|Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
|ESRB M for Mature
By Western standards, I was very early to the Shin Megami Tensei bandwagon. The first game in the series that I played (and still own) was SMT: Persona for the PlayStation 1. For the Japanese, however, this is a bit late to the party. There were several installments of the series before that one, and there have been many more since. For my money, the holy trinity of Japanese RPGs is Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Shin Megami Tensei. For a long time this series had a much smaller imprint on the Western gamer than it does now, although it is still considered niche. Persona is largely considered a separate entity, but if you are a serious enough fan then you will know that it’s part of the SMT Universe. During the PlayStation 2 era that started to change a little with the release of SMT III: Nocturne, considered by many to be one of the best RPGs on the console. So the excitement was very high for SMT IV, tempered somewhat by the news that it would be released on the Nintendo 3DS. I really liked the game a lot, but it was no Nocturne or Persona. In fact, I enjoyed the offshoot Strange Journey even more than SMT IV.
I give the short history lesson for two reasons. One, so that the readers will know where my review is coming from. And the other is that I will be comparing this game to the past games a lot. This game is not the sequel to SMT IV, this game is an alternate version of that story. Many of the events that happened in the previous game will also happen in this one. However, you will always see those events from a completely different point of view. The most obvious reason for that is that this game has an entirely different main character. In fact, this character is not even a Samurai from the Eastern Kingdom. He’s a street rat and prospective Hunter from Tokyo.
Nanashi is the new main character, and he is different from Flynn in almost every way. The only way they are similar is in their capability to rally other people to their cause. But even in that respect, Nanashi seems to be the superior one. Flynn is recognized as being generally more powerful, and he seems to be a more galvanizing character in this version of the SMT IV story than I remember him being when I played through it. Both by story, and by game mechanics, this game seemed much more of a party experience and less of a lonely experience than the last one. His look gave me an initial impression that he seemed a bit more like the hero of SMT III: Nocturne. That turned out to be a fairly accurate comparison, more on that later.
Like most SMT protagonists, Nanashi is a bit of a tabula rasa. So it’s important to have a vocal and emotional partner to react to the events that are happening around the character. That role is primarily played by Asahi in this game. While definitely not your only partner, she is your first (and possibly your most important). She is the daughter of the Boss hunter in their local underground area of Tokyo. While the Hunters bear some resemblance to mercenaries, they are much more picky about the contracts they take, and they primarily focus on keeping the locals safe and fed. So the local Boss of the Hunters is basically like the community Mayor. She also wants to be a hunter, but her youth and her overbearing father have been set up as roadblocks on that quest.
Believe it or not, Navarre is a partner and not a summoned demon. He was a character who died early on in the events of SMT IV, and he starts out this game already dead and now a ghost. Even in his short lived storyline in the previous game, he was a bit of a putz. He was a bit annoying before, but with a few subtle changes he is much more comedic this time and a much more valuable party member. So my initial inclination was to not like him being a part of the cast here, but he definitely grew on me and did actually have some good character development.
Nozomi also appeared in the previous game, but to an even lesser extent than Navarre did. She is a Hunter from Tokyo that ends up hosting the spirit of the Queen of Fairies. And as a result, she ends up looking after the fairies herself and does very little Hunter work anymore. She is a master of guns, but she also is a great leader in many ways. Even if the mantle of Fairy Queen has fallen to her without much choice, she actually loves her people very much and is more than willing to sacrifice for them. Even though she hosts a powerful goddess, she has very little magical ability herself and only uses her prowess with guns.
She is the last partner that I will talk about extensively, but you can potentially have twice that many. The partners will come and go at various times, and depending on your story decisions you can end up having a whole array of partners by the end. I’m not introducing the other characters here because they would be spoilers, both for those who have played the previous game, but also for experiencing this story and finding out that someone will join you later. Mechanically the partners provide two combat functions for the main character. Like in the other main line SMT games your party will still consist of the protagonist and 3 summoned demons. The partners will all hang back and you will choose one as your Main Partner, equipping them from the menu almost like a piece of gear. During battle you cannot change who your Main Partner is, though. Each of your partners will have a list of skills that they can cast, and the computer will automatically choose what it thinks is best for it to cast at the end of your character’s turns. Some of the partners are more attack focused, some more healing, and some more support abilities. They will also build up a gauge that will slowly fill after each partner action and when it fills completely, they will have a mass burst attack like you see in the screenshot above.