Wow…The sun is too bright for me…I think after spending the last month absorbed into Persona 5, something inside me clicked; an addiction of sorts, a lust, a sort of urge to explore more of the Shin Megami Tensei universe, through any means possible – Especially given that after over 150 hours of painstaking, mask-ripping, Reaper-slaying trauma through my first and second full playthroughs of Persona 5, I missed out on that glittering Platinum trophy by missing one request.
*Insert the sad trombone cue here*
Shin Megami Tensei, first released on the 3DS in 2013 is the fourth numbered title in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, with many comparing it to it’s numbered predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne (Or Lucifer’s Call if you’re here in the EU) to pick apart it’s pro’s and con’s.
SMT IV (Or just SMT4 to keep it short’n’snappy) is a turn-based JRPG set in the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. No, not the pocky sticks of the same name (Although I am a sucker for ’em)! You fill the role of [INSERT YOUR NAME HERE] (Canonically named ‘Flynn’), an 18-year old teenage boy from the nearby village of Kiccigiorgi attending a coming-of-age event known as the “Gauntlet Rite”, a sacred and ancient ceremony where the holy monks and samurai of Mikado present a legendary gauntlet to the 18-year old citizens of the county to determine it’s next wielder/s…
You attend this rite with your childhood friend Issachar, where, lo and behold, you are accepted as one of the gauntlet’s new users, alongside four others – Isabelle, Johnathan, Walter and Navarre; you lead the life of a Samurai Prentice, abandon your old life (And Issachar too; just don’t look too much into his poor puppy-dog eyes, it looks like someone just kicked his puppy), and begin your work defending the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado against some truly…Otherworldly entities.
From here on out, the world is yours to craft through whatever Alignment you choose – These being Law, Neutral and Chaos. Feel like a righteous hero and want to uphold the Samurai code upon all else? Go Law. Feel like an arsehole and want nothing more than to gain total dominance and power? Go Chaos. Or want to just see where the game takes you? Go completely Neutral. Be warned however, that if you plan on playing SMT4’s sequel, SMT4: Apocalypse straight after SMT4, you may want to go for the Neutral Route.
Now, let me begin this review by just saying this. If you’re coming straight from Persona, and have never dabbled into an SMT title before, then be warned:
This game will KICK. YOUR. ARSE.
…Multiple times, of course.
Similar to the Soulsbourne games, you will die a heck of a lot even during the tutorial sections – In fact, SMT IV is known for it’s recklessly hard tutorial, and first 2-5 hours. Prepare to grind, fuse and pray to the almighty various deities above to be able to survive these sections – Planning and coverage here are your two greatest allies, as having a demon for each element and a spell for every circumstance truly cannot be handy enough.
The gameplay in SMT4 serves as a natural evolution of SMT’s Press Turn system, seen in previous games such as Nocturne and Digital Devil Summoner – You have a party of 4, being you and 3 demons, and any supporting characters you may have (These guys however are under AI control); each of your party members get a single turn, where you can perform a single action – Hitting an enemy’s weakness, or getting a critical hit gives you a second turn, increased stats, and more damage output once per character per battle phase; if you’ve played Persona 5, it’s pretty much the same as the Once More system used there if it seems I’m overcomplicating this.
The world is usually traversed in two forms – The overworld is commonly navigated using a sort of Visual Novel-esque location list, which can get kind-of confusing with more complex areas, whereas Dungeons and Demon Domains are navigated on foot, in fully explorable, player-controlled 3D spaces. Random encounters work here exactly the same as in Persona, or other such titles like Spectrobes, with you getting a quick bit of damage off on enemies if you attack them first, and vice versa. One thing, however, that you’ll quickly find is that you will need to resort to two things to progress through the game:
A) DLC quests
B) Grinding like a mad bastard
This is where the game halts to a complete stop, as you find yourself more often than not curbstomped by random encounters rather than progressing at a regular, maintainable pace – DLC quests are relatively easy, and offer a crapton of EXP, however grinding takes absolutely ages, and can really put a roadblock in your way.
Trying to find your way and understand what you need to do can also be a bit of a challenge, and can more often than not make you want to turn off your 3DS in pure rage – More time should’ve been invested into something as simple as a little icon to say “Hey, you might want to check this place out!!”…
Now, this is where I get a bit…Conflicted. Overall, the visual style of SMT4 is good – Menus are responsive and flashy, albeit sometimes difficult to navigate; environments look good on the 3DS, considering what it has to work with, however character models and some of the sprites just look…Bizarre. There seems to be a serious divide between the old SMT artstyles and the new SMT artstyles, presumably through a change in directing artist. You can look at an enemy such as Napaea, and look at it alongside something else such as Medusa and wonder if they’re even meant to be part of the same game.
It’s certainly a bit of a divide, and personally, I would’ve preferred it if they went all-out with either the old style, or the new style. The reason this works for something like Persona is due to the art being translated to 3D space – That is impossible using 2D sprites, since you can VERY easily tell when something has been digitally or hand-drawn, which you can with SMTIV. I even started a little game where I would try to guess if the demon designs were new or old! Try for yourself…
Other than that though, every other aspect of the game, especially the spells, attacks and ‘execution animations’ are visually stunning, and look great even on the 3DS’s small, low-quality screen.
Similar to the visuals, the soundtrack has two distinct ‘types’ – Really, REALLY damn good, or really, REALLY damn generic; nearly every single battle theme and some of the overworld themes, however the other half of the overworld themes and dungeon themes just seem so…Generic.
Themes such as the Boss theme (B2), Domain Boss theme (C3) and the standard Battle theme are all god-tier, in my eyes, however don’t expect to be jamming out to something similar to The Days When My Mother Was Here or The Whims of Fate in Persona 5.
Overall, after my first few hours into SMT4, I really am enjoying it – It has a lot of flaws and issues that drag it down, but for a first-timer’s introduction into SMT, it’s pretty good. I just wonder if there is a better place to start than this…
I rate Shin Megami Tensei IV a 7.5 / 10.
Here’s hoping my opinion cultures a bit more the further I get into the game.