal of liberating humans, freeing them from divine tyranny to pursue the natural liberty cherished by Chaos.

As far as the relationship between humans and demons is concerned, Chaos can be seen as the side that seeks to embrace co-existence with demons, and one of the manifestations of this is a phenomenon that remains associated with Chaos-aligned characters in future games: the fusion of humans with demons to create a half-demon man. This is what happens to the game’s main representative of Chaos, who without a set name is referred to as Chaos Hero. Frequently bullied by gangsters for believing in demons in the events before the game’s story begins, he often sought to become strong enough to get revenge on his enemies, particularly a gangster named Ozawa. By fusing with a demon, the Chaos Hero becomes more than human, stronger and more powerful than he was before, and he becomes able to overpower Ozawa and his newfound demonic allies once and for all. In a certain sense this represents the ultimate expression of harmony between humans and the demons, combining their powers to unlock greater potential and strength, though it can also be interpreted as part of an idea shared by both Chaos and Law; the idea that humans are not strong enough on their own, and so must depend either on God or his adversary. Yet, there is another undercurrent we may consider here. Demons, in Shin Megami Tensei’s world, are dangerous creatures from a realm that humans do not understand, but the demons and their realm are at the same time part of humanity all the same, and they can be variously be either friends or foes. That’s the core of Shin Megami Tensei. The Chaos side, by emphasizing harmony with demons, can be seen to emphasize the embrace of a side of humanity that humans often prefer to keep hidden or suppress, in part because of its potentially dangerous quality, on the grounds that demons, and the force they represent, can be a source of power, if that is what humans want.

Mind you, this is also conditioned by a fairly general “survival of the fittest” belief that the Chaos Hero embraces. He wants to be strong not just to defeat Ozawa and remove his oppressive police state from Shinjuku (not mention get his revenge for all the bullying) but also to survive on his own in the post-apocalyptic Tokyo. He naturally sees the Messians as blind to the true nature of the world, because power rules the world and God will not save the weak but rather oppress them, and opposes the forces of Law for their tyrannous ambitions. He also opposes Neutrality on the grounds that the balance of Law and Chaos exists only to be tipped, suggesting arguably a view predicated on constant and dynamic change in opposition to balance as a static notion. There is, though, a possible irony of his talk of power, in the fact that Ozawa justifies his police state through the logic of him being able to do what he wants if he has the power. To be fair, however, it is doubtless that the way Ozawa uses his power disgusts him, being a society where if you obey him he will protect you and if you don’t you will be imprisoned, tortured, and killed by secret police – such a society is not too far away from what the Thousand Year Kingdom might entail in practice (to which the Law Hero would object on the grounds that Ozawa’s power was “power without God”). It could also be said that, if he despises the use of power to oppress people, his preferred use of power is to cultivate self-sufficiency, and for him fusing with a demon is a sure way to go. The problem, however, is that he doesn’t stop there. On the Chaos path you create what is called a Devil Ring in order to progress, and the Chaos Hero briefly swipes it in order to take its power, which becomes too much for him and causes him to explode to death. Thus, he paid the price for his excess.

And of course, there is much to be said for the Chaos alignment being represented by Lucifer. Lucifer can be seen as Shin Megami Tensei’s way of representing the Christian concept of the Devil, due to his role as the lord of all the demons, and the champion of those who rebel against YHVH. This Devil called Lucifer is not established to be Satan, and indeed later games draw a distinction between Lucifer and Satan with the appearance of the latter as a separate character. Here, Lucifer is the rebel against God as opposed to his executioner, and he is also the character introduced in the War in Heaven myth, that of the former angel, or perhaps former god from a certain perspective, who refused God’s authority and command and was thus banished to the earth or Hell. This Lucifer was formerly the spirit of the morning star (the planet we now call Venus was originally just called Lucifer or Morning Star until the 13th century), but was adapted into a Devil by the same religion whose Bible called Jesus Christ the morning star. This Lucifer also cements the point I made earlier about anarchism, because Lucifer as an icon of freedom over the state has been a literary trope of anarchism and libertarianism since at least the 19th century. This can be seen to support the idea of Chaos as a sort of bowdlerized form of anarchism, at least in the sense that, for some anarchists, most notable Mikhail Bakunin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Lucifer could be seen as an icon of free will against arbitary authority, an idea that has since been grafted on to Satanism at large through the efforts of The Satanic Temple and similar groups. But of course, Lucifer here is far more ambiguous than just this icon. He is a perhaps a trickster figure, a master manipulator just as much as the benefactor of Man, arguably beguiling humans into his designs, and yet even in this sense only ever inviting their own free will. Such is the Devil in the parlance of baseline Christian culture, against which Chaos, as the expression of not only this Devil but the gods of old, the way of natural freedom, is juxtaposed.

But there is one detail from the Chaos ending that is somewhat significant. Lucifer describes himself as a part of YHVH that he has discarded. What’s that all about? The Apocalypse version of Shin Megami Tensei IV would have you thinking it’s because he too is a pawn of YHVH, but this is obviously not the case here. The game never does explain what is meant by it, but, if you think about it, it lines up very nicely with what Carl Jung often wrote about how Lucifer was best conceived as a fourth part of a Trinity that is thus rendered a Quarternity, in which Lucifer not only represents the dark sides of the psyche but also the principle of individuation, who, knowing God’s creation best, induced freedom and individuality by rebelling against God. Applied to Shin Megami Tensei, Lucifer will have some exactly the same, but YHVH rebukes him for it, for ruining his perfect order, and as a result we are the beginnings of a long war to depose YHVH, liberate the seeds of freedom that Lucifer had sown into YHVH’s order, and end his tyrannical rule.

Shin Megami Tensei II (1992)

The second game invites certain changes to the Law and Chaos dynamic. From here on out, the games generally focus less on Law and Chaos as broad trans-cultural absolutes and instead focus specifically on the antagonism between YHVH and Lucifer as the primary representation of the struggle of Law and Chaos. At the same time, the world of Shin Megami Tensei II is dominated by the Law alignment. After a great cataclysm, what is left of Tokyo is taken over by the Order of Messiah, after a presupposed Neutral path. Man is left to order the world by himself after the forces of Law and Chaos are defeated, but the species fails to live up to this task, so the Messians create a new city, Tokyo Millennium, guided by their teachings, where they wait for the arrival of the Messiah.

Next to this, coupled with YHVH appearing in the game as a brutal, tyrannical, and vengeful deity, it certainly seems quite attractive and even downright reasonable to consider Lucifer as the good guy in all of this. In fact, many fans of the series are in agreement that this game’s interpretation of Lucifer, and perhaps Chaos more broadly, is the most positive in the entire series. The themes of Social Darwinism present in the previous game are remarakably de-emphasized compared to both the last game and future games in the series. Lucifer, the main representative of the Chaos alignment, doesn’t talk at all about making a world of the strong like he did in the last game, and seems to be only interested in ensuring the survival of both humans and demons, both on earth and the underworld, and his rebellion against YHVH is characterized by this desire.

The world of Shin Megami Tensei II does not consist solely of Tokyo Millennium, and this game allows the player to visit a region known as Makai, the home of the demons, otherwise known as The Abyss. Makai is ruled by Lucifer, under whose watch the demons, and some humans fleeing persecution from the surface, live in peace for the most part. This in its own way reinforces the idea from the previous game of harmony and co-existence between demons and humans being part of the Chaos package. Humans can even form relationships with demons in Makai, such as is the case for a man named Petersen who lives with his partner who is a Siren, or Daleth whose girlfriend is the fairy Hannoun and lives with her in Shinjuku. Even Aleister Crowley (as just a sorcerer named “Crowley”) appears somewhere in Makai where he tries to summon demons in a Sabbath for the purpose of sexual recreation. In a sense, co-existence with demons is rather the norm in Makai. Other denizens of Makai include the Mutants, people who became mutated by the nuclear radiation that spread during the Great Cataclysm, and were consequently cast out of Tokyo Millenium by the Messians and sealed beneath its surface. These Mutants don’t desire social acceptance or reparations from The Centre, rather they want nothing more than to be able to see the sun on the surface once more and the rebirth of the old city of Tokyo.

The Gaians return in this game, but they play a marginal role in the game’s story, if anything, and face oppression from the dominant Messians. The soul of one Gaian is found in the realm of Makai and mentions being killed by Messians for worshipping the wrong god, though they long for the return of the old gods in Japan. As in the last game, you can visit Gaian churches in order to use their healing services (as long as you aren’t Law-aligned), purchase items from them, and give donations. Once again, the Gaians you find in the game consist of Japanese occultniks and ninjas, such as the Kugutsuchi (“puppeteers”), Jiraiya (a shape-shifting ninja from Japanese folklore), Onymoji (practitioners of Onymodo), and Kamen-Hijiri (masked Buddhist pilgrims). The Gaians in Makai live under the sanctuary of Virochana, who also identifies himself as Dainichi Nyorai. This Virochana may or may not be this game’s expy of the Asura Lord from the last game, though instead of leading an army against the Messians he’s offering salvation to anyone willing to accept it.

The theme of the return of the ancient gods is also noticeably de-emphasized, but that is not to say it does not exist. Before you make it to Kether Castle in Makai, you fight Astaroth, who suspects that you are working with Lucifer’s enemies and disguises himself as Louis Cypher in order to try and kill you. When you defeat Astaroth, he laments that he was once the goddess Ishtar and asks you to return him to this previous form. This is a desire that was also expressed in the previous game. After defeating Astaroth, you can take on a side-quest that sees you bringing Astaroth to a throne room in Binah where he splits into two deities, Ishtar and Ashtar, whom YHVH ordered to fuse together to create Astaroth long ago. The old gods of Japan are also sealed in Makai. In another side-quest we find that the Amatsukami gods, led by Amaterasu, were sealed in various shrines by the Kunitsukami, who made a deal with YHVH in order to get rid of them. However, once this was done, YHVH sealed the Kunitsukami away as well, being unwilling to share power with them, and so they reside in various shrines dotted around Makai. Some of the “ancient gods” also serve as guardians of the various regions of the Abyss, such as Tiamat, Hecate, and Atavaka.

Ultimately, the ending path you take depends on a set of choices made towards the end of the game. However, there is one decision in particular that can be made in the game that emphasizes values associated with the path of Chaos. For example, at a certain point in the game, you find a place called Arcadia, a utopian district of Tokyo Millenium where there are no demons run by a man called Gimmel (a.k.a. “Lord Apollo”). Later on, you encounter a mysterious building home to people who are bound to chairs and quite literally hooked up to computers and who talk about how wonderful being in Arcadia is. This is the real Arcadia: a virtual reality program where people live out the fantasy of paradise while actually being held against their will and probably slowly atrophying in the process. When you find and defeat Gimmel, the man responsible for all this, a terrible decision awaits. You can either take over as the messiah of Arcadia, which is the Law choice, or destroy Arcadia, which is the Chaos choice. The latter represents freedom from the coercive illusion of paradise, but unfortunately destroying Arcadia would also mean killing its residents who are hooked up to the computers. Of course, there is also the option to just leave the building without doing anything about Arcadia, which is the admittely much safer Neutral choice. But, in an extreme world, Chaos can represent the ethos that order, insofar as it represents oppression, is to be straightforwardly broken up, even if that comes down to violence.

