By Phil Schipper / July 10th, 2013
|Title: Shin Megami Tensei IV
Release Date: July 16th, 2013
Age Rating: ESRB – M
It’s a series of many faces: Persona, Digital Devil Saga, Devil Summoner, Devil Survivor…The list goes on. But at its roots, it has one name: Shin Megami Tensei. And for the first time in nearly ten years, a new entry in that main series is emerging. With that and a sizable limited edition standing behind it, the pressure is on for Shin Megami Tensei IV. You know what I’m about to say: let’s see how the game stands up to it.
The story begins with a cryptic vision. “Your actions will no longer bear only on you. What you do… will create a world.” From this, the main character, named Flynn by default, will fall into a strange post-apocalyptic space. Here he’ll meet Walter, who likes to settle things with strength, and Jonathan, who prefers peace. After this dream they’ll be good friends with Flynn, but for now they come across as kind of creepy.
Which is worrisome, because you’re about to enter a world where it’s hard to trust anyone. The lower classes in Mikado–the city where Flynn and the others go to become Samurai–don’t have the first clue how much they’re sacrificing for high society. That doesn’t stop class tension at all, though, and you’ll see it becoming an issue right away. More importantly, though, the city is actually sitting on top of Naraku, a labyrinth full of vicious demons. The Samurai are sent into Naraku by the local monks to learn how to fight demons… and befriend them.
The story is told mostly through dialogue rather than full animation (except in some very important scenes) and Mikado is no different. You’ll basically be navigating menus to get around and talk to the locals. On the other hand, Naraku offers a full range of exploration in gorgeous 3D, full of treasures, ledges and crawl spaces to explore. And, of course, it’s brimming with demons, visible encounters ready to pounce in for a first strike… or get the same treatment back.
Battles are in the Press Turn system, which should be familiar for Shin Megami Tensei fans. Exploiting weaknesses and getting critical hits earns more actions during the turn, while missing or using the wrong element can cause you to lose your turn. It works the exact same way for enemies, which appear on the top screen while the player’s party and menus take the bottom screen. Each demon’s art looks really nice both in the basic drawings and their appearance as enemies, and spells animate really nicely. Each element even has another unique animation when it finishes a demon off.
Your party isn’t going to be made from Flynn’s Samurai friends (although they will join you as guests many times to throw in the occasional extra attack). You’ll have to fill it yourself, with demons, starting by simply talking to them during battle. They might ask you questions or beg for money, items, or your HP and MP. There’s no trick to getting just the right answers every time—demons seem to have different attitudes that are hard to predict. Even if you give them everything they ask for, some demons will just mooch from you and then leave, laughing away at all the stuff they just tricked you out of. It’s mean, but… they’re demons. What did you expect?
If the ones you pick up off the battlefield aren’t good enough, you can fuse them. There are tons of ways you can do this. The Cathedral of Shadows offers a few quick recommendations, but you can also run a search based on about a dozen different filters—or just see every demon that can be fused out of your current stock. Fused demons may have wildly different stat setups (a potentially frustrating prospect), but you can carry over whichever skills you like from the parents. The Cathedral is also the home of the Compendium, which lets you pay to re-obtain demons you’ve owned before. Though fusions are capped based on your level, the right amount of money can get you tons of new options.
The Cathedral of Shadows is just one application for Flynn’s Gauntlet. The Gauntlet is home to the provocative-looking AI Burroughs, who will talk you through quests, map out areas, and warn you before you’re about to enter a boss room. You can unlock more bonuses from her as well, like the enemy analyzer. Once you’ve defeated or recruited a particular enemy once, the analyzer shows at a glance how a given skill affects it—no need to remember weaknesses for yourself! Other applications include extra skill slots, bonus demon stats, new negotiation options and even the ability to fuse demons during battle. It’s no Cathedral of Shadows, and I never really used it myself, but… it’s a cool ability to have on call, no?
All these extras have to be bought with App Points, which you get on leveling up. They come alongside your stat increases, which are completely up to you to allocate. Flynn’s stats and elemental resistances are also based on his weapons and armor, which generally come in a variety of options. Finally, skills are learned from demons. When a demon has learned all of its potential skills through leveling up, you’ll have the chance to learn any of its skills (short of passive abilities and a tiny handful of others). Receiving the same skill again from another demon gives it a bonus, allowing you to build your party upon itself.
But what if you fail? Click here for part 2.
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