Shin Megami Tensei IV is a fun and deep RPG experience that blends traditional RPG gameplay with monster hunting tactics which leads to a rewarding gameplay experience.
The Shin Megami Tensei RPG series began in Japan in 1992 on Super Famicom, and neither the first installment nor its sequel was published in North America. In 2004 Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was the first SMT game in North America, although “III” was removed from the PlayStation 2 title. The SMT series later spun-off several sub-series, including Persona, Devil Summoner, Devil Survivor, Digital Devil Saga, and the standalone Strange Journey. This new RPG is considered the fourth in the Shin Megami Tensei mainline series.
Every year in the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, all children who have turned 18 that year make a pilgrimage to Mikado Castle to take part in what is known as the “Gauntlet Rite,” a traditional ceremony to determine a person’s worthiness to join the elite ranks of the Samurai, noble warriors and protectors of the realm. You (Flynn) and your friend Issachar are from a simple village, and today is the day that your life may change forever.
Samurai are the chosen few who protect the kingdom from the demons who appear in Naraku, an area that only the Samurai are permitted to go. They keep the kingdom so safe from the demons that most of those outside the ranks don’t even know that demons threaten the kingdom.
Flynn is chosen to become samurai but Issachar is not and returns to their village, with Flynn moving into the samurai barracks. Soon the young protagonist is sent into Naraku to begin his training. This is where the fun begins.
As the game progresses, more and more features are unlocked in what seems like a never ending series of features. Once a samurai, Flynn is given Burroughs, a gauntlet which is placed on his arm. The personal companion device can not only be used to save the game at any point, but also has apps that can be purchased with AP to open new abilities. These apps include things such as adding new skill slots to be able to hold more abilities, a map app to see your surroundings, and even a talk app to allow you to speak with demons.
Not only can you talk with demons but you can negotiate with them to give you money; they can also be persuaded to join you as an ally. With demons joining your side, you can have them fight along side you and even teach you their abilities.
Simply asking a demon to join you would be too easy. Besides, why should they turn their backs on other demons and join the likes of you? If you want them to become your ally you’ll need to answer their questions and respond to their demands correctly. They may ask you for a certain item in your inventory, request some of your money, demand a penance of HP or MP, or just ask you for advice.
It usually takes about four or five requests/demands before the demon will make their final decision on whether or not to join your party. If they don’t join you and are offended by your conversation they may attack you which will forfeit your turn, but don’t try weakening them first. A demon who you have already been beating up isn’t really in the mood to chat. In fact there are some demons who you can’t talk to at all because you can’t understand them. But don’t worry.
There’s an app for that.
When you first begin collecting demons, of which there are 400 to discover, you can have eight in total. Be careful not try to recruit a demon if your slots are full. You can of course persuade a demon to join you but it will all be for naught when there isn’t room and they leave. An interesting occurrence arises when you try to recruit a demon when you already have another of that demon in your party. The demon will notice that you have his brethren with you and decline, leaving you and thus ending the battle. This is a handy trick to pull out if you want to skip a battle. It works every time.
Any of the eight demons in your supply can be switched in and out of your active party between battles and even during battle, though that will cost you one move in battle. You can have three demons in your main party who will battle with you. The others sit in reserve. The magic spells of your reserve stock can be used out of battle but not during.
As your demons level up through the game they may learn new abilities. As they do so they will occasionally offer to teach one of their abilities to Flynn. Any abilities that they have in their stock can be taught to Flynn, though if you already know the ability it will be enhanced. If none of the abilities interest you they can be declined. Another neat feature during the demon’s ability learning is the option to arbitrarily change abilities. Occasionally during the learning feature the demon will ask you if they can swap a current ability for a new one. Choose wisely though, because if you pass there’s no way to go back and change your mind.
At one point in the game you will unlock Mido, a program in your gauntlet which will allow you to fuse demons together and create brand new demons. Some of theses demons you won’t encounter out in the field and are only available this way. Additionally, once you have had a demon you can summon another one through Mido, though this will cost you Macca (money). It’s a quick but expensive way to get the demons you need to fuse the demon you want. There are also demons that you will be unable to fuse until you reach a certain level. You will be able to see the fusion in the demon compendium but unable to perform the fusion until you level up. This gives you another incentive to grind and level up.