If you choose to side with Lucifer towards the end of the game, you are locked into the Chaos alignment for the rest of the game. Once this happens, after meeting with Lucifer and his demon allies at Kether Castle, they join with you and make your way to Eden in order to destroy the Megiddo Ark and prevent YHVH from using it to destroy Tokyo. After defeating YHVH the two main protagonists, Aleph and Hiroko, return to Makai, where Aleph is hailed as the saviour of the Mutants. Light from the surface shines down into the underworld, and Lucifer proclaims that the oppression of humans and the separation of the bonds between humans and demons have ended with the death of YHVH and the Mutants living below the surface have been liberated. Notably Lucifer says that, within the chaos, the peace has been lost, but that humans and demons have gained true freedom. That is the ethos of Chaos presented in this game: that the pursuit of true freedom, even if it comes with the loss of peace and order, is the most important of values. Rather than emphasizing might makes right, this Chaos expresses the idea that anarchy (in the colloquial sense at least, moreso than the specific ideology of anarchism) is more valuable than an unjust peace. But peace of any sort is not totally precluded, at least in the sense that the freedom of this new world is also, by invitation, the freedom to re-establish peace on your own terms. The Mutants thank the protagonists for saving them from total destruction, Daleth and his fairy companion thank them for saving the fairies from extinction, and the two protagonists go on to create the new world under the auspice of Chaos.

It is also worth noting that, in light of the way Mutants, as people who are aggressively marginalized by the Centre and the Messians, are an object of concern in the Chaos ending, and the noticeable lack of Social Darwinist rhetoric, this version of Chaos almost seems downright egalitarian. This is somewhat ironic when we consider that many expressions of Law and Chaos in future games do not paint this picture at all. But this egalitarianism in combination with the intractable concern for freedom actually points a much less bowdlerized version of anarchism than the last game. It also points to an irony in having Gotou in the last game resemble Yukio Mishima. The real Yukio Mishima was certainly no anarchist, in fact he was some kind of fascistic reactionary who sought the restoration of the pre-modern power of the Japanese emperor. A polar opposite to Yukio Mishima as an author would be Kenzaburo Oe, a Japanese leftist who rejects the ancient imperialism of the Yamato dynasty and the restoration thereof in favour of an egalitarian society rooted in communal relationships with the natural world. Oe uses the Kunitsukami to represent this life, who happen to be Chaos-aligned in the SMT series, whereas Mishima’s political mythos is connected with the founding myth of the imperial ancestral dynasty created with the influence of the Amatsukami, who happen to be Law-aligned in the SMT series.

Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (2003/2005)

The third game in the series is somewhat unique in that the dynamic of Law and Chaos is radically subverted, if not done away with entirely. With the end of the world set into motion by an event called The Conception, a tiny handful of humans survive by being in the right place at the right time (Shinjuku Medical Centre, of course). The world as we know it becomes what is called the Vortex World, a desolate and chaotic intermission between the death of the old world and the birth of the new, presided over by a being named Kagutsuchi, and three people in particular emerge with ideologies, or Reasons (or Kotowari). A girl named Chiaki espouses a Reason identified as Yosuga, a man named Hikawa espouses a Reason identified as Shijima, and a man named Isamu espouses a Reason identified as Musubi. Because the protagonist becomes half-demon, hence he is referred to as the Demi-Fiend, he is forbidden from espousing a Reason of his own, and only has the power to support one of the three Reasons, or indeed reject all of them. The original game had five ending paths: one for Yosuga, one for Shijima, one for Musubi, one where the world is restored to its pre-Conception state, and one where nothing changes and the Vortex World remains for a thousand years.

So, who represents the Chaos side in all this? The answer is rather more complicated than in more traditional games.

In theory, Yosuga best approximates the Chaos alignment due to the doctrine of might makes right, a negative aspect of the traditional Chaos alignment, being central to its ideology. Chiaki talks about how the strong and the beautiful are the rightful makers of the world, and the useless and the mediocre are cast aside. However, while brutish demons are to be found among its supporters, its main representatives, ironically, are angels. The Four Archangels, the main representatives of the Law alignment, support Chiaki and her Yosuga vision, and you fight them if you do not align with Yosuga, and the other angels can be seen as allies of Chiaki throughout the game. This does not make sense if you understand Yosuga simply as this game’s version of the Chaos alignment, particularly when you account for the Law and Chaos dynamic not really existing, either in the plot or in gameplay. Instead Yosuga should be seen as a Reason that fuses conceits from both Law and Chaos together in pursuit of a fascistic ideology of elitism. Unlike the traditional Chaos alignment, freedom does not appear anywhere in Chiaki’s resume of ideological concerns. Instead, Chiaki’s primary ideological concern is “beauty”. She wants to create a world where only “beautiful” things exist. Strength happens to be a part of her conception of beauty. Thus, the angels would see Yosuga’s world as a Thousand Year Kingdom in which only the beautiful, cognate with the godly, may live, just that admittance is predicated on a brutal Social Darwinist selection process based on strength. It is for this reason alone that Yosuga is seen as the nominal “Chaos” alignment in this game, when in practice it seems to be a synthesis of Law and Chaos tropes.

Then there are the two other Reasons, Shijima and Musubi. Shijima, while ostensibly the “Law”-aligned Reason, is supported by traditionally Chaos-aligned demons such as members of the Fallen, Night, and Tyrant clans, and its demonic sponsor is Ahriman, a Tyrant demon and therefore traditionally Chaos-aligned. Musubi is ostensibly “Neutral”, but it does actually contain plenty of the “individualism” that is generally ascribed to the Chaos worldview, though this could also be interpreted as the product of taking the functional isolationism associated with Neutrality to the furthest degree. In practice, none of the three Reasons can be treated as simply clear-cut representations of the three classical alignments. And, in relation to these three Reasons, the other two paths in the original game are functionally Neutral endings. In the Freedom ending, you reject all Reasons in order to restore the world to its original state. In the Demon ending, you reject all Reasons and either try to create your own Reason or just prove too indecisive to initiate the creation of a new world, which results in the persistence of the Vortex World.

I suppose perhaps the closest to a traditional Chaos-aligned character in the game that appears early on in the game’s plot would be Gozu-Tennoh, a powerful demon god who leads the Mantra group against the Assembly of Nihilo. Gozu-Tennoh is based on a fearsome Buddhist protector deity who may have originally been a god of disease and pestilence. Gozu-Tennoh opposes the Assembly of Nihilo for wanting to “bring the world to a halt” with their world of stillness, and instead wants a “world of strength”, which is naturally a brutish might makes right utopia ruled by the strong. This certainly does hue from that classical negative aspect of Chaos, and Gozu-Tennoh even declares that he will rule “the kingdom of chaos”. In a weird way, the trial by combat for trespassing held at the Mantra Headquarters in Ikebukuro mirrors the events of the first game, in which the Gaian city was presided over by Yama, another fearsome Buddhist deity. However, Gozu-Tennoh eventually becomes one with Chiaki as the bearer of Yosuga, and so his power becomes folded into essentially one of the three avenues by which the power of creation can be realized by Kagutsuchi, and thus his spirit becomes part of a the three prongs of this game’s version of Law: a contest of visions by which to realize perfect order instead of chaotic freedom.

If there is a real Chaos ending, it is in the Maniax version of the game, which introduces the True Demon ending. This path requires the player to collect the Candelabra from powerful demons of death known as Fiends, make their way through the Amala Labyrinth, and go all the way to the end to meet Lucifer. Once this is done, all other endings become inaccessible and, after defeating Kagutsuchi, you face Lucifer as the real final boss, who seeks to test your strength as his new general, and from then on you and Lucifer, after stopping the cycle of death and rebirth in this world, march on with demon armies to begin the war against God. This fundamentally changes the dynamic set out in the original version of the game. In the original version of the game, there is no real Law and Chaos dynamic, just three Reasons and two Neutral paths. Now, all of the Reasons can conceivably be counted as Law endings insofar as they ultimately conform to the designs of The Great Will, the Freedom and Demon endings remain Neutral, and the True Demon ending is a Chaos ending in the sense that it actively sets out to make war with The Great Will, and ultimately God, in concious alignment with Lucifer.

The Gaians do make an appearance in this game’s story, though the role of the organization itself seems to be more in the background than anything active. They are mentioned early on in the game and appear to be responsible for multiple murders before the beginning of the game’s story, but after the Conception they disappear from the story entirely. One interesting tidbit about Gaian doctrine presented in the Amala Labyrinth is that the Gaians liked to bring together all sorts of doctrines out of a belief that the truth can be discovered from chaos, which no doubt was represented by a free flow of ideas that took place within their syncretism. Hikawa, one of the main characters, was a member of the Cult of Gaia, but his actual ideology doesn’t seem to resemble anything the Gaians advocated for, and is often seen as closer to the Law alignment than anything else. With the release of the Maniax edition, we see some additional information concerning Hikawa and the Gaians. Considered heretical even within the cult itself, Hikawa took the Miroku Scripture from them and began planning to betray them in order to create his own world of silence. To that end he started summoning demons everywhere, whom he had murder not only Gaians but also the Messians, basically anyone who stood in his way. Meanwhile, the souls of both Gaians and Messians reappear in the Amala Labyrinth, much like in Shin Megami Tensei II when they appeared in Makai. There, the Gaians tend to espouse much the same things they did in the first two games, about how they tend to advocate for harmony with nature and the demons. Both the Gaians and the Messians had wanted to stop Hikawa from triggering the Conception, no doubt motivated at least partially by the fact that this would mean the deaths of nearly all of humanity including themselves.

But of course, the True Demon Ending has little to do with these old themes associated with the Gaians. The True Demon Ending is a fundamentally anti-cosmic position. Whereas other Chaos alignments sometimes bill themselves as restorers of the true order of nature, the True Demon Path is based around the idea of destroying the cosmic order, indeed the cosmos itself. The rationale for this is that the universe, or rather multiverse, is constantly created, destroyed, and recreated by The Great Will, again and again until a perfect universe is created. Thus life is constantly destroyed by The Great Will, and the only way to stop this is to destroy the cycle of death and rebirth in the multiverse, which means to destroy the creation of The Great Will. The rammifications of this ending are far more severe than almost any of the other endings due to the fact that you’re destroying the universe, but even here, it is possible to argue this as an extreme expression of the Chaotic pursuit of freedom even at the expense of the collapse of the cosmic order itself. In a cosmos where you are destined to be nothing but a constant pawn of an endless cycle of death and rebirth, initiated by a God who will keep doing this until he creates his utopia off the back of the countless dead, it could be said that the only liberation available is to take the fight against creation itself. What happens afterwards is an open question. Will defeating God lead to the altering of creation itself, a new form for creation no longer dictated by the pursuit of perfect order? It can only be speculated, although it seems that in this path even a world of might makes right seems to be preluded, since you reject the Reason that already represents this idea and there is no talk of it in the True Demon path. What is most important for the True Demon path is that, at least for Lucifer’s forces, it represents revolution against the Absolute, as well as the ultimate and most extreme rejection of fate and of doubt towards the Absolute. The Lady in Black accompanying Lucifer asks the player if they would prefer to be predestined by God or if they would rather choose their own path. That is what defines the True Demon path at the end of it, and that is what it means to embrace Chaos.

