Here’s a pretty long, pretty old interview with Kaneko, Cozy and Ito about SMT II. Narisawa is the interviewer. I’m going to separate it into several parts since it is rather lengthy and will try to post all of it as fast as possible but I’m still translating it and I’m kind of easily distracted so yeah…
Connection to Shin Megami Tensei
Narisawa Daisuke: I think what everyone is most interested in is the connection to the previous title. Image-wise, I got that the protagonist is the Hero, Beth is the Heroine, but, more importantly, who do Daleth, Zayin and Gimmel correspond to and what is the Messiah Project?
Okada: Generally speaking, we wanted to make a story with Law as the theme, so the Messiah Project ended up being foreshadowed in the previous game. However, it’s impossible for it to continue from 1’s Law ending. The biggest key point that wasn’t shown in the game was Law Hero’s appearance in the Law ending. His existence was the origin of the Messiah Project. This game’s protagonist, one of the first five people, wasn’t named Aleph during his development stages, but was called, together with the others, Prototype 1~5, since we were aware of the Messiah Project from the beginning.
Kaneko: Design-wise, I drew Beth to resemble Heroine, while Daleth resembled the previous Hero. I had fun giving him the same nuance of green. Beth is conversely the Messiah Church’s Heroine, so I made blue her keynote. I think this was also influenced by the fact that she contrasts with Aleph.
Okada: I’m going by extreme logic here, but the previous Law Hero was Prototype 0. He wasn’t a failure, but…
Kaneko: But he was destroyed by a certain someone.
Okada: Using that as a stepping stone, the Messiah Project was precisely built up starting with Aleph. According to the chronology, quite a few years have passed, so the story started from a world established by the Messiah Church. We did it from the completed Tokyo Millenium, but you can also say that it starts from the foreshadowing from the first game, or, even better, the ICBMs launched by Thorman were the starting point.
Narisawa: As Kaneko told us, even if they are made in someone’s image, it’s impossible for them to be like that someone from the previous game.
Okada: Yes, that’s right.
Kaneko: It’s just that there are probably parts the Messiah Church made using that image. Like a demonstration to the citizens, so they remember the existence of the previous Heroes.
Narisawa: Not the messenger from Shinjuku, but…
Kaneko: They’ve definitely become legends and Daleth appearing among them would remind them of that person from long ago, same for Beth… I believe some similarities are intentional.
Narisawa: I see. Then who did this? Who was directly involved with the implementation of the Messiah Project?
Kaneko: Three of the four Archangels, excluding Gabriel.
Itou: Gabriel cooperated in the beginning thinking it was God’s will, but this was different….
Gabriel and the Millenium
Narisawa: Why did Gabriel adopt that attitude?
Kaneko: It seems that Gabriel was the only existence approved by God. Also, the only woman. The only one who heard God’s voice, so to speak.
Narisawa: Even Michael, Uriel and Raphael were just God’s pawns.
Kaneko: They weren’t his pawns. They were beings who misunderstood God’s teachings and kept going forward. That is why they were abandoned and headed towards ruin.
Okada: They were similar to missionaries.
Kaneko: They wanted to do what was written in the Bible, but that was nothing more than a blasphemy.
Itou: They were tolerated since they were loyal, but they started being more and more different and not really matching Gabriel. In the sense that maybe they should be restored a bit…Perhaps the protagonist finds himself involved in that too.
Narisawa: What should have been done about Millennium?
Kaneko: It wasn’t the will of the One God, but simply that of the Four Archangels. In short, the perfect form of the Thousand Year Kingdom described in the Bible. Aiming for that, they made a Messiah using biotechnology and started by constructing a false Christ. That is why that is not the actual Millennium.
Narisawa: So this is condensed in the “They couldn’t wait” line that appears in the game.
Kaneko: Since they couldn’t wait for the real Thousand Year Kingdom, they made one themselves.
Itou: That’s right. God told them to wait but they couldn’t. They wanted to turn God’s will into reality as fast as possible, so even though there might have been objections, they just said their actions would have made God happy and went wild.
