Shin Megami Tensei: Alignments, Explained
Sam Rowett
Shin Megami Tensei: Alignments Explained
Shin Megami Tensei: Alignments Explained
Though long overshadowed by its Persona spin-offs, Shin Megami Tensei is finally building the global audience it deserves. With Nocturne having receiving a remaster, a fifth main series game coming later this year and the 3DS store still hosting a range of excellent titles, it's never been easier for players to get into Atlus' flagship franchise. However, those used to more traditional RPGs may be initially confused by its unfamiliar setting.
Instead of the genre's usual chosen heroes and magic crystals, SMT is about ordinary people trapped in the middle of a cosmic war. Heaven and Hell are constantly battling for supremacy, and this conflict serves as the basis for an unconventional morality system. Rather than good and evil, SMT asks players to choose between joining one of these warring powers or standing alone to carve out their own future. To better explain each faction and what it represents, let's take a closer look at SMT’s unique alignments.


shin megami tensei iv apocalypse
shin megami tensei iv apocalypse
Law embodies order, control and societal harmony. It is led by YHVH, more frequently known through the series as "God," as well as his angels and several light-based demons from different mythologies. Believing that humans are doomed to destroy themselves, the lawful seek to build a "Millennium Kingdom" to protect the faithful. In this realm, people would be happy and safe in exchange for utter subservience to their master.
While this will seem blatantly authoritarian to many players, more recent games have cast Law in a more ambiguous light. The God of Devil Survivor is implied to be a well-intentioned extremist, and Strange Journey Redux gives players the chance to make a harmonious world without sacrificing individuality.
Even more traditional games, like SMT IV, generally depict Lawful characters as sympathetically desiring to live peaceful lives. As such, Law's best advocates promote bringing people together through harmony and co-operation, while its worst enforcers demand unity at any cost.


shin megami tensei iii nocturne
shin megami tensei iii nocturne
Chaos stands for freedom, individualism and survival of the fittest. Led by the fallen angel Lucifer, its armies count fallen gods and various demons, tricksters and malicious spirits among its forces. Philosophically, Chaos argues that strength and skill are all that matter, and that the world ultimately belongs to whoever has the power to seize it.
To further contrast with Law's ideals, Lucifer is a more ambiguous character than YHVH. In some games, he's an honest ally of humanity; in others, he's little more a hypocritical tyrant who would doom the multiverse for a chance to battle God. This ambiguity has been most prevalent throughout modern titles. Nocturne depicts a manipulative Lucifer in pursuit of an ideal pawn, and SMT IV depicts many of its demons as savage, bloodthirsty creatures with no concern for higher causes.
However, some modern games still offer players the choice to take a less-destructive path if they so desire, with endings that see humans and demons living together, if not necessarily in harmony. The best champions of Chaos are bold resisters of tyranny and unjust authority, while its worst advocates mistake freedom for brutality and become just as wicked as the despots they oppose.


shin megami tensei iii nocturne
shin megami tensei iii nocturne
Neutrality represents a humanistic self-suffienciency, one where people make their own future without relying on the intervention of gods and demons. While it has no alignment leader per se, the closest equivalent is probably the transhuman Stephen. This elusive figure regularly distributes Demon Summoning Programs to the series' various protagonists as a means of empowering them to survive in each coming apocalypse.
While originally just another alignment in the core trinity, Neutral has become an increasingly optimistic path in recent games. Despite this generally upbeat tone, however, Neutral is often the most ideologically weak route. Though it lacks the extremism of the others, it offers few practical solutions to the problems that lead to each game's story. This lack of substance can lead characters to cowardice or even nihilism, as depicted in the destructive White and Massacre endings of SMT IV and Apocalypse.
Despite this flaw, however, Neutral is typically the only alignment that truly offers people a peaceful reprieve from the cosmic forces interfering in their lives. Its heroes are regularly each protagonist's most loyal allies, and some of the few beacons of kindness in an otherwise dark series. However, without defined virtues to ground them, they can easily become lost in a sea of moral relativism.