As with a good amount of popular game genres, survival titles are still very much developing to suit the times and bring something fresh to the party. So when Shin Megami Tensei‘s character designer, Masayuki Doi, discussed the team’s reasoning behind their primarily-male lineup of heroes, that reasoning was met with a few raised eyebrows.
“Because the game is more about survival,” Doi explains to Siliconera, “on average male figures have a better chance to survive than females.” With the recent releases of Tomb Raider and The Last of Us winning acclaim in relation to their female cast, such a statement rings with a hint of the obsolete. However, when the designer goes on to discuss the upcoming Shin Megami Tensei 4, he mentions that “there are traditionalists on the development team… To keep that tradition, there is feedback I’ve been hearing saying that if there is a new SMT title we should keep… having a male lead.”
Despite the decision – apparently from the guy(s) in charge rather than Doi himself - Atlus have been appreciative of female roles in the past, recognising that “very strong females” appear throughout the series and as leads in other games ranging from Trauma Center to Catherine, suggesting that the developer is happy to explore, reinforce and remove from gender stereotypes as much as the next. Bras and lighters away, ladies – it would appear the team are only sticking to what they feel familiar with, at least for the moment; Doi agrees that ”it would be cool to have a female protagonist in the next SMT game,” and admits that he “likes” female characters with a strong will and physique.
So whilst these ever-loosening ideals remain in some standard, it is clear that a growing number of us – probably those of a more youthful understanding of gender in a cultural and historical sense – are happy to see such tropes turned on their head. Considering Doi would be pleased to see a woman take the wheel in later titles, perhaps disappointed fans will see how things go as the series grows. As one Polygon reader correctly voiced, the franchise has done perfectly well regardless of whether or not SMT is happy to mix things up ; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Shin Megami Tensei 4 is to be released on 16th July in North America on the Nintendo 3DS, but has no confirmed European release date.