Okada: Being unable to wait wasn’t something conscious to them, they mistook it for the right path.
Kaneko: It is absolutely necessary to advance according to the Bible. In contrast to the mass-media, this also includes some political parts.
Itou: I think there was a bit too little written about the Meggido Arc. That was something Gabriel worked hard on all by herself; it was going to be used to destroy Millennium which had taken the wrong path, and because of her collaboration with Satan as an agent…
Kaneko: That too shows that Zayin was an irregular existence. The artificial life they had created turned out like that.
Itou: Originally, Zayin was a failed product, since his abilities were strengthened too much, so they got the idea of using him as an agent. Gabriel made use of that and a new group composed of God ~ Gabriel ~ Satan started operating separately from the Senate.
Okada: You can also say that, although God would leave them behind, even for Gabriel, Zayin himself and Satan as well, what became of him came from things he couldn’t know.
Narisawa: Now that you mention it, this makes me think Satan has a Neutral part in him.
Itou: It is possible.
Narisawa: In the end, he fused with Seth in order to achieve his goal but that was unexpected…If you think about it, Seth is an Arabic evil god.
Kaneko: Seth was Satan’s predecessor. Seth, Sat, Saton, Satan. Thought I’d play a little with that. He’s a demon that has been sealed in Makai, and even Lucifer is afraid he might destroy that place.
Narisawa: That is, so to speak, the plan of the Hebrew deities, isn’t it. It gets even more complicated when you add the Kunitsukami and Amatsukami into the equation. I have one question though; was it ok to separate the locations of the Hebrew and Yamato deities? It ended up kind of suspicious to me.
Kaneko: According to my understanding that part was meant to represent the sides of the Hebrew gods and the local ones easily. You can also say it’s about the local deities versus intruders.
Okada: Basically, we wanted to show Japanese beings as monsters in the Underworld.
The Underworld and the mutants
Narisawa: Why is it separated into the Chirei, Fairy and Mutant areas?
Okada: All of them are practically lumped together into the Underworld, something foreshadowed by the previous game as well. The water subsided after the Flood, then the land collapsed and in the end it was sealed by Tokyo Millennium. There were humans there too but we also included individual beings like the monsters who make a living by manufacturing weapons in the Chirei territory.
Narisawa: The fairies make a living by selling medicine…
Okada: I have a feeling I keep saying that the first game foreshadowed this but we wanted to show that another world existed on the other side of Millennium’s creation. On the surface, the Gaia Church was persecuted and shrunk, but this had no effect on the Underworld.
Narisawa: So it’s not like there’s a total control over everything. The Messiah Church has the main role on the surface, but it’s not like they are the supreme leaders of Tokyo and Japan…
Kaneko: Since the Underworld exists.
Okada: That is why the Neutral Ending was presented through the mutants.
Narisawa: So what were the mutants?
Itou: Since things that are different and malformed instinctively raise revulsion in people, making a regulated society will also need a safety valve, that is, discrimination. The German Nazis targeted Jews, the Edo government forcibly created a social class which consisted of former convicts and homeless people, the lowest there was. They became the target of discrimination by being known as the ones lower than samurai, farmers, artisans or merchants. I think they play the role of preserving a regulated society. But won’t this repression make them revolt? That’s a trick question though. Since there’s the danger that they’ll rebel, they will be banished and driven underground. I believe that’s the kind of people they are.
Okada: That’s why Valhalla itself was already unneeded by that time. Had it not been eaten by Abbadon, it would have shortly become part of the Underworld. Only those formed by the Messiah Church would be chosen, sorted and separated from the others.
Narisawa: But the Senate rushed too much and decided to manage a virtual reality. That part was really impressive too. And the real Arcadia?
Itou: We were worried whether it would be impactful or not. There were also a lot of things we removed.
Okada: To be honest, I wanted to show more of that. We simplified it a bit too much (laughs).
Kaneko: If it’s going to be done, then it’s got to be done properly. Heavy.
The parent-child relationship between the Hero and Heroine
Narisawa: A similarly heavy theme, the one that had the most impact on everyone was the reveal of Mama Hiroko*.
