...A boring day after boring day
...Our days of youth slowly passes by...
that life was shattered to pieces?
the school thrown into another world?
...a story of children who were stranded in the Demon World...
Shin Megami Tensei: if... was the third Gaiden Game to be spun off from the Shin Megami Tensei franchise (the first being Majin Tensei, and the second being Last Bible, which came to America as Revelations: The Demon Slayer). The title refers to two things: first is the concept of the game, which is a What If? scenario in the SMT universe, namely "what if a school was suddenly thrown into the Demon Realm?" The title and logo are also references to the arthouse British film If..., where the developers seem to have gotten the school concept from (although all similarities really stop there, with one possible exception). Sadly, this game will never be released outside of Japan due to this, but Aeon Genesis has announced a fan translation of this game, which was released on October 25th, 2018.
Mechanically, the game is built on the engine of Shin Megami Tensei II, and even recycles a large number of art and musical assets from that title. Dungeons are navigated in a first-person view; demons are negotiated with, and fused in the Cathedral of Shadows. Perhaps the biggest change mechanically is the introduction of the idea of "guardian spirits": souls of demons that will save you from death and upon entering your body, strengthen it and even give you and your compatriots magical powers.
If this sounds just a bit familiar, it should; many of the concepts introduced in if... would eventually be expanded upon in the original Persona, and the formerly anonymous main character of if... even became a character in the early Persona games, putting Persona in the same continuity as if... and the Devil Summoner games (which detail what would have happened if people knew about demons before a certain event in SMT 1, thanks to the events of if...). In other words, what started as one Gaiden Game ended up dovetailing into a huge Alternate Continuity that has eclipsed the original Shin Megami Tensei games in popularity.
The game begins with your main character (who you can choose the name and gender of, although canonically the Protagonist is a girl named Tamaki) as an Ordinary High-School Student at Karukozaka High School who is just about to go home for the day... and then, suddenly, things go very wrong. Your school doesn't seem to be on Earth anymore, demons roam the hallways, and a student named Hazama has gone missing... except he seems to be appearing to you as a kind of astral projection, taunting you. It'll be up to you and a partner of your choosing to get to the bottom of what is going on - and what Hazama may have planned for the school and the world.
The game has a cell phone prequel called Shin Megami Tensei: if... Hazama's Chapter, which details Hazama's past and his rise as the Emperor.
After many years, the game finally got an English fan-translation, which can be obtained here.
This game provides examples of:
- Action Girl: Tamaki, Reiko and Yumi are the game's most prominent female characters, and are all badass.
- A God Am I: Hazama.
- All of the Other Reindeer: This is a large part of the root cause of Hazama's psychotic hatred for everyone around him and why he torments his schoolmates upon becoming the Demon Emperor.
- Alternate Continuity: Infamous for spawning a continuity that would end up eclipsing its "mother" franchise in popularity and profitability.
- Beneath the Mask: For all his bluster, Reiko's path reveals that on the inside, Hazama is little more than a scared and bullied little child who is violently lashing out against the world. Add in abandonment issues after his mother left with Reiko and it becomes clear that he is not so confident as he like to make himself appear.
- Big Bad: The Demon God Emperor.
- Bittersweet Ending: Reiko's ending in particular. The school is saved and almost everyone makes it out alive, but Reiko and Hazama are never seen again after Reiko thanks Tamaki for helping to save Hazama from himself...
- Battle in the Center of the Mind: The final boss in Reiko's path takes place in Hazama's mind.
- Brought Down to Normal: The protagonist at the end of Yumi and Reiko's routes, as well as Yumi on her route. After defeating Hazama and returning to the real world, their level(s) return to 1, they lose their Guardians, their equpiment, their items, and most of their macca and Magnetite. Additionally, in Reiko's route, while leaving Hazama's Dream World upon its collapse, Reiko tells the protagonist to release all the demons they've recruited thus far.
- Canon Name: In if..., you are given the option of naming your character, selecting their gender, and more or less defining their personality through gameplay. The Persona series, however, defines the Protagonist as a fairly upbeat girl named Tamaki Uchida.
- Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Professor Otsuki, in increasing levels of hilarity and tragedy.
- Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Dying simply gets you a new Guardian and bounces you back to the start of the current dungeon, which can be good or bad depending on how high your Guardian gauge was and how far in you were.
- Disc-One Nuke: Surprisingly, Reiko's starting Guardian has Agilao of all things. Despite the high MP cost, it's extremely useful and will save your ass many times.
- Everything's Deader with Zombies: Undead students and school faculty appear in the game as enemies. You may also encounter undead dogs outside the school gym.
- Evil Laugh: Even at the very start of the game, Hazama appears before you and does this a lot, cluing you in to the fact that he's got something to do with the weirdness going on. The fact that he tries to draw out his overdone evil laugh at the start of the game is a hint that he's just putting on a front to try and hide his deep-seated emotional disturbance and is just acting the way he thinks a Demon Emperor should act.
- Evil Overlord List: Hazama runs into a whole bunch of these over the course of the game; this all springs, naturally, from the fact that he's a high-school kid who thinks he should be a Demon Emperor and doesn't really have the first clue how such a being should actually act. (Contrast against a certain other well-known king of the Abyss in the same franchise.)
- Fortune Teller: NOVA, a computerized one, gives the Player Personality Quiz.
- For Want of a Nail: Arguably the game itself. What started as a simple What If? game would later create Atlus' most successful franchise yet, with said franchise's popularity even eclipsing the mainline Shin Megami Tensei's popularity.
- Freudian Excuse: Hazama's is detailed in Reiko's path.
- From Bad to Worse: Whoever is in control of the Demon World seems to be doing this deliberately to the poor students of Karukozaka High. Turns out Hazama is attempting to punish them for what he perceives as each of their sins against both him and society.
- Gaiden Game: Naturally.
- Gas Leak Cover-Up: In Charlie's and Akira's routes, the school is never restored and only a huge crater is left. This is officially said to been the cause of a gas leak explosion.
- Hello, Nurse!: Hellooooooo, Miss Kayama! She's actually a nurse, to boot! This isn't just played for laughs: in Reiko's ending it's revealed that Hazama fell desperately in love with her, but she rejected him as she felt a relationship with him would be wildly inappropriate; this is suggested to be the snapping point at which he decided to open the portal to the Demon World. It's also the reason that she's around to heal you even when bad things happen to all the other students and faculty, though; hurt and emotionally crippled as he is, Hazama can't bring himself to harm Kayama in any way.
- Jerkass: Charlie. He's perfectly happy to screw the whole school over if it means getting home. Which is exactly what the two of you do in his ending.
- Journey to the Center of the Mind: The Final dungeon in Reiko's Path. There is also Soundtrack Dissonance as the Law theme from Shin Megami Tensei 1 and 2 play while you trod through Hazama's mind.
- Kick the Dog: Akiko rejected Hazama's love letter and tore it up, badmouthing him to her friends.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Potentially a reason the game has never gotten a Western release; the lettering of the "if" in the game logo is lifted directly from the movie of the same name◊, and parts of the game concept also seem to borrow heavily from the movie as well (such as the school setting itself and a major character rebelling and bringing down punishment on the school after constant abuse - Malcolm McDowell's character in if...., and Hazama in SMT if...).
- Louis Cypher: Conspicuous only in his near total absence. He never shows up to talk, you don't fight him, he isn't The Chessmaster, and you can only even fuse him at level 99; making If one of the tiny handful of SMT games where he doesn't have any kind of story impact. Guesses about this aspect of the game abound.
- Meganekko: Reiko.
- Multiple Endings: Each partner has their own route and ending.
- Mythology Gag: The Fiends in the original version are primarily taken from Shin Megami Tensei I. These include Pascal, Gotou, the Law and Chaos Heroes, the protagonist, and En no Ozuno.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: In the World of Wrath, after finding Ryuuichi and Akiko were turned to stone, the villain claims that smashing the stone might free them. If you don't take the bait, your partner does it instead — killing the pair instead of freeing them. Cue Evil Laughter from Hazama and My God, What Have I Done? from your partner.
