Developer: Atlus | Publisher: Atlus | Played On: 3DS | Price: $49.99 | ESRB: Mature [Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence]
The Shin Megami Tensei franchise has been around for decades and includes a variety of roleplaying games such as the Devil Survivor and the popular Persona hits, with each series being a branch of the same universe. Regardless of the series there are several common themes that shine through in each game, including fighting with and against demons, a mature setting, and story-driven gameplay. The newest game, Shin Megami Tensei IV on the 3DS, has elements that will please many different types of gamers.
You play as Flynn, a young man who just recently passed the Ceremony of the Gauntlet, allowing him into the ranks of the warrior-like Samurai. Before Flynn and the other new recruits Walter, Jonathan, and Isabeau can complete their training, chaos strikes the land of Mikado: A mysterious figure known only as the Black Samurai is corrupting people and turning them into demons. As Flynn and the rest of the prentice Samurai investigate, matters quickly escalate and the fate of the entire planet is threatened.
SMTIV’s storyline is familiar territory to anyone that has played a game in the franchise: the dramatic way events unfold, the religious affiliations, and how the planet is somehow always on the brink of destruction is a given for each game. SMTIV stands out by forcing you to make difficult decisions and oftentimes in doing so ostracizing one of your friends. The story is predictable at times, but overall there’s more than enough action to keep you playing.
As with every SMT game, Shin Megami Tensei IV’s gameplay revolves around the capture, use, and fusing of demons. If you ever wanted to play a mature version of Pokemon, SMTIV is as close as you’re going to get. As a Samurai you’re given the tools needed to befriend demonic beings to aid you in battle. As you progress further into the game you level up your demons, gain support from newer and more powerful demons, and even fuse two or more of your existing demons into a brand new creature. No two demons are alike, in both appearance and skills. Series mascot Jack Frost is a lovable magic-using jester while the Minotaur is a physically powerful conglomeration of man and bull that is the stuff of nightmares.
Forming a balanced team is a constant struggle as well as the game’s best aspect. Tweaking your team to have more magical effectiveness leads you to success in one portion of the game, but down the road having a team with low physical strength leads to your doom. Having to constantly be on your toes in combination with the game’s relentless difficulty makes every victory and advancement in the story that much sweeter. SMTIV brings together the right amount of challenge, frustration, and reward to keep gamers coming back for more.
Combat is handled in a traditional turn-based RPG style: you give commands to your team and they dole out the damage, and then your opponents do the same on their turn. Enemies are weak against specific elemental types like fire, wind, or ice damage. Exploiting an enemy’s weakness not only does extra damage but also rewards you with an additional attack that turn. The same elemental weaknesses apply to your demons, giving the enemy the chance to gain an extra turn as well.
The gameplay is simple, addictive, and fun – until you reach a hurdle. You eventually run into a boss that’s near impossible to defeat unless you’re at a certain level or have a very specific set of skills spread among your team. In these instances your only options are to grind until you are strong enough to come out victorious or find new, more powerful demons. Also, the combat does institute a lot of luck that some gamers may find offensive. You can lose a battle against a foe you’ve defeated dozens of times simply because they landed a critical hit. These instances aren’t uncommon and can be frustrating if you’re not one to save often.
At least there are seemingly hundreds of demons to keep you occupied. Every new level, dungeon, and location brings with it dozens of new monsters to fight and collect. The best way to discover the most powerful monsters however is through demon fusing. By combining two or more demons together you can create a new, more powerful creature. Fusing demons becomes just as addictive as fighting them because there are always new combinations to discover. Fused demons can also inherit any skills from their parent demons, meaning you can bring your best skills from the old demon to the new one. It is incredibly satisfying to fuse two weaker monsters into a mega badass monster and then use it to annihilate your foes… only to fuse with that defeated demon to create an even better one!
Shin Megami Tensei IV’s presentation is a mixed bag. Traveling in town is done strictly through menus: instead of moving Flynn through the town square and into the blacksmith shop you just select the location from a menu. During these town portions of the game the background is a stationary representation of the locale. This non-interactive navigation is a letdown, especially when compared to the fully interactive dungeon sections: you get to physically move around in a third-person perspective, and the linear, 3D environments are varied and interesting – ranging from the burnt village of Kiccigiorgi to the fiery depths of hell. Also of note are character and demon portraits. Both are beautifully drawn 2D profiles; the demons especially look spectacular. The amount of detail and imagination that went into each demon is greatly appreciated!
Straightforward and addictive gameplay come together to make Shin Megami Tensei IV one of the 3DS’ best RPGs. The sheer amount of demons to unlock, multiple endings, and dozens of side quests means you’ll be playing this one for hours on end. The dark plot will appeal to gamers looking for a mature experience and the difficulty will please those looking for a challenge. If you enjoyed past games in the SMT franchise, or other RPGs like Fire Emblem: Awakening, then you’ll surely enjoy SMTIV.
+ Demon collecting/fusing is addictive and rewarding
+ Depth of combat
- High level of difficulty will turn some away
8.5 / 10