The last thing we should note is that, according to Kazuma Kaneko himself, the world of the third game has Chaos as the dominant theme, in contrast to the second game being dominated by Law. The traditional aesthetic of Law and Chaos is on display with this orientation, with the world of Nocturne positively festooned with vibrant edifices of Japanese culture and character. There are a fair few links to Buddhism in the plot as well. The Gaians, before the events of the game, possess something called the Miroku Scripture. Miroku no doubt refers to Miroku Bosatsu, the Japanese name for Maitreya Boddhisattva, the future Buddha according to Buddhist eschatology who will appear when the Buddhist dharma is completely forgotten in order to teach “pure” dharma to the world.. The text of the Scriptue also makes references to Buddhist concepts such as Sangai (the three worlds), Taizo (the Womb Realm, which is used to refer to The Conception), and Daihi (the compassion of the bodhisattvas). The Vortex World is conceived as the Womb Realm, which is conceived as a place in which the creation of the new law of a new world will take place. The True Demon path also could be seen to have Buddhist contours in a somewhat extreme sense. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to emancipate yourself from the endless cycle of suffering in reincarnation, of death and rebirth, through the realization of anatma and the attainment of nirvana. Some more extreme interpretations of Buddhism can posit that the only way to liberate all beings from suffering is to destroy the universe itself. The outcome of the True Demon path definitely fits this description.

Ironically, however, for a world so defined by Chaos, the being at the center of it is Kagutsuchi, an avatar of the Great Will. He gathers up the last human survivors for the sole purpose of determining who will create a new world, in the hopes of this time creating a world of perfect order. Thus, his enterprise is Law. Though, could it also be said that the selection process for this is a contest of strength that might otherwise be associated with Chaos? But then even that contest seems to being directed towards what is ultimately the aim of Law, the realization of perfect order by the Great Will. And yet, the Vortex World as a state of primordial chaos in which creation takes place does seem to fit well with the idea of Chaos in some ways. Remember that, in the first game, if you’re Chaos-aligned in the Kongokai dungeon and encounter the Chaos Phantom, he will praise you and beckon you to walk the path of Chaos, “from which everything is born”. Chaos is primeval and timeless potentiality itself, the germ from and within which creation emerges, and the Vortex World reflects this. Also reflected in the Chaos emphasis is the quest of the Amala Labyrinth. Lucifer, as Kaneko said, is the idol of chaos who seeks to establish free will, and for better or for worse that is his purpose in this game: to establish free will will out from the primordial chaos, by waging war with the Great Will.

Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon (2008)

One of the few spin-off games mentioned here, Devil Summoner 2 (or should that be Raidou Kuzunoha 2?) has a rather scaled down but noticeable Law and Chaos dynamic. It has no little impact on gameplay, but it does have a presence in the game’s story, however small that may be. The basic premise of the game is that Raidou Kuzunoha, a Taisho-era occult detective, is investigating a series of strange misfortunes involving some equally strange people wearing masks, which leads him to the discovery of the Tento Lords, who terrorize a village and make the human inhabitants their subjects, as well as the Mushibito, who oppose the Tento Lords and their contempt for humans and instead follow the visions of “Lord Bellzeboo”.

Here, Law and Chaos are less definite ideologies and more about individual ethos, in the sense of how you live your life. In this sense, the Chaos-aligned Raidou is a person who lives his life mostly for himself and who does what he does out of his own principles, his actions are based on who he really is and not just based on his duties as Raidou Kuzunoha. It is not so much an ideology as much as general individualistic way of life, and not necessarily in a bad way. The Chaos-aligned Raidou is, in this sense, not motivated by any sense of duty towards the Yatagarasu organization, but is instead motivated by his own principles and desires, and simply utilizes the resources of the Yatagarasu to do what he really wants to do.

The Gaians make no appearance at all in this game’s story. Instead, the Chaos alignment is largely represented by Dahn Tsukigata. Dahn is an impulsive young man who despises the Tento Lords. His ambition seems to be to become the Insect King, or King Abaddon (hence the title of the game), in the hopes that it would enable him to free his village from having to rely on the Tento Lords. To that end he stole the Luck Locust from his own clan in order to gain the power to become King Abaddon and save his sister, Akane. This invites the risk of summoning dangerous monsters known as Apollyons, but the risk in his mind is worth it. Dahn is a man who is willing to take any risk and defy authority in order to do what he thinks is right, which in this case means interrupting the Marriage Ritual in which women are selected as “brides” (sacrifices) for the Tento Lords, and thus he embodies this game’s Chaos ethos succcinctly. By contrast, Dahn’s opposite is Akane, his sister, who is willing to accept being a sacrificial lamb for her community if it means sparing them from the wrath of the Tento Lords. Louis Cypher (Lucifer) also appears in the game and plays a major role in the story.

Louis Cypher appears as a blond young man as he does in so many other games, hanging around the Tamonten Shrine, but he also appears as “Lord Bellzeboo” (another name for Beelzebub), who appears to the Mushibto as a fly and imparts prophecy and instructions to them. It seems Louis Cypher is also the one who revealed that only King Abaddon can defeat the Tento Lords, and is thus the inspiration for Dahn’s ambition. In the New Game Plus playthrough, after aligning with Chaos, Lucifer also appears as the boss of a series of side quests where he tests your strength in order to see if you are capable of changing the future, by which he means the future as determined by God. Essentially, Lucifer’s interest in Raidou consists in his belief that Raidou will be strong enough to serve as the catalyst for wresting the power of fate away from God’s control, and make it so that God is no longer the author of human destiny. As a side-note, even though Satan and Lucifer are typically treated as separate entities in the SMT series, if you have Lucifer in your party and initiate conversations between him and some enemy angels, they refer to him as Satan (though for some reason they’re all rather polite to him otherwise).

Incidentally, speaking of SMT call-backs, although the Gaians are not in this game, the Asura Lord makes his return in a side-quest where we find that theme of the ancient gods being oppressed by YHVH also returns. Here, Raidou must go to the Akarana Corridor to get to an alternative space-time where Asura, who describes himself as the sun divinity and “the eternal warmonger”, is getting ready to lead the forces of Chaos against God. The Asura Lord once again says that he was once Ahura Mazda, but he calls himself Dainichi Nyorai, which is not his true form. After you defeat Asura, you can choose to either allow him to go and fight alongside the forces of Chaos or insist that he return to his role as Dainichi Nyorai. The former, naturally, is a Chaos choice, while the latter is a Law choice, and there is no middle ground.

The Chaos ending for this game sees you join forces with Dahn for the final stretch of the game. After the defeat of Shinado, who assumed the mantle of King Abaddon, and after the resulting disappearance of the Abyss brought forth as a result of Dahn’s reckless actions, Dahn sets out to leave the Tsukigata village to the villagers and go on a journey with the Mushibito to help them find a place where they can live in peace. In a certain sense this echoes the Chaos ending in the second game, in which the mutants, having been liberated, can now go and live in peace after seeing the sun. Indeed, Chaos overall in this game actually seems far more straightforwardly heroic than even in Shin Megami Tensei II. The basic substance is defying duty and tradition in order to try and save someone from being sacrificed to a clan of deities who hate humans. It’s also worth noting that, after Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, this is one of the first SMT games that allowed American audiences to choose between Law and Chaos in the proper and classical sense. A GameSpite article titled Shin Megami Tensei: Law Chaos and American Way, written by Cole Lastie in 2010, noted that while Japanese players believed the central plot choice to be a difficult one, cutting into a cultural dillemma between individual suffering and putting the needs of society above your own, American players easily identified with Dahn’s desire to stop the Marriage Ritual, because there usually is no dillemma between individual suffering and putting the needs of the group above your own in the collective American psyche. As a generic ethos of freedom over authority, Chaos tends to resonate with American attitudes.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (2009)

Originally intended to be the official fourth game in the series, Strange Journey positions the Law and Chaos dynamic in the context of a radically different plot scenario to previous and future games. In this game, instead of being a lone young demon summoner changing the fate of Tokyo with just yourself and your demons, you’re a soldier wearing a demon-summoning suit (or DEMONICA), part of a whole crew of men and women sent to investigate a mysterious place called the Schwarzvelt that appeared over Antarctica. The Schwarzvelt seems to be a collection of alternate dimensions inhabited by demons, and through which demons seem to be pouring out and into Earth. Its emergence seems to be linked to the destructive behaviour of humans towards the natural world, and in particular to a zenith of accelerated consumption, violence, pollution, and general decadence. Basically, demons are invading the world in response to mankind destroying the world. The assumed premise of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team is to reach the end of the Schwarzvelt in order to destroy it, but the Law and Chaos endings, rather than this, involve the player joining with the forces of either alignment to use the Schwarzvelt to create a new world with the power of the Cosmic Eggs.

The Chaos alignment, in this context, represents not only the usual ethos of freedom against order, but the restoration of the world, to a natural order free from the control of God and characterized by harmony with nature and the demons, or “the ancient gods”, with no hierarchy other than the familiar “might makes right” form of social organization found in the first game. In this game in particular it also seems to come down to sympathy for the demons in relation to the question of the role of the Schwarzvelt and its connection to the destruction of the world to which it responds. In simple terms this tends to mean that Chaos-aligned choices involve agreeing with the demons when they say that they’re here to save the world. This is in opposition to being strictly pro-human and anti-demon as is the case for Neutral choices, or to declaring that both humans and demons are wrong as is the case for Law-aligned choices. In Sector Horologium you may find Ongyo-Ki who summarizes the perspective of the demons: he views the angels as nothing to fear because they cannot do anything but listen to commands from on high, and views humans as incoherent creatures who ruin the world while blaming someone else for it.

The demonic lords of each sector of the Schwarzvelt, who constitute the main bosses of the game, tend to echo aspects of this game’s version of the Chaos alignment, and when they question the player, answering in agreement with them pushes you towards the Chaos alignment. Morax, the Goetic demon presiding over Sector Antlia, tries to get the player to agree with him that the demons he sends to the Earth are “the real heroes”, due to humanity’s atrocities. When he later reincarnates as Moloch, he again boasts of the greatness of demons in his crusade for revenge over his previous battle. Mitra, the god presiding over Sector Bootes, talks about how humans originally worshipped the demons out of fear and the desire for supernatural protection, and lamented that humans have grown to “eat the planet into ruin, as though you owned it”. When Mitra reincarnates as Mithras, he proclaims that demons were not made to serve humans and that instead they should rule humans, and if the player objects, Mithras says that it is humans who have “desecrated the bond”, by which he means forgetting the gods and losing harmony with the land and the rivers. Horkos, the gluttonous ruler of Sector Carina, lambasts humans for producing things until they become unmanageable, forgetting their “debt to the earth”, and disrupting the rhythm of the planet by joining the ranks of the consumed, viewing humans as less than beasts and mocking them for thinking they can control their rampant consumerism. When he reincarnates as Orcus, he complains about humans “drowning in civilization” and enjoying themselves too much, unable to accept death in the way that their ancestors did due to hedonism. Asura, the ruler of Sector Delphinus, lectures humans about how the Schwarzvelt was brought about by the humans themselves, blames the coveting of material goods, disregard for the planet, and the apparent weakening of the human spirit, by which he means its lack of Social Darwinism of course, while mocking order as comfort for the weak and chaos (meaning of course endless strife) as a source of beauty and strength, indeed he blames civilization itself for the decay of humans and Earth. When he reincarnates (inexplicably) as the goddess Asherah, she describes humans as “defilers of soil and destroyers of lives” and proclaims that demons as well as humans who “carry that noble seed within them” (presumably referring to Chaos-aligned humans) are needed to restore the Earth and the power of the land. Ouroboros (a.k.a. Ouroboros Maia), the serpent ruler of Sector Eridanus, refers to the Schwarzvelt as “the holy realm of the gods” and upon defeat laments of humans passing through it. Tiamat, the ruler of Sector Fornax, proclaims that she will give birth to an orchard of demons for as long as humans keep destroying the planet. Maya, the ruler of Sector Grus, complains that humans bring nothing but destruction and cannot build a beautiful future. Mem Aleph, the great mother goddess of Sector Horologium and also the final boss on most paths of the game, presents herself as the voice and protector of the Earth and laments humans for losing co-existence with the gods.

