Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2

So, I decided to try out Devil Survivor 2. I reviewed the first game a while back; this one is a spiritual successor kind of sequel, with no direct relation to the first game’s events. I did not like it nearly as much. The characters are a pack of annoying anime cliches and the plot is virtually nonexistent outside of the final Big Choice, which is just more “the answer lies in the middle” propaganda. I couldn’t even be bothered to do a NG+ for this one.

The gameplay is a marked improvement. The designers very clearly reacted to complaints about the first game. There are a number of quality-of-life improvements that make fusing demons and cracking skills much easier, you accumulate party members at a reasonable rate instead of getting all of them on the last day, and there are more demons to choose from in general. Despite this, I found the final stretch more tedious than anything; the game relies quite heavily on giving bosses tons of resistances and inconvenient arena layouts that require very specific teams to counter. There were also way too many examples of “LOL J/K the boss has another form with completely different skills and defenses from the one you saw when you were setting up your teams, no we aren’t giving you a chance to change anything.” Overall, I feel that they relied too heavily on fancy set piece abilities that just ended up being really annoying to try to counter. Polaris forcing two party members to trek up a mountain and then park there the entire battle was probably the worst example, but Alioth’s auto-nuke was also ridiculous, as was all of them having ridiculous range that allowed them to take constant potshots at you. In the first game that was reserved for the very final bosses instead of being something you just had to put up with the whole way through. Also really not a fan of them gimping New Game+ — I do not have the time to go through all that again unless I get a guarantee I can skip everything, especially when there are far fewer subplots to pursue prior to the ending this time.

I did, however, think the Septentriones were pretty cool. Their alienness was a nice change from the generic demons of the Bels, and their designs were much more interesting.

On the flipside, everyone has balloon breasts. (And special mention to Ms. Shrinkwrapped in the middle, there.) The first game was also guilty of this, but they were at least anatomically plausible for the most part. These just looks ridiculous.

Plotwise, this game actually has virtually no similarity to the first one. There is far less tension overall, as you join up with a huge government organization early on, and there are way more characters helping you. It’s a really strong departure from the first game’s setup of a tiny band of friends all on their own. The story honestly gets pretty boring with how safe and orderly everything is; every day is just you getting a mission from your superior and you efficiently pursuing that while chatting with your buddies about their personal lives.

Additionally, the prophecy program has been streamlined to only show you the deaths of specific individuals shortly before they happen, which overall left me with a sense that less is more. I liked the mystery of the prophecies’ limited information in the first game and the way it allowed the protagonists to proactively make their own plans at the start of the day, but here it just feels like a trite attempt to be edgy. “Look, we’ll SHOW you the character getting horrifically burned to death! LOOK AT HOW SERIOUS AND MATURE WE ARE!!” Okay, but I still feel nothing, because half the victims are people you’ve just met and have no emotional investment in, one of the few exceptions is the annoying comic relief character I hated, and saving them doesn’t take any actual effort — you just have to neglect all sidequest events and advance the plot as fast as possible. The deaths also have almost no impact on the plot — Airi will still join the communists even if she watches them murder her friend on Day 3 without ever even bringing it up, and nor does anyone stop kissing your feet even if they see you purposefully get Makoto killed. I guess it’s symptomatic of the general problem with writing narratives with Schrodinger’s characters — the tone of the story is going to be very different depending on if everyone’s been dying or if everyone’s been saved, but you can’t feasibly write a totally different version of the story just based on one change.

The characters in general were completely bland and unlikable, a particularly poor mark when the characters were the strength of the last game. They are all shallow and banal anime cliches. Like I appreciated that they made the spineless coward a boy this time but GOD I never thought I’d miss Yuzu and her ability to actually shut up once in a while; Daichi is absolutely insufferable with his constant whining and moaning and you do not get nearly enough chances to tell him so. Keita is a brat, Joe is so annoying I was tempted to let him die just so I wouldn’t have to put up with him anymore, and all the women are just fetishes. (Incidentally, how is Otome a doctor at 24? She’s not even the oldest character in the cast! Game, if you want to make a character whose entire motivation is about “making a better world for the children” maybe don’t make her barely older than a child herself???) The only character I liked at all was Ronaldo, but he’s a pretty generic hero type without much depth or personality.

