The world has ended. I was against Lucifer, the lord of hell. Sure, I was mortal, but I have powerful friends. The demon laughs, mocks my frail physique, and the gods Vishnu and Shiva take offense. They unleash their divine powers, and all hell breaks loose.
The above paragraph may have been strange or even blasphemous to most, but this is no ordinary game I’m playing. Shin Megami Tensei IV, the latest installment in the long running demon-summoning RPG from Atlus features a cast of demonic and angelic forces ready to do your bidding as you take on the gods themselves, and that’s fine.
You play the role of a fledgling Samurai, a new recruit in the guise of a silent protagonist as per the series’ enduring tradition. Armed with a gauntlet bearing a striking resemblance to the series’ ubiquitous COMPs, you are tasked with the mission to investigate incidents concerning forces way beyond your ken. It’s a tall order for any normal guy, but the ability to recruit demons alongside you pretty much evens the odds of your adventure.
The story is pretty lengthy, spanning a good thirty hours minus all the sidequests that makes the game deliciously addicting. The plot moves fast, sometimes dizzyingly so, and you’ll find yourself trying to find your bearings as you get transported from one outlandish location to another in a quest that seemingly has no end. It’s all well and good though as the voice acting is engaging enough to rouse you from any narrative stupor the game may accidentally induce from time to time.
Story aside, what truly makes the game great are the devil recruitment and fusing systems. Those of you familiar with the old SMT games and even the Persona titles would recognize it; each encounter with an adversary need not end in bloodshed, as a few well-chosen dialogue pieces could lead to the opponent joining your cause rather than ending it. You can recruit demons to your side by talking to them and appeasing whatever they demand, may it be HP, your energy or even money. Once acquired, these demons can be fused with the ones in your arsenal, giving birth to better, more powerful demons with significantly improved skills.
Fusing can be quite tedious but SMTIV’s new fusion system allows players to filter which demons they want fused or even search for ones they require through a few simple choices in a menu. Once you have your arsenal set, combat is simply a matter of managing your way through the skills your demons provide, and this game has no shortage of them.
With regards to skills, the game allows you to pass on active skills to your character from your demons, customizing your character’s abilities. To further improve your odds in combat, you can equip numerous types of equipment on your character, ranging from swords to lances and even guns, as well as outfits that not only changes your character’s stats but his appearance as well.
Battles in the game are of a classic jRPG fare with a few minor twists to provide a decent amount of strategy. The press turn system, a redux of an already existing SMT mechanic, allows players to gain extra actions each time they hit an opponent’s weakness or deal critical damage. Hit an opponent that’s weak to fire and you gain an extra action, and the same applies to your ensemble. It’s an interesting concept that could provide a decent advantage to you provided that you’re perceptive enough to pay attention to each demon’s weakness, and could also be your downfall should you ignore their abilities.
Despite the game’s whole being better than the sum of its parts, SMTIV suffers from an intensely annoying navigational system. The world is split into two, with the top part being the eastern kingdom of Mikado with its menu-based navigation, and the overworld of fallen Tokyo with its extremely confusing layout. Unless you’re a resident of Japan and are familiar with the lay of the land, expect to get lost in the Tokyo map’s lanes and crossroads as you progress towards your goal. NPC dialogues sometimes help, but the game can often reach obscure levels when it comes to giving directions, providing vague explanations of locales and destinations that will force you to consult an FAQ just to get your bearings.
The game’s art returns to roots, with veteran Atlus devil artist Kazuma Kaneko returning to the helm alongside Masayuki Doi, famous for his works on Trauma Team and New Blood. The music lacks the same aural drive we’ve enjoyed in the previous MegaTen titles due to the absence of resident Atlus soundcrafter Shoji Meguro.
It’s not an advent in the jRPG revolution but SMTIV still holds its own as a strong entry in the franchise. With tried and tested systems that work, a well-developed plot, and delightfully written dialogue, you will enjoy this demonic romp across battered Japan in the comforts of your handheld.
- Shin Megami Tensei IV
- Developed by Atlus for the Nintendo 3DS
Game Rating: 4 out of 5