Here, it is established that the demons of the Schwarzvelt view themselves as a kind of antibody, the virus to which it responds being a type of civilizational decadence that results in environmental and societal destruction. A major conceit of the Chaos alignment from the first game is the idea of harmony with the ancient gods in a state of freedom. This game’s version of Chaos more or less elevates that conceit while emphasizing the Social Darwinism of the previous game and adding a great deal of misanthropy on the part of the demons. The idea the demons have of killing humans in order to save the environment is in many ways the most extreme and negative representation Chaos gets in the series as a whole and is reminiscent of the ideas of people like David Foreman and Pentti Linkola, proponents of “deep ecology” who interpret the idea that all living beings have worth regardless of utility to humans as entailing the mass death of humans being justified in order to protect the earth.

Once again, the Gaians don’t appear anywhere in the game, but then what would they be doing hanging around in the Schwarzvelt anyway. The main representative of the Chaos alignment in this game is a man named Jimenez, an American mercenary who is a member of the Strike Team on board the Red Sprite ship. He’s frank, pessimistic, cynical, prone to acting independently, and he constantly talks back to other crew members and even makes cruel jokes at their expense. One can see this attitude being problematic for team effort, but you can also sympathize with him in many respects. A notable trait of Jimenez’s that will metastasize later in the game is that while Jimenez has a difficult time getting along with most of his human crew members (except, at least potentially, for the protagonist of course), and he tends to mistrust the angels that later appear in the Schwarzvelt, he gets along with a demon named Bugaboo so well that he even frequently lets him accompany him outside of the Demon Summoning Program, which often gets him into trouble with the rest of the crew. Eventually, after getting captured by the mercenary unit called Jack’s Squad during a botched espionage mission, he fuses with Bugaboo in order to save the demon’s life and escape from torture. Just like the Chaos Hero in the first game, he becomes more than human, stronger than ever before, but this also means he loses some of his humanity and takes on some dangerous traits. Immediately after escaping he slaughters many of Captain Jack’s crew, kills Jack himself, and would certainly have killed his second-in-command Ryan, even as he pled for mercy, if not for Zelenin’s intervention. Afterwards, though, Jimenez can potentially take revenge on Jack’s Squad and finish them off for good. Ryan at some point takes over Jack’s Squad and announces plans to get revenge on the Red Sprite, but Zelenin pacifies them with her angelic song. For the demons in Grus, however, this is not enough, and they offer passage to Grus’ underbelly if they just kill the rest of Jack’s Squad. Agreeing to the demons’ request pushes you towards the Chaos alignment, while refusing their request and having Zelenin help you instead pushes you towards the Law alignment. Killing Jack’s Squad is justified by the demons on the simple grounds that they killed, imprisoned, and exploited them previously, and would rather they die than become agents of God against them.

Certain side-quests, or EX Missions, also give windows into the Chaos worldview. In Sector Eridanus, you see the Four Devas (or Four Heavenly Kings) – Zouchouten, Koumokuten, Jikokuten, and Bishamonten – say they have come in response to “the restoration of a world full of energy”, and offer to train you if you want some of that energy for yourself. You can fight three of them on all paths, but Bishamonten can only be fought on the Chaos path. A New Game Plus Ex Mission in Sector Grus has the player fighting Alilat, a goddess trying to stop the unsealing of the Demiurge, the false god of “Gnosticism”, proclaiming the revival of “the goddess-worshipping world” he once trampled upon her defeat. Another EX Mission has the player fighting the Demiurge, who is also the hardest boss in the game. Upon defeating Demiurge, the angel Metatron will try to fuse with him in order to regain some lost power, but the voice of a goddess will implore the player to switch off his Demonica visor so she can seal the two entities. Heeding her request will result in the Demiurge and Metatron being cut off from the Schwarzvelt, and the goddess thanks you for helping her seal the Demiurge away, stating that all will be purified in the end. This goddess previously warns the player not to go on before the fight with Demiurge. This is part of a broad conflict with the goddesses, who represent the will of the Earth, and the forces of God who sought to control it.

The major alignment lock comes after the defeat of Maya in Sector Grus, where Arthur, the Red Sprite’s AI, is temporarily shut down by a seemingly unknown power, and the crew see visions of the Three Wise Men on one hand, and Louisa Ferre (this game’s version of Louis Cypher, and thus Lucifer) on the other. This ends up dividing the crew of the Red Sprite into separate camps; those who were taken in by the Three Wise Men followed Zelenin (a scientist who later becomes an angelic being) and the angels on one side, those who embraced the vision of Louisa Ferre followed Jimenez and the “ancient gods” on the other side, while a third faction of the crew tries to preserve the original mission of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team and refuses to follow either side. Louisa Ferre retorts to the Three Wise Men, proclaiming their world as a deathly world where nothing is born and nothing dies, and proclaims that the real solution is for humans to “return to their souls’ origin”, by letting the Schwarzvelt loose in order to restore the harmony of humans with nature, as opposed to living fat off the land and alienated from nature, living in a kind of anarchy with “free gods” in a world of strife-filled freedom, where the “depraved” are ultimately cast off for their weakness and fear of death. In practice this essentially just means a state of constant violence presided over by demons, which can be inferred through the way Asura talks about “polishing” the spirits of humans after making the crew of the Red Sprite go berserk. Jimenez is taken in by Louisa’s vision, describing it as a free life where “if you die it’s your own fault”, and decides to leave the Red Sprite in order to go off into the Schwarzvelt and live with the demons. A few of the crew become swayed by Jimenez in turn, expressing a newfound desire to reclaim lost freedom by turning toward the gods of old. After this, the crew arrives at Sector Horologium, and Commander Gore, who died early on and was previously resurrected by the Mothers, regains his former consciousness and returns to the crew of the Red Sprite. This is where the final alignment choice takes place. If the player is Neutral, he poses two questions to you, one where he asks if you will side with the angels, and one where he asks if you will side with the demons, and saying no to both ensures that you are Neutral. If you are already either Law or Chaos aligned, however, you will be forced to fight Gore without being posed any questions and be locked onto either alignment.

If the player is Chaos-aligned, Gore proclaims that the demons have devoured your soul leaving nothing but a body yearning for freedom, thus he resolves to defeat you as a demon wearing the uniform of the Investigative Team. After defeating Gore, Jimenez returns to the Red Sprite with an army of demons to take it over, proclaiming that he will take back freedom for both humans and demons, and proceeding to “baptise” them in the name of the demon mothers, by which of course he means have some demonic presences take over the minds of the crew except for the protagonist. After the takeover of the Red Sprite, Jimenez and the protagonist meet and pledge their loyalty to Mem Aleph, who congratulates the party for choosing “a world of freedom” and instructs them to collect the Cosmic Eggs that will allow them to rebuild the world. Once this is accomplished, she congratulates the party on their pledge that they and the demons will live in harmony, describing both humans and demons as opposite sides of a mirror, and gives them their final order to go to the Vanishing Point to release the Cosmic Eggs into the world. The Vanishing Point is guarded by Zelenin, who has transformed into a great pillar angel and tries to stop you, but you defeat her, and begin creating the world of Chaos. Energy from the Schwarzvelt pours over the Earth, human civilization is destroyed, and demons become the new rulers of a “world of life”, regaining their forms as gods of freedom, power, and “hope”. Humans establish harmony with demons, with “the ancient gods” as it were, but it is a brutal world, governed by the principle of might makes right; only the strong, “those whose own strength blazes brightly”, may live in the new world, and the weak are left to die. Ironically though, for a “world of freedom”, if you look closely at the artwork for that world you might see what appears to be a huge fence, possible with a view to keeping humans in a massive enclosure while they kill each other for the gods of old. After the Red Sprite crew becomes Chaos-aligned in the Chaos path, they come to the conclusion that fighting is all there is to the world, which is perhaps fitting for the world they’re about to create.

There is here a perplexing mix of the familiar tropes of bourgeois Western philosophy: namely the two views of human nature presented by the camps of Rousseau and Hobbes, which are normally opposed to each other. As per familiar and popular understanding, the Rousseau camp held that human nature was essentially good before being despoiled by the advent of civilization, and although Rousseau himself never coined or used the term “noble savage”, the term is applied to this concept of human nature, and similar thinkers invoked a primitve communist past defined in terms of this nature as a protest against the authoritarian rule of the monarchy and the church, while the Hobbes camp is typically portrays human nature in terms of inherent hostility and violence, though ironically Hobbes himself didn’t actually believe in human nature as such, and the Hobbesian view of pre-civilized life is described famously as “nasty, brutish, and short”. In this game, however, the Chaos view of original, pre-civilized human nature, mashes both the Rousseauan and Hobbesian camps of human nature together in a kind of synthesis. It takes the position of the Rousseau camp in that human nature was originally good before the advent of civilizational authority and censure, but this is actually filtered through the Hobbesian perspective of natural life as “nasty, brutish, and short”. In other words, for many of the Chaos demons, the state of the noble savage and the Hobbesian state of nature are the same thing, and human nature was originally good precisely because it was nasty and brutish, and the advent of civilization caused it to wane and become weak in its absolute submission to the law.

There is also, ultimately, an irony in the Chaos position as far as the problems of the world and humanity are concerned. In Sector Delphinus, you encounter the resurrected Commander Gore for the first time since his death early in the game, who at this time is on the side of the Mothers, and he bemoans humanity as a disease for its “joy in slaughter”, “addiction to desire”, “infinite consumption”, and “excretion beyond salvation”. Yet, the solution presented by some of the Chaos demons involves precisely the awakening of the joys of violence and the liberation of desire. Asura’s whole program for correcting what Gore describes is precisely in making humans more violent, and in the world of Chaos, most of what people do is engage in violence. How is this not the “joy in slaughter” that the Mothers, through Gore, complained about? And if “addiction to desire”, whatever that might mean, is such a problem for them, why is Mara, the literal embodiment of desire itself, retconned as one of the Mothers? Indeed, the mind-jacking that Jimenez does in the Chaos path is framed by Jimenez as essentially “freeing their madness”, and all it really amounts to heightening their taste for violence. How does the Mothers square that with their complaints about “joy in slaughter”, and how do they square any sort of liberation of desire with their complaints about “addiction to desire”?