Kaneko: The setting was borrowed a bit from the Messiah’s legend, so a virgin/holy mother was needed to give birth to a Messiah.
Narisawa: I see. So the implication of holy birth is stronger than the one of her being the Hero’s mother.
Kaneko: That too wasn’t done naturally or through biotechnology, but it was about planting in the womb.
Itou: Inserted through surgery.
Narisawa: Inserting, taking out…definitely this kind of image.
Itou: We tried to express what was written in the Bible using current technology .
Kaneko: This is the narcissistic side of the Messiah Church. They place a lot of value on form.
Narisawa: So that’s how it is. As expected, the directions come through notes. But who can understand things like “With this, a woman who has given birth” (laughs)
Itou: Because it’s just for form’s sake. She doesn’t give birth to the child. Point is, they only use fertilised eggs, perform the fertilisation, take him out and should after that grow him in a test tube.
Okada: Well, there is the question of what the player/Aleph would do when he awakens as a true human. On the other hand, the other four don’t go through this kind of process.
Narisawa: I see. That’s because they don’t need to go through that process.
Itou: That’s why Megami Tensei protagonists don’t have normal families. For example, in Dragon Quest IV there is a father, there is a child/self, so there’s a rather proper parent-child relationship so to speak. We didn’t want to write that kind of ideal relationship, or perhaps I should say that we had to start by omitting that kind of bond. The previous game, for instance, features a fatherless family. Kaneko thinks the father is the captain of a large scale ship though (laughs). Like Akko-chan’s father.
Kaneko: He’s a ship captain all right.
Itou: Nope, they’re divorced. Anyway, the protagonist has lost his father. That’s why proper love is indispensable. As expected, a world without love is dry.
Kaneko: What about the love for demons?
Itou: Well, the players might be able to have it, but the things they do show no trace of love. If the demons become useless they get fused or thrown away.
Kaneko: Since the player doesn’t know what family is.
Okada: In Megami Tensei the main character is completely entrusted to the player. Speaking of the fatherless family from earlier, it’s more about how the player feels. Of course, 2 also has Mama Hiroko but if it’s only Aleph, what we sought was the way he’d feel and the actions this would lead to.
Narisawa: That’s right, I guess. That’s the way you can explain Aleph’s actions.
Okada: That is why Aleph’s point of view is 3D and he hasn’t got one line of dialogue. We’re leaving it all to the player.
Narisawa: Nevertheless, that could have probably been a part of the Senate’s train of thought.
Okada: Perhaps Hiroko too would have remained in the place where she was initially isolated and would have been happy living together with the ones she considered her real parents.
Itou: Mekata rebelled against the Messiah Project for that very reason. Since he was told they wanted to create an existence using the genes of his superior intellect, he even sacrificed his own daughter, but seeing her treated like that made the father in him take a stand. Even if you don’t see it that way, there were doubts whether that kind of rebellion would be allowed so it lead to him making Aleph escape after the explosion at Millennium.
Narisawa: Mekata was the one who adhered the most to his own experiments and he strongly held a similar view towards the protagonist.
Itou: Naturally. It was also combined with the fury he felt when he saw his own daughter treated like that.
Narisawa: If you think about it, Hanada and Mekata appear together in the beginning but they’re both completely on their own separate ways… Was Hanada simply mad?
Kaneko: He was a man of evil ways.
Okada: Mekata had both the doctor and the parent sides to him. However, it was the Senate’s plan to entrust Hiroko to her adoptive parents so she could be raised as a temple knight.
Itou: That is why the foster parents were there. Even if the real ones didn’t know.
* Mama Hiroko sounded kind of cute so I let it stay..
The Abyss and Kabbalah
Narisawa: Now, let’s change the subject. I’d like to talk about the Abyss or the demon areas, but this time the Abyss is arranged like the Sephiroth Tree. We need to read the strategy guide in order to understand that, but is this how you originally envisioned it?
Okada: I said earlier that Tokyo Millenium and the Underworld are in contrast but generally speaking, their opposite is the Abyss. It’s like saying Lucifer is Satan’s opposite.
