A Thematic Analysis of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

Warning: This topic contains immense spoilers for the video game, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne, and other Shin Megami Tensei games. The main focus will be upon SMT Nocturne but information may verge into comparisons with other SMT games. 

Notable works: SMT Essay by Sam Hatting

This work is a brilliant artistic analysis on the plot, story, and philosophical themes of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. I honestly cannot recommend it enough. The article makes a strong case for the theme and plot of Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne being inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche‘s philosophical fantasy novel: Thus Spake; Zarathustra. Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne uses the religious themes of Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and other religious faiths to create a narrative about the player surpassing all obstacles and following their chosen “Reason” for the sake of their own existence and the world around them.

Key Terms:

Kalpa: Indian Mythology regarding Time

Hito-Shura: The more precise term would be Demi-Asura and not Demi-fiend. Demifiend becoming a “new demon” really meant Demonic God or Demonic Nature Spirit.

God’s wrath and the coming of the Anti-Christ:

Fierce Battle foreshadowing the True Demon Ending of SMT Nocturne. In this specific context, Satan could mean the Devil or the Enemy.

Lucifer and the Lady’s plan as further evidence:

The influence of Zoroastrianism in Nocturne:

Mithra, God of Divine Contracts:

Ahriman, God of Evil:

Ahura Mazda, God of Goodness (skip to 6:09):

Opinion on Demi-fiend:

From what I’ve gathered, the influence of Zoroastrianism and the Anti-Christ are purposefully placed in the game itself. It seems that Atlus Japan noted the ancient hypocrisies of devil worshipers simply being prophets of another God and used it to the full extent. Demi-fiend’s story seems to imply the struggle of the holy prophet of Zoroastrianism, Zoroaster/Zarathustra. However, Atlus is using Zoroastrianism to exemplify the philosophy of Nietzsche based on his philosophical novel. Having read the novel after reading Hatting’s review, I’m inclined to wholeheartedly agree.

The Old and Young woman, Stillness/Loneliness/Strength, Apathy, the destruction of the Manikins for being weak, emptiness, eternal occurrence, surpassing God, and being cursed with a burden are all thoroughly discussed and shown within the aphorisms of Nietzsche’s novel. It isn’t a stretch by any means to say that Atlus was heavily using Nietzsche as a persistent theme in Nocturne. Above all, Nietzsche’s novel is about fulfilling your own self-satisfaction by creating your own meaning in life beyond the strife that you suffer. That’s essentially Nocturne’s main plot and desired goal for most of the endings.

They blend this theme of overcoming and self-surpassing with the religious symbolism and imagery of the Demi-fiend becoming the Anti-Christ for the True Demon Ending. He has accepted Lucifer’s ritual, he will become the black hope of change, and will end the eternal struggle of Law and Chaos.

Opinion upon other characters of the game:

Isamu and Chiaki didn’t join the Demi-fiend and didn’t seek out his protection because they were afraid of his demonic transformation. Think about it from their perspective, they woke-up and were assaulted by demons. Even if they were able to converse with him, how could they know for sure that their former friend wouldn’t go on a murderous killing spree? Demi-fiend wouldn’t even have been able to explain how or why he became that way either. At best, he could say some strange old lady and a young blond kid gave him monstrous power and that would only further put Isamu and Chiaki on edge. There was no way of reconciling this problem either. Chiaki figures it was best to live strongly on her own because she has no other choice in the matter and Isamu just gave-up on believing in other people as a source of hope. Both are lesser known philosophical themes of Nietzsche.

Demi-fiend is taught to give-up on hope from the outside world too. The teacher fails at providing answers and the Demi-fiend can only rely on himself to solve the problems that surround him. The only one who explains anything to him is the Lady in Black. Both she and Lucifer require the Demi-fiend to lack full trust so that the Demi-fiend comes to their side based on his own volition. Kagutsuchi just wants Demi-fiend to pick a Reason and choose a future, Hikawa doesn’t care about the Demi-fiend and just wants his own goal to come to fruition, and the rest of the humans are in a more confused and horrified state than the Demi-fiend himself.
For all those reasons, I don’t think most fans adequately understood the trials that Isamu and Chiaki went through and just why they seemed to go insane for totally justifiable reasons.