All in all, Chaos in the context of Strange Journey can be seen as rather radically expanded. It represents not only the ethos of freedom and the generic alignment with demons, but its component of harmony with wild nature is very much elevated into a deep-seated, and unfortunately rather misanthropic, ideology built on the re-establishment of a sacred relationship between Man and the earth, albeit through a rather destructive method. But it cannot be overlooked that this game’s version of Chaos is also arguably the cruellest path in the game, and probably the cruellest form of Chaos in the entire series. Think about it: you spend the majority of the game fighting demonic lords who go on about how human civilization needs to be destroyed and taken over by demons, which in this game essentially entails demons spreading out into the Earth and killing untold numbers of people, only to betray your fellow crew, stop them from returning to Earth and doing great things with their loved ones, have your half-demon friend basically brainwash them into supporting your new cause, all to create a world where all humans do is kill each other under the oversight of “the ancient gods”. Far and away, the most grim take on Chaos found in the series. Of course, things take a different turn in the Redux version, but since the Redux version is several years apart from the original, this can wait.

Shin Megami Tensei IV (2013)

As the official fourth game in the serious, Shin Megami Tensei IV essentially recapitulates the Law and Chaos dynamic that has been in effect since the second game, with Law and Chaos defined and represented primarily by two opposing poles of the Judeo-Christian mythos, though also taking with it much of the tropes of the first game. Law is represented as the side of God, or more specifically his angels, while Chaos is represented as the side of Lucifer, and the various demonic adversaries of God, though Law is also a generic alignment denoting order, preservation, and everlasting peace at the expense of freedom, while Chaos is a generic alignment denoting freedom, change even through destruction, and the idea of a world where the strong can shape the world as they please.

Before we go any further we should note the setting. Most previous games have been set principally if not entirely within Tokyo, and this game is not much of an exception. The difference, however, is that unlike most games, this game is split between two main locations. The first is a place called the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, seemingly a kingdom in the vein of medieval Europe, though for some reason its main fighting force is referred to as Samurai (one would think that Knights would suffice for such a setting), and there’s an entrenched feudal class system split mainly between Casualries (peasants and labourers) and Luxurors (the nobles and aristocrats). The second is Tokyo, which is covered by a vast ceiling of rock, which is in reality the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and which is infested by demons and split between rivalling factions – the Ring of Gaea on one side, and the Ashura-kai on the other (for some reason the Messians are absent in this game). You play as Flynn (or more or less the character officially named Flynn), one of the Samurai of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado who descend to Tokyo as part of their mission to protect the kingdom from demons. You companions are Jonathan, the main representative of the Law alignment, Walter, his Chaos-aligned counterpart, Isabeau, the paragon of Neutrality, and for a brief period Navarre, who is arrogant towards the rest of the team and ultimately abandons the quest.

The contours of the Law and Chaos alignment are established very early on in the game, as the protagonist experiences dream sequences where he discovers his Law and Chaos-aligned comrades, not unlike the dream sequence in which the first game begins. The dream in which you see Walter features a city in ruins, with fire everywhere, it looks like a war zone. When you meet him in the dream, Walter tells you that he was fighting while waiting for you to meet him, and that you and him are going to create “a world where anything can be changed if you have the will”. This establishes Walter right away as the representative of the Chaos alignment, and his personality throughout the game only emphasizes this further. He is consistently a headstrong and brash personality who tends to dislike authority and following rules, especially dislikes constantly being given new orders by the Abbot, and has little regard for the status quo in general. This suits the more generic idea of Chaos as a way of life that we see in Devil Summoner 2. He also tends to the kind of person who believes that, when a person’s suffering is too much, it is best to simply end it, as the case was in the battle against Isaachar, who suffered in the course of his demonic transformation. As the early part of the game’s story continues, you see more dreams of Walter, of him beckoning you to change the world with him, and another where he tells you that the world is beyond salvation, invites you to “wipe the slate clean and create a new one together!”, and beckons you to “hurry to the underground”. There is also a noticeable class dynamic at play. Walter, like Flynn, is a Casualry, born into the lower class. All Samurai are Luxurors, meaning that those who become Samurai also become part of the Luxuror class and climb the social hierarchy, but Walter’s class identity remains with him, and he has little regard for the social norms of his Luxuror companions. When the Samurai descend into Tokyo, Walter has little trouble adjusting to life in Tokyo. In fact, in the manga for the game we see Walter swap his Samurai uniform for a leather outfit suited to a punk.

As the game progresses, you are presented with multiple plot junctures that push you in the direction of one alignment or another, and these are useful in establishing the contours of the Chaos alignment presented in this game. One example is a main story quest given by the Ashura-kai to hunt down a demon named Kuebiko, the god of agriculture (who, ironically, is a Neutral-aligned earth spirit). The Ashura-kai want Kuebiko to get out of Shinjuku, so they send you to go and kill it. However, once you actually meet Kuebiko, you have a choice to kill either Kuebiko or spare him. Killing Kuebiko pushes you towards Law while sparing him pushes you towards Chaos, the latter being a bigger alignment shift than the former. If you choose to spare Kuebiko instead of kill him, you disobey the Ashura-kai and have to fight a swarm of Harpies summoned by him. Kuebiko complains that he had lived in the land of Shinjuku long before humans ever did, and if you fight him, he laments that there was once no superiority or inferiority between humans and the earth. Here, a conceit that was elevated in Strange Journey returns in a somewhat more modest form. Kuebiko expresses the belief often found in the Chaos alignment that it is best to restore harmony with the earth, and the demons. It coincides with the anarchistic (or quasi-anarchistic, or indeed meta-anarchistic) tendency inherent in the Chaotic belief in freedom by pointing to non-hierarchical relationships with the natural world as ideal for humans and the world around them.

We also see a series of alignment questions in the Passage of Ethics, found beneath Tsukiji Hongwanji. The player goes through three forking pathways marked with three questions, each with only two answers, one pushing you towards Law and the other towards Chaos. You make your choice by taking either the door on the left or the door on the right. The left door invariably corresponds to the Chaos choice while the right door invariably corresponds to the Law choice, which in some ways corresponds to the Left Hand Path (for Chaos) and the Right Hand Path (for Law) within Western occultism. The first question places you as the ruler of a country gathering the population for a game, and one of the attendees is taller than all of the others. You are asked whether you would exclude the tall attendee for the sake of fairness, or include the tall attendee regardless of his height. Including the tall attendee in the game pushes you towards Chaos, and Walter remarks that a man can’t help being tall and thus the tall man would have to be accepted. The second question places you as the chief of a village that has lived the same way for 1,000 years until one day a man comes bringing revolutionary technology, which would improve the lives of the villagers at the cost of abandoning their continuous way of life. You are asked if you would expel the visitor to preserve your village’s way of life, or welcome the visitor in order to adopt his technological innovation. Without getting into exactly what technology we’re talking about, embracing the visitor pushes you towards Chaos and Walter remarks that if life for all the villagers would be improved then the risk of upending existing culture is necessary in pursuit of progress. The third and final question places you before the love of your life, lying in a hospital bed, alive but unconscious, with no visible hope of regaining consciousness and all efforts exhausted. You are whether you would stay beside this person and keep them alive despite no sign of recovery, or stop all treatment and let natural death take its course. Letting the person die pushes you towards Chaos, but it is such a difficult question that neither Walter nor Jonathan can decisively answer it.

Another small but not insignificant alignment moment is seen with the battle against Tenkai at Midtown. During the fight, Tenkai inquires about the ideals you possess and asks you what kind of Tokyo you want to see. The ideal Tokyo for the Chaos alignment is “a wild city of freedom”. Later, he asks you another question, this time he asks you what you plan to do once you learn the truth about the Ashura-kai. “Reform” it and “cause chaos”, or “sustain” it and “preserve order”? As strange a question as this must sound considering we are talking about a literal yakuza group, bearing in mind of course that in this game’s version of Tokyo they are the main force of order, it is clear enough that “reform it” is the Chaos-aligned choice, and Walter supports it on the grounds that, even if it causes chaos, a wrong must be addressed, “else we’re as good as corpses”. Between this and most of the questions in the Passage of Ethics we see another flank of Chaos when taken as a broad ethos or individual way of life, such as seen in Devil Summoner 2. That basic ethos is that changing to something better is more important than preserving what already exists, and that injustice and oppression can only be met with the willigness to radically overturn the status quo. Although the game words this as “reform”, it actually sounds rather revolutionary in tone, with Law as perhaps more “reformist” or simply conservative by comparison. Such a revolutionary attitude befits the broadly anarchistic tendency present in the Chaos alignment within various games. Chaos tends to see continuous tradition, authority, rules, and custom as potential obstacles to necessary reforms and progress which often have to be done away with.

Of course, we can hardly discuss the Chaos alignment without talking about the Cult of Gaia, or rather Ring of Gaea as is their new name in this game. The Gaians return in this game, beddecked in red Buddhist clothing and preaching an ideology of might makes right. They are mostly based within Ginza and their mainquarters is the nearby Tsukiji Hongwanji, a Buddhist temple that had been taken over by the Gaians. When you arrive at the inner sanctum of the temple you may notice a giant statue of a goddess resembling Mem Aleph from Strange Journey, suggesting that the “Gaia” they worship is in fact Mem Aleph. According to the art book for this game, the original idea for the Gaian headquarters was that they would dig out a cave to use as a temple, echoing the chthonic worship of gods like Pan in ancient Greece. Their main opponents within Tokyo are the Ashura-kai, a yakuza organization based in Roppongi Hills which controls most of Tokyo by offering protection to the humans in Tokyo and feeding many of the demons the Red Pills, a kind of foodstuff which ostensibly satisfies the demons enough that they won’t eat humans. The player first encounters the Gaians in Ikebukuro, while looking for the Black Samuari, where the Gaians struggle with the presence of Xi Wangmu (ironically a Chaos-aligned Lady), apparently a foreign demon who took over the region. During the fight with Xi Wangmu a Gaian named Kaga talks about how it is inevitable that the weak die and that, if she is weak, she will accept her fate of being eaten by Xi Wangmu, but also says that, if you want to live, you must struggle, give yourself over to your instincts and struggle with all your might, even if it leads to damnation. Walter is impressed by these words after the fight, and takes a liking to the people of Tokyo.

The Gaians certainly do wear their ideals on their sleeves in classical fashion. They typically emphasize strength as one of their primary values, even to the point that a Gaian blocking the way to Ginza praises you for your honesty if you tell him you’ve come to kill Yuriko, their leader, and considers his fight with you more of a test of your strength, and even after defeating him he offers to take you to Tsukiji Hongwanji to build your strength with the Gaians. At the temple the Gaians test the strength of potential applicants by having them go through an endurance test where they have to get through a demon-filled maze and get to the main temple while carrying a candle, and they have to get to the main temple without the candle going out. However, the Gaians in Ginza are not always consistent about this belief in strength as the main determinant of worth. In an optional part of Ginza, you can gain access to a shopping centre with expensive items. But rather than have to fight your way in as would be expected, you actually have to collect a series of entry cards, each more expensive than the last. First you get a Gold Card for 10,000 Macca (the main currency within the series), then you spend 50,000 more Macca to open up passage to a treasure chest containing the Platinum Card, then you pay a man 100,000 more Macca for him to give you a silver coin, and then finally you trade that silver coin for a Black Card. Certainly not what you’d expect of an ideology that places so much emphasis on strength.

