If you meet Krishna and Rajan Zed on the road…

As a Megami Tensei fan, I’ve been following news of the most recent game – Shin Megami Tensei IV Final – ever since it was announced in October of last year. But there’s one recent bizarre story about the game that unfortunately I completely missed until this week: the story of how Hindus have apparently gotten pissed off that game.

There’s a Hindu “statesman” called Rajan Zed who doesn’t like the fact that Krishna appears as a major character in the game. Specifically he doesn’t like that Krishna looks very different from his traditional depiction, pointing out that his fedora and brown skin (particularly the fedora), and the fact that in the game Krishna is one of the deities and demons that you can summon and thereby command within the game, which of course contradicts the beliefs and tenets of orthodox Hindu tradition. The fact that there are other Hindu deites in this game and previous games that you can summon and control seems to have missed him, as has the fact that there are two games in the series with heavy Hindu themes that have you play as characters who can turn in into versions of Hindu deities and wind up fighting major deities and eventually kick the ass of Brahman (the Hindu concept of the Absolute, or God) itself. In this game, Krishna is the leader of a new faction of polytheistic deities who interrupt the conflict between the forces of Law and Chaos and oppose both in order to “save” mankind by manipulating humans and having them relinquish their souls to basically use as ammo against both factions.

Naturally, Zed demanded that Sega (who currently own Atlus, the series’ developers) not include Krishna in Shin Megami Tensei IV Final. Considering the game has already been released in the days after he began complaining, with Krishna still in it, that’s an impossibly tall order for Sega to fill, as if they care about what some religious butthurt who isn’t even part of the game’s target audience thinks.

That’s Krishna as depicted within the game.

A little something about Rajan Zed: this guy tends to get butthurt over depictions of Hinduism and Hindu entities in non-religious entertainment media. He’s previously protested the depiction of the goddess Kali in a game known as SMITE, he’s protested Angels and Demons because of it’s age-rating and for playing with religious beliefs (which is odd considering the movie has nothing to do with Hinduism), he’s protested the bomb of a movie known as The Love Guru by waging a spam email campaign, and more recently he’s complained about how the villain of the upcoming film X-Men Apocalypse compares himself to Krishna. He even tried to appeal to the state of Arkansas to get a statue of the Hindu deity Hanuman built on the grounds of Arkansas State Capitol in response to the Ten Commandments being erected in Oklahoma. Also, much has been made of Zed’s status as a Hindu statesman, particularly back when he was at the center of some kind of controversy about a Hindu prayer being invoked at the US Senate, but the Indian Embassy states that Zed has never held any sort of diplomatic office at all. And for all his talk about Hindus in general being outraged at entertainment media for their Hinduism-related content, and about his biggest gripe being about supposedly playing the sensitivities of believers, other Hindu leaders suggest that all the commotion is coming only from Zed himself and his Universal Society of Hinduism in Nevada.

Now back to Shin Megami Tensei IV Final. There’s something odd about this whole thing. The Christians and Jews have pretty much not caused a fuss about the Shin Megami Tensei games like Zed has, despite the notable presence of YHVH – the Jewish and Christian God – as a major antagonistic force and as an extremely negative personality, with Lucifer having a comparatively positive role. A lot of religious people managed to be cool about it enough not to throw a hissy fit and urge Atlus to change the games to suit their religious sensitivities, so why’s Rajan Zed been urging Sega to change Final to suit Hindu sensitivities (or rather his own)? I’m a Satanist/Luciferian and I don’t necessarily agree with the way I know that Lucifer, and Satan, are depicted in the game, but I don’t give enough of a rat’s ass to complain to Sega or Atlus about it, partly because I actually like the games and generally find myself forgiving of the developers anyway. I think it never occurred to Zed that the game is not about Hinduism, and has little to do with Hinduism (at least alone) other than the inclusion of Hindu deities and demons as characters whom you can summon or fight. The games are not really about any of the religions of the world either, despite the presence of major themes from those religions. They are about the gods and the demons of those religions and other mythologies to be sure, but they are moreso about mankind’s relationship with them, particularly the relationship of the individual, and about the never-ending competition between deities, demons, religions, philosophies, and ideas. Those concepts ares more important in the games than what hat Krishna is wearing. But more importantly, it’s about taking names and kicking ass with gods and demons. What’s not to like?

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SMT’s Law and Chaos are code for the Right Hand and Left Hand paths

Yesterday I have started reading Stephen Flowers’ Lords of Left Hand Path, and so far it has already offered me a detailed, even more metaphysical, insight into the differences of the left hand path versus the right hand path, and it actually led me to Law and Chaos from the Shin Megami Tensei games.

