Shin Megami Tensei 4, finally due out next week in the U.S., was created with the help of a fair number of character and demon designers. Chief among them are Yasushi Nirasawa and Tamotsu Shinohara, two names that aren't too familiar to gamers but should be to hardcore fans of the tokusaku genre of Japanese TV, including Kamen Rider and all the assorted Power Rangers-y "Super Sentai Series" shows. Both of them have worked extensively across the genre, designing superhero outfits and evil-looking monsters for them to fight, and Nirasawa even contributed designs to the 2004 film Godzilla: Final Wars.
"I used to play tons of RPGs," Nirasawa said in an interview with Famitsu magazine, "back when 2D games were the norm. SMT was one of the games I enjoyed the most, and the demon designs drew by Kazuma Kaneko and the whole atmosphere of the game really drew me in. Being invited to join this project was a real 'I did it!' moment for me."
To Nirasawa, getting to design monsters for a non-TV project was oddly refreshing. "With Kamen Rider or the Super Sentai shows, I'm inherently designing suits or costumes that people have to get in," he explained. "However, there's no need to worry about the needs of actors or actresses in video games, so in a way, I felt like I had been freed of that restraint in some way as I worked on the designs. It was still hard, though, and sometimes I'd basically just sit there for five days in a row before I could come up with anything good. It's a lot easier for things like Medusa or Asmodeus where you have an ample amount of imagery or text material to work with."
For Shinohara, getting to work on SMT was an even bigger surprise, in part because he had never met the development team before taking it on. "Generally we discussed things over video chat and the like, although at first they would send me ideas via email," he recalled. "They said 'We want you to contribute designs for a video game, and after I said I'd do it, I opened up the file and, wow, it was Shin Megami Tensei itself! If I had bothered to see what it was before accepting, I think I might've been too nervous to accept it."
What's so hard about designing demons for one of the most demonic games out there? "With any of the demons, they have this majestic background behind them which can sometimes be difficult to work off of," Shinohara replied. "Also, for demons like the Minotaur, there wre demons in previous SMT games with the same name, so I had to differentiate my own version from that, but at the same time I'm still essentially drawing a guy with a bull head."
To Shinohara, who has admitted to letting his elementary-age child play the game ("Apparently he couldn't defeat the Minotaur no matter how many times he tried, so he came crying to me about it because he ran out of game coins to resurrect himself with."), seeing SMT4 complete makes him feel both accomplished and incredibly relieved. "To be honest, it was an honor for me, but also a tremendous amount of pressure," he said. "I had to think very seriously about how I could destroy people's expectations toward SMT in both a good and a bad way, and luckily I made it to the end without running away in the middle of it!"
"It was fun work for me as well," added Nirasawa. "I was given free rein in my ideas and designs, and it was a lot of fun to see other people's artwork come to fruition as well. Hopefully players will have a chance to see all the demons in action."