Overall, it felt like they used up their best story ideas in the first game, and this was them grasping at straws.

However, that alone wouldn’t justify making a whole post for this. The plot does do one interesting thing, and that is that, in a stark departure from the normal SMT formula, it’s not about God and Christianity at all! The setup here is that a robotic god-like entity exists, and for various handwavey reasons it’s decided it’s time for the world to end. If a strong-willed leader challenges it, it will remake the world according to their will, similar to the King’s Gate in the first game. I think this was a good move overall, as it discards all the weird Christianity baggage to better focus on the human side of things and the ideals you’re choosing from.

However, it does so by taking the same tack as every “We’re morally gray, ~your choices matter~!” video game: Both sides are equally wrong, why can’t we all just hug and get along? Sure, one side is run by a literal fascist who goes on long rants about how the weak don’t deserve to live and refers to his opponents as scum and vermin, but what’s really important here is that it’s wrong to fight your friends (who you met three days ago and are also literal fascists).

The ostensible choice is between creating a world of equality where everyone works to help everyone else, and creating a “meritocracy” that is actually just wild capitalism/fascism; might makes right and everyone has to justify their worth or they die. This is essentially communism vs. capitalism, with the characters making all the standard arguments for and against. But that’s not what I found significant here. What bothers me the most is that the game never acknowledges that the meritocrats’ vision is how the world already is. Society at large already operates on capitalism and individualism where the strong consolidate their power and prey on the weak; that is the baseline we are working from in any debate about how to change the world. This is not a choice between two equally valid ideas, this is a choice between changing the world and keeping it exactly as it is. (There is some token attempt by the fascist leader to argue that what he’s actually opposing is dynasty, but that’s a) pretty rich coming from a guy who only has superpowers because he’s part of a mystical bloodline and b) a direct result of his own principles. When you tell people they can do anything they want, what they do is consolidate resources for them and theirs. That is inevitably where “meritocracy” leads.)

And I find that to be a very toxic, very insidious message. Popular media loves to pretend that we exist in the center, and conservatives and progressives are just pulling in equal and opposite directions. But that ignores the reality of what conservatism is and how it operates. Conservatism is about keeping things the way they are, it is about preserving the status quo and current institutions. It’s literally in the name! And what is the best way to keep things the way they are? To tell them that all extremism, all change, is equally bad, and that the answer lies in the middle. Because what you will inevitably find in the middle is conservatism. The “middle” between two extremes is to do nothing at all. To keep things exactly as they are. People can walk away from these narratives playing into conservatism’s hands while believing they’re opposing it.

The story also has the fascist claiming that he will willingly concede power if a stronger opponent deserves it, which is also incredibly dangerous propaganda, because that is what fascists always say and that is what fascists never, ever do.

The only thing I can say in the story’s favor is that it does truly present the communist side as equally valid. Its advocates are never reduced to strawman caricatures, and their arguments are more aware and nuanced than I’m used to seeing in popular media. One character even explicitly brings up the unfairness of race, gender, and disability, and even counters the centrists’ argument that things are slowly improving in current society anyway with the point that people currently dying of illness and racial violence can’t wait decades for you to solve their problems, you condescending dickwads, and another declares that it’s the duty of the powerful to help the powerless — not even that it “should be”, just that it is.

But because the power of friendship has to reign supreme, everyone is willing to abandon or even completely flip these passionately-held beliefs after a single conversation, and that just feels so… disrespectful to me. It honestly feels like a complete farce, that these people who have known each other for a week (or less) are willing to give up their beliefs based on their entire lived experience for ~friendship~. No, these kinds of beliefs are absolutely the things you should end friendships over. I purposefully chose to get Makoto killed and have no remorse over it, and I ended the game wishing I could have traveled back in time to murder Keita with my own hands. These characters either needed to have had history prior to the start of the story to justify why anyone should care about their relationships, or you should not have been able to flip them if you were on the opposing side at all. (You could even still have your friendship cake and eat it too; the “true ending” — because of course there is one — is on the neutral route anyway.) If you truly want to follow your ideals to the bitter end, that is a sacrifice you should have to make. (One of the things I did appreciate about Dragon Age is that it did force you to choose between irreconcilable characters and decisions at certain points; I’d have liked to see that here.)