In his introduction to the left hand path as a concept, he writes about the objective universe subjective universe, and the ways in which the right hand path and the left hand path deal with them respectively. The right hand path proposes that the subjective universe harmonize with an external entity or reality, be it God, a universal consciousness, or even nature itself, that the self unify with the supposedly universal and conform to its rules, and that by attaining unity with the universe the self is annihilated and you enter either heaven or a blissful non-existence. This is kind of philosophy is definitively the bedrock of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, New Age spirituality, and most forms of Hinduism.  By contrast, the left hand path stresses independent spiritual existence, the importance of the individuated self, ego, or soul as opposed to union of the self with the external consciousness or universe, self-deification instead of self-annihilation, spiritual individualism, and the independence and immortality of self-consciousness. This kind of philosophy is the bedrock of Satanism Luciferianism, Setianism, and all philosophies under the banner of the left hand path, though it has also been attributed to older philosophies and even some forms of Tantric Hinduism.

That’s when I got led back to Law versus Chaos in Shin Megami Tensei.

Belial versus Metatron

You see, the right hand path obviously entails the philosophy of the Law alignment, and the left hand path entails that of the Chaos alignment. Traditionally Law is represented by a caricature of the Christian faith, and at first it is ostensibly a representation of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, particularly their beliefs regarding salvation, but in truth its philosophy on a broader level is shared with many mainstream religions today. It allegorically represents the philosophy of the right hand paths, the philosophy of harmony of the individual with the status quo, or the prevailing order, or submission to an external God. Chaos, meanwhile, opposes that kind of submission and harmony with the world, and emphasizes individual freedom as the highest value. Since it defines freedom as freedom for the individual (meaning a being with a individuated self) from the expectations of conformity, particularly as demanded by “God”, it echoes the philosophy of the left hand path. Chaos also values personal power and strength, which I feel strikes a fine tune with the Left Hand Path because of its emphasis on self-empowerment and self-deification.

And then it struck me, Chaos really is just code the Left Hand Path, Law code for the Right Hand Path. In the games themselves, Chaos and Law are ideologies, philosophical paths, allegories of real philosophies and ideology. The order versus chaos angle based on order versus freedom is basically derived from the alignment system in Dungeons and Dragons, only instead of 9 philosophical angles divided on a good versus evil axis, it’s just Law, Chaos, and Neutrality. Hence, I feel Chaos may now describe my path, but it may not necessarily refer to the force anymore. It’s basically like going back to Chaos as a meta-ideal.

But where does this leave Neutrality? Neutrality is traditionally the rejection of both Law and Chaos, either out of indifference, balance, or in favor of humanity as whole. But, since the Neutral angle is usually in favor of pushing Law and Chaos aside for the sake of a world ruled by humanity, it is basically an allegory. It shuns the religious and the magical for the simply human, therefore it is an allegory for humanism, but it is humanism in its purest form, which is a material philosophy based on emphasis on humankind. Neutral also tends to lead to the restoration of the status quo, but often we are shown that this state later gets overpowered, and often by Law, because mankind is shown to be too weak on its own and always desires salvation by an external God based on its own fear, ignorance, and weakness. This is perhaps allegorical for our state of affairs today: we are in a period where science is rising in prominence and epistemological domination while religion is in decline and all things construed as religious are also shunned, but at the same time we still cling to the same spiritual ideas that right hand path religion would have us blindly consume, ignorant of all values that go against the articles of faith that is society and common culture. In the games, Law and Chaos always prove to be stronger values, even though they are extremes.

One problem with MegaTen’s alignment wars

I’ll fully admit, with Shin Megami Tensei there is a problem with the Law-Neutral-Chaos axis with regards to story and what you are doing within it, and the problem I speak of mostly relates to the general crapsackiness of the universe of these games (anyone who’s played the main games knows full well what I mean).

If you side with Law, you bring to the world dictatorship founded on intolerance, blind obedience, and genocide. If you side with Chaos, you destroy all social order trying to bring freedom but it soon degenerates into a state of lawlessness where no crime is punished and you have to prove your might every day or die. If you go Neutral, you stop Law and Chaos from having their way with humanity, but you don’t create any long-lasting peace or freedom and just delay the inevitable: Law and Chaos are just gonna fight each other again, and humanity will be caught in the middle again.