Narisawa: Since Kabbalah is a secret formula that belongs to humans, how do you explain Lucifer using it to design the Abyss?
Itou: That is why it’s the opposite. I think we can consider the possibility of humans being the ones who were influenced. We don’t know whether they saw the Abyss’s design after a near-death experience or were telepathically struck by some waves, but if pushed to say, then the Kabbalah that’s transmitted through the world right now could be a representation of what they “saw”.
Narisawa: It’s a reversal of situation.
Kaneko: I’m also troubled by whether the Abyss really is the correct term for it*. It’s also a type of direct expression, so according to that meaning I guess it is the Abyss… It’s difficult.
Itou: To be honest, we haven’t reached a conclusion yet.
Kaneko: I have a feeling reaching it is inevitable.
Itou: Eeh, that’s why no matter what kind of expression we use, we don’t know if the players will agree.
Narisawa: But there’s also the fact that you’ll reach an agreement before they do.
Itou: That’s right. Well, if we don’t reach an agreement we can’t do anything, so we have to compromise in order to do something. If we create something when our opinions collide, then the end result won’t feel good at all. No matter how forced the explanation, there must be one in that small closed world, we have to envision how things will turn out. It’s a really common opinion but… (laughs)
Narisawa: But the Abyss gave you a lot of trouble. It was difficult. Kabbalah literature is extremely complicated. Couldn’t even figure out what was going on towards the end. The nuances are transmitted but putting them into simple words is really hard work.
Itou: That’s why when I looked at the strategy guide I thought you tried really hard.
Narisawa: Thank you. Strangely enough, it took me quite some time just for that one page.
Itou: But you managed to convey the meaning. You did your best.
Narisawa: But the more you think about it and advance with the game, you realise it was made with a lot of thought in mind. I think this kind of thing is to be expected though.
Itou: But the people in the actual location don’t have time for this. They really don’t. It’s that chain of events where they don’t know what to do. If I do this, this will happen, but if I do this, something else will happen. What do I do, this kind of feeling. It would be ideal if there were more flexibility, besides scheduling and manufacturing. In that way, we have to create the game by improving even more and becoming more flexible.
Kaneko: Well, speaking of wishes, if only we had more time. We had a lot of challenges regarding that. Kabbalah can have all kinds of representations too. How do we represent it here and there, there were people who took all that into consideration. That was sad.
Narisawa: Yetzirah, was it, what was up with Hecate there?
Narisawa: I was really impressed by this kind of proper symbolic explanation.
Itou: But the number of people who discover and understand that is really small.
Narisawa: Yes but when we notice it we should let them know.
Kaneko: But since the Abyss has all kinds of representations, we have to think of all kinds of things from now on too. For example, that’s a really universal presentation. If we were to talk from a more unitary point of view, it’s got a dual nature and it exists in contrast with one’s individuality. It’s also everyone’s and anyone’s world.
Narisawa: Of course.
Steven’s true identity is…
Narisawa: Well then, I will get to the point. I’ve got a lot of questions coming and some guesses are related to Steven’s true identity. The colleagues who gave us the notes were only heavy players so it seems each had their own strong opinions.
Itou: Which were prevalent?
Narisawa: A lot either thought he was God or a demon.
Itou: Is it bad if I don’t answer that?
Narisawa: No, no, it’s better if you don’t answer. Let’s keep enjoying this.
Okada: However, if we limit ourselves to this game, I did say I wanted to make Law the theme, but in contrast with Satan and Lucifer, we can also say he is a truly Neutral character.
Narisawa: That’s why I have a feeling he was close to the “Old man from Kichijouji” from the previous game.
Okada: Reading it, aren’t you (laughs)
Itou: After the first game, I personally thought there kind of appeared a gap between Steven’s and the old men’s existence.
Narisawa: That old man is a Taoist monk, right? Taoism itself has represented balance from the very beginning.
