Saturday, 15 March 2014

Shin Megami Tensei IV

Gamespot Score: 8.0 (Great)

My Score: 8.0

(+) Pros: - Great story with various outcomes based on alignment, - A strong cast of characters, - Combat can be challenging (though somewhat cheap), - The process of recruiting demons and fusing new ones is very addictive, - Tons of content, both story and optional,.

(-) Cons: - Difficulty can be rage inducing for new players (somethings the game is even downright cheap), - Not a lot of variety in areas.

Gameplay time: 40 hours +, 10 hours per subsequent playthrough

I love the "Shin Megami Tensei" series. Hell, we all love it, but here's the thing. "Shin Megami Tensei IV" is the fourth installment to the original "SMT" games. No, I'm talking about the likes of "Persona", "Strange Journey", "Soul Hackers", "Devil Survivor" or anything of the sort. "SMT" used to have its own games, without all these little spin off names, and "SMT IV" is the obvious fourth installments. When it comes to the main "SMT" games, I haven't played a single damn one, but when "SMT IV" was announced, I looked at a few trailers and got myself interested. In a way, its very similar to the likes of "Strange Journey", being a dungeon crawler where you get to talk to and recruit looked simple, yet revolutionary with the technical advancements on the 3DS. So here's my journey through "SMT IV", the incredibly hyped franchise debut on the 3DS.

Okay, so the story. The story focuses on once again, a silent protagonist that goes by the default name of Flynn. Flynn belongs in a world known as the Eastern Kingdom Of Mikado, a medieval country that splits its people into two categories, the luxurors and the casualries. The luxurors are the rich, honorable and prideful people, while the casualries are the poor, humble people that work their butts off to improve the living conditions of the people in the country. It's a biased system, and the people know it. Flynn is a casualry, together with his friend Issachar, they make it to Mikado castle to participate in the gauntlet rite, a ritual that picks a handful of youths from all around the country to become samurai. Flynn becomes one, but Issachar doesn't, and for Flynn's first mission, he is to enter a dungeon to slay...demons. Flynn's new life involving demons begins.

Bye bye demons.

The "SMT" series has always had a strong focus on their story..."SMT IV" is no different. While it touches on some really sensitive themes, the game does not sugarcoat anything unnecessary and throws us a harsh story about this virtual reality (in some ways, it relates to real life as well). I do not like to spoil too much of it, so I won't, but I'll say that its not your usual JRPG story that you can find anywhere, I assure you. What's else though is that like most other "SMT" games in the series, the story has multiple endings, each of which can be replayed in "New Game +" for more insight on a different view of the story. This has always been a strong point of the "SMT" games.

Like previous "SMT" games of old, the multiple endings stem off the path your character decides to choose, though alignment values. Alignment values are points that cater into the way your character responds to different questions, and whether or not the response that you picked was a "lawful", "neutral" or "chaotic" response, it adds to your alignment value. If you responded in such a way that a person aligned with law would, your alignment shifts towards law, the same way that it shifts towards chaos if you make a choice that an "evil" person would. Neutral is the middle ground...the most "human" response. These values are calculated and will matter towards what kind of ending you will get at the end of the game...sort of like a karma system.

F**k you. You'll run away after taking my stuff half of the time.

A great story requires a strong cast of characters, and that's just what "SMT IV" has. You'll grow attached to your fellow samurai Prