Shin Megami Tensei IV
Publisher: Atlus USA
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Atlus has been well known for creating memorable RPGs that have a rather devoted fan base and while quality should never be rushed, it has been nearly a decade since the last numbered Shin Megami Tensei title was released. In that time frame they have worked on a number of Persona titles and other games, but now they have finally returned with Shin Megami Tensei IV for the 3DS. Is it everything fans have come to expect from the company that has brought us hit after hit?
Despite sounding like something straight out of Japan, the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado looks and feels exactly like medieval Europe and in this nation every time someone becomes eighteen years old they must undergo a mandatory ritual at the Mikado Castle. The ritual is called the “Gauntlet Rite” where every participant must use a provided gauntlet, and if they are able to activate it, they will become Samurai.
These Samurai are a class of their own and while Luxorors (the rich) may see it as a burden, the Casularies (the poor) find it one of the best honors they can receive. Players take on the role of a nameable main character, named Flynn by default, as he travels from his hometown with a childhood friend to undertake the ritual. When Flynn is accepted by the gauntlet and named a Samurai, he then learns the true mission of the Samurai… defeating demons and defending the rest of the kingdom.
As I mentioned earlier, the setting may clearly lean towards medieval Europe but that is far from where things end and to say anymore would be spoiling one of the first of many twists that lay in wait for those who pick up Shin Megami Tensei IV. What seems like a rather basic initial premise is simply scratching the surface of a much deeper world that features numerous difficult decisions and a large number of surprises that are actually surprising which is a rarity in video games today.
The cast of characters you are introduced to throughout the game are a bit basic to begin with but have some decent development throughout the game that make paying attention to the characters and even talking to some of the basic NPCs worthwhile as it helps expand the already expansive story of SMTIV. The story of SMTIV is one of intrigue and drama unlike most of the JRPG style games that make their way overseas and is a major factor in what creates such an engrossing experience as you navigate the world, reign in demons for your use and dig into the numerous twists and reveals that await in SMTIV.
Despite being on a portable device, the abilities of the 3DS make it so that the game has not suffered at all in quality, and this translates well into the gameplay aspect. Players will explore dungeons in a third person perspective where they will be able to acquire items and “relics” to sell for money and encounter enemies roaming the dungeons. Players can simply run away from these enemies, run into them or allow enemies to run into them to trigger a battle or swing their weapon to initiate combat with a pre-emptive strike.
Combat in Shin Megami Tensei IV is done in a first person perspective and continues to be a partially modified turn-based battle system. For the amount of opponents you are facing, minus hordes, they will each have a chance to attack and players will have a chance to attack for each member of the party, with a maximum of four. Unlike other turn-based systems which choose striking order based on stats, the combat instead is a side vs side basis, with enemies all attacking, then players all attacking and so on.
Turns can be extended or cut short through taking advantage of an enemy’s weakness or landing a critical hit. Whenever you strike an enemy’s weakness, your turn can be extended by one and occasionally the striking player will “Smirk” which allows for a stronger attack the next time they strike the opponent. This is true for enemies as well though so players will need to plan accordingly as it is possible for Smirking opponents to turn the tide of combat with powerful strikes. It is also worth noting that if an opponent blocks or nullifies your attack, not only is that attack removed, but an additional attack chance is also removed.
One of the key aspects for SMT remains in the fourth game where players must manage not only their own character, but also gather a party of demons to battle with. This means that negotiating with demons, fusing them together for stronger allies and more all return. The system remains relatively similar to past games and with hundreds to collect, a number of which are only available through fusions, and trying to collect them all is not only costly, but highly difficult.
Demons will want everything from cash or items, to large chunks of your HP or MP and even the sacrifice of one of your current demons, and even if you are to do all of that, they still might run away. Trying multiple times usually is required to figure out exactly how each demon will respond to various approaches, since saying “Yes” to everything can make some enemies think you’re a weak simpleton or denying them everything will show your resolve.
Managing yourself and your demons is essential in the game since, while demons don’t have a set level cap, trying to force a low-level demon to high levels is much more difficult than simply gathering or fusing a new demon to join your ranks. It is also essential as the game is highly difficult and does not hold your hand in the slightest. Even at the start enemies can dish out one hit kills and while there is an option to lower the game’s difficulty (after dying twice) without sacrificing anything in the game, even the easier difficulty can be challenging for those.
Upon death players can choose to immediately respawn thanks to a deal with the boatman on the River Styx where you can pay him off with either in-game currency or Play Coins, but you can also choose to simply reload your previous save. It is worth noting that the game can be saved anywhere thanks to the use of Burroughs, an AI guide that can offer various upgrades both in and out of combat.
If there was any actual negative to the gameplay of SMTIV, besides the need for some grinding, is the fact that a bit into the game, an overworld map is available for exploration and it is poorly displayed and organized. Enemies also act erratically on the overworld map and usually can be avoided, but are also forced on you a number of times.
One of the concerns that many people had when they heard about Shin Megami Tensei IV’s 3DS exclusivity was how the title would look on the handheld. Thankfully I can say that those concerns can be put to rest because except for the aforementioned overworld, the game is stunning looking on the 3DS. The bottom screen is always used for interfacing with the menu screens in combat or outside of it, while the top screen portrays everything actually happening within the game.
Outside of the combat the third person dungeon exploration is great looking and inside of combat, every enemy has a unique look with a gorgeously designed, albeit static, sprite. However whenever you speak with one of these demons you are granted with an up-close character portrait of said demon, letting you see just how your opponent actually looks.
The same visual stlye is used for the characters as they talk amongst each other in story sections. The character portraits are given various reactionary poses and are nicely detailed, but again they remain static in appearance. The 3D on the 3DS is nice in combat sequences, but ends up being unnecessary unless it is something you really must have on.
While Shin Megami Tensei IV may not be fully voiced in English, Atlus did provide voice work for all of the story sections of the game as well as the numerous cutscenes that occur throughout the game. The voice work is nicely done for the most part, though some of the word pronunciation is oddly forced and is out of place.
As far as the background music goes, there are numerous themes that play throughout SMTIV and all of them are quite a treat. Combat themes are always fitting and the various themes match nicely with the current area you are exploring, with shifting tones depending on the situation and the environment.
We’ve seen a handful of RPGs come to the 3DS so far and each one has proven to be exceptional in one way or another, but Shin Megami Tensei IV has proven that you don’t have to have a console for a lengthy and gratifying RPG experience. Nearly every aspect of SMTIV has been refined to perfection with the 3DS, with stunning visuals, a great soundtrack, excellent gameplay and a deep mature storyline that makes this a must have for 3DS owners.
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