So. If you enjoyed the first game on its mechanics alone, you will probably enjoy this one too. But I can’t recommend it on its own merits. The plot is a mess, there are way too many trite and shallow characters, and the politics, while perhaps impressive for 2011, leave much to be desired in our current climate. If this is more representative of the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole, I can’t say I’m impressed.

28 Comments

  1. Gust says:

    God, finally someone who had the same experience with this game as I did! Except how I accidentally let Keita die and felt bad about it at the time. Also, I played the 3DS version which came with an extra storyline that was also really blargh. It’s just more blather about how Yamato is the bestest and really good and cool while glossing over the fact that he’s a horrid person. I had a huge writeup about this game mouldering in Google Drive for years. It may finally be time to set it free! If you’d be interested. I actually did rant about it a little a few weeks ago when FGO was stressing me out.

    A lot of the blehhhh story makes more sense when you consider it’s a REALLY derivative story: nothing in the storyline hasn’t been done better by SMT: Nocturne, including the evil social darwinist leader. Chiaki <3333333

    Surprised you didn’t mention the huge sexism problems. Because like a lot of modern Atlus games, it’s sexist as hell.

    I also have a lot of thoughts about how the Neutrality alignment has deoriated from a legitimate stand against an unfair system, choosing your own path and rejecting the existing ideas of how the world should be (law and chaos) to the kind of wishy-washy centrist “the status quo is fine and if you want to change it you’re bad” attitude described in this post. I think it’s symptomatic of a lot of changes in Atlus’ creative process in general. A lot of their earlier stuff is rough and experimental and unafraid of doing things that would make its players feel bad. Like, in the first Etrian Odyssey, your party is pretty morally awful in that they do genocides for tourism, ruin the town’s economy, and the final boss is the guy who’s trying to fix the post-apocalyptic earth. When the game got remade for the 3DS years later they retconned all that out in favor of a generic save the world story.

    If this is more representative of the Shin Megami Tensei series as a whole, I can’t say I’m impressed.

    I’d say this is pretty representative of the newer SMT games, so agreed.

    I could rant about Atlus games more since I love to do that because they’re an endless well of disappointment but I’m going to stop before this post gets too big.

    1. Roarke says:

      Like, in the first Etrian Odyssey, your party is pretty morally awful in that they do genocides for tourism, ruin the town’s economy, and the final boss is the guy who’s trying to fix the post-apocalyptic earth.

      To be fair, the final boss who is trying to fix the Earth is also the one who mandated genocide. I don’t think you need to feel bad about that guy.

      One of the things I did appreciate about Dragon Age is that it did force you to choose between irreconcilable characters and decisions at certain points; I’d have liked to see that here.

      That was part of Bioware’s attempt at being ‘dark’ fantasy; it was a reaction to more or less the previous decade of wRPGs trying to always give a peaceful solution. I agree that they had the right idea to shake things up, at least, but I don’t remember how well-executed (or not) it was.

      1. I agree that they had the right idea to shake things up, at least, but I don’t remember how well-executed (or not) it was.

        Very well-executed, in my opinion. That was one of my favorite features in the first game — I think you can see me gushing about it in one of the pokeauthors posts. Unfortunately they dialed it back a lot in the second game despite that being the one with a clear faction division — the only irreconcilable choice is between Anders and Sebastian, and Sebastian is too unlikable for that to have any pathos.

        Still wouldn’t have saved this game because the characters are so shallow I see no reason to choose people over ideology, but in theory it could have done a good job of selling the neutral route.

        1. Roarke says:

          I would have been better off skipping DA2; I didn’t play Inquisition because of it.

