Shin Megami Tensei I
The first entry to the franchise begins when scientists working on teleportation accidentally open a route to the demon realm, that old story. The hero is given a device that allows him to summon and ally himself with demons in order to survive a new world where deities and demons have begun to change life as man knows it. This marks a huge trope for Megami Tensei and one players will find in Shin Megami Tensei IV: the unnamed, silent protagonist who controls demons. Demon summoning (or persona summoning in a certain series) is essentially what the series is built on.
During this time the hero adds a few friends to his party, but do not get too accustomed to them. Depending on the player’s choices party members will be leaving constantly and rejoining the party. Most of the time they leave for good though. It is impossible to keep a full party throughout the game for story reasons, but so many demons will join up with the player that it makes very little difference.
The protagonist finds himself between too cults, one serving The Messiah and the other Gaia. One embodies order, the other chaos. Society as it once was has been destroyed and now people struggle to get accustomed to the new order and align themselves with the two newly formed cults. Here the plot splits into three routes, one for each order and one more for neither, neutrality. Each choice bring the player to a different ending which leads into the next game in the series.
Shin Megami Tensei II
This game takes place many years after the events of the former game and counts the neutral route as the canon ending. Demons and deities were locked out of the world once again but their influence remained. The cult that worshipped the Messiah has gained complete political power and established a new city called Tokyo Millennium.
The hero of this game is an amnesiac prodigy who excels at combat and becomes the champion of the life and death arena known as Valhalla. Eventually the hero’s renown tangles him up with the Millennium Elite. The protagonist ends up works for them, which slowly exposes him to how Tokyo Millennium is actually a prejudiced dystopia.
After several events including the resurgence of demons and deities meddling in Earth affairs the player must choose between helping God reestablish control over the world or aid Lucifer in freeing mankind from otherworldly influence.
Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne
SMT 3 takes the series in a drastically new direction. There are little to no connections to the past titles of the series and the gameplay goes through a complete overhaul. The main character lives through the Apocalypse and then has to help rebuild the world with the “reason” he sees fit. Also he is part demon cause of something Lucifer did to him or something too complex to get into here.
This game offers a myriad of options of alignment creating several different endings for the game. It also has Dante from Devil May Cry as a major character because why not (It was the PS2 era, Dante was available).
Shin Megami Tensei IV
What is known of Shin Megami Tensei IV so far is that it centers on a school of samurai that hunt demons. Though it is unlikely the game has any story connections to past games, it does hold the old law and chaos alignment choices that have been present throughout the series history. In many ways, this game could almost be seen as a reboot of the titles as it goes back to a lot of basic concepts introduced in the first game.
For the philosophers out there, the SMT games have a strong advocacy for humanism. The big message each game seems to impart is that mankind should rid itself of otherworldly influence and build a world for humans by humans. If this philosophy seems blasphemous to anyone, they have the option to align with God and keep the world under a watchful eye so there is a route for every line of thinking out there.
Shin Megami Tensei IV is easily getting the most attention any of the mother ship titles have ever gotten in the States, and it looks as though it will be a great starting point for many players who have never experienced the series before. So when its July 16 release rolls around, it will be a great addition to the 3DS library and comes with a decked out limited edition packaging.