Demons can also be shared on cards via StreetPass. You can attach a demon to a card with a message like, “Please train my demon.” You can also receive demons this way. I couldn’t test out the feature during the pre-release review period though.
Shin Megami Tensei IV features a press turn battle system which makes for an interesting and exciting fight, though it can also work for you or terribly against you.
In a battle if you use an attack that your opponent is weak against or score a critical attack, you will be rewarded with an extra turn in that battle. Say, for example, you are fighting demons who are weak to fire attacks. If all four of your characters (Flynn and three demons) use fire attacks you can stretch your round to eight full attacks. This is great, especially for boss battles. This can also prove disastrous if this is used against you.
Unlike some RPGs where returning to an old area allows you to wipe the floor with the monsters, who can barely reduce your life by a single HP, demons here pack a little bit more punch. And if they can attack you and your party and hit your weak spot, you can easily be destroyed in a single round. And if the demons get a preemptive strike in the battle you can quickly and suddenly be killed and sent to the underworld. (More on that later).
This is where some planning can come into play.
Along with a little luck, knowing your opponent’s weak spot can work to your advantage. Attacking a boss demon with elemental attacks they are weak against can make a tough battle a little easier. This is especially true if you can manage to have Flynn and all three demons with the right attack. Having these demons sitting in reserve prior to the battle, and then switching into your main party just before a boss fight, will keep their HP and MP at full, giving you the best shot. Don’t ignore your health though as you can still be smitten easily if the boss has an elemental attack to which you are weak.
If you are wiped out in a battle that’s not the end of the line. Unlike the majority of games where you are treated with a quick ‘game over’ screen, that’s not the case here.
When you do die you arrive in the underworld where you meet Charon, who welcomes you to the land of the dead, where the souls of the deceased await reincarnation. But since the underworld is a bit overcrowded, Charon is eager to send you back to the land of the living … for a little compensation. Macca opens all doors and Charon can be bribed to return you to life. You’ll return to the point just before your last fatal battle. While the price is steep, this is especially helpful if you hadn’t saved in a while.
Another brilliant feature is that, in lieu of using Macca to pay off Charon, he will also accept Play Coins. Play Coins are the coins that you can earn though the 3DS by walking around and which are only used in the Mii Plaza.
Throughout the course of the game, your gauntlet keeps track of your current mission through quests. In addition to the main quests you can also visit K’s Tavern and take on challenge quests. These can include such things as rescue missions, defeating specific demons, or collecting items and returning them to cash in. When accepted, these side-quests will put your main quest on hold until completed, although they can be abandoned and done again later if they prove too difficult. Burroughs will warn you if the demon you will be fighting is too powerful for you.
Completing these quests will earn you experience but no Macca. Money is very scarce in the game.
The only way to earn money in the game is to find relics and return them to town. The shopkeepers will appraise the goods you find and pay you for them. What they pay isn’t much, but adds up quickly.
Relics are found in the dungeon areas of the game in specific spots. They regenerate each time you enter the dungeon, but you’ll have to deal with the demons which roam around to score them. No random battles here. The game is built like an action-RPG in that you can run around the demons and avoid a fight if you wish, although some are just as quick as you are and may be more difficult to flee from.
If a demon catches you or initiates the battle they may get a preemptive strike on you. As stated earlier that can be disastrous if the demon’s attack hits your weak spot and may wipe you out. It’s often more prudent to swing your sword and start the battle yourself. This way you are more likely to get the first round of attacks and may even get a few hits in beforehand.
Shin Megami Tensei IV is my first time playing the series and it looks and sounds great. The story is primarily told through still backgrounds and characters, who change expressions as the conversation moves along. The changing backgrounds and shifting characters feels almost like an animated storybook. The story sequences are also fully voiced which also makes the game feel like you are watching an anime during those sequences.
Another helpful feature is the ability to switch the difficulty at any time. If you reach a boss that is terribly difficult and whom you simply can’t defeat, lower the difficulty to the easier setting and keep the game moving. You’ll sacrifice quite a bit of experience points but it’s nice to get the game going again. Sometimes all the grinding in the world won’t help you if your demon of choice is weak to the boss’s attack and can be killed in one shot.
This game is great to play, watch, and listen to. It’s definitely worth your time.