- Release DateJuly 16, 2013
- Release Price$39.99
It is the middle ages. The Eastern Kingdom of Mikado is rife with classism between the luxurors (royalty) and the casualry (peasants). In this historically accurate tale, Flynn, of the casualry, has just turned 18 and been chosen in the Gauntlet Rite to become a Samurai, a guardian of Mikado. Once inducted, Flynn is told of his true purpose, to protect the kingdom of Mikado against demons from the underworld using a gauntlet that contains an AI named Burroughs.
Welcome to the world of Shin Megami Tensei IV (henceforth known as SMT: IV). SMT: IV is a standalone post-apocalyptic horror JRPG developed by Atlus for the Nintendo 3DS. The basic gameplay revolves around controlling a silent protagonist that recruits and fuses demons to use in turn-based combat while progressing through a high-concept narrative questioning the nature of good, evil, and religion.
As is common with SMT games, demon recruitment and fusion drive the gameplay. The fusion mechanic is deep and entertaining. Hours can be spent fusing random demons together simply to see what other fusions become available. SMT: IV, at its heart, is a monster collectathon. Discovering new monsters and using them in your team is one of the simple pleasures of life, and figuring out which to use in battle against enemies is fun and interesting.
Battle is turn-based and difficult. Dying against standard enemies is not only common, it’s expected. The Game Over screen is so prevalent that it is actually given a small cutscene (mostly skippable after the first death) that gives the player the ability to revive themselves by spending hundreds, or later, thousands of Macca (the in-game currency). While this may seem frustrating at first, what it does is force meaningful decisions during battle: when to run, when to fight, when to talk. Because you can talk… to the demons.
Dying against standard enemies is not only common, it’s expected… After dying ten more times and contemplating the meaning of life, the eventual win is all the more satisfying.
Talking to demons is the game’s form of recruitment. The player is given the ability to convince demons to join their cause. This can be done through bribes, amusing dialogue, or a show of force. These demons can then be used in battle or fused together to form other demons. Once recruited, talking to demons of the same name in a new encounter will end the battle. This makes recruiting demons that are difficult to defeat a legitimate strategy to proceed through maps by getting out of further battles through conversation.
While normal battles are difficult, boss fights are onerous and nerve-wracking. Boss sprites are massive, menacing creatures that take up the majority of the screen; they are incredibly powerful, generally having the ability to easily wipe your team in one turn if unprepared. These fights are where the SMT: IV “press-turn” battle system really shines. The player controlled and enemy teams take turns. During each of these turns, all members of the party get to use a move. Any time a critical hit or weakness is struck, an extra move or “press-turn” is granted. However, any time a party member misses or an opponent’s resistance is struck, two moves are removed. This means hitting an opponent’s resistance or missing entirely is incredibly punishing, often resulting in a loss of moves for other team members and possibly leading to a painful death. Attacks have to be carefully chosen based on the order of characters, the abilities those characters have, the chance of striking a weakness or resistance, or the chance of missing entirely, among other considerations. The amount of dynamic elements in play create a complex and thoughtful approach to combat. Often, dying two to three times in a boss fight is expected in order to figure out the best strategy to use. After dying ten more times and contemplating the meaning of life, the eventual win is all the more satisfying.
Grinding, a common “feature” of most JRPGs is almost entirely absent. SMT: IV does a fantastic job of catching the character up when behind by giving tiered experience points and limiting the influence of stats and equipment. While stats and equipment help, finding the right combination of skills and demons proves to be much more important to success.
Atmosphere and music are used with great effect to push the sense of horror and discomfort upon the player.
SMT:IV also succeeds in style. Atmosphere and music are used with great effect to push the sense of horror and discomfort upon the player. The music is eerie and cold. Narrow field of view and dim lighting obscure potential threats. Every battle entered has a legitimate chance of ending in a Game Over screen, keeping the tension tight. But not everything is stressful and gloomy; enemy sprites range from hideous to comedic and dialogue during recruitment is often hilarious.
The voice acting is unusually good for a Japanese port and aside from a few odd pronunciations and word choices – notably, using the word “hoy” instead of “hey” – actually brings life and personality to the cast of main characters. However, good voice acting does not make a story, and the story, unfortunately, is not particularly interesting. The class war that defines the setting of the game is mostly forgotten by the second half and many of the story’s main concepts are reused from older games in the series. While there are a few entertaining twists, especially near the beginning, the story is used mostly just as a means to an end.
There are other issues as well. The graphics, to put it bluntly, are dated. While the dungeon crawling looks decent, everything else is only mediocre at best. Cutscenes have little to no movement. Characters have no animations during dialogue. Sprites appear to have been reused from older titles in the series and very little effort has been put in to update the in-battle or skill graphics.
The player controls a tiny board game piece on a gigantic sprawling map full of dead ends that are nigh impossible to see until running into them.
The overworld map navigation is horrible. The player controls a tiny board game piece on a gigantic sprawling map full of dead ends that are nigh impossible to see until running into them. Enemies respawn quickly often increasing travel times by multitudes. Quests sometimes call out areas to go and then give no direction on how to get there leading to a large amount of time “exploring” the overworld map. It is not fun, it is not interesting, and it should not have been necessary. Keeping the town navigation from the game’s first area would have been much preferred.
Randomness can sometimes take a larger hold of battle than is welcome. A lucky critical, an unlucky turn order, an unlucky move order, all possibilities that can easily cause death and more importantly, frustration. Because grinding is not particularly helpful, sometimes it’s best to repetitively play a battle until the right set of things happen in the right order, which many will find annoying to say the least. To say the most, many will throw their DS’s into nearby walls.
The majority of the sidequests given are uninspired. Fetch quests and assassination quests are common. Many sidequests have to be “accepted” and completely stall the main quest, not allowing you to proceed while the sidequest is active. The music is replaced by some ditzy, repetitive sidequest ditty that gets annoying immediately. And while there are a few entertaining escapades – one of the fetch quests has an unkillable demon chasing after you through the entire dungeon crawl – the payoff for finishing them is often miniscule and not worth it.
The game is fun and the quality expected of an SMT game is there, but some issues prevent it from being a truly spectacular title.
Those that have played older SMT games like Nocturne or Strange Journey will not find much new here but should still be fairly happy with the outcome. The game is fun and the quality expected of an SMT game is there, but some issues prevent it from being a truly spectacular title. For those new to the SMT series, this is a fine place to start.