Shin Megami Tensei is a series near and dear to my heart. The main games, along with all the complimentary titles, have had me hooked for years. After Nocturne, Atlus began focusing on the spin-offs like Devil Survivor, Devil Summoner and of course Persona. Now, after almost ten years, players finally get their hands on the next numbered Shin Megami Tensei game, and the wait was well worth it.
Players take on the role of a newly recruited samurai in a large castle city. Samurais are tasked with protecting the kingdom from invading demons. In fact, there just so happens to be a giant dungeon below the castle city that houses a ton of them. After a few adventures and quests, players will begin to see that this world is not all that it seems, and a rather strange and dangerous journey awaits them.
The game revolves around main story quests and side quests. Quests are kept in a very organized manner through a special menu. The descriptions will offer up hints on where to go and what may need to be done in order to complete them. Side quests can be taken from the pub bulletin board. These may have the player gathering a number of items dropped by enemies or killing a certain number of a specific type of enemy. Quests reward the player with experience points, items and money.
SMTIV relies heavily on some very familiar mechanics from previous MegaTen titles. The acquiring and fusing of demons and the turn-based battle system all make an appearance. When not in a dungeon, the game plays out almost like a visual novel. Interactions with other characters and moving to locations are all played out through menus and dialog. When in a dungeon, players control the main protagonist in third-person. When moving around a dungeon, enemies will spawn, and run towards the player. Running into these enemies will begin the battle. Players can also take a swing at an approaching enemy in order to gain the first attack in battle as well as dealing a small amount of damage.
In battle, players and enemies take turns attacking. Much like other MegaTen games, the flow of battle all relies on exploiting weaknesses. If an enemy has a weakness of ice, using an ice attack on them will deal great damage. This will also help out by offering the player bonus turns or having the next attack that a certain ally uses be stronger. Finding an enemy’s weakness can make or break a battle, but be careful, the enemy can hit the player’s party’s weaknesses too and can gain extra attack turns as well.
During these battles, players can also converse with the enemy demons. This is how players can gain allies and extra party members. Talking to demons to convince them to join their cause can sometimes be a costly endeavor. They will many times ask questions, and depending on how the player answers, the demon may be angered or swayed into joining them. They may also ask for gifts in the form of items, hit points, mana or money. Players need to judge when to negotiate or when to slay some demons. It all depends on how much the player wants that new demon on their team.
After battles, the party will gain experience points that go towards leveling up. When leveling up, the main protagonist will gain attribute points that can be distributed manually in strength, agility, magic, luck and dexterity. When ally demons level up, they may learn new moves, and even “whisper” their abilities to the main character so they can use them.
Death is handled very interestingly in SMTIV. Instead of going straight to game over and having to restart from my last save, I was sent to the entrance to the River Styx. There, the ferryman offered to let me go back to the living world in exchange for some of my money. Even when I didn’t have enough money, he still let me go back to where I had died. If I died again and still didn’t have enough money, down the River Styx I went. So there are multiple chances to make up for mistakes made in battle before having to restart, and keeping a good amount of money on my person was always helpful in case I died.
Each samurai in this world comes equipped with a special gauntlet that has a computer interface called Burroughs. The computer AI keeps up with current quests, inventory and demon fusion. The female AI will also prepare special apps that can be purchased using app points that are obtained after the main protagonist levels up. These apps can increase and enhance a number of things both during and outside of battle such as extra demon slots and the ability to learn more attacks.
Demon fusion is where players can get more powerful allies on their side. The fusion app allows players to take demons they have in their party or reserve and combine them together to create new and possibly more powerful demons. This app also allows players to re-summon already used demons in a large compendium. Fusion and discovering new demons is almost a game in itself.
SMTIV utilizes the 3D very well. It is never disorienting and during the big battles with bosses or multiple enemies, it really stands out. The overall presentation is very well done and the voice work is fantastic. It really means something when a portable title has so much spoken dialog. It is a joy to see and hear. The music is a bit of a let down for me. I love the soundtracks to the Persona and Devil Survivor series and while SMTIV’s soundtrack is fine, it just doesn’t stand out like other games in the series do. The anime art style makes a return and the 3D models look rather nice. I even like how the menus are set up. It all just comes off as a very slick package. The story is a rather mysterious tale and I don’t want to delve into it too much to avoid from spoiling the game, but people that have played other MegaTen games can expect the same great storytelling and voice acting that have been in other titles.
If there is one thing to mention that gave me a bit of trouble, it would be the difficulty. Yes, I know the MegaTen games have always been known for being rather difficult games, but even being a veteran RPG and MegaTen player, I was having some difficulties in several battles. Luckily, for players finding it a little too difficult for their tastes, the option to change the difficulty is available at anytime in the menus.
Shin Megami Tensei IV is one of those games where many people have probably heard the name but have never tried a game in the series. This is a great beginning point for anyone that has never played a MegaTen game before. It is so accessible and the dynamic tutorial will teach the player everything they need to know to play the game. While the normal difficulty can become daunting, the easier mode can still offer up a challenge at times. The combat system is very tight and fun to play and the demon fusion is just as addictive as capturing and evolving Pokémon. If you are a fan of the MegaTen games or even RPGs in general, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a must have for you.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.