- Nintendo Hard: Not quite as bastard hard as the previous two games, although certain dungeons could still kick you around, and the final boss is no slouch.
- Ordinary High-School Student: Everyone begins as this. Then bad stuff happens.
- Player Personality Quiz: At the start of the game, a computer Fortune Teller named Nova asks you questions what sort of sports and subjects you like, what sort of school club you belong to, whether or not you like video games, and if you have/use a cellphone. Once you finish, she summarizes your strengths and weaknesses, giving you a good idea what your starting stats will look like.
- Purely Aesthetic Gender:
- Averted. The female protagonist and partners have much lower HP growths than male characters, though putting enough points into Strength and Stamina can alleviate this problem. And depending on the sex you choose at the beginning of the game for the protagonist as well as how they score on the personality test they'll be given a different lineage of guardians.
- In the Lust dungeon, if you have a female partner (namely, Yumi or Reiko) then they will leave the group to chase a beautiful male demon.
- Recurring Boss: Professor Otsuki, who keeps rebuilding his body in order to defeat you.
- Samus Is a Girl: After a fashion. Not only was If the first game in the SMT franchise to offer the option of a female protagonist, the Persona series retroactively made Tamaki the first canon female protagonist of an SMT game.
- Secret Character: Akira, whose path becomes available after beating the game.
- Seven Deadly Sins: Sort of. The dungeons are based on a major sin (these being the punishments Hazama wishes to deal out to those who have "wronged" him), but there are only six sins represented. One could make an argument for the "empty school" being symbolic of Pride and Hazama's mind being Wrath given how pissed he is at everything, but this isn't stated outright. The worlds, in order: Pride, Gluttony, Sloth, Envy OR Wrath (depending on your partner) and Greed. The absent sin, Lust, could potentially be represented by Hazama himself, as his feelings towards both Akiko and Miss Kayama being rejected helped drive him into unleashing the Demon World.
- "Shaggy Dog" Story: Practically everything that happens in Sloth turns out to be pointless, beyond giving you access to the next area.
- Shout-Out: Akira gets possessed by the demon Amon. Now where have we heard that one before...
- Suspicious Video Game Generosity: Played with in the Domain of Greed, where there are about dozen or so chests outside the boss room: opening none of them gets you a fight with an underleveled fox, taking all of them will force you to fight an overleveled god-like nine-tailed Kitsune, with various forms in-between.
- Taken for Granite: Ryuuichi and Akiko.
- The Last of These Is Not Like the Others: Akira's path, unlike the other possible path options, is only consisting of one huge tower instead of being segmented into worlds like the other paths that the game give to you. Those who play Persona 3 will be familiar with this, as the world in Akira's path is similar to Tartarus.
- The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: The last dungeon in Reiko's path is Hazama's mind.
- Villainous Breakdown: Both Otsuka and Hazama suffer from this in the end, Otsuka welding ever wilder cybernetics to his flesh while Hazama can't believe that he isn't omnipotent in the Demon World. If you have Reiko with you, you get to see all the steps of his breakdown that led to this whole mess.
- What If?: The entire concept of the game. Atlus probably didn't anticipate what this would all lead to when first making the game.
- Where It All Began:
- If you take the three Super Nintendo-based SMT titles (SMT 1, SMT 2, and If) as a kind of "trilogy" this applies after a fashion. SMT 1 begins in the dreams of the Protagonist of that game; the Very Definitely Final Dungeon of If is the Mindscape of Hazama, using the same "dream" graphical effect from SMT 1.
- In a meta-example, If serves as this for the Persona franchise, as many elements from If would later be expanded in the original Persona game, essentially making If the cornerstone of an entire Alternate Continuity.
- Womb Level: Guttony has this as the real boss in the world is a demon within the stomach of the headmaster who is now Orcus, who is a giant pig.
- Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Hazama, as you discover in the last dungeon of Reiko's path.
- Yank The Dog's Chain: Cruelly used in Sloth, when Hazama declares he lied about setting free whoever found the ring hidden there.