Itou: That’s why he’s the symbol of Neutral, same with Steven. The famous theoretical physicist Hawking downright denied God’s existence. His theories start from that point. He became a sensation in the West because he said God wasn’t the one who created the Universe and everything was based on physical principles. He maintained in his books that the Universe wasn’t created by God, but even if we Japanese read the translations of his works, we think this is something obvious. The Japanese aren’t monotheists, so that train of thought is interesting to us. We had Steven appear in the Shin Megami Tensei series in order to visually present that ideology.
Narisawa: I see.
Itou: So the story of Shin Megami Tensei isn’t just one of gods and demons, but the base concept is that you have to head in a direction different from both of them, and the one who becomes that guide is none other than Steven**.
Narisawa: Wow, that’s a really good answer. I understand what you mean and it will make the readers even more confused (laughs).
LAW and CHAOS
Narisawa: If you think about it, even though the game flows on a different course than Law or Chaos, the nature of the theme of Shin Megami Tensei itself is obviously Chaos. There are a lot of Chaos-like factors…
Itou: Well, I think this might be this game’s fate. We were in the position to decide in what direction to distribute those Chaos factors, but that’s kind of troubling.
Okada: When we made 2 too, we did choose Law as the theme, but Chaos was in the talks as well. It’s weird to say that making a story with Chaos at its core is enjoyable, but it’s easy to write. We did settle on Law, but when the Senate’s plans were revealed, a lot of players wondered whether they were actually Chaos.
Narisawa: I understand. Their actions too, if you were to separate them between good and evil like the players do, would belong to Chaos. But that’s not it, right?
Okada: Exactly. This wasn’t presented as text, but in short, the Senate is Dark-Law, while Gabriel and Satan are Light-Law.
Itou: Law too has the Dark aspect, so no matter what means they use to reach their Lawful purpose, they’ll believe it is to bring the Lord’s will into existence.
Narisawa: They would head towards heretics who worship demons.
Itou: It’s that kind of world. If it’s for God’s dream, they would justify everything, even hunting witches or massacring heretics. Nowadays there still are religious affiliations and beliefs close to the witch hunts of the Middle Ages.
Narisawa: The notion of Light and Dark is included in that, right? It’s easy to understand the good-evil dualism if you think that way.
Itou: The Western and traditional Japanese views of the concept of evil are similar but completely different. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties [14th cent] for example, people like Kusunoki Masashige would have been considered villains, and that’s because they didn’t obey the shogunate. It’s not like they did anything evil though, seeing how they just wanted their rights and the people on their domains to be acknowledged.
Kaneko: Different points of view.
Itou: They would become the shogunate’s opponents despite being the Imperial Court’s loyal subjects.
Okada: The basis is that you create evil in order to have good. Well, if I start saying too much, I’ll bring Freud into the argument and it would end up too complicated.
Narisawa: No, no, I understand.
Okada: In order to make something exist, they constructed something to deny.
Narisawa: Well, that’s the so-called light and darkness. That’s why one should say order and the lack of it for Law and Chaos. Also, the basis for that aren’t humans, but gods. You might say this is something hard to grasp for players used to recent games.
Okada: That’s why even though dividing things into good and evil makes it easy to understand, Shin Megami Tensei is different. It’s not something up and down the same line, but side by side, so to speak.
Narisawa: Rather than deciding what is good and what is evil, it’s simply an antagonism…yeah, I have a feeling I’ve been saying this for some time.
Kaneko: We add all kinds of things in order to make that interesting.
Okada: But it’s difficult after all.
Narisawa: Not easy indeed.
Okada: No matter what, human understanding clearly separates things into black and white.
Itou: There are also complicated parts that can’t be understood.
Okada: It’s because we are also looking for solutions to that. It’s not something that can be answered immediately.
Narisawa: There may never even be an answer for this kind of matter.
Kaneko: It becomes your personal identity. It’s not something you can deny. I just think that an unusual answer won’t lose to anything else.
* I’m sure people already know this, but the original term for the Abyss is Makai *(魔界) aka World of Spirits/Demons
** The actual word used for “guide” is doushi (導師), the same word Narisawa uses to talk about the Taoist monk.