          DA:O had, what, Loghain vs. Alistair, Harrowmont vs. that little shit brother, Branka vs. golem dude, yeah, I can see there were a lot of irreconcilable factions. I think it helps, actually, to have relatively smaller factions fighting in minor struggles while you try to unite people for a larger one, if you want them to be irreconcilable with one another. IIRC, you could make peace between the werewolves and Dalish, somehow. It actually felt even better among the backdrop of zero compromise.

          1. I was also referring to the breaking point choices, like if you corrupt the sacred ashes with Leliana watching. Those hit really hard because it’s not just an inability to reconcile two strangers, it’s your own friends drawing a line. That’s exactly the kind of pathos DeSu2 needed for “Why can’t we all just get along?” to feel at all valid. When you can recruit everyone on the idealist routes anyway… what reason is there to go neutral at all?

            1. Roarke says:

              Ah, yes. It was nice to actually lose companions sometimes if you offended their beliefs enough. That’s still not very common.

              Reply
            2. illhousen says:

              To be fair, why would you even?

              Though I suppose that if you side with crazy dragon cultists, you kinda deserve your party members leaving you.

              Reply
            3. Roarke says:

              Because it was the only way to get the Reaver specialization, duh. How else would I gain a title that edgy and grimdark?

              Also because, while I normally can’t stomach evil playthroughs, desecrating a holy person’s ashes and being treated like a huge douchebag for it is acceptably lulzy to me.

              Reply
            4. illhousen says:

              Just do the quest and reload, like a normal cheater. Specializations need to only be unlocked once and then stay unlocked forevermore even if you start a new game.

              Reply
            5. Roarke says:

              I didn’t get this far by going back on my whims. Unless Morrigan disapproves, then I HAVE to reload.

              Reply
            6. Farla says:

              Though I suppose that if you side with crazy dragon cultists, you kinda deserve your party members leaving you.

              I just didn’t realize doing what they said would actually work. The dragon cultists were clearly crazy wrong about every other thing, they were specifically crazy wrong about why it would wreck the ashes, why would I think it’d work? They’re a holy relic, you think they’d be a bit more durable!
              Reply
            7. Roarke says:

              But everyone knows holy relics need to be extemely fragile to justify even more extreme measures to defend them!

              Reply
          2. illhousen says:

            I didn’t play Inquisition because of it.

            I’m playing it now after soft-dropping it a while back. It’s pretty OK. I’m not sure I like the open-world aspect of it. The navigation is rather clunky in that I have to constantly play the guessing game over whether I can jump on this rock or it’s actually an impassable barrier more powerful than any demon. Plus, I just generally prefer more limited-space RPGs. They’re tidy, easy to explore in full and find everything there is to them instead of abandoning some collections because fuck fine-combing vast spaces.

            Still, I’m mostly having fun with it. Being in charge of a major organization is cool, the characters are fairly likeable if a bit on the archetypal side (though some do have some interesting quirks and depth to them), there is a lot of side quests to lose yourself in (even if some of them are repetitive. No, I don’t really need to deal with the rifts in every single location I visit, thanks).

            It’s also doing OK on representation front, though it’s subtle like a brick wall about it. Pretty typical for Bioware, it’s reasonably progressive but really, really clumsy about it. It’s still better than the alternative, though.

            1. Roarke says:

              Almost as soon as I picked up Inquisition and saw it had the same gameplay as 2, I dropped it. It’s like if you tried to play too many Bethesda open-world games in a row. Your body would revolt in self-defense. I was interested in seeing if the series would return to form in terms of writing – tone, characters, lore and the like – but I think I got to where Varric rejoined and just stopped.

              Reply
    2. Surprised you didn’t mention the huge sexism problems. Because like a lot of modern Atlus games, it’s sexist as hell.

      Oh it super is, but not in any way worth commenting on. The women are all fetishes and there’s gross anime perviness, but that’s not really anything new or notable. Unfortunately.

      It’s particularly a shame when the women were so good in the last game (even if the importance did slant male). Never thought I’d miss Yuzu but she was still better than any of the women here. :/

      Except how I accidentally let Keita die and felt bad about it at the time.

