Shin Megami Tensei 30th Anniversary Interview - A chat with English Voice Actors for the series

With the lead-up to this weekend's Shin Megami Tensei: 30th Anniversary Concert at Anime Expo 2023, we were afforded the opportunity to chat with some of the English Voice Actors for some of the series' entries - namely, Daman Mills and Casey Mongillo (who voiced Aogami and Nahobino in Shin Megami Tensei V, respectively) and Christian La Monte (who voiced Demifiend in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster, as well as his inclusion in Shin Megami Tensei V). 

RPG Site: With Shin Megami Tensei having reached its 30th anniversary, it’s striking – especially as a western fan – how much the series has changed. Shin Megami Tensei V was the first Atlus title to release simultaneously worldwide; was there anything specifically notable that any of you would like to share about the experience of voicing a character for a game still in active development?

Christian La Monte (Demi-Fiend from Shin Megami Tensei V and Protagonist from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne HD Remaster): There is always a beauty to having a thing completed by the time we work on it. We can see the whole picture and exactly where all the pieces connect to tell the story and shape our performances. However, when we work on something that is still in process, we get a totally different exploration. The path is much the same, translate the line, adapt the line, record the line, but we know there is a chance we could be recording the same line again later with a different inflection, a different intention, a different vibe based on any number of circumstances. It puts an actor very much in the moment because that’s what we and the entire team have to work with, the exact moments as they’re given to us. It feels collaborative in a special way.

Daman Mills (Aogami from Shin Megami Tensei V): When recording on a video game, we have such an interesting creative dialogue with the production team and have that shared sense of anticipation and collaboration. Everyone is excited to be there. Shin Megami Tensei V was my first introduction to the series, so initially I wasn’t sure what to expect. Once sessions began, I could immediately tell from the source material and footage we were given that we were working on something truly special. I was blown away, and the final product came out beautifully.

RPG Site: This question is for Casey and Daman; Shin Megami Tensei V is unique for the series for having essentially dual protagonists in Nahobino and Aogami both sharing a perspective for the events of the story. I’d imagine this was a very unique role for both of you; how did that work out in the recording booth?

Casey Mongillo (Nahobino from Shin Megami Tensei V): What actually surprises a lot of people is that voice actors typically don’t record together, especially for localized games. We are in the booth one at a time and record our lines separately, with necessary guidance from the voice director and team. At the time I recorded for the protagonist, I actually had no idea that Daman was voicing Aogami until the game was released! This is very common when working on pretty much any project.

Daman: Because voice-over work is often done alone in a recording booth, it was an interesting and creative challenge to have to account for how the actor playing Nahobino may interpret the role and what sort of nuance they would be bringing to their part. Little did I know that Aogami was sort of the leading guidance and storyteller to the player throughout the game. Also, I was completely unaware that Casey was playing the Protagonist until the game was released, so that was a very fun surprise! It’s always a blast working with friends on a project.

RPG Site: Now for Christian; while you only voiced Demifiend for the HD remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, I’m sure that had its own unique set of challenges with taking the mantle of a character that many players had well over a decade of experience with. How much of a concern was that legacy when you took over the role?

Christian: Legacy is my middle name, heheheh. Sincerely, I definitely felt that particular mantle settle over my shoulders as we were working on SMT III HD Remaster. As I was the director on that project as well, I knew there was a lot of pressure and anticipation to hear the words of these characters that many gamers (including myself) had spent so much time with. I was one of those in 2003-2004 who saw the now oft-memed “Featuring Dante from the Devil May Cry Series” sticker on that game in my local store and eagerly grabbed it up off the shelves. One of the hardest parts was putting away the voice that had been in my head for so many years and adapting it to the world that we had created. He may not speak much, but there are still so many elements to remember about his character. He is a kid at the end of the day. With greatness (however you wish to define that) thrust upon him. And I tried to make sure that came through when he had a chance to speak and then to evolve that approach when we got to SMTV and saw a Demifiend that had long since become something more than the kid who went to the hospital one day to see his teacher.