Nocturne Drama CD Translation:

The Drama of Nocturne

Notable facts:

– Ryogo, a not-so-close friend of the trio in Nocturne, makes it to the hospital before the apocalypse and was a bullied kid who needed Isamu and Naoki to protect him. He has a crush on Chiaki.

– Isamu notes that Naoki (the Demi-fiend) and Chiaki are very close to becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.

– Naoki states he doesn’t respect the weak and he doesn’t respect bullies. He seems to believe people make their own destiny.

– Ryogo becomes a fiend from Lucifer giving him the demonic parasite just like Naoki in the actual game.

– During a time when Naoki was unconscious in Nocturne, Ryogo, like Naoki, turns into a fiend and attacked Isamu in the hospital. Isamu became wary of trusting anyone after that.

If someone could translate drama CDs 3 and 4, that’d be great. The most I can provide is guesswork. From what I’ve gathered, Kagutsuchi learned that Ryogo was a full fiend from the transformation that Lucifer gave him (not a demi-fiend, a full demon) and decided to kill him while he was still weak. Chiaki, or a hallucination of Chiaki, tells Ryogo about Naoki choosing the True Demon path and Ryogo becomes horrified upon learning of it. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that he thought that he could prevent it.

It seems to imply that Lucifer used Ryogo as a sacrifice so that Kagutsuchi would pay less attention to Naoki. The Pixie from the hospital seems to be implied to have been Ryogo’s.

Let me know what you think of this examination in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.

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2 thoughts on “A Thematic Analysis of Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne

  1. Isamu’s experience was easier for me to understand (or at least guess about) than chiaki’s. I never thought about the fear of the demi-fiend. It already made perfect sense (for the wrong reason) why Isamu would come to his philosophy without considering the fear. My misunderstanding was this:

    He escaped the hospital by himself. The demi-fiend does nothing to save him from the mantra the first time and he escapes his first prison on his own in the wake of the nightmare system. It’s not explained how he escapes the second prison he finds himself in.

    My initial interpretation was based on the mistaken assumption that he expected (or at least hoped for) the demi-fiends help and that those hopes were repeatedly dashed proving to him that he could only rely on himself. I would’ve expected him to expect his friend from the previous world to provide help. That was where I might have been wrong.

    Even with his fear of the demi-fiend I guess he could still engage in wishful thinking during his times of desperation and feelings of powerlessness. He could still have a skeptical hope that his friend would save him. My possible misunderstanding was that he had some kind of hope for the demi fiend’s help in the beginning and the repeated crushing of that hope taught him that he couldn’t rely on his friends. He had to be able to “live on his own”. He learned that he could only rely on himself but more importantly that he could rely on himself. “I can live on my own” is actually a quote from the game that relates to Isamu’s perspective.

    But again, my initial interpretation was pretty shallow. Your suggestion that chiaki and Isamu are afraid of the demi-fiend after his transformation is eye opening. What I thought before about Isamu makes less sense in light of it.

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    • Honestly, he may have hoped for the Demi-fiend to rescue him by that point. The demons in the prison were siphoning him for Magatsuchi and it apparently feels like torture for the Manikins. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t feel the same way for humans, I think Isamu did mention a loss of strength when you speak to him in his cell (an optional choice). Isamu is meant to be a hypocrite; even his desire for isolation doesn’t seem to overcome his genuine feelings of happiness if you pick the kind options when he becomes a pseudo-fiend. It’s left to player interpretation, but I think he was wary but had the expectation of being rescued when he felt that he was in danger. When he insults you and leaves in the warehouse prison, he seems to give-up all hope on having a positive relationship with other people. More than that, picking his ending seems to heavily imply that “creating your own world” is the same as committing suicide because you’ve closed yourself off from real life and from averting inner nihilism. That’s just my interpretation of the game and his character though.

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