      Yeah he ends up joining the fascists, so nothing of value wast lost. I want to be sympathetic towards him since he’s just a kid and has traumatic backstory reasons for believing in social Darwinism, but… he’s still old enough to hold responsibility for his actions, and like all the demon tamers, is extremely dangerous.

      And you’re totally welcome to write up your own post if you want! We take guest reviews. Maybe you can tell me whether the earlier SMT games are worth looking at — I tried playing the first one but the gameplay was too opaque and grindy.

      1. Gust says:

        Oh it super is, but not in any way worth commenting on. The women are all fetishes and there’s gross anime perviness, but that’s not really anything new or notable. Unfortunately.

         

        Yeah, but the thing I was thinking of was the time you had to tell all your female party members to “act sexy for me” for important plot reasons. That moment pushed it from “ugh stupid anime shit but whatever” to “ugh this game”.

        Yeah he ends up joining the fascists, so nothing of value wast lost. I want to be sympathetic towards him since he’s just a kid and has traumatic backstory reasons for believing in social Darwinism, but… he’s still old enough to hold responsibility for his actions, and like all the demon tamers, is extremely dangerous.

        Yeah, I let him live on NG+ (and he can’t die in the new story content the 3ds remake adds anyways) so I did feel better about it later.

        Fuck Keita.

        And you’re totally welcome to write up your own post if you want! We take guest reviews. Maybe you can tell me whether the earlier SMT games are worth looking at — I tried playing the first one but the gameplay was too opaque and grindy.

        Sounds good to me! Should I submit it by email? I’m gonna have to tweak the post a little since it was initially intended as a forum post.

        The SNES SMT games aren’t really notable for their gameplay. I’d say they’re more notable for establishing a foundation and common archetypes for the series, so reading a LP for the story should be fine. I and II are mainline entries, and if is a weird side game that eventually led to the Persona series. Also one of the few games in the series with a female protagonist. And some decent female characters too. 2 female protagonists vs the legions of hell!

        PS2 era had a bunch more weird spinoffs that I haven’t played and also III aka Nocturne. It was intended to subvert a lot of established series motifs: the Law and Chaos heroes, the protagonist being a demon instead of a human with a computer program, and a really weird post apocalyptic setting with really striking aesthetics. It’s hard as balls and kind of dated and definitely has some goofy bits (I’m looking at you, Dante.) but it’s worth checking out. Especially because a lot of the ending routes in DS2 are trying to ape the aesthetics and ideas of  Nocturne’s Reasons without really ‘getting’ it.

        DS: You covered the Devil Survivors but I liked Strange Journey enough. Self-contained, adult protagonists, crunchy (painful) dungeon crawling. Not the remake though, it adds a bunch of dumb stuff that takes away from the original game (all you need to know about the remake is that Demeter is a little girl for no reason). First SMT game I played. Has a lot of callbacks to SMT I with the first person dungeon crawling and the storylines for the Law and Chaos heroes.

        3DS era: I feel like you’re gonna have the same issues with the original games you had with DS2 but the remakes (DS1/DS2, Soul Hackers) seem alright. Haven’t played any of the IV games but what little I heard seems pretty rage-worthy. Both in terms of the shitty ‘yaaaaaay the status quo is great’ takes on neutrality and the awful, pandering female characters.

        1. Yeah, but the thing I was thinking of was the time you had to tell all your female party members to “act sexy for me” for important plot reasons. That moment pushed it from “ugh stupid anime shit but whatever” to “ugh this game”.

          Ohhh yeah. And the one who actually ends up doing it is Airi, the fifteen-year-old. I purposefully avoided talking to her in the leadup in the vain hopes that surely even this game had standards, and no.

          Should I submit it by email?

          Sure, we have a contact page in the navbar.

          Sounds like the SMT games wouldn’t be fun to play, but the LP Archive has LPs for a bunch of them, so I’ll check that out.

    3. illhousen says:

      I could rant about Atlus games more since I love to do that because they’re an endless well of disappointment but I’m going to stop before this post gets too big.

