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Shin Megami Tensei V’s demon designer explains what goes into making monsters

When one thinks of developer Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, two things usually come to mind: Iconic, muffled music tracks and demons. In fact, one of the main draws of the franchise quickly became its creative and diverse depictions of gods, demons, and mythical creatures taken from various cultures around the globe. The pleasure of being able to view, battle, and negotiate with these entities, which can range from eye candy to visual vomit, comes in part from the efforts of the series’ newest lead demon designer as of Shin Megami Tensei 5, Masayuki Doi.

Shin Megami Tensei V - World in Ruins Trailer - Nintendo Switch

Doi began at Atlus as a graphic artist for Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. Since then, he’s worked on many installments of the SMT series and its various spinoff titles. For Doi, creating Shin Megami Tensei V’s grotesque monsters was a childhood dream come true.

“Looking back in elementary school, though, there was definitely times when I would draw pictures of my own demons while flipping through an SMT artbook,” Doi explained when I spoke to him about his work on the game. The designer told Digital Trends about his process, his demons, and what goes into creating such distinct visual representations of them while staying true to their original interpretations.

How much research goes into your demon design process?

We’re thorough in how much time we spend on research to help find clues about how we should approach our designs. Aside from the folktales surrounding each demon, we also look into their broader mythological lore, historical details about the time period, as well as things like what kind of traditional garbs and accessories people in that era wore. Some demons actually have very few surviving stories, so we try to be comprehensive in compiling these sorts of relevant information.

The Nahobino of Shin Megami Tensei 5 standing against the Hydra.

What kind of material do you find yourself searching through when looking for inspiration in possible designs?

We typically look at visual references and designs created during the corresponding historical periods. For example, when designing a demon from the Greek pantheon, aside from paintings and sculptures, we also like to look at things like architecture, as well as artifacts and furnishings discovered by archeologists. Hydra, which appears in this game, is a great example of a demon we designed after finding clues from these types of reference materials.

Nuwa of Shin Megami Tensei 5.

What demon designs have you found yourself the fondest of?

It’s difficult for me to choose because I have such fond memories of each one, but I do love the design of Nuwa. Rather than designing her literally, we were able to give our own unique interpretation to her appearance, and infuse what we felt would be appealing to see in a game character.

Generally, I think certain deities and demons that have been depicted widely throughout history are easier to turn out intuitive designs for. But I think an important task is also to see how much of a unique twist you can add to such designs. It’s always difficult to balance this without compromising the essence of each demon, but I think Nuwa is an example of a character design where we succeeded in achieving what we wanted.

Amon and Zeus as they appear in SMT 5.

I’ve always been in love with your Zeus and Amon designs in particular! Could tell me how your vision for those came about?

Thank you! Zeus and Amon are both demons that are very popular among Japanese fans as well. Interestingly, the approaches we took for these demons were actually quite opposite from each other.

I think Zeus’ design is something that deviates from how people typically imagine him to be. Because he’s such a major deity, we intentionally wanted to differentiate him from existing designs and aimed to represent him in a more unconventional way. Zeus possesses two weapons, Keraunos and an adamantine sickle, as well as two exteriors — one commanding fear and the other inducing awe. Given that, we wanted to include all of that into a design that highlighted his duality, such as his nobleness and malice. I personally envision him to have taken a form like this during the Gigantomachy, the greatest battle in Greek mythology.

The design of Amon, on the other hand, is strongly influenced by the woodblock prints featured in the Dictionnaire Infernal by Jacques Collin de Plancy. The demon designs in SMT have historically used these types of demonology books as reference, so we inherited that design philosophy here as well.

In essence, these two demons each represent a case where we prioritized originality versus a more classic design. I think you can really get a feel for how wide the spectrum is in terms of how we approach our designs with these two.

Manananggal's appearance in SMT 5.

Has there ever been a time when you made a design that you felt was too out there?

Manananggal, which appeared in this game, definitely comes to mind. We did try to design her in a way that muddled any areas that could potentially be restricted, but because we really emphasized the grotesque and erotic, I did feel it was maybe a bit out there.

Ultimately, the fan reception has been well, so I’m glad I challenged myself, but there was a part of me that was a tad bit nervous if she’d be able to make it until launch of the game.

Do you think your time in fashion design school helped shape the way you envision your work?

Since it has been over 20 years, at this point, I wouldn’t consider myself a specialist at all. However, the foundational knowledge and know-how regarding how to draft blueprints for designs is perhaps a unique asset of mine, especially as someone who has more formal training compared to others. I feel this knowledge often helps me when designing the costumes and outfits of characters.

As a fan of the original Megami Tensei, did you ever imagine yourself being such a key contributor to the series?

I played the original Megami Tensei in elementary school, and Shin Megami Tensei in high school, but truthfully, I never would’ve imagined that I’d end up in Atlus and become involved in SMT, let alone become someone others would consider a key contributor. Looking back in elementary school, though, there was definitely times when I would draw pictures of my own demons while flipping through an SMT artbook. In a sense, perhaps I’ve always had a connection to the series since then, and was maybe guided by the powers that be without knowing. No one will truly know.

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