Shin Megami Tensei: if... is a side-story to the larger Shin Megami Tensei franchise that was originally released by Atlus for the Super Famicom October 28, 1994 and later ported to the PlayStation in 2002. The game's high school setting and gameplay mechanics, such as the use of guardian spirits that affect the player's stats, would eventually inspire the creation of the popular Persona series.
While never released outside of Japan, an English fan translation patch for the Super Famicom version was released by Aeon Genesis, who also created translation patches for the Shin Megami Tensei I and II, October 25, 2018.
The subtitle if... has invited comparisons to the 1968 British film If...., a movie starring a young Malcolm McDowell. Like the Shin Megami Tensei game, the film's primary setting is a school; in this case, an all-boys private boarding school. However, rather than face demons or anything else supernatural, the primary antagonist of McDowell's character is the school itself; the film's climax sees him and his allies take up arms and mount a violent rebellion against the school's established elite.
Though coincidences to compare the game and film are present, the title in actuality refers to the notion of the game's plot as a "what if" scenario, as implied in the various questions posited in the games opening and closing scenes ("What if... the school were thrown into a different reality?" etc.).
The primary character in Shin Megami Tensei: if... is a high school student at Karukozaka High School. The protagonist's name and gender are selected by the player at the game's start. As the game begins, the high school and everyone inside it are pulled into a demonic realm, and the school becomes linked with five different worlds based on five of the seven deadly sins. One of the other students, a boy named Hazama, takes credit for the event and asserts himself as the new ruler of the demonic realm. The protagonist must work with other students as well as demons in order to stop Hazama and escape the demon realm.
At the beginning of if..., the player character much partner with one of the other students in the school. This choice determines certain storyline events and ultimately the ending that the player will receive.
The female protagonist later appears in both the original Persona and in the Persona 2 duology with the name Tamaki Uchida.
Shin Megami Tensei: if... is, like earlier entries in the Shin Megami Tensei series, a party-based role-playing game in which exploration takes place from a first-person perspective. Battles are triggered through random encounters and are fought by selecting commands in a turn-based menu format. The player's party is comprised of fellow students as well as demons acquired through demon negotiation and fusion. The game also features a lunar cycle system as seen in other Megami Tensei titles. The phase of the moon changes gradually as the player explores the world, and the current phase affects the aggressiveness of demons and how willing they are to negotiate.
A unique aspect of the game is triggered should the main character die. Upon dying, the protagonist will receive a guardian spirit that will alter the player's stats upon leveling up. The nature of this stat growth is affected by the type of enemy that was fought when the main character died, and it is possible for the character's stats to be affected negatively as a result.
Shin Megami Tensei: if... is the first game in the series to feature the spell Megidola, an "Almighty" spell that is unaffected by the standard elemental affinities. It is also the first game in the series to feature the -dyne level of magic, with spells such as Agidyne becoming the most powerful spells of their respective elements.
As previously stated, each of the dungeons linked to Karukozaka High School are based on five of the seven deadly sins, though six in total are represented. Hazama believes that these sins represent the flaws he sees in the students of the school. In the order in which the dungeons are visited, they are:
- Envy/Wrath (The sin represented is dependent on the protagonist's human partner.)
The remaining sin, Lust, is not represented by a dungeon. However, the events of the game transpire after Hazama is rejected by the school nurse, Miss Kayama. Notably, Kayama is the only character that is never endangered by the goings on in the school, and the party is freely allowed to return to her to have their health restored. If the player is playing through the game with Reiko as his or her partner, the true final dungeon of the game is Hazama's mind.
The game also received a manga adaptation by Kazuaki Yanagisawa in the magazine Famicomi that ran from 1994 to 1995 and was subsequently released as a single volume. The manga received a sequel entitled Shin Megami Tensei: Khan that spanned nine volumes. The sequel was translated and published in North America by Tokyopop.