There’s nothing wrong with believing in the central tenets of any of the alignments so long as they suit you personally, but in the games you’re generally a tool for whoever represents Law and Chaos. In the case of Law, you take orders from “God”, the angels, and/or the Messians. For Chaos, you take orders from Lucifer or the Gaians. In Neutral, actually it tends to vary with Neutral. In the first and second games you actually are going your own way by following the Neutral path, and some characters like Masakado or Taijorkun just help you along the way. But in SMTIV you’re doing what Stephen wants, and in Strange Journey you’re continuing the mission you were sent to do for humanity (but your comrades pat you on the back for it). There’s nothing wrong with believing Law or Chaos tenets, but the problem is that you’re basically just imposing your will on mankind by joining a side, or no you’re not you’re just helping somebody else impose their will on mankind.

By contrast, in Raidou Kuzunoha versus King Abaddon, the alignments are about Raidou’s actions reflecting who he is as a person, which is determined by your own actions/choices in the game, therefore you can be Lawful or Chaotic without needed to join the sides of Law or Chaos and help them impose their will on mankind. The only problem is this system was low-key in that game. I don’t know how you can implement that system on a grander scale without it basically just being the same alignment system as before other than you get a different ending after beating the final boss and that ending might affect the individual more than the world, but then that might deviate to far from the core of the main series.

Saying that, it might be a moot point anyway. The whole point of the games is that you’re supposed to decided between ultimately imperfect choices per your values system, and, as Kazuma Kaneko himself once said, “everyone carries his or her own criteria for victory”.

Balance, the Neutral path, and inspiration from Star Wars

OK I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of Star Wars here in that I don’t particularly care about the franchise, but I have found some things about the Star Wars universe interesting. For instance, I have on separate occasions been shown the Sith code and the Grey Jedi code by my friend Tadashi. First let me show you all the codes. First, the code of the Jedis.

“There is no emotion, there is peace There is no ignorance, there is knowledge There is no passion, there is serenity. There is no chaos, there is harmony. There is no death, there is the Force.”

Next, the Sith code.

“Peace is a lie, there is only passion. Through passion, I gain strength. Through strength, I gain power. Through power, I gain victory. Through victory, my chains are broken. The Force shall free me.”

The Jedi code obviously reeks of denialism, as in it ignores both vital components of existence and flaws in human nature, but it strangely reminds me of Buddhism and Hinduism. The Sith code seems very likeable and appealing to me but looking back it feels like it’s incomplete and missing things because of the apparent absence of peace, harmony, and order (which is actually hypocritical because of how a Sith regime operates when it is dominant). Yes, I like passion in life, but there’s no way that can be all there is. It actually reminds me of Satanism cranked up a couple notches to a kind of military level. But then, there’s the code of the Grey Jedis.

There is no Dark side, nor a Light side There is only the Force I will do what I must to keep the balance The balance is what keeps me together There is no good without evil, but evil cannot be allowed to flourish There is passion, yet peace Serenity, yet emotion Chaos, yet order I am the wielder of the flame, the protector of balance I am the holder of the torch, lighting the way I am the keeper of the flame, soldier of balance I am a guardian of balance I am a Grey Jedi”

The Grey Jedi idea fascinated me, mainly because I did not think something like that was found in Star Wars (though I’m personally not entirely sure if it’s actually fan-written given). The philosophy behind it is apparently that the Grey Jedi believe the force is neutral and any notion of alignment was an attribute of the user. Their most imprtant tenet is balance, they do what they must to preserve it above all else, even if it means letting some evil come to pass or destroying a whole planet, but they would not allow evil to flourish and thought good must always cancel out evil and keep it in check. They needed passion and emotion to fuel their power, but also needed peace and serenity to remain in control. It’s all very Taoist.

Red lightsaber, blue lightsaber

When I was shown the Grey code, I felt that while I would never fully identify with Grey, I think the much of the words of the Grey code offer a great picture of the nature of the universe, as well as human nature. In particular, the idea that there is Chaos and yet harmony or serenity. That actually sounds like a great application of the colours red and black, which are both traditionally the colors of Chaos (at least in my MegaTen-influenced books anyway). Together they could express Chaos in a strangely serene and harmonious way, and to think, what a beautiful thing that would be. Of course the down side is that this combination is still always dark and leaves little room for the light element, unless red happens to count as that element. Speaking of light and dark, thinking about it, this new way of applying the red and black combination can also be a great reference to Taoism and by extension Eastern philosophy (which is good for my sake since I frequently worry that I’m losing touch with the Eastern culture that so inspired in the first place). I often see depictions of the yin and yang symbol where the yin half is black but the yang half is red instead of white.