RPG Site: Shin Megami Tensei as a series is, of course, known for how the player is afforded the opportunity to truly blaze their own path; to make the story their own. This means that every player might have a different idea for how their “Nahobino” or “Demifiend” might act as a character; was that ever a challenge when deciding how to voice your roles?

Christian: Protagonist roles like Nahobino and the Demifiend are absolutely a representation of the player in that world. It allows so much range to play around with morality and choice from the grand to the small in a video game world. It was important as an actor to make choices that were right for the characters and the moment (including things like the particular path they are on or how previous moments built them into the character they are in this one) but without putting too much of an opinion into their actions. It’s a delicate balance to walk and luckily, we had Kyle and Katelyn as well as the awesome SEGA/ATLUS folks (shoutout to the old testing crew, it’s so incredible to see how far they have come since the times we spent hunting bugs late into the night) there to guide us and ensure we stayed on that tightrope. It’s an important consideration, but never one that overrides our acting choices for the character.

Casey: Knowing that I was recording for a silent protagonist, and getting to hear the Japanese references, I knew I wanted to keep the voice fairly neutral but still knowing when to sound strong and when to sound subtle. The player characters are sometimes viewed as a blank slate for players to project their own personality or ideas onto that canvas, so I wanted to make sure that was retained.

Daman: I think anytime you get to play a part in a beloved franchise, you feel the weight of the expectations of the audience. As actors, one of our primary goals is always to create a character that is relatable to as many people as possible while still being authentic and true to the narrative that is being told. In a game like SMTV where the player has creative control when forging their path in the story, it does add an additional degree of challenge, but I think that’s exciting as an actor to be able to account for so many perspectives and interests while still trying to integrate them into a character that feels cohesive and real.

RPG Site: Another question for Christian; Demifiend of course returned for a small cameo in Shin Megami Tensei V, but I’m curious – was this something that was recorded in advance, or how was this handled logistically? If you’re at all able to share, of course.

Christian: Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to talk about specific moments in recording, but I can tell you that I was so excited to come back and play the Demifiend at one of the ends of his journey. A character of that sheer strength and power is so much fun to play around with. As a super-mega-extreme bonus boss (and a veteran of the battle with him in Digital Devil Saga) I knew this was no longer just any previous protagonist. It was the one who looked upon the world with the eyes of a being above. And getting to hear Pixie talk smack as she soared around his tattooed shoulders gave me such joy. I would love to have a tiny fae being to hype me up before I enter a room.

RPG Site: Finally – what’s your favorite aspect of the characters you’ve all played in Shin Megami Tensei? It’s always fun to hear how voice actors have bonded with the characters they’ve lent a voice to!

Christian: I love the Demifiend’s determination. It’s a big element of JRPGs for the protagonist to be this kid who is thrust into incredible circumstances and whose determination and fire carries them through, but the Demifiend is something else entirely. He’s not content with fighting gods, he wants to put the world to rights and will stop at nothing to do that. It’s why I love the different ending choices (True Demon and Freedom being personal favorites), they show so many different sides of him depending on the player. Is it about conquering those that would control humanity? Is it about giving the world a second chance to make it right? Is it about siding with a friend and their strength of will? So awesome. When it comes to the other demons I’ve played in SMT, I love Loki’s sly smirks and the Red Rider’s wild brutality. SMT characters and demons always have this incredible extreme that they get to toy around with and, as an actor, playing to those big moments is always a blast. Can’t wait for the next one!

Casey: A very unique thing about playing this particular protagonist is I had no story dialogue, so I wasn’t sure what the game’s story was actually like. When I played the game, I was able to experience the story as it was unfolding before me. I was so into the game, there were times I completely forgot that was my voice coming out of the protagonist. It kind of catches you off guard when you’re fully immersed.

Daman: While Aogami starts out as a very reserved, robotic character, he is not necessarily devoid of emotion. As he merges with the Protagonist, he develops great care for them while simultaneously learning the ways of humanity. Aogami’s nature is to protect humans, and I love that he was able to form a bond with one amidst great strife and circumstance. Also, how many times he says “young man” to the player is simply the best. The memes are amazing!

Thanks again to Atlus for the chat; if you're reading this the day this has gone live, tickets should still be available for the concert if you're attending Anime Expo!