Q&A: LionWing Publishing tells the story behind Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying Game

Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying game hits tabletops soon.

Written by Jason Venter
Published Jun. 06, 2024

Bradly Halestorm, Founder and President at LionWing Publishing, is clearly a busy guy, with lots of great projects on the way. Even so, he was kind enough to respond to some questions about one of the most exciting tabletop RPGs to come this way in years (even if it owes its origin to events in 2003).

Below, I'm sharing the results of an email exchange between myself and Bradly. He gave me permission to slice and dice as needed, but that mostly wasn't necessary. I found his responses interesting enough to leave them mostly untouched, and I hope you also enjoy them. Thanks, Bradly, and let's hope some of those ideas for future projects are able to materialize!


Lionwing is a young company that already offers a slate of intriguing products. What made the time right to go from writing about games to bringing new experiences to gamers who shared your interests?

I broke into the industry through games journalism. I was doing that part-time as a side gig for about five years before getting the idea that I could probably package my editing chops into some kind of localization job. I've always been into Japanese games, so once I started considering the move, I began to look at localization companies almost exclusively. Funny enough, Sekai Project was the first place I reached out to and the first place that hired me. They didn't have a job posting even listed at the time; I just sent them a cold email, and four weeks later, I was the lead editor and assistant producer on Clannad.

I did localization editing and project management for a few years before thinking of my next career move. At the time, I knew I wanted to stay in localization, but I also wanted to open up my own company. I thought about opening up my own video game localization firm but concluded that the market was too saturated at the time, so I looked at my next passion: tabletop games. It felt like the perfect fit once I thought of it; no one was really doing localization in the tabletop sector, so I thought I could corner the market in some regard, and thus I plowed forward, full steam ahead.

How did LionWing and Atlus wind up working together to bring Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying Game to the West?

Back in 2021, I'd been looking to move on an IP. IP-based tabletop games have always been a thing, but they became a big thing about ten years ago. At that point in 2021, I'd been running LionWing for three years, and we had a number of successful projects under our belt. These were projects that had high visibility because we were only launching products through Kickstarter at the time. So all of our communication, victories, and failures were there for the world to see.

Fortunately, we never had a failed Kickstarter campaign, and I think our Ws far outweighed our Ls. So, I figured if I started talking to companies about utilizing their IP for a tabletop game, they could not only see our track record, but they could feel better about working with us because they could very clearly see how we worked, as a business, because all of that was out there for the world to see through our Kickstarter updates, comments, and even my weekly Q&A stream I was doing at the time.

When I sat down and started thinking about what IP made sense for LionWing, I only focused on Japanese IPs. Sure, there are a slew of Western properties out there that I'm sure I could've turned into some type of tabletop game, but that wouldn't have aligned with our brand or mission. Unfortunately for me at the time, Japanese companies are notoriously conservative with partnerships, especially with small, foreign companies such as LionWing. So, admittedly, I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to sell anyone on this idea.

Nevertheless, I was determined to make it happen, so I wrote myself a list of all the IPs I personally liked and then weighed those properties against LionWing's capabilities and, quite frankly, our capital reserves. IP work is expensive; just to get the IP itself is typically cost-prohibitive, but then you have to fund the development cost, which is, as you guessed, also cost-prohibitive. And yet, somehow, I'd decided that Atlus was a good starting point! I must've been feeling quite self-assured that day. Anyway, I knew that there had been an SMT TTRPG series that began in the '90s and had run through the late 2000s, so I thought that maybe trying to localize and publish that would be less of a massive endeavor than starting from scratch.

Wow, was I wrong! It turns out that trying to get the rights to a 20-year-old book when there are three publishing companies, multiple independent artists, and a few writers involved is a terrible idea, especially when some of those companies and development team members are no longer in business or reachable. It took a year just to get that rights situation figured out and resolved, and boy, was it a daunting year of discussions, email threads, and cold leads. What's even worse is eventually, once we got all of that finally sorted out, no one actually had any of the original text files, so we were literally translating the book with one of them propped up in front of the translator's computer. Best of all, about a week after translation wrapped, someone found the digital text files. So that was awesome.

Besides the name recognition, what inspired LionWing to localize Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying Game? Did you play a lot of the games on consoles?

I've played a lot of SMT over the last 20+ years. I got my start on the series through Persona and then, from there, tried to consume as much of the franchise as I could. In fact, I still recall going to Electronics Boutique one day in the 90s, probably '98 if I had to guess, and seeing Persona 2 sitting on the shelf pre-owned for $30. I'd gone there to trade in a game (I wish I could remember which, but alas, time has stolen that particular detail of the memory) and ended up using my trade-in cash to buy Persona 2.

I went home and was immediately hooked. From there, I ended up grabbing an import copy of Soul Hackers from that same Electronics Boutique—this was when EB was going through that phase where they were selling import Sega Saturn games—and although 13-year-old Bradly couldn't read a lick of Japanese, I fumbled my way through that game, loving every minute of it. The rest is history, as they say.

