The minotaur

I know this has been said before, but I just have to call out the design of the Minotaur in Shin Megami Tensei IV for being really excellent. Long-time fans of the series are pretty lukewarm on a lot of the new demon designs for SMT IV, since they weren’t put together by long-time artist Kazuma Kaneko and a lot of them replace classic designs with pretty lousy renditions. But Minotaur does it right.


I mean, look at that guy. He’s like the M.C. Escher illustration of demonic anatomy, with every detail of his head performing visual double duty. His proportions and anatomy work on multiple levels, creating a really fantastic visual ambiguity between the bovine skull and the human skull — is it a human face whose trailing hood forms the shape of a bull’s head? Or is his face that of a bull, with nostrils and a mouth that resemble the eye sockets and mouth of a man? Does he have human arms with curious vestigial appendages trailing behind at the shoulder, or are his arms actually just the lower portion of the bull’s forelimbs?

It’s a grotesque optical illusion of a character design, otherworldly and seemingly impossible to resolve in a proper three-dimensional image. Anyone who complained about the use of 2D illustrations for SMT IV‘s battle sprites (never mind that the cartridge didn’t have room for 400+ 3D models) needs to reconsider this guy, whose visual impact would be greatly diluted by any attempt to render him in polygons.

What really makes Minotaur great is that this phenomenal illustration wasn’t squandered on some nobody of a character; Minotaur is the breaking point of the game, the first battle that will utterly destroy you. I fought the guy nine times before I won, often with perfect strategies that failed at that last second through a maddening (but not really unfair; the game operates by consistent rules) quirk of the random-number generator. A memorable design for a memorable moment.

10 thoughts on “The minotaur

  1. WOW
    A fully polygonal representation would be very interesting though: I imagine a 3D model that subtly shifts its actual form, depending on the players viewpoint and on the animation of the model itself (the parts which feature the stronger movement would temporarily stand out a little more). Probably very difficult to pull off but still fascinating to fantasize about…

  2. Although I got lucky and beat him on my 2nd try, the Minotaur has certainly taken up the reputation for being the early gut check like Matador was in Nocturne.

    So far my favorite moment of the game is seeing Tokyo and the old style world map opening up for the first time with that theme playing. It was iconic in the same way that exiting Midgar in FF7 for the first time was.

    Also, you go through a dungeon, down 5 stratums deep, and at the bottom you discover Tokyo? Sounds familiar…

  3. YES! I noticed this design as well, and it blew me away. Its odd to read complaints that the battlesand characters aren’t more animated.
    I have to say I’m loving this game (especially after switching to “non-prentice” mode, which made it much less infuriating) !
    I’m tempted to make chaotic decisions with the story just because I find Jonathan irritating, but what does a neutral path look like in a game like this?

  4. Wow, now I really regret not getting the physical copy with the artbook.
    On a related note, when does this battle happen? I’m about 4~5-ish hours in, heading down to the underground in Mikado, because I really have not found time to play it at all the past week, and besides the first Mikado venture, the game is really easy right now. Does it have a nice difficulty ramp-up à lá the Fiends in Nocturne? Specially because I hate grinding, so I usually try to break on through with tactics and luck alone.

    • Aaaand found him (lunch break ftw!). Got him on a second try (Rakukaja and Media are obligatory). And if he decides to spam Labrys’ Strike and Crits someone (and smirks in the process), it’s over, guaranteed. Very nice battle!!

      • My problem is that I could go for the first three phases without being touched by hitting him with Bufu and buffing my party’s evasion so he’d always miss. But eventually, he’d land a Labrys Strike, crit, smirk, and end my party before I could move. I got him all the way down to the ropes and it would still eventually happen — one lucky hit was all he’d need to dismantle me.

      • Since the earliest SMTs (specially SMT I) I have a hard time trusting de Sukukaja strats. I really prefer to build strategies around withstanding the worst case scenario. I did add sukukaja to make him lose turns, but worst case scenario he hits someone, my mc can handle being hit by labrys and atk once. Then we race to heal everyone and outlasting him with ice.
        I already think that this game will be around my 3ds for a long time (like EOIV when I was trying to beat the dragons and the insect with a low-level party).

  5. I beat him on the first try, because I’d fought David before him and, if you don’t know let me tell you, David is perhaps the biggest bastard in the world. Next to him, Minotaur was a cakewalk.

    His design is really, really good, though. I actually like a lot of them. I didn’t know people were so upset with it; to me, most of them seemed pretty fresh, and the ones that stood out as worse were the old ones they’ve never changed (Pixie, Hua Po, etc).

    • The biggest complaint is that some of the new designs are overly busy, whereas MegaTen has always been about Kaneko’s clean illustrative style. And Medusa… well, Medusa.

  6. Yeah, Medusa was not great. Good design generally, but her face was very high-school notebook.

    I am so, so glad they didn’t go polygonal, though. 3d models on handhelds still universally look like garbage compared to hand-drawn art, and it drives me crazy when developers cave to that pressure.

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