Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Shin Megami Tensei Series's Elemental Weaknesses

Well whaddaya know...a short rant. I almost forgot what these looked like. Special thanks go to Ecclesiastes, for pointing out a part of this rant in which I was, to quote the great Dr. Clayton Forrester, stupid and wrong. So incredibly stupid! And wrong! So anyway, thanks for keeping my rants up to code, sir.

Oh, also, before we begin, I just want to note that I've updated (and, in doing so, finally completed) my Undertale theory rant from over a year ago. If you read the rant before, and have a bizarrely powerful memory for the rantings of an RPG-obsessed idiot, you may recall that I couldn't figure out how Undyne served as a reflection of Alphys in terms of tying to the game's theme of dangerous depression. Well, my mind may not be of much use for anything important, but sooner or later it works through all things RPG, and I finally found the solution that made my theory properly fit. So, uh, yeah, just thought I'd mention that if you want to check out Point F of that rant now, it's finally fully baked.

Anyway! On with the rant that's relevant to today.

Y’know, elemental weaknesses in RPGs are usually a pretty basic affair. Fire is Ice’s weakness, and vice-versa, Earth and Wind are usually at the same odds, Lightning is Water’s weakness,* Light and Dark repel each other, etc. Often there are a couple extra, semi-unseen rules, like Nature-based enemies being weak to Fire,** and mechanical enemies being weak to Electricity, but overall, the majority of RPGs have a weakness system so mindlessly simple that it’s basically color-coded.

It’s actually kind of surprising, really. I mean, with all the completely unnecessary gameplay complexities that developers are so fond of heaping onto what should be a functionally simple genre, it’s shocking that there aren’t more absurdly overcomplicated systems of elemental weaknesses in RPGs. I mean, there is Pokemon, where half of the weaknesses of over a dozen elemental types make sense and actually are surprisingly thoughtful, and the other half seem like they were drawn from a hat, but that’s about it.

This state of affairs makes the Weaknesses of the various demons in the Shin Megami Tensei series stand out as praiseworthy. Now, yes, the SMT series does play by the simple elemental rules I’ve mentioned in many regards. Surprise surprise, the fire giant Surt, who can be seen wielding a giant flaming sword, is weak to Ice. Huge shocker, the Earth elemental Erthys is weak to Wind. And you’ll never guess what Hel, the goddess overseeing the frozen afterlife of Norse mythology whose lower half is literally encompassed in ice, is weak to!

BUT, what Shin Megami Tensei does in addition to the more obvious elemental weaknesses in its bestiary, is to give weaknesses to its demons that are not so obvious, but make sense if you know that mythological figure’s background. Prometheus, for example, is a titan from Greek mythology, who gave the gift of knowledge (symbolized by fire) to mankind. For this act of evening the playing field between humanity and the gods, Prometheus was punished by being chained to a rock, and tortured by having his liver devoured every day by birds...sort of a reverse foie gras situation. Since he can’t die from such a thing, being a titan, his liver just keeps growing back and getting eaten again. Not pleasant.

Well, Prometheus is, as you might expect, weak to Ice in the Shin Megami Tensei series, what with him being clearly associated with Fire. But, Prometheus also has another weakness--he is extra susceptible to the Bind status ailment! In mythology, Prometheus is chained to a rock for his so-called crime, and so SMT translates that detail of the character’s history into a gameplay weakness that a crafty player familiar with the legend can take advantage of!

And this sort of thing is present all over the Megaten bestiary. Jeanne D’Arc, though clearly having no particular affinity with Ice, is weak to Fire attacks, which traces back to the fact that she died by being burned at the stake. Lanling Wang, a fabled Chinese general, died after he drank a cup of poison sent to him by the paranoid emperor he served, and so his SMT equivalent is particularly vulnerable to the Poison status ailment. Beldr/Baldur was a figure in Norse mythology who was killed by a spear or arrow made from mistletoe, and so in SMT4-1 and 4-2, he’s weak to Gun attacks, which essentially encompass all types of piercing strikes. And so on.

You find these clever little nods to the mythological history of the demons of Shin Megami Tensei all throughout its bestiary, and it’s really quite neat. And that’s really all I wanted to say today...I just think that this little quirk, which rewards a player for their knowledge of the mythological figures they’re battling against, is worth taking note of and appreciating as just 1 more of the countless little details that make Shin Megami Tensei so awesome.

Oh also Mara the giant penis demon is weak to Ice because the cold causes shrinkage HA HA SO FUNNY.

* This is often not scientifically accurate, incidentally. Pure, basic water does not conduct electricity! It’s actually impure water, notably salt water, that conducts electricity. The reason it’s dangerous to get water and electricity together for a date is simply because human skin contains salt, so as soon as you come into contact with water, it becomes, to some degree, salt water, and thus adding electricity WILL then zap the hell out of you. So, like, in a lot of cases, water-affinity creatures in RPGs should be weak to electricity, since they themselves add impurities to whatever water essence they have...but purely H2O enemies, like water elementals and the like, actually should be completely immune to electricity.

** The reasoning, of course, being that wood burns. Which I guess makes sense. But frankly, shouldn’t most RPG characters also be weak to Fire, then? I mean, most of them are wearing clothing, which is just as flammable as wood, and have generous amounts of hair, which can also, I believe, catch fire.


  1. SMT giving a damn about the details as usual.

    Outside of your typical act of god power surge, any current on par with a mild static shock can very well brick chips and electronics, because the damage comes from currents crossing circuits. Water is a related hazard in that the fluid allows circuits to connect in unintended ways and fry themselves, though I couldn't hazard a guess as to what's the more pertinent weakness.

    And I think Messiah's Null Pierce ability is cute enough to warrant a shout-out.

    Single digit paragraphs. Are you feeling well, son?

    1. Hm, I suppose you have a point, but I would counter, albeit not with certainty, that as at least 40% of all RPG robots and such are leftover guardian devices of various ancient super cultures, they must be far more durable than our own electronics, since these things are usually hundreds or even thousands of years old and still functioning just fine after centuries without maintenance, and as such, this absurd durability should also imply that their chips and circuitry shouldn't be so damn delicate that some extra power would do great harm.

      Probably grasping at straws, though.

    2. Shielding against external forces is one thing. Figuring out how to protect against what amounts to an induced seizure is wholly another. It's the manipulation of the foundational force that animates the device in necessarily precise pathways that results in massive damage. Electrical accidents and lightning seem like something basic to safeguard against, but most electric damage comes from some sort of magic, and machines that incorporate and guard against magic are sadly a rarity.

      If you're in a discussion of this "caliber", and you're not grasping at straws and overall being a pedantic ass, what are you doing with your life?

    3. Well, I mean, yeah, but the thing about that is, is that you haven't really taken into consideration what happens with the...stuff and how...from the other point of...because...see, in this one RPG, they...

      Okay I got nothing. I clearly know dick all about this subject and you just as clearly actually have some understanding of it. I'll change up the rant, heh. Thanks for the correction!