The Gaians do still seem to have some belief in the power of the old gods, though they don’t talk about it as much as they talk about strength. In a New Game Plus playthrough, you can partake in multiple sidequests (or Challenge Quests as they’re called here) where you meet Minako, who was a member of the Ring of Gaea and who plans on reincarnating the goddess Ishtar, who she believes has the power to bring life back to the barren soil of Tokyo. This is rather obviously an echo of a side-quest in the second game, where the revival of Ishtar is desired in order to restore fertility to the land of Makai. Minako also seems to be a big believer in the idea that the demons currently prowling about Tokyo originated in the gods of Babylon. The first time you meet her, you see her trying to summon the demon lord Astaroth and summoning demons to fight the player. Her plan was to summon Astaroth so that he may serve as the “king” of the Ring of Gaea, and even though the player defeats Astaroth, she manages to capture Astaroth’s soul, through which she plans to revive Ishtar. The second time you meet Minako, in a Challenge Quest exclusive to the Chaos path, she tells about her plan to reincarnate Ishtar and asks you to defeat Asherah and Mother Harlot, and after you do she devours the souls of those demons before swallowing a Red Pill in order to become Ishtar herself (who, ironically, is a Law-aligned Megami), who nonetheless retains some of Minako’s mind.

One very strange detail about the Gaians comes from the Apocalypse version of the game, whose Notes describe the Ring of Gaea’s doctrine as built on “natural selection” while also adding that its members apparently confuse this to mean a “dog eat dog” philosophy, and that this was the work of Yuriko, who taught the Gaians to unleash their suppressed emotions upon the world to shape it as they see fit. It begs a lot of questions that neither the fourth game nor the Apocalypse version ever address at any point in the story. What does “natural selection” mean in this case, and what does it have to do with the findings of Charles Darwin? And if the “dog eat dog” angle is a misinterpretation, what is the correct interpretation? If Yuriko supposedly subverted the teachings of the Gaians, what were their “real” teachings? The answers to these questions are neither given nor explored.

All of this brings us to the leader of the Ring of Gaea, Yuriko, who is another of the main representatives of the Chaos alignment in the game. She first appears as the mysterious Black Samurai, who spreads certain books called “Literature” to the Casualries of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, who subsequently gather to discuss these books on occasions that they term “Sabbaths”. The choice of term is interesting in that, in view of the medieval setting established in the land of Mikado (in marked contrast to Tokyo of course), it invokes the trope of witchcraft, of the mythical Sabbaths held by so-called witches in which they supposedly gathering in congress with the Devil and in magical conspiracy against God and the Church. The “Literature” seems to give people “knowledge and wisdom”, inspiring people to question the class system of Mikado, and somehow occasionally turning people into demons. What’s funny, though, is that these books of “Literature” appear to consist of actual books written by real world Japanese authors, such as No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai and The Dancing Girl by Ogai Mori. No Longer Human is a novel written in 1948 about a man who struggles with alienation from society and eventually becomes insane, while The Dancing Girl is a short story first published in 1890 about a Japanese exchange student who has to choose between his career and a German dancing girl. Exactly how these particular books get them thinking about the nature of Mikado’s feudal society and its religious underpinnings, let alone trigger any kind of demonic transformation, is a total mystery. The only possible connection is that maybe Paradise Lost is “Literature” too, at least based on one NPC saying he wants to read it. Nonetheless, the Black Samurai serves as the witch of Mikado, spreading discontent and getting people to question society in the name of Lucifer. Casualries who read her books come to see their society as dominated by elites who establish practices convenient for themselves while depriving its underclass of knowledge and forcing them to labour for the upper class, and that really the Luxurors are unnecessary because it is the labour of the Casualries that upholds society. Here, Chaos gets an edge from anti-capitalist critique, borrowed from socialism, albeit within the context of feudal society rather than a capitalist one.

As the game progresses, you learn more about the Black Samurai and her goals. When you meet her in Tokyo, she tells you that Tokyo is a mirror image of Mikado before allowing herself to be arrested. During her execution, she tells the public that every vice in this world is always disguised as virtue, that Adam ate the apple because it was forbidden rather than because he desired it, that the apple has been set before all, and that, as those who read her books apparently discovered, the people of Mikado will find no love from God. She proclaims Mikado to be a distorted and biased kingdom, and that the Samurai visited Tokyo already know this, and that she will resurrect as many times as necessary to bring knowledge to the people. And sure enough, not long after her execution she is found to have resurrected and fled to Tokyo, and so the party is tasked with killing her in a mission of murder. Eventually, as you make your way through to Ginza and then Tsukiji Hongwanji, you discover the Black Samurai who reveals that her name is Yuriko, leader of the Ring of Gaea, and almost immediately afterwards, she further reveals that she is actually a demon named Lilith. This is actually just like in the first game where Lilith frequently took on the form of a woman named Yuriko. In any case, Lilith explains that the demonic transformations were apparently the result of the subjects of Mikado suppressing their desires, that humans and demons are the same in essence, and that, because of that, the hatred of humans should be reserved not for demons but instead the “absurd rules created to bend the ignorant to their will”. Her stated goal is to “restore the human world to its natural order”, which in her parlance seems to entail a society without rulers and where “the strong can shape the world as they please”. From her perspective, a world comprised only of natural freedom. Because this would potentially imply a great deal of freedom for Casualries and the removal of their Luxuror masters, Walter is naturally taken in by this vision, which results in the party becoming divided as Walter leaves after refusing to kill Lilith. Lilith tells the party to look into a facility run by Tayama beneath the ground in Roppongi, where she assures the party they will see what “true evil” is. The party soon discovers the Reverse Hills facility, in which humans are locked up and have their brains harvested in order to mass produce Red Pills for consumption by demons, and thereby discover the basis upon which Tayama claims his “utopia” of co-existence.

All of this builds up to what is arguably the main alignment split in the game’s story. After visiting Shene Duque, the holy land of Mikado, and meeting the Four Archangels who once again charge the party with killing the Black Samurai, Walter refuses to continue with the quest, deciding that both the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and Tayama’s “utopia” are no better than each other, both being ruled by selfish dictators. He expresses his desire to change the world, and tells the party that he intends to go to Lilith after packing his things, inviting those who want to join him to come to the residence hall. Walter allows himself to consider the possibility that some harm may arise as a result of following Lilith, but believes that it is a risk worth taking in order to change the world away from its current state. Siding with Walter is the Chaos choice, and after agreeing to go with Walter you return to Tsukiji Hongwanji to meet Lilith again. There she tells you to go to Camp Ichigaya in order to take control of the Yamato Perpetual Reactor, a huge electricity generator that also has the power to open up portals to the Expanse, the realm of demons. Lilith’s plan is to use it to unleash demons into the world in order to destroy society and possibly cultivate humans strong enough to lead a new society without rulers, stating that, this time, humans will build their own paradise. After fighting your way through Tayama’s minions, including the “National Defence Divinities”, you reach the Yamato Perpetual Reactor. After all that, the party gets transported to two alternative dimensions in succession by a mysterious cabal of beings known as the White, who are trying to convince the protagonist to use the Yamato Perpetual Reactor to wipe out the universe. The first of these is Blasted Tokyo, which seems to represent the outcome of a previous hero having taken the Law path, and the second of these is Infernal Tokyo, which seems to represent the outcome of the same hero having taken the Chaos path, and the apparent intent of both scenarios is to show the protagonist the supposed futility of the struggle between order and freedom and the absence of hope for the human race more broadly.

25 years before the events of the game, a barrage of nuclear weapons was headed for Japan, much like in the first game, and a previous incarnation of the protagonist sacrificed himself to Masakado in order to preserve Tokyo by having Masakado create a firmament over the city with his back, thus preventing the nuclear warheads from hitting the city while also resulting in the creation of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. The alternate dimensions respresent scenarios that happen should the previous hero have taken a different path, and for our purpose we will focus on Infernal Tokyo, the Chaos outcome. This is the Tokyo that emerges after the previous incarnation of Flynn takes the side of a man named Kenji, who took the side of the demons upon learning of the angels’ schemes and defeated them, and thus is the Chaos Hero of that timeline. This somehow resulted in the birth of the Demonoids, humans who fused with demons and now feed off of the neurotransmitters of humans called Neurishers. It also meant humans being given a choice – become Demonoids (a risky process in itself that can sometimes turn you into some kind of foul abomination), or stay human and become Neurishers – and also the collapse of essentially all order in society, with gang warfare between tribes of demons or Demonoids being commonplace. There’s also fire everywhere, just like in those dreams where Walter appears at the beginning of the game. Those with power rule the world, the strong can do anything they want, and it’s a dog eat dog world out there as one demon says. Walter naturally takes a liking to this alternate Tokyo, apparently the “simplicity” of it is most attractive to him. Here you meet a Demonoid named Akira, whose ambition is to dethrone Kenji and become the new king of Infernal Tokyo. The violence that pervades the burning city is more or less just accepted as a regular occurrence of life, and this is essentially a consequence of the might makes right ideology that has been instituted by the forces of Chaos. Akira himself is not particularly strong, and throughout the entire sojourn in Infernal Tokyo he hides behind the Samurai rather than attempt any fighting of his own. Nonetheless, he basically, at least tacitly, accepts the might makes right worldview that permeates Infernal Tokyo.

However, Akira does seem to want some change to the world. Before the party makes their way to Kenji, Akira says that he wants to create a world where everyone is treated equally. A version of the Law theme from the first game plays in the background, indicating that Akira’s egalitarian beliefs are the influence of Law instead of Chaos, and that Akira may be wanting to turn a Chaotic world into a Lawful one, or at least push towards Law from Chaos to generate a Neutral outcome. Walter, of course, disapproves of this, finding it strange that the strong and the weak can be treated alike, while Jonathan praises his vision as a form of selflessness worthy of a true king. But however strange Walter finds Akira’s vision, and however much Jonathan praises it, Walter should ultimately find common cause with Akira’s desire to change the world, since ultimately all Walter ever wanted to do in the first place was change his own world, while Jonathan wanted nothing more than to preserve it as it is. And even though the game hints at the influence of Law, Akira’s vision certainly does not involve Lawful methods, since all Akira wants to do is change the world through the violent upheaval of the absolute ruler of Tokyo, all ultimately in accordance with the methods and tropes of Chaos. Walter says he wants to “change this rotten world”, but so does Akira.

Later, in a downloadable Challenge Quest, the player can return to Infernal Tokyo to find Akira struggling against a powerful being named Sanat, after having only just defeated Kenji. Akira explains that he tried his best to create a new kingdom of equality, but then Sanat showed up to take over Infernal Tokyo and spread destruction wherever he went. Too weak to fight Sanat himself, and faced with the wrath of his new subjects, he once again has the player do the fighting for him. When you meet Sanat at the Infernal Camp Ichigaya, he tells the player that it was he who “planted the seeds of chaos” on the planet, and is overjoyed to find that humans have evolved from apes into beings that apparently can hold their own against himself, thus he challenges “this 5th humanity” to prove its worth before him. He never seems to explain why he seems so intent on destroying Infernal Tokyo, but is very interested in drawing out the player’s power, even if it’s not clear why he needed to smash up the place in order to do it. The only other motivation he states is that he is intent on preparing humanity for “the true war”, by which he means the war against “the dispensation of the universe”. Exactly what he means by this is never explained or explored any further anywhere in the game. The only clue is that his Lawful counterpart, Ancient of Days, also talks about “the dispensation of the universe”, but is himself trying to carry it out, which entails the purging of humanity. So Sanat is ostensibly trying to save humanity by readying it for war against his rival, Ancient of Days, but the rest of the details are quite mysterious. Both demons apparently derive from one or more characters from Theosophy, but it’s not obvious what connection they have to the actual lore of Theosophy.

