Anyone familiar with the Atlus SMT spin-offs known as the Devil Summoner games are probably familiar with their eclectic primary antagonists: the Phantom Society. The game says very little about them apart from giving them a sprinkling of screen time here and there, so without further ado, my attempt at piecing together what little we know… which is actually quite a lot.
Who are the Phantom Society? To try and answer this question, we have the established canon of the four Devil Summoner games to help us out(Devil Summoner, Soul Hackers, Raidou 1 and Raidou 2)… and even the forthcoming Soul Hackers 2, but we’re also going to need, in true Devil Summoner fashion, to do some investigating of our own, as well as a healthy amount of sheer guesswork.
Of course, the Kuzunohas themselves exist as the counter-balance for the Phantom Society’s dark influence, but for purpose of this essay, we’ll be focusing on the background and membership of the Phantom Society.
Expect spoilers for all four of the Devil Summoner games(SMT: DS, Soul Hackers, Raidou 1 & 2), though hopefully that goes without saying.
So what do we know about the Phantom Society?
The concept of the Phantom Society wasn’t literally introduced until the second game, Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers. This may be the first time they’re mentioned, but SH explicitly informs us that they’ve operated from the shadows for centuries.
Even in the very first game, the primary antagonist, Sid Davis, is a dark summoner working to revive the ancient goddess Inaruna on behalf of “the organization”. Who else could he be referring to but The Phantom Society?
Which leads to another question: how far back does their influence extend? Even as far back as the Taisho era, there’s still the presence of Dark Summoners, namely Rasputin(or a facsimile thereof) and Dahn Tsukigata. While the latter’s connection to the Phantom Society is unlikely, since he strictly works for himself with the goal of freeing his sister from the influence of the Tsukigata clan, it’s unlikely the robot we know as Rasputin(hereafter referred to as Rasputin for convenience’s sake) obtained the power and influence he wields without outside help.
While we discover that he comes from the future(likely that of SMT2’s Tokyo Millennium), for all we know, he was created by the Phantom Society in that era and sent back to ensure their influence remains unaffected by Kuzunoha the XL’s meddling.
There’s also the possibility that Actual Rasputin was himself a Dark Summoner, which would explain why he was so damn hard to kill. Why else would the future use him as a basis for their robot if he didn’t have strong ties to the occult?
So with the potential timelines of influence established(from Taisho 30 in Raidou to Tokyo Millennium from SMT2), let’s break down our list of Phantom Society members.
From Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha, there’s Grigori Rasputin(1) and Dahn Tsukigata(2).
From Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, we have Sid Davis. There’s also a few stray summoners here and there(and idiots like Takashi), though they’re less likely full-on Society members and more “nuisances”.
Lastly, from Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, we have easily the most. Carol J, Urabe Kouichirou(former), Judah Singh, Finnegan, Mayone, Naomi, and their foremost executive(at least in Amami City), Nishi(aka Azazel). Certain demons also have major sway within the Society, such as Shemyaza and Satanael, the latter of whom raises interesting questions about a certain ‘hero’ character… but we’ll touch on that later.
What of the true antagonist of Soul Hackers, Kadokura? Based on his position within Algon Soft, he’s “just” a programmer and being kept out of the loop of the Phantom Society’s activities, much to his annoyance. It seems clear to assume he’s just an outsider, though one could assume that he knows much more than he lets on, especially since he’s the hinge pin figure behind Manitou’s revival. Perhaps Kadokura was simply fed up with being just a bit player, or perhaps being a pawn in a game of demons.
This also brings up another question: are ‘Summoners’ really in control of the Phantom Society, or is it just a front for demons being truly in control? The biggest players(namely Nishi) reveal themselves to be actually demons, so maybe the rank and file just think that they’re running things.
Without further ado, back to the major players of the Phantom Society. We could start with chronological order, but I feel it’s best to start with the release order, since that’s where the lore was formed from.
With that in mind, we’ll start with none other than the series’ first Dark Summoner, and one of the most purely despicable: Sid Davis.
What do we know about Sid Davis? He’s a feared Dark Summoner. Even Kyouji Kuzunoha falls to his abilities, though we don’t quite know how, it’s safe to assume that he either got lucky with a stray spell(presumably Mudo), or he trapped Kyouji in some way.
Kyouji is just one step towards his real goal, though: the revival of the goddess, Inaruma. He needs to perform an elaborate ritual to make this happen, and the main character(& his girlfriend) just happen to be unfortunate enough to be in his way and a requirement, respectively, since Kumiko is revealed to be a direct descendant of the goddess herself.