Was localization pretty collaborative between LionWing and Atlus, or did most of the assets come with translation and such already in place?

It was quite collaborative, actually, yeah! Atlus was great to work with; they were super communicative and willing to assist and provide assets when we needed them. It very much so felt like they were rooting for us and wanting this project to succeed.

What other TTRPG games that someone might have played previously does Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying Game most closely resemble?

That's a tough one because there's really no other TTRPG out there that perfectly translates the mechanics and feel of a JRPG video game to that of a tabletop RPG quite like Tokyo Conception. It's a system that has a ton of depth but is also very accessible from a mechanics perspective; if you've played a turn-based JRPG, then you can jump into this and almost immediately know what's expected of you. It's even great at acclimating folks who have never played an SMT game before to the SMT universe.

What is your favorite thing about playing Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying Game that is unique to the format?

You get to live inside the SMT universe in a totally new way. In the games, you're always playing a character that exists in the game world. Tokyo Conception allows you to create and BE a character in that world, interacting with characters, demons, and its setting in a way its digital counterpart simply can't. I love that so much about the game.

Tokyo Conception simply offers an experience you can't get anywhere else, and that's not a marketing thing--that's the actual truth. I think that's why we've heard from so many folks who have preordered the book but have never played a TTRPG in their life. They see the unique value and experience the book provides.

In the Shin Megami Tensei games, there are a lot of mechanics built in to account for elemental damage and additional turns by players or enemies. Is the DM role especially demanding for the TTRPG?

I wouldn't say the GM's role is any more or less demanding in Tokyo Conception than it is in any other moderately crunchy TTRPG. There are stats and dice rolls to keep track of during combat, and in between battles, you'll be facilitating the characters' adventures through narrative opportunities and situations, but that's no different than a D&D or Pathfinder. 

There are a lot of mechanics unique to this game, but I think the game lays those out for players and GMs in a very digestible way. After all, this is a localization of a book that came out originally in Japan in 2003; Japan wasn't exactly in a TTRPG renaissance at the time, so it was written with SMT fans in mind, with the understanding that most of those players, at least in Japan in the early 2000s, were not playing, nor had they ever played, a tabletop roleplaying game before. And so, how the book is structured, written, and formatted lends itself well to onboarding players effectively and efficiently.

Why should players preorder Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying Game, and where can they do so?

If you grab a preorder from the LionWing Shop at lionwingpublishing.com, then you get some extra goodies that you wouldn't get if you preordered elsewhere or waited to buy the book at launch later this year; you get an upgraded book with painted page edges, you get your choice of some exclusive covers, and you get the White Vortex mini-campaign for free. Of course, you can preorder from wherever you get your books—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the like—you just won't get the no-additional-cost bonuses.

Are there any questions you're secretly hoping someone will ask in an interview because you have an answer ready that you've been dying to share?

Yes; I'm waiting for someone to ask me my favorite MegaTen game, mainline or spinoff, to which I'd reply: Digital Devil Saga, hands down. Followed closely by Soul Hackers!

Launching Shin Megami Tensei - The Roleplaying Game will probably keep you busy, but do you already have definite ideas about what's next from LionWing?

Yes, indeed! This partnership with Atlus and Sega has opened the door to other partnerships, because now companies trust us. They see we worked with Atlus and are selling an actual product of theirs that has their endorsement, and we are now seen as a credible company. So we've got some great things cooking, including more IP-based tabletop roleplaying games.

We held our first press event back in March, where we announced a litany of new games and initiatives, including Tokyo Conception, and we have another one coming in a few months. During that presentation, we'll be announcing at least one of those aforementioned new projects. I think folks will be surprised and pretty hyped about it.

That being said, we want to make the Shin Megami Tensei TTRPG an evergreen series for LionWing, so we're hopeful that we'll also be able to work within this universe again in the future. Only time will tell if that can happen, though, so we're telling anyone and everyone who has even just a passing interest in this type of thing to holler at Atlus to let them know they want more SMT TTRPGs! An SMT V TTRPG sure would be awesome!


Are you building something exciting that Gameroni readers should know about, and would you like to spread the word with an email Q&A or interview? Definitely get in touch with any pitches and maybe we can make something happen! Thanks again to Bradly for the detailed responses, and thanks to you for reading!

Jason Venter
Jason Venter (Managing Editor)

Jason Venter has been writing about games since he discovered the medium as a small child, but people didn't start paying him until around 2002. He began by writing online at HonestGamers, the site he founded, and spent a few years writing for Hardcore Gamer Magazine. Since then, he has freelanced for leading outlets such as IGN, GameSpot, Polygon, and numerous others. When he's not playing and writing about video games, he spends what little time is left writing and publishing fantasy novels.

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