Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue

A game by Team Ladybug for PC, originally released in 2017.
Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue (a.k.a. 真・女神転生 SYNCHRONICITY PROLOGUE) is a teaser and prologue to Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, which was released for a limited time alongside that game’s Japanese release date. The narrative of Strange Journey Redux centers around a mysterious portal that has opened at the South Pole and a team of investigators who is sent to examine it, only to be pulled into a demon-filled alternate dimension.

Synchronicity Prologue begins with a faux computer desktop, and a news browser interface showing several new articles, including a new posting regarding a computer programmer named Mr. Jones who has fallen into a coma, and an article about a black hole forming at the South Pole. Without warning, an email appears, addressing the user as Human, and there is a computer program attached. Disregarding safe internet practices and running the program (there is no other option) causes additional windows to appear showing a map of Antarctica with the South Pole highlighted, along with text about transferring consciousness.

Things glitch out for a moment with the view changing to an Antarctic landscape, and eventually the word “synchronized” appears in the center of the screen. Suddenly awakened is a Jack Frost – a mischievous demon known for his appearance in numerous MegaTen games – who seems confused about what has happened. A text window appears, floating in the sky, and reading it informs the player that he has taken control of the Jack Frost and must “open up a path toward the future”, and it also refers to him as Subject No. 2. (Ed note: a fan-translated version of the game was used for this article and its screenshots.)

The South Pole expeditionary team has apparently been lost, as indicated by unanswered communications and loads of destroyed equipment. Early into your adventure, you encounter a Pyro Jack embedded in ice who explains that a Black Frost imprisoned him and has been wreaking havoc on demonkind. It seems that there is a Subject No. 1 who has taken control of this Black Frost and is causing it to act strangely, and apparent glitches in the computer system are changing things in the demon world to put you on the path toward finding him.

Jack Frost has a 2x variable jump and the ability to hurl ice shards to the left and right, or downward while jumping. Firing shots downward while jumping also slows Jack’s descent considerably, allowing him to cross wider gaps; however, this technique is not required during gameplay and is reserved as an advanced technique to reach otherwise inaccessible optional areas. Holding down the ATTACK button allows Jack to charge a shot that freezes enemies temporarily, immobilizing them – and causing flying enemies to fall out of the sky – allowing him to follow up with additional attacks.

Upon finding Pyro Jack, the player is able to swap between the two characters. Pyro Jack is essentially the opposite of Jack Frost, as he uses fire as his primary weapon, firing off a 3-way shot in eight directions, and he can also charge up a powerful fireball that can be manually aimed and passes through solid objects. The duo takes on enemies in a sidescrolling action-platforming environment.

Some enemies are weak against ice attacks and others are weak against fire, so players will find that swapping between the two characters is necessary to deliver damage more quickly. Additionally, Jack Frost is strong against ice attacks and blocks these attacks automatically, whereas Pyro Jack does the same with fire, requiring players to alternate between the characters to avoid taking damage from certain elemental attacks.

The two characters also move differently, with Jack Frost moving quickly along the ground, and Pyro Jack floating slowly (with Jack Frost riding on his back). Pyro Jack needs solid ground below him in order to propel himself upward, so he does not have free flight, but he can reach higher areas than Jack Frost. There are a couple of times where Pyro Jack is used to melt ice blocks to open new routes, and Jack Frost can freeze water to create platforms, but these gameplay mechanics are only used in the first area.

The game world is open and made up of interconnected rooms, and the player has access to a metroidvania-style map which shows every previously-visited location, and marks rooms where the player can save the game, as well as rooms where the player can warp to another part of the map (once the corresponding warp points are found).

Health is fully restored in save rooms, and enemies do not drop health restoratives, so the only way to heal is to return to a save room, purchase items from a shopkeeper. or use one of several Atlus-themed vending machines spread around the world. Muscle Drink restores 50 HP, Mental Drink restores 50 MP, more expensive Sooma fully restores HP and MP, and Chigaeshi No Tama restores 50 HP upon death. The player can also swap 10,000 macca (currency) for a bunch of experience points if they have money to burn.

Killing enemies nets coins and experience points, and hitting XP thresholds causes the characters to level up, although the effect is pretty minimal given the game’s core action-platforming mechanics, which rely more on the player’s skills and reflexes than his stats. It is more important to line up shots on enemies and avoid attacks than it is for the player’s attack power to increase by 1 HP.

As such, players who disregard the levelling system will fare nearly as well as those who choose to farm for coins and experience points. Of note, attacked enemies also display their names and their strengths or weaknesses to various sorts of attacks… but players can also just pay attention to which attacks are doing the most damage, as numbers appear over enemies with each successful strike.

By fully exploring the environment, the player discovers several elemental attacks that draw from the MP meter. These attacks include a rapid-fire ice barrage for Jack Frost, a powerful fire attack for Pyro Jack, and even some wind and electrical attacks for those players enterprising enough to find them. At first, MP only refills on a full moon – the game features the MegaTen series’ trademark moon cycles – but exploring the environment leads to broken golden rings (there are four in each area), and finding a full set allows the MP meter to refill on its own. Players can also find permanent HP and MP extensions.

Even once the player’s MP refills on its own, it fills slowly, so the player must generally rely on his standard attacks, saving bigger magical attacks for boss encounters. Boss encounters are fairly interesting in that they require the player to make full use of both Jack Frost’s and Pyro Jack’s abilities. Jack Frost can fire quickly but his attacks have a short range, whereas Pyro Jack fires more slowly but can reach targets across the screen. Bosses can also alternate between ice- and fire-based attacks, sometimes unleashing barrages of projectiles, requiring the player to alternate between characters to avoid taking damage.

Each boss encounter is preceded by a bit of dialogue, and the narrative is generally charming, with the lead characters appearing to be determined despite not fully understanding the situation. Jack Frost carries his trademark grin and is equal parts curious and confused, making him a likeable protagonist. The character also has some humorous animations, such as turning into a snowman when the player presses DOWN, and later when he acquires some armor, his idle animation includes him lifting the visor to peer out.

There are also some silly situations, such as battling against flying feet in a bathroom, and using preoccupied monkeys as counterbalances on seesaws to send yourself flying upward. One of the game’s developers, Krobon, previously developed Pharaoh Rebirth, and this game carries a similar humor and visual style.

The game weighs in around two hours, or a bit longer for those who wish to fully explore the environment. After defeating the final boss, the player is returned to the start of the game with all of his unlocked abilities, allowing him to go back and check for anything he may have missed. A completion percentage appears on the map interface, and players can see how many golden ring pieces they have by visiting each of the themed areas.

Shin Megami Tensei: Synchronicity Prologue was developed by Den-fami Nico Game Magazine’s Team Ladybug in collaboration with Pepo Soft and Krobon Station (Pharaoh Rebirth). On October 13, 2017, the game was teased as an apparent fake trailer for a nonexistent game, but a few days later, the game was revealed to be real (and free). The game was made available as a limited release, beginning on October 16, 2017 to coincide with the Japanese release of Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux and the 25th anniversary of the Megami Tensei series, with the game’s availability ending on December 24, 2017. Team Ladybug went on to develop the metroidvania Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth.

The game was built using the Mogura Engine, developed by Krobon, which also powered Pharaoh Rebirth. Krobon is also known for Return of Egypt, a metroidvania inspired by Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and the Mogura series, a series of shmups – and a tennis game – starring a mole.

The game was published by Atlus, known in the West for their localizations of numerous niche Japanese titles, including Odin Sphere, the Persona series, the MegaTen series, the Etrian Odyssey series, Dragon’s Crown, and many others.