Sid Davis’ front is that of an unassuming priest, presumably Catholic, since his grimoire is a literal holy bible. Having a Catholic priest is Japan isn’t as strange as one might think, as it’s a very present, if niche, religion within Japan. It’s also appeared in other Devil Summoner games: see the Catholic Church found in both Raidou 1 and 2, which is, ironically, Lucifer’s primary hangout… might wanna beef up that security, or at least invest in some wards.
Is his faith legit, or did he see being Catholic as the easiest way to accumulate knowledge and influence? Based on his devil summoning and ties to dark magic, we can probably assume the latter. Sid is far from being a shining example of a priestly lifestyle.
Then at the end of the game, Sid meets his end at the protagonist’s hands, despite having fulfilled the goals of his “organization” by reviving Inaruma(though she joins Sid real soon).
After the end of Sid Davis, we can presume that the Society went quiet for several decades… until the events of Soul Hackers, somewhere in the mid-21st century, or at least the 20th century’s depiction thereof.
The events of Soul Hackers reveal that the Phantom Society have since moved up in the world, now having direct control of what’s effectively becoming a megacorp: Algon Software. Having started as a simple computer software group(likely the results of Kadokura’s engineering), they’ve grown to basically control everything that goes on in and around Amami City. This is primarily thanks to their innovative VR software and its own self-contained virtual world(“Paradigm X”), which is starting to make them known on the global stage.
While nowadays it might not seem like a big deal with real-world technology like Oculus and PSVR, but back in the late 90s, it felt like the wave of the future, even if it’s only now making real strides towards the public at large.
Of course, their utopian virtual world is little more than a front for the true goals of the Phantom Society: gathering the souls of the hapless users participating in its public beta test, providing the fuel for the revival of another ancient deity. Though unlike the plan to revive the Japanese Inaruma in DS1, this time they’re going for a different nationality: the Native American deity Manitou, a Great Spirit integral to the balance of life(based on mythology and the knowledge provided by Kinap).
Soul Hackers also takes its time developing several major players both in and around the Phantom Society, primarily via vision quests, in which the last moments of key figures are relived from the player’s perspective. First, there’s Urabe, a former member of the group who’s since resigned, and is now trying to steal their new Nemissa software… only to meet his end at the hands of a former co-worker, the vicious Finnegan.
Then we meet Judah, who still actively works for the group, who meets his end during an assignment… and lastly, Naomi, more of a freelancer who takes odd jobs for the Phantom Society, only to wind up being overpowered on the job. By fulfilling Nishi’s contract to set free an ancient deity, she becomes yet another sacrifice lost just to help the Society’s overall goals.
These are only the three we meet through Vision Quests, though; they also have other major players encountered as enemies throughout the game, albeit some only appearing literally in a single scene, like the assassin Mayone. Carol J, another hitman for the group, gets a bit more screentime, but he effectively becomes little more than a stepping stone for the player towards taking on the more major players in the organization.
Although it isn’t explicitly made clear what the Phantom Society mean to achieve with their goal of Manitou’s revival, presumably it’s similar to their goal with Inaruma in DS1: giving their faction the power to widen their influence to a global scale, and having the might of an ancient deity backing them up is a massive step in the right direction. Unfortunately for their faction, Kadokura proves he’s no longer content to side back and let the Society dictate the course of his creation, so he decides to step in and take control himself… merging himself with Manitou in the process.
After defeating both the end result and Manitou himself, the deity expresses gratitude at being set free, and vanishes from Amami City altogether.
Their proposed process also raises another problematic element of how the Society operates: lack of free will. They would have simply bound both Inaruma and Manitou to their ends. Not only is trying to control an ancient deity typically a bad idea, especially when keeping it in check against its will, it also proves they have no hesitation about stepping on the backs of both persons and ancient gods alike to accomplish their goals.
While the Society tasted bitter defeat in SH, even losing most of their top brass, it seems they’re back with a vengeance in Soul Hackers 2, and actively going after summoners themselves, specifically what appears to be the power of their own souls upon demise(referred to as their ‘Covenants’).
Although it remains to be seen just what their goal is this time, it definitely seems like they have a new approach to obtaining it, which is bound to be anything but good for the world at large, even one as technologically advanced as that within modern day society. The most recent trailer states that they could “destroy the world” once obtaining enough Covenants, though one would hope they have less basic aspirations than that. Still, it’s fun to think that for all their wild-day modern aspirations, they got their start from a crazed Dark Summoner-nee-Priest with delusions of grandeur who definitely didn’t skip arm day.