Like this one, though it’s not a very old depiction I must say.

It might not be a very traditional depiction, but it still depicts yin and yang very clearly, red obviously being yang and black obviously being yin. Not to mention, I’ve talked before about energy and void being red and black respectively, and that still fits with all my previous ideas about the universe in a reasonably cozy fashion. Really red and black tied in with Taoism can incorporate all manner of ideas. It still has a Satanic flair to it, and let’s not forget that Baphomet, now commonly linked with Satanism, is essentially similar to the Taoist principle of yin and yang. Also, that part about the Grey Jedi being the wielder of the flame and protector of the balance reminds me of own alter ego character and the role I ascribe to him within his own universe. He utilizes the fire element (albeit in two forms; the traditional flame and the demonic flame), and one of his roles is to protect his world, which also means protecting the balance of the world by destroying evil and defeating the ambitions of all manner of evil beings whether they’re human, demon, or divine. Because of all that, I refer back to Shin Megami Tensei and become very tempted to align myself as Neutral, since not only does the Grey Jedi code kinda remind me of Neutral, it presents a good warrior framework for Neutral. But I can’t settle on just Neutrality. Aside from me having criticized before for canonically accomplishing almost nothing, Neutrality on its own is rather bland if done for its own sake. I also don’t believe there is a middle ground for absolutely everything or can be, certainly not a middle ground for freedom and slavery, the individual and the collective, or strength and weakness. And while light ad dark can be balanced, good and evil cannot, since good and evil are a matter of ethics, morality, and/or subjective judgement. My alter ego character can’t be a total neutral either, as he is meant to be a hero, and his ideas of heroism are based on mine, and actions are based on the same. However, this is one case where Neutral should be mixed with Chaos here. In a MegaTen sense, I couldd be effectively Neutral but from a Chaos perspective, or perhaps the other way around. If I’m Neutral, then that Neutrality would have to be guided by my own nature, my spiritual ideas, my basically libertarian philosophy, all of them influenced by being aligned with Chaos, and my tastes would remain pretty much unchanged. And finally, who knows, maybe Order/Harmony and Chaos really could be treated as different forces, and the fire I seek to live by as the Fire of Spirit, or perhaps, at least something more encompassing then the Fires of Chaos. Perhaps, recalling the inner flame I once described more frequently a few years ago.

Thoughts on the Persona series

I love the Shin Megami Tensei games, but I can’t stand how much the Persona series gets so much attention. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the Persona games (at least the main titles anyway), in fact I like Persona 4 a lot, but I could never stand how the Persona series gets more attention than the main Megami Tensei series (which is the father of the Persona series and better too).

Not to mention how much attention has been giving to this game even after Persona 4.

Persona 3 alone got not only an enhanced rerelease, a manga, and a PSP port (the latter of which I found to be butchered), but also 9 more games, about 12 drama CDs, 4 novels, and 2 stage plays, and a series of three animated movies, all based on the game. Not only is that far more related media than the main Megami Tensei games usually get, but it’s all going way too far and only serves to present the game as more of a commercial enterprise. That being said, Persona 4 also got an enhanced port on the PlayStation Vita, and 5 more games based on it (2 of which are fighting games, and even a goddamned rhythm game for Satan’s sake), and aside from its own manga it got 5 novels based on it, two animated series’ (one based on Persona 4 and one based on Persona 4 Golden), an animated movie based on one of the animations, and, just like with Persona 3, two stage plays! What the fuck? I love the game but it’s stupid how it got lavished with all this unnecessary spin-off material that, again, only serves to carry forth the game as a commercial enterprise. I must wonder how much Persona 5 spin-off material we’ll get after Persona 5 gets released.

Oh trust me, it’ll happen with this game.

The original Persona game doesn’t get nearly as much attention as those two games. Megami Ibunroku Persona (aka Revelations: Persona) was released in 1996 and went on to get a novel, a manga, a mobile phone game in 2006, and then an enhanced remake for the PSP (titled Shin Megami Tensei: Persona) 3 years later. The second game, Persona 2: Innocent Sin, didn’t appear to get anything other than a follow-up entitled Persona 2: Eternal Punishment, neither of the games received any spin-off media. Something else to keep in mind: the earlier Persona titles did not have Social Links, which involve you spending time with your friends and/or taking them out on dates in order to increase experience that fused personas earn and unlock new personas, whereas the later games since Persona 3 do have them. While I admit that the Social Link feature is a novel feature in the games and I have had fun with it in Persona 4, I can’t help thinking it’s no wonder Persona 3 and 4 are so popular, and not because the feature is novel.

