SMT Imagine was an interesting experiment by Atlus. They oversaw it to ensure it would stay true to the series’ canon, while Cave(yes that Cave) spearheaded development.
Yes, Aeria Games(mostly known for crappy FTP MMOs) published this in the US. Yes, their translation was awful. (And mostly outsourced to fans on the MB, true story.)
And yes the combat is repetitive, ultra grindy, and leveling up is slow to the point of being obnoxious.
But let’s talk about what it did right.
Imagine takes place between I and II, before the Messians have yet to royally screw the world over with their Millennium Kingdom.
As such, the world has a great dichotomy:
The Gaian realms are full of demons, volcanic environments, and just generally unpleasant to be in. Even their haven, Souhonzan, is appropriately traditional and not even completely safe from demons.
The Messian area, Arcadia. Near Shibuya, and more serene… but just as deadly.
Then Arcadia, the Messian city; complete with a massive Cathedral.
The hub areas aren’t dominated by either faction, such as Home-3 and Shinjuku Babel, but neither are exactly welcoming.
(His name was Snake, by the way. Cute.)
(Protopia, the ‘Neutral’ village.)
Nakano, in particular, is a beautiful area.
Last, but definitely not least, the music. Mostly remixed from classic SMT games, but still enjoyable in its own right.
The Nakano theme, easily the most serene track in the game, if not any SMT period.
Suginami Tunnels, a remix of Subterranean from SMT1.
Home 3, the initial hub theme.
And so on.
The game attempted a lot of things. Melee, gun combat, demon battles, and even a halfway decent story to support it all.
(Ogami, crazy Gaian occultist.)
For whatever reason, it didn’t come together, but I think it left behind a fascinating legacy.
So hopefully it sets a good example.
As SMT spinoffs go, they could have done far worse. A video of the US server’s last moments, if you’re interested.
The Japanese one is still going strong, as far as I know.