      I’d like to hear your thoughts on Persona games (they’re still Atlus’ property, right?). I’ve heard some good things about the anti-authoritarian message of P5, but I can’t play it, so can’t really confirm them.

      P3-4 were an extremely mixed bag in regards to their social stances (the treatment of trans people in P3 is… ah… a thing, and I can rant about Kanji and Naoto in P4 for hours. There are just so much to unpack with them). On the other hand, at least I didn’t get the impression they were advocating for the shitty centrism, but it’s probably because they were focused more on personal struggles and connections over taking a look at the bigger picture (the way Naoto’s conflict is presented, even ignoring trans issues and focusing on sexism, is telling here).

      1. Gust says:

        I dunno how much I can help with the Persona series since I only played P3P and lost interest after they stopped adding female protagonists, but I did really like this review of P5 that focuses on the way it treats the female characters. My impressions are that the wish fulfillment-y bits of P5 get in the way of the anti-authoritarian aspects it wants to tell: i.e. it is hamstrung by the fear of making the audience uncomfortable lest it ruin their power fantasy. I think the term is ‘establishment punk’?

         

        What frustrates me about Atlus so much is the huge backslide they made in regards to progressiveness which I blame on the changes in management but that’s a different story. Why can the protagonist be gay in a game from 1999 but the only gay characters in their 2018 game are gross stereotypes? Digital Devil Saga has several noncis spoiler characters that aren’t treated in a gross way as well.

        1. illhousen says:

          Thanks for the link. It was disappointing but not surprising. Persona games always had an issue with their female characters in the romantic context. I think the conclusion reached by the article, that the devs are willing to make a stance for progressive causes for only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of (presumed male) player’s empowerment fantasy, is the right one.

          Unfortunately, I’m not that familiar with Atlus’ history, so can’t make comments about it. I’m looking forward to your guest review, though.

          1. CrazyEd says:

            Kinda reminds me of the difference between KnK and Tsukihime (both narratively and their initial commercial reception), or the Fate route of Fate/Stay Night. At the end of the day, these are media properties that need to be sold, and you’ve gotta remember the kind of person who buys this stuff in Japan.

            Just remember, one of Japan’s best selling light novel authors has fully admitted to being unable to write female characters who don’t fall in love with his male protagonists, and he seems far from being the only light novel author who can’t.

            No matter how progressive a story an author writes, in order to get it published to a wide audience, he’s going to have to get past the corporate fairy asking why neets and otaku will want to buy it.

            1. illhousen says:

              To be fair, the work that has started the modern LN boom was Boogiepop, which gave us girl!Batman and was generally fairly decent with female characters, so I don’t think open pandering is inherent to LNs or that works devoid of it won’t be published. It’s just that fanservice-heavy works have an in-built audience that’s going to consume basically anything that’s technically readable, while abstaining from such elements and trying to sell your work on other merits carries more risks.

              Reply
            2. CrazyEd says:

              Eeeeeeh, I’d argue that, while Boogiepop started the original LN boom, the modern LN boom was started by OreImo, which… well. None of that stuff you said. Of course.

              There’s nothing inherently pandering about the Light Novel format (since, after all, it’s basically just a young adult novella with about a dozen illustrations), but the Light Novel genre has definitely decided that it’s going to be about not just pandering, but putting that pandering right in the title so you know what kind of pandering you’ll be getting. Choose Your Own Light Novel Plot below the Read More. And there’s no indication that’ll change any time soon.

              There are a lot of cringy manga (many of them based on light novels), but… for every trash manga, you could probably name a pretty good manga, or even a great manga. Good light novels are exceptionally few and far between, and most of them are older than the age of the demographic buying LNs today. Modern light novels are a hell of a lot less like Boogiepop than they are like The Middle-aged Man Who Just Returned From Another World Melts His Fathercon Daughters With His Paternal Skill.

              Which is a real light novel. That actually exists. And received a manga adaptation.

              In an world… : That’s an extremely generic fantasy world with unexplained video game mechanics that allow the author to make massive skills lists to pad out chapters on their LN website.