And now we come to the ultimate end-game representative of the Chaos path, Lucifer, just as he was in many previous games. As you travel through Tokyo you see a girl named Hikaru, who is “interested” in the party and shows up during a few plot points in the game, though she actually seems somewhat unimportant in practice. If you end up in the Chaos path, however, it’s revealed that Hikaru is yet another disguise for Lucifer. If you tell the White that instead of destroying the cosmos you plan to destroy the status quo, and don’t end up Neutral, you become locked into the Chaos path for the final stretch of the game. When you arrive in their Monochrome Forest, you once again meet Walter, who tells you that he made the same choice as you, though Jonathan is missing, presumably because he chose differently to both you and Walter. That’s when you meet Hikaru, who appears out of nowhere only to show her hand as the fallen angel Lucifer. Opening the gate to the Expanse has allowed Lucifer to appear once again, although for some reason not yet in his true form. After defeating the White, the Monochrome Forest disappears and you return to Camp Ichigaya, which seems to be under Lucifer’s control. Tayama is dead, demons are all over Tokyo, presumably the Ashura-kai is reduced to basically nothing, and the city of Tokyo is beyond control – a world where “the strong can shape it as they see fit”. Because the angels up in Mikado probably don’t like this state of affairs at all, Lucifer’s plan is for his forces to take down the angels before they invade Tokyo, and fuse with Walter in order to regain his true form in order to make that possible. Walter, after ruminating about his life story as a fisherman’s son turned Samurai, volunteers, and Lucifer is reborn.

Reborn, Lucifer declares that he will “demonstrate the laws of power” to Mikado, the “kingdom of deceit”, by which he means he and his demons will take over Mikado and overthrow its government. Isabeau opposes the player, accusing you of wanting to create an endless war of succession, and after moping about her own indecisiveness she fights you to the death, which comes ultimately at her own hands. As the player progresses through Purgatorium, the realm of the angels that now stands between you and the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and as you fight its angelic hordes, Lucifer remarks about the submission and repetitiveness of the angels, finding it rather disturbing. When fighting Merkabah, “God’s chariot”, Lucifer proclaims that he and his forces are animated by “the flames of life and passion”, as opposed to “the empty breath of God”. When Merkabah is defeated, Lucifer proclaims that no matter how loyal one is to God, God will never answer, and when you and him enter Mikado, he mocks its former king for instituting the worship of only one God. Looking down the rooftops, you and Lucifer see Mikado going up in flames, with Lucifer rejoicing the free will that was previously alien to Mikado, while also lamenting the chaos that, ironically, he and Walter sought after to begin with, and after all that talk from Walter and Lilith about opposing authority, Lucifer invites you to become the new king of Mikado.

If you fight Lucifer on the Law path, he chides you as being led astray by the angels (“God’s puppets” as he calls them), champions the free will of humanity, and proclaims that he will not give the world over to “order” (meaning the forces of Law), and towards the end of the fight he proclaims that he will not fall until he begets a universe full of knowledge and selfhood. If Lucifer is defeated on the Law path, you hear Walter’s voice, what’s left of him within Lucifer after his sacrifice, concede that your defeat of him makes you the stronger man, and therefore that this means you’re in the right, as is consistent with his belief that the strong can shape the world as they please. If you fight Lucifer on the Neutral path, Walter urges the player against fighting him, telling him that demons are the embodiment of humanity’s limitless desires and that Lucifer, as their king, is the desire of all humans. If Lucifer is defeated on the Neutral path, he warns that humans are not strong enough to live while repressing their desires, as representated by the demons, and that he will return when that time comes.

Between all of the talk about a world where the strong can shape it as they please, and all the talk about desire and its liberation, taken together we get an emergent picture of this game’s version of Chaos which seems to be rather unabashedly Satanic, in that it reminds us of LaVeyan Satanism in particular. In LaVeyan Satanism, the power of God is repudiated, there is a broad might makes right ideology in place, and one of its key ethical flanks is that the fulfillment of the ego and desire is what leads happiness and spiritual fulfillment (indeed, it’s probably the only religion that actually believes this). Indeed, there are only so few references to the other conceit of the Gaians and the Chaos forces concerning harmony with nature and the old gods, although the big statue of Mem Aleph indicates that the Gaians still have that idea in their actual worship and ideology, just that the idea plays a very minor role in the game’s story. Though, the nature aspect is sort of invoked by Lilith in her desire to “restore the natural order of humans”, which is meant to mean a world of freedom undirected by present structures of authority. The world of freedom granted by Chaos could indeed be said to be unburdened by the old structures of authority, but is certainly not without hierarchies, indeed these hierarchies are shown to be founded by the strong, who, ironically, come to be almost absolute rulers of their own (see Kenji, who is literally king of an alternate Tokyo), liberation from whom depends on you being strong enough to overthrow them. Such is ultimately a limitation imposed by the broad might makes right conceit that, in the early days of SMT, was mostly billed as simply a negative aspect, mostly a consequence, of what was billed mostly as a world dominated by individual freedom, and so the bowlderized anarchism of Chaos metastasizes into what we see today.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (2017)

The last entry for this post, the Redux edition of Strange Journey is notable in that in presents an altogether different take on Chaos through its New endings. These New endings are essentially alternate versions of the Law, Neutral, and Chaos endings that are made accessible by completing an optional dungeon known as the Womb of Grief and facing a new character named Alex. Alex is a daughter of Lucifer who by some unknown circumstance has a Demonica suit, with its own AI unit (called George), and who somehow travelled back in time to interfere with the mission of the Schwarzvelt Investigation Team in order to stop the player from begetting a terrible future into which she is born. The exact content of that future depends on the alignment chosen by the player, but for our purposes, the focus will be on the Chaos alignment.

Being a remaster of Strange Journey, most of the Chaos path, like much of the game’s story as a whole, still plays out just as it did in the original game. That means, for instance, that Jimenez still invades the Red Sprite and mindjacks the crew just as he did in the original game. The change to the New Chaos ending occurs after beating every boss in the Womb of Grief dungeon, which unlocks the possibility of an alternate Chaos ending. On the Chaos path, just before meeting Mem Aleph for the final time in Sector Horologium, Alex reappears to fight you for one last time and confront you and Jimenez on what you’re about to do. Alex explains to you and Jimenez that she would have been slaughtered in their new future, and Jimenez initially dismisses her on the grounds that, to him, Alex only abandoned the new world because she was weak, even though she could only have survived by killing anyone who got in her way. Indeed, as George explains, in the Chaos world, Alex becomes the strongest person alive. Once Jimenez understands this, he begins to respect Alex and treat her actions as the result of getting bored with a world full of people too weak to stand up to her, her time travel motivated by the desire for a world with much stronger foes. But this proves to be a misunderstanding, as Alex explicitly states that she doesn’t want the world Jimenez would create. When Jimenez protests on the grounds that her strength meant she had the most freedom, Alex explains that she was alone rather than free, and George explains that, as a result of the brutal contest of might makes right, Alex emerged as the last remaining human. Alex further explains that, because strength is the only rule in the Chaos world, you have to prove your strength, often brutally, to everyone you come across, and because of this everyone is an enemy, and every encounter is a matter of life or death for one person or another, “either they die or you do!”. When Jimenez further mocks Alex and states that humans went extinct because they were weak and leaves it at that, Alex retorts by asking Jimenez if his companion Bugaboo should have died because he was weak. Bugaboo was not a particularly strong demon, either in the story or in gameplay (being a somewhat low-level Jirae demon), so saving him out of sentimental companionship would be seen as a contradiction of Jimenez’s might makes right ideology.

The turning point begins when Alex asks the player if Bugaboo should have died. If the player says no, this triggers feelings of sadness in Jimenez, owing to his sentimental relationship with Bugaboo, and forces him to admit his own hypocrisy and re-consider his ideals and change his idea of what the world of Chaos should look like. George beseeches Jimenez that he and Alex don’t want to deny the strength they seek, only to remember the compassion invoked by his relationship with Bugaboo, and Jimenez listens to this and understands. He concludes that, under Mem Aleph, the human race will be destroyed no matter what, consequently he rejects this outcome as a world where humans have no freedom, no future, and no possibilities for them, and admits that humans cannot live on strength alone. Therefore, Jimenez rejects his previous ambitions of a might makes right utopia in favour of a simple new world where humans can become anything they want, even if that means becoming demons. This new resolve naturally means that the course of events has changed to the point where the future in which Alex travels back in time no longer exists, and consequently Alex and George no longer exist in the present. Thus the New Chaos path begins.

When the party meets Mem Aleph in this path, she initially congratulates the party on completing their mission in gathering the Cosmic Eggs and proclaims that “this long age of conflict” will end with humans and demons agreeing to live side by side, just as she did in the original Chaos path. Most of the conversation plays out exactly as it did before until Jimenez says that the demons can’t have humans going extinct and tells Mem Aleph that there is something missing in her new world. Mem Aleph takes umbrage with being told that she is mistaken by one of her minions, but Jimenez points out that, despite Mem Aleph saying that humans and demons are opposite sides of the same mirror, she doesn’t care about humans in the slightest, further insisting that humans don’t need “strength”, but instead “possibility”. Mem Aleph is disapponted and retorts that humans must be made “beautiful” again, whatever that means, and that “possibility” “only breeds corruption”. Jimenez tries to reason with Mem Aleph, but debate becomes futile as Mem Aleph declares the time for words over, and Jimenez’s retaining of his humanity beyond the pale, and so it becomes it necessary to fight Mem Aleph.

Here the difference between the old and the new Chaos paths is characterized by the true nature of Mem Aleph’s designs for the world. It was clear enough to the player in the original game that Mem Aleph had no love for humanity, though siding with her on the Chaos path would have necessitated a certain deal of ambiguity on her part, that she might appear to love a newly Chaotic humanity. But the whole might makes right vision she and other demons put forward, far from liberating humans from their vices and limitations and far from a simple consequence of having too much freedom, was always just an effort to engineer the destruction of the human race, who she probably always hated. Indeed, such is her misanthropy that she forgets the interconnected nature of humans and demons, which is such a hallmark for Chaos ideology and the nature of the SMT universe that Lucifer knows it full, and expresses his concern for human and demon alike in the second game. However much any demons may despise humans, the demons as a whole would die out with the extinction of the human species.

After Mem Aleph’s defeat, the goddess Demeter seemingly laments that Jimenez and the party killed “your own mother” (her being the mother of demons) simply to create a new world, though is ultimately merely amused. After she steals the fruit that Alex gives you, Lucifer (Louise Ferre) appears and reveals that Demeter is a servant of the Three Spirits, in fact the Three Wise Men from the original game, who sought the Cosmic Eggs sealed by Mem Aleph in order gain the power to wipe out humanity in order to create a new world in the name of God. That fruit Alex gave you is a piece of the fifth Cosmic Egg, and the whole idea of going through the Womb of Grief was to collect all the other pieces of that Egg. After fighting Zelenin (this time the fight with her takes place after the fight with Mem Aleph), they eventually deal with the Three Spirits/Wise Men, who reveal themselves to be a being named Shekinah. They refer to the player and Jimenez as demons who should be purged and proclaim their desire to create a world without demons where all beings sing their praise. With Shekinah defeated, Jimenez and the player return to the Vanishing Point to create a world for both humans and demons. When this happens, the power of the Schwarzvelt covered the Earth and swept away human civilization just as it did in the original Chaos ending. In this new Chaos ending, however, there is no talk of constant violence and brute competitions of strength. Instead the demons act as guardians of a world constructed through the power of creation, with nothing restricting people from exploring possibilities. Again the demons set out to “purify” the Earth, which presumably means to rid it of the corruptions of the previous era and its previous incarnation of the human race. The new humanity is free to choose whether it wants to work together, to create, to take by force, or destroy, and make new and better sets of rules than the previous civilization, while the demons return to being gods and exerting divine influence in the world. It is still an unstable world, with no rules except for what humans create, and infinite possibilities coupled with infinite dangers, but humans and demons alike would live and co-exist in freedom, and new rules would be created as a result of co-operation, as much as conflict, and whatever new society results is dependent on that.

