Posted on July 29, 2013 AT 12:00pm
Like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest the Megami Tensei series has seen its fair share of familiarity within the gaming industry; the main difference, however, is that it took far longer for Megami Tensei to come to the West (ten years later, specifically, with the first Persona title). Since then, however, popularity for the series has reached higher grounds, and while it’s not as mainstream as anything Squaresoft/Square Enix has created it has in some cases proved to rival the competitors in regards to storytelling and gameplay mechanisms. This past month the latest in the series Shin Megami Tensei IV hit the states, but does keep with the quality of the previous Western releases?
Players take control of Flynn (or whatever you’d like to name him), a peasant known as a Casualry who hopes to become a Samurai. After being fit with a Gauntlet the object finds Flynn worthy of using it, ergo making him a Samurai along with other newcomers Walter, Jonathan, Isabeau, and Navarre. As Samurai their task is defeat demons that have appeared within Naraku, an underground vicinity under the kingdom. Meanwhile Flynn keeps having recurring dreams involving the other Samurai, as they talk about either the rescue or destruction & recreation of their current world.
As the game progresses word gets out about someone known as the Black Samurai, who is giving Casualries books of “Literature” that transform innocent people into demons. After catching up to the Black Samurai it is revealed that she is not only the leader of the Gaia cult, but also the demon Lilith. It is here where Flynn needs to make a choice, leading towards different paths and endings to the game.
Like in previous Megami Tensei titles you will be placed in turn-based battles that will have you either killing demons or trying to convince them to join your team. Up to three demons can join you in battle at once, although there is the option of switching demons during battle. (Be careful, as that can cause you to lose a turn, especially during bigger boss battles.) You can also create new creatures via Demon Fusion, but it can be a hit-or-miss regarding what comes out. Sometimes you’ll get a very powerful demon out of it, whereas other occasions you’ll find the outcome being something that’s a lot weaker than both characters combined.
Beating demons will earn you cash to spend on new equipment, weaponry, and items that can be used in future battles. While walking around you’ll also come across relics that can be appraised and sold for some extra coin. (It is best to see which of the merchants will buy it for a higher price before just getting rid of it, as I found out I could’ve made some extra coin that could’ve gone towards revival items. and other necessities.)
The last time I played a Megami Tensei game (the 3DS remake Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers) I found myself having to hurry back and forth between areas of a level to save my progress. Many times I wound up dying, losing all the items I had previously earned and demons that had befriended me in the long run. So it was a major sigh of relief when I found that I not only could save my game whenever I wanted, but also perform Demon Fusion whenever I felt it was time to create new creatures for bigger battles. Needless to say this tiny aspect made my time with Shin Megami Tensei IV so much better than the former title.
Another cool aspect that was better is the outcome of “death” in the game. In Soul Hackers when you die, it’s Game Over. In Shin Megami Tensei IV you’ll find yourself at the river Styx. If you would like to continue the game you have to pay a fair share of coin you’ve earned. (If you don’t have enough you can still continue, but the coin will be taken as soon as you reach enough.) You will then return to the previous spot before you had died.
One thing I did notice that was similar in the game was the spike in difficulty, and no lie: it happened at the exact same moment where Soul Hackers‘ rose. For some reason once you get three hours into the game the boss battles become more challenging, which will cause you to have to do countless demon battles to level up before you can really challenge them. I discovered this aspect right when you come across the Minotaur. After battling him for an hour and still losing I wound up having to run around Naraku and level Flynn and the demons I captured up until I reached around Level 15 to take him down, although I also needed to revisit the vendors and stock up on some healing items that definitely came in handy in battle.
Despite this speed bump in the game progression there’s plenty to really like about Shin Megami Tensei IV. While I am not the biggest fan of turn-based RPGs (more of a Tales of Symphonia/Kingdom Hearts-styled kind of RPG fan, honestly) I found myself enjoying the battles at hand, as it taught me how to strategize before any sort of battle were to take place. Granted it’s hard to plan ahead during normal demon battles (as the demons do come in randomly), but when it comes to the boss battles there was plenty to learn from past mistakes and proper demon organizations.
Its story can be engaging, even during the slice-of-life moments, as you bond with your fellow Samurai. It makes it decision to pick a side tougher, as you’ll find yourself liking all these characters (well, except that douchebag Navarre, but you don’t have to deal with him for too long). The English voice-acting is pretty good, with moments of wooden dialogue barely to be found. Its anime character designs are drawn nicely, although I did find that the blurriness of demons during battle could sometimes be a turnoff.
There is a whole lot to be covered in Shin Megami Tensei IV, roughly 45-50 hours worth, so expect a good bang for your buck if you are looking for an RPG that’s as long as it is strong. The option of New Game+ that opens after beating the game the first time around will also give those that need to complete every single thing in a title something to work hard towards to.
- Wonderful story, voice actors
- Solid turn-based fighting system
- You can save your progress whenever you want!
- Great character designs…
- …though some demons look blurry in battle
- Difficulty spikes early on in the game
- Demon Fusion can sometime lead to weaker creatures
Shin Megami Tensei IV is a brutally tough RPG that will have some players screaming at their 3DSes in rage, but at the same time the game rewards with a strong story and a fun gameplay mechanism. It’s still a shame that it took longer for the Megami Tensei series to finally catch up to the Western audience, but hopefully those who are looking for a good challenge in their role-players will take a fine gander at the latest in the series. At the very least it will prepare gamers everywhere for when the Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem crossover game hits Wii U sometime next year.
FINAL GRADE: 8.5 (out of ten)
Review code provided by ATLUS
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