              … Our protagonist… : A.) Is a NEET who dies or commits suicide and is transported to the extremely generic fantasy world OR B.) is someone who acts exactly the same as A but was born in the extremely generic fantasy world.

              … Who is special because… : A.) He has a character class which is commonly viewed as the weakest, but through simple logic which would naturally occur to anyone who plays the class long enough, is secretly the strongest class OR B.) He is the strongest class.

              … And with this power he decides to… : A.) Live a slow-paced life of easy living OR B.) Get revenge on the normies who wronged him.

              … With a… : A.) Harem of cute girls OR B.) Harem of cute girls aquired through slaveomancy.

              Reply
      2. CrazyEd says:

        I think that was kind of intentional, at least as far as Persona 4 was concerned. It really learned hard into the persona one wears for themselves, especially compared to Persona 5, which was more about the persona one wears for society (though I can’t speak for P3, since I don’t really remember any of it).

        I think that’s part of why people interpreted Naoto as a commentary on transgender issues is because things like internalized transphobia essentially being that kind of self-denying persona; even though at one point she pretty much says her reasons for crossdressing are that if she had to choose between being a detective and being female, she’d pick being a detective in a heartbeat. The fact that people took it as a commentary on trans issues rather than sexism, despite the fact that she pretty much says “I present as a boy because girls can’t be detectives that’s just silly whoever heard of that” is… hm, I don’t know the word for it. Interesting in its own right,  suppose?

        Considering the rest of the story, if she was transgender, I feel like it would’ve made more sense if she started off trying to present as her birth gender and either being uncomfortable in that role or more comfortable in the other (depending on how they’d want to frame the story), and then slowly transitioning to presentation as her identified gender. Which… now that I think about it… is kind of like what actually does happen in the story, but in reverse: She starts off presenting as the gender she believes she needs to be perceived as in order to be accepted by society, and slowly shifts to showing her true self by the end (to the point she’s stopped crossdressing in that supplemental novel). And that’s kinda what Kanji does. He presents as hypermasculine to compensate for his feminine-coded hobbies, and over the course of the game, comes to more accept that side of himself being normal.

        Which, speaking of Kanji… eeeeh, I dunno, I don’t got as much to say about him? Maybe something about gender non-conformance and toxic masculinity, or… something like that? But, honestly, I see the argument for Kanji being at least a little bit attracted to men far more than I do for Naoto being transgender, so… yeah.

        1. illhousen says:

          Well, a thing about Kanji and Naoto is that issues with them have layers. Firstly, they could have been gay and trans man, respectively, with some tweaks to their storylines, but they aren’t, which raises the usual issues of representation.

          But alright, it’s not the conflicts the game was going for. So, let’s talk about conflicts that are present.

          Kanji has feminine-coded hobbies, of which he’s ashamed and so overcompensates by presenting this hypermasculine image and kinda failing at it. As you say, over his storuline and the SLink, he comes to realize that the division between “masculine” and “feminine” hobbies is mostly bullshit and he should do what he likes, and people would accept him. That’s a good message, but it’s severely undermined by the fact that in the main plot, a lot of scene with him end with “ha ha, that’s gay” punchline. Yosuke is afraid to sleep with him in the same tent, there is stuff with him during that game on a city trip and the date cafe, etc.

          So the message becomes, “it’s OK to accept yourself, but people would still mock you for not comforting to the ideals of masculinity.”

          With Naoto, her conflict revolves around how she’s not treated with respect she deserves because she’s a kid and a girl. The conflation of the two is actually interesting because infantilization of women is very much a thing, and it could have gone interesting places. But then her SLink focuses solely on how important it is for her to not rush out of childhood and enjoy it while it lasts, while the issue of sexism is kinda… not really mentioned much again. And, I mean, the issue of her being a kid is going to fix itself in time, the issue of sexism is not.

          though I can’t speak for P3, since I don’t really remember any of it

          P3 has an absolutely delightful beach scene where three boys, including the protagonist, try to pick up girls. They’re awful at it, so they get turned down each time, until they come across an older woman who’s very willing to basically do one of them right now. Despite them still being in high school, which is… ah…

          But then! What a twist! One of the boys notices that the woman – gasp! – has an Adam’s apple!

