Shin Megami Tensei V and Masayuki Doi’s Eye for Demon Design

When you think of a developer Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei series, two things usually come to mind: iconic, muffled pieces of music and demons. In fact, one of the main draws of the franchise quickly became its creative and diverse portrayals of gods, demons, and mythical creatures from various cultures around the world. The thrill of being able to see, fight, and negotiate with these entities, which can range from eye candy to visual vomit, comes in part from the efforts of the series’ most recent chief demon designer since Shin Megami Tensei 5, Masayuki Doi.

Doi started at Atlus as a graphic designer for Persona 2: Eternal Punishment. Since then he has worked on numerous episodes of the SMT series and its various derivative titles. For Doi, create Shin megami tensei V’s grotesque monsters were a childhood dream come true.

“Looking back to grade school, however, there were definitely times when I was drawing pictures of my own demons while flipping through an SMT artbook,” Doi explained when I told him about his work on the game. The designer spoke to Digital Trends about their process, their demons, and what it takes to create visual representations so distinct from them while staying true to their original interpretations.

How much research is devoted to your demon design process?

We are thorough in the time we spend researching to help find clues as to how we should approach our designs. Along with the folk tales surrounding each demon, we also take a look at their broader mythological traditions, historical details about the period, as well as things like the type of traditional clothing and accessories that people of that time wore. Some demons actually have very few surviving stories, so we try to be thorough in compiling this kind of relevant information.

What kind of material are you looking for when looking for inspiration in possible designs?

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

Nuwa by Shin Megami Tensei 5.

Which demon models did you like the most?

It’s hard for me to choose because I have such fond memories of everyone, but I love the design of Nuwa. Rather than literally designing her, we were able to give our own unique take on how she looked and infuse what we thought would be appealing to see in a game character.

In general, I think that certain deities and demons that have been widely represented throughout history are more easily conceived for which it is intuitive. But I think an important task is also to see how much you can add a unique touch to such designs. It’s always difficult to balance that without compromising the essence of every demon, but I think Nuwa is an example of a character design where we’ve been able to achieve what we wanted.

Amon and Zeus as they appear in SMT 5.

I have always been in love with your Zeus and Amon creations in particular! Could you tell me how your vision for these came about?

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

I think Zeus’s design is something that deviates from how people typically imagine it. Because he is such an important deity, we intentionally wanted to differentiate him from existing models and sought to represent him in a less conventional way. Zeus possesses two weapons, Keraunos and an adamantine sickle, as well as two exteriors – one causing fear and the other inducing awe. Given that, we wanted to include all of this in a design that highlighted its duality, such as its nobility and mischief. Personally, I imagine it taking a form like this during the Gigantomachy, the greatest battle in Greek mythology.

Amun’s design, on the other hand, is heavily influenced by the woodcuts featured in the Infernal Dictionary by Jacques Collin de Plancy. The demon designs in SMT have historically used these types of demonology books as a benchmark, so we’ve inherited that design philosophy here as well.

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

Appearance of Manananggal in SMT 5.

Was there ever a time when you made a design that you felt was too present?

Manananggal, who appeared in this game, certainly comes to mind. We tried to design it in a way that blurs out any areas that could potentially be restricted, but because we really focused on the grotesque and the erotic, I felt like it was maybe a little there.

As it turned out, the fan reception was good so I’m glad I challenged myself, but there was a part of me that was a little nervous if it could get through to the game’s launch.

Do you think your stint in fashion design school helped shape the way you view your job?

As it has been over 20 years, at this point I would not consider myself an expert at all. However, the basic knowledge and know-how of writing design plans is perhaps a unique asset to me, especially as someone who has more formal training than others. I think this knowledge often helps me when designing costumes and outfits for the characters.

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

I played the original Megami Tensei in primary school and Shin megami tensei in high school, but frankly I never imagined that I would end up at Atlus and get involved in SMT, let alone become someone others would see as a key contributor. Looking back to grade school, however, there were certainly times when I would draw pictures of my own demons while flipping through an SMT artbook. In a way, I may have always had a connection to the show since then, and I may have been guided by the powers that be without realizing it. No one will really know.

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