All that aside, like I said before I don’t hate the Persona games (although I probably do despise spin-off media including games based off of the games despite not having seen or played it, but more on that later), I just can’t stand how much attention the Persona games get compared to the father series, especially considering the games use a lot of the same assets as the main games. Seriously, most of the personas in those games are named after gods and demons that have previously appeared in Megami Tensei games before, and in the later games they use the same artwork that they had in earlier Megami Tensei games (even the earlier ones had new designs for them, and featured personas based on entities that did not yet appear in a Megami Tensei game). What’s with that? It’s not a bad thing, and I don’t complain too much about it, but why not make original designs for all personas in the game not just personas representing the characters?

As for the additional games and media that keep getting made for Persona 3 and 4, even if they aren’t so bad, I hate what those media represent to me regarding Atlus and the Megami Tensei series. To me, they represent the idea that video games can exist either as a commercial enterprise or to be made into commercial enterprises, and for games in the Megami Tensei series, this is unacceptable to me.

Shin Megami Tensei IV and thoughts on order, chaos, and balance

It’s been over two years since I first heard Shin Megami Tensei IV was announced, and a year later it got released in America, but despite promises of a summer release in Europe the same year, it is not getting released in Europe until next month (I assume it could be any day next month). I could have gotten the game from America, but I have a European 3DS and the 3DS is region-locked, in contrast to the old DS (good job Nintendo). But that’s all besides the point. The point is that since then I have heard some interesting details about the game and I have seen some new interpretations of the wider Megami Tensei universe, or least familiar that have been enriched by some dialogue and plot points in the story, through other MegaTen fans. Besides that, my perspective and worldview had been developing outside the games as well.

That all said, now that the game is going to be released very soon, I am eagerly awaiting the game’s release and the opportunity to experience the game, to interact with the story hand-on and see how it will affect me, and perhaps do another playthrough for the sake of insight and unlocking things. I am confident I’ll remain on the side of Chaos (more on that tomorrow), but I would dearly love to see what experiencing the game will offer.

But who knows? Worst case scenario: Atlus might fail to make good on a promised release date again and I’ll have to wait till next year. But I’m pretty confident that this time Atlus will make good on the release date.

Shin Megami Tensei, the iPhone, and Nintendo eShop

In the next month, Shin Megami Tensei IV will finally released in Europe after a year of delay (we thought we were going to get in the summer of 2013, and we turned out to be very wrong), albeit on the 3DS eShop rather than as a physical game. Naturally, I’m psyched, I can’t wait until I get to pay for the game and play it. But there’s one thing that’s bugging me lately: is there a reason they could not do the same thing for Shin Megami Tensei 1 and 2?

As of March 2014, Shin Megami Tensei 1 and 2 were finally officially released to the West, but only as iOS apps.

Seriously? I find this odd. Those aren’t even real games consoles. They’re just smartphones that can play video games as apps. Is that how Atlus is going to treat those games. Nice. Fuckn’ beautiful. Not only that, but if you get the iOS apps for the games, you’re playing the Game Boy Advance versions of the games translated into English. I suppose that’s OK, but wouldn’t you rather play the original Super Famicom games? I for one would, and if I had to judge either version the Super Famciom one certainly has a greater charm overall. And on the iPhone version, you have the buttons and directional pad on the screen like watermarks. I suppose that’s to touch on the screen, but to me, that seems almost like they layered a static Tiger console screen onto the actual game. I mean I’m sorry but that is not ideal for the feel of the game.

Is there a reason why they couldn’t release translated Super Famicon versions of the games on the Nintendo 3DS eShop? It’d make sense. They were originally released on Nintendo’s Super Famicom when they came out and in Japan the games were as well received as the Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy games. Why not treat them that way, with the dignity they deserve? Instead, you they put the Game Boy Advance versions of the game on iOS, the same system that has more than a dozen Final Fantasy games (which probably aren’t that great) including remakes of Final Fantasy I-VI and the Final Fantasy Tactics games, which you’d rather play on their original systems or the Game Boy Advance anyway.

I know you can play emulators and translated ROMs for Shin Megami Tensei 1 and 2, but still, wouldn’t it be nice to play them translated on a Nintendo console? I’d like to see that within my lifetime.