          It is treated as a shocking reveal that obviously ruins any chance of romantic entanglement, and the woman reacts with something like, “Damn, and I’ve almost got me a boytoy.”

          So, yeah, it’s a standard “trap” narrative about how trans women trick honest straight men into sleeping with them, with a side dish of pedophilia.

          1. CrazyEd says:

            Firstly, they could have been gay and trans man, respectively, with some tweaks to their storylines, but they aren’t, which raises the usual issues of representation.

            I’ll accept that this could’ve been the case (as much as it could’ve been with any character), and could’ve possibly been what they originally intended to do (though I’ve never heard anything to imply or deny that), but I was speaking only of what the finished product presented. Datamining found evidence that they might’ve had plans for Yosuke to be a love interest at one point (or something of that nature, I forget the exact details), but in the finished game, he’s not.

            So the message becomes, “it’s OK to accept yourself, but people would still mock you for not comforting to the ideals of masculinity.”

            … Well… To a large extent, that’s still kind of true? People mocking men for feminine-coded behaviour is still pretty much just as common today as it was when the game came out. I suppose the right way to deal with that would be to add “but that shouldn’t influence your own feelings” or something of that nature, but I feel like it’d be kind of disingenuous to say it’d be all rainbows and sunshine if you just accept yourself. That’s setting an unrealistic expectation, and could improperly equip anyone who takes that message to heart.

            But I don’t see how that would make him gay. Like I said, I see the argument that Kanji might like guys to some extent more than I do Naoto being transgender, but… a lot of that is from the comic relief scenes you mentioned, and not his Serious Deep Themes Important Stuff story arc.

            With Naoto, her conflict revolves around how she’s not treated with respect she deserves because she’s a kid and a girl. […] And, I mean, the issue of her being a kid is going to fix itself in time, the issue of sexism is not.

            I also don’t see what this has to do with the trans interpretation. I’m kinda getting the feeling at least one of us is talking past the other? Am I missing something or something?

            1. illhousen says:

              I’ll accept that this could’ve been the case (as much as it could’ve been with any character), and could’ve possibly been what they originally intended to do (though I’ve never heard anything to imply or deny that), but I was speaking only of what the finished product presented. Datamining found evidence that they might’ve had plans for Yosuke to be a love interest at one point (or something of that nature, I forget the exact details), but in the finished game, he’s not.

              I mean, I don’t know anything about behind-the-scenes stuff, I’m only talking about the game as present, and what is present is a story that at first seems like it’s going to deal with issues of sexuality and gender identity, and then doesn’t. I can believe that the devs didn’t intend it that way (well, with Kanji at least they definitely intended to at least reference homosexuality), but that’s the impression a lot of people got before being disappointing.

              Basically, it’s not just that they aren’t gay or trans, but that, based on the beginning of their storylines, you kinda expect them to be, and then they aren’t.

              Whether it’s fair to blame the game for betraying such expectations is a separate issue, but I can’t exactly blame the people who do, considering the low number of such characters in media.

              … Well… To a large extent, that’s still kind of true?

              We aren’t talking about random people, though, but about the protagonist team, the people who have helped him to resolve his issues in the first place and became his friends. The scenes in question are also presented in a way that makes it clear that the player is supposed to laugh at the gay jokes as well, rather than find them insensitive at best, thus normalizing such behavior.

              It’s not that such behavior is presented as something you’d have to deal with, but rather as something natural that shouldn’t be questioned and should, instead, be embraced.

              But I don’t see how that would make him gay.

              I also don’t see what this has to do with the trans interpretation.

              I was talking about my issues with them in general rather than specifically gay/trans interpretations. I mean, my second paragraph is basically, “OK, so now let’s engage with the conflicts the game actually wants to present.”

              Reply
            2. Sorry guys, but I think this has reached the point where you should move to misc discussion.

              Reply

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