Noticeably, although perhaps not uniquely, there is no mention at all of might makes right in the new Chaos ending. This was abandoned with the realization of Jimenez’s compassion for Bugaboo, a weak demon who probably would have been left to die if Jimenez were at all consistent about the ethos of Social Darwinism. Instead what we see is a kind of anarchic state, absent of Social Darwinism, and pregnant instead with the possibility of cooperation just as much as struggle and war, indeed its return to the theme of harmony with nature through the demons as old gods contingent upon this sense of anarchic cooperation and co-existence. This co-existence, even in the original game, can be seen as an essential trait of the Chaotic stance, in sharp contrast to both the Law and Neutral paths in which the demons are simply annihilated or banished. Now, the main perceived disadvantage of Chaos isn’t to be found in the brutish nature of might makes right competition, but instead in the almost complete uncertainty of freedom. Humans and demons live together in freedom, there are no external restrictions on what they can do together, but that also means there is no guarantee of how their new world will look. But then again there was almost never any certainty in the Neutral paths throughout the series except that humans will re-establish their civilizational status quo, with no actual guarantee that humans won’t once again be dragged into the war between Law and Chaos. In the end, the price of true freedom has always been uncertainty, because that’s just what happens when there is no control over the fate of humans. The certainty that stands in antithesis to this condition requires the imposition of order, but even this is not enough because the only way to be truly certain of the outcome of human destiny is to destroy its freedom to manifest autonomously, and so dictatorship over human destiny is what provides full certainty that it will flow to the course of any given teleological desire.


Insofar as we take Chaos as an inclusive absolute, what can we establish about it across all the major SMT games in which there is a Law and Chaos dynamic? Chaos seems to have certain variances about it, which I suppose is befitting of the traditional concept of chaos as popularly understood. We see in Chaos the idea of freedom as a kind of metaphysical return to nature, expressed in harmony with the “ancient gods” (the demons, or the gods of Chaos), and sometimes taking the form of the return to a harsh state of nature, which is often but not always expressed as might makes right ideology. We see in Chaos the primary rejection of authority as represented by God and his angels. We see in Chaos the liberation of desire, which is also expressed through harmony with the demons. We see in Chaos a generalistic embrace of individual autonomy even if it means dealing with harsh consequences. We see in Nocturne’s form of Chaos an anti-cosmic variation of the pursuit of ultimate freedom in a cosmos dictated by a rutheless cycle of creation and destruction under a God who will not cease until he attains the perfect sinless cosmos, and we see in this same iteration the principle of the rejection of the Absolute and of fate. We the embrace of primordial potentiality, chaos, as the seat of creation and freedom. We see in Chaos the idea that real freedom comes with the price of uncertainty, even if it that uncertainty might indeed be dangerous. We see in Chaos a generalistic stance that change is not only a constant in life but also in its radical form necessary for the resolution of injustice; indeed, encompassing revolution as a motor for progress and liberty.

All of this also harks back to the way chaos is often understood in its familiar, popular, and often misguided context, but perhaps far more saliently in a deeper philosophical context that is often somewhat alien to this understanding. Chaos in this sense represents the condition of potentiality and dynamics characterised by the lack of a teleological guarantee of order, especially divine order. It represents a kind of primoridal state of freedom in this sense. Small wonder that this is expressed in terms of an anarchic state of nature whose realization, or rather return, the representatives of Chaos advocate for. Lucifer, as the series’ most frequent patron of the forces of Chaos, makes the most sense as its representative for reasons that are not limited only to the ideal of individual free will. Luciferian freedom stands as archetypal liberty, not limited to the vaunted privileges of the bourgeois Enlightenment but in its fullness denotes the natural freedom absent of the teleological will of God, or the historic kingdoms of progress. It can be thought of in this sense as a kind of spiritual anarchism, the rejection of cosmic authority on behalf of freedom. And, for however much individualism is attributed to Chaos, and there is an individualist sense of freedom present that cannot quite be extricated from the picture, but the presence of the demonic also serves as the Other to which Man is inexorably bound, as is the Nature with which Man is to restore harmony.

Such a concept is as liberating as it is dangerous and as novel as it is timeless, and it cannot be reduced to the ideology of might makes right, itself in practice simply a new way of ordering the herd around. Originally this aspect was portrayed mostly as a consequence of the emphasis on individual freedom, no doubt inspired by the classic argument against anarchism that if you abolish the state it will lead to endless violence and/or a competition of disorganized wills. In later games it metastasized into an ideology of its own, to the point that to take the Chaos path is to believe in a world where the strong thrive and rule over the weak without any limits. Yet throughout the series we see many conceptions of Chaos that have little to do with might makes right ideology, and if anything that concept seems to hamper Chaos to a significant extent. But, will the trajectory for Chaos across the series change? Does Strange Journey Redux set the tone for how future Chaos paths will look? Only time will tell.

This has been the first in a series of posts dealing with the ideological contours of the Shin Megami Tensei alignments, focusing on Chaos. The second post will focus on the Law alignment, and will be published soon.

Part 2 – Law:

Part 3 – Neutrality:

The Gamer Girl game

You know what I love? I’ve been struggling to find work in the game industry in Wales ever since I graduated, and now I find that a Welsh game developer finds itself thrust in the spotlight. And why? Because they’re trying to bury an embarrassing failure of a game project before it even gets released. I am speaking, of course, about a new game they announced this week that they called Gamer Girl. Wales Interactive released a trailer for Gamer Girl on July 16th, and then promptly deleted it from their media accounts and website following a tidal wave of negative reactions. But despite their best efforts, the trailer still exists, and I will post a video of it below for you to look at – and, by god, it is an abominable game trailer.

Just judging from the horrible presentation aesthetic, the cheap-ass user interface, and the very obvious attempt to pander not only to modern socially conscious liberalism but also the more pervasive neo-1980s nostalgia culture on the internet, I can only imagine that my old game design lecturers are watching this trailer and laughing about it amongst themselves, and they’d have every right to. I mean I’m not sure how to do justice to what I’m seeing. The basic premise of this game, if it can even be called a video game let’s be honest, is that you play as someone who moderates the comments section of a Twitch streamer in order to filter out trolls and some such, as well as just generally make choices for said streamer outside the chat. That’s it. You babysit a grown woman who makes a living off of letting people watch her play video games in a mildly suggestive manner. And in terms of gameplay it seems to play out as though you’re sitting through a series of full motion video scenes peppered with occaisional interactive choice, not unlike games like Night Trap, or perhaps more aptly games like Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. In fact, I’d say this is the Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties of our generation. It’s so bad an idea that everyone, literally everyone observing this is ripping in to the game. Every gamer, “simp”, “thot”, “troll”, everyone you can name is just ripping into how much ass this game sucks.

It’s so bad that not only did Wales Interactive try to get rid of the trailer, but it seems there’s a whole page of Wales Interactive’s website devoted to the game that seems to have vanished (you get a 404 message if you try to click it). In addition, the game was also promoted by Sony Entertainment on their Playstation social media accounts, and just like Wales Interactive they too quickly removed all references to the game and all promotional posts for it, most likely because of how widely panned it came to be as soon as it was publicized. Just think about how embarrassing that is. This is a major game publisher and console manufacturer, forced to pull promotional material for a game. What’s funny is that at the end of the trailer you see that the game was intended to be released on just about every major platform – Steam, the Playstation 4, the Xbox One and the Nintendo Switch were all slated to have this ass bomb of a game on their platforms in a few months time. I have to imagine plans are gonna change following this level of terrible publicity.

The worst part? There’s a hamfisted pet cause behind it. According to Wales Interactive, the game was all about raising awareness about the damage that certain online comments can have on the mental health of young women, or rather specifically streamers, that is people who broadcast themselves on live video streams on the internet, typically with a focus on content relating to video games (usually people playing video games). The following is a thread posted by Wales Interactive on their Twitter:

Gamer Girl is about the impact user comments and actions have on a streamer’s mental health and wellbeing. The reason why FMV Future created the game was to raise the issue of the toxic environment which can often appear online behind the anonymity of a username…
Without giving away too much, Gamer Girl is an empowering story of a female streamer who, with the help of her moderator friend, battles the trolls and — overcomes— the toxic characters in her stream…
Gamer Girl was co-written by Alexandra Burton, the lead actress who improvised the entire script. The research into the streaming content of Gamer Girl took 4 years and the dev team at FMV Future interviewed dozens of female streamers…
most of whom have experienced abuse of various kinds online — some have even shared their experiences during interviews within the game…
Players start the game as one of Abi’s friends whom she trusts, and it is their job to make the channel a success but also to guide the stream to keep Abi in a positive frame of mind….
Online abuse is real and is still happening every day — Gamer Girl seeks to raise awareness of this issue.

This attempt at social commentary tried to make it seem like there was some greater feminist cause that wasn’t just obvious pandering to the current zeitgeist, but it’s clear that even feminists aren’t falling for this one, as some have pointed out that the game potentially just fetishizes the idea of having control over a woman’s life and decisions, a message that I think the developers never intended to convey but that we can all agree at least in theory is not in the spirit of feminism. Others have taken to calling it a “simp simulator”, most likely in reference to the idea that you play as a guy whose sole job is to protect women from mean things being said about them online. Others think of it as an “incel simulator” or even a “sexual predator simulator”, perhaps connecting the dots in relation to just how creepy this game feels in relation to the underlying premise.

Now, I don’t think there’s a whole lot to say about the game overall that I didn’t cover already, partly because the game isn’t out yet and partly because the trailer speaks for itself on this, but here’s my main thought. For starters, why did anyone think that being a Twitch stream moderator would make for an engaging gameplay element? From the standpoint of elementary game design it sounds like one of the most unentertaining and unengaging modes of gameplay conceivable, not least based on just the kind of drudgery that entails actually being a moderator of such streams. Second, who thought that Twitch streamers needing protection from trolls needed to be a video game? If you really wanted this so bad, why not just post on Twitter or do a PSA in a separate medium? Third, and most crucially, what if the real problem in society is that we now have a culture, in both gaming and society beyond that, where social capital (and in some cases actual capital, which often leads to the normalization of monstrous greed) can be accumulated through banal livestreams and, conversely, where people can relate to video games and gaming culture through the passive consumption of these streams, and occaisionally use some of these streamers as an outlet for their own sexual desires (case in point a man who tried to sue Twitch because he got addicted to masturbating to female Twitch streamers), sometimes even as a substitute for regular pornography, let alone real female companionship? That, I think, is the most salient commentary we can have on this. Why do we have the kind of culture where this is even an item of consideration?