Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei is the first game in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and was a sequel to the first two Digital Devil Story novels. It was developed by Atlus and released by Namco for the Famicom in 1987. In 1995, an updated version for the Super Famicom was released along with an update of its 8-bit sequel Megami Tensei II as Kyūyaku Megami Tensei (Megami Tensei: The Old Testament in the English fan translation). To date, even with the popularity of the Megami Tensei franchise, the game has never received an official translation in the English-speaking world. The original version has gotten a fan translation from Stardust Crusaders Translations while a translation of Megami Tensei: The Old Testament was finished and released by the Romhacking Aerie.
After the events of Digital Devil Story 2: Warrior of the Demon City, the programming genius Akemi Nakajima who first invented the Demon Summoning Program and his friend Yumiko Shirasagi, a reincarnation of the goddess Izanami, learn that a mysterious labyrinth has appeared in Asuka. The demon lord Lucifer has resurrected Nakajima and Yumiko's old enemies, Loki and Set; has imprisoned the goddess Izanami; and demons are again threatening to invade the human world. Nakajima and Yumiko must delve into the labyrinth and its six regions, free Izanami, and defeat Lucifer and the five Tyrants, including Set and Loki.
Something of an oddball in the franchise despite being the game that started it all, Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei tends to be overshadowed by Shin Megami Tensei I. No doubt this is at least partially because it still is heavily connected to the franchise's roots in the Digital Devil Story novel series, and has very little to do with the post-apocalyptic, order versus chaos themes that would come to define the franchise. Also its continuity has been "dead" for some time, and indeed the game barely has any continuity links with its own immediate sequel, Megami Tensei II, much less later installments.
The game itself is an old-school 3D Nintendo Hard dungeon crawler with no overworld and very little plot and was very much influenced by the Western RPGs of the time. The 1995 updated version smoothed out some of the rough edges, like by importing the auto-mapping system of the 16-bit era Shin Megami Tensei series. Finally, it's the plot of this game and the novels it follows, specifically the detail that Yumiko Shirasagi is the reincarnation of a goddess, that explains the franchise's famous Artifact Title.
Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei provides examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: Alongside the likes of Izanami, Hecate, and Loki, two friendly demons you need to meet on your quest are named "Rick" and "Ruth."
- Adaptational Heroism: The game downplays Nakajima's villainous past and unlike the original novels, wherein he was possessed by Lucifer and ultimately killed off by Izanami, here he successfully battles and defeats Lucifer. Justified considering both the technological limitations of the time and the fact that the game was made and completed before the third novel was even finished.
- Alternate Continuity: To the Digital Devil Story novels past the second one. Plus this game and its sequel represent one to the franchise as a whole.
- Artifact Title: Ever wonder who the reincarnated goddess is that the franchise title refers to? It's Izanami/Yumiko Shirasagi.
- Beef Gate: Especially true after you free up the Sky City of Bien, which is meant to be the second section of the dungeon but will let you teleport to the final section immediately. It's also easy to miss without a guide that after clearing Daedalus Tower you're supposed to go into one small part of the Corridor of Valhalla and then go to Bien, not keep exploring Valhalla; that is, it's easy to miss until you get slaughtered.
- Bonus Dungeon: Megami Tensei: Old Testament adds a bonus section, Hades, that's accessible through Valhalla if you have Cerberus in your active roster. It's a confusing maze full of teleportation tiles and damage tiles with a few strong enemies (although also a lot of weak enemies), and worst of all you can't use your COMP which bars you from seeing the auto-map (although you can still use the spell Mappara) and from summoning demons. The rewards for going there, besides challenge, are...not clear.
- Continuing Is Painful: The game gives you one small mercy against its Nintendo Hard tendencies in that you have the option to continue without having to use your last password or save. You'll keep all your experience and progress, but you will lose half your Macca (money) and all your Jewels.
- Damsel in Distress: Yumiko Shirasagi
- Disc-One Nuke: Cerberus, who can be recruited on the first (and last) floor of the dungeon's first section, Daedalus Tower. He's not quite the nuke he is when you first have him in Shin Megami Tensei I, but he's considerably stronger than any demons you can recruit at that point and even better than most if not all of the demons you'll likely be able to fuse then. He also has the game's resurrection spell Recarm, something no demon you'll probably be able to recruit or fuse soon will have. Likely enough you'll want to keep him in your active party up until you get at least halfway through Valhalla.
- Dungeon Town: All the towns in the game are in a dungeon, but the first town, Micon Village, and all the nameless towns you run into up until the fourth region of the underworld do not have random encounters. After that, however...
- Early Game Hell: A staple of Role Playing Games like this, but especially true here. Just outside the game's starting point, Micon Village, one Gnome can wipe you out with one Zan spell.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- The plot's connections to the first two Digital Devil Story novels and the lack of any post-apocalyptic elements, multiple endings, or anything having to do with Order versus Chaos alone gives Megami Tensei this. Gameplay-wise, there are ties to the 16-bit Shin Megami Tensei games, like the presence of the COMP and having a male protagonist armed with a COMP and a magic-using female protagonist, but the spell names are completely different, lacking the distinctive MegaTen names, and there's far less emphasis on buffing/debuffing magic. The Old Testament remake changes this somewhat, by renaming the spells and introducing Shin Megami Tensei's auto-mapping system.
- There is no Dark element spell and the Light element spell deals damage, rather than being an instant kill spell.
- A small but important one: none of the Jack Brothers appear in this game, even the beloved Atlus mascot, Jack Frost.
- Fetch Quest: Lucifer and each of the Tyrants except the first, Minotaur, require one of these to make them beatable, which serves to make the game about twice as long. For example, without the White Dragon Gem, Lucifer can completely heal his HP whenever he wants.
- Floating Continent: The Sky City of Bien. After you save its citizens from Medusa, you can fly it between three different spots, including the final section, Infini Palace.
- Gecko Ending: This game serves as an alternate ending to the novels, to which the third volume had yet to be published; The Old Testament adds to the end of Megami Tensei to better segue it into Megami Tensei II.
- Guide Dang It!: Freeing Izanami, which requires you to put three items into her mask in the right order. Failing to do so gets you zapped back to the very beginning of the game, and your only real clue is a vague riddle cited by a NPC.
- Infinity +1 Sword: The Hinokagetsuchi Sword, the best weapon for Nakajima. Unlike the game's other optimal equipment, which can be won by defeating Set and found or bought in the Infini Palace, getting this sword takes some backtracking, knowing that the special item you have for opening secret passages isn't just meant for finding the last couple of bosses, and making your way through a hidden part of Bien full of teleportation traps.
- Mini-Game: True to franchise tradition, the remake added a couple of gambling minigames. One is a slots game and the other is a numbers guessing game, and both are in Bien.
- Nintendo Hard: It's an 8-bit era dungeon crawler, a MegaTen game, and by Atlus. But in particular you cannot buy this game's HP-restoring items, Jewels, in stores. They have to be farmed from specific types of enemies or found (rarely) in treasure chests. Also there are enemies who have a particular special attack that can permanently lower the protagonists' experience levels.
- Although in a few ways it's arguably less this than its more famous Shin Megami Tensei follow-ups. Up until the second town in the Corridor of Mazurka, there are no random encounters in the towns, and the demon negotiation system is much simpler, with you usually being able to bribe demons into joining you (although this is offset by there being far fewer recruitable demons).
- Password Save: In the original Famicom version, you had to use a naturally convoluted password to continue. Not only that, but whenever you wanted the password you had to go back to Micon Village at the very beginning of the dungeon or use a spell only available to Yumiko at a certain level. The remake not only replaced the password system with a save system, but put multiple save points (in the form of village elders) throughout the game.
- Peninsula of Power Leveling: You can go straight to the final dungeon as soon as you clear Bien to fight enemies that are multiple times stronger than you are. There is also the bonus dungeon Hades that's accessible before you even get to enter Bien.
- Sequence Breaking: The game almost encourages you to, given that it gives you the means to teleport to the final section of the dungeon less than halfway through the dungeon.
- Sequel Hook: When beating the game, you are met with a screen that says "The End. However...". The Old Testament adds a bit showing Nakajima making the game "Devil Busters", which factors into the sequel.
- We Cannot Go On Without You: Like later games in the series, if Nakajima and Yumiko die, it's game over even if the demons in your party are still alive. Of course, it makes sense in that, with the human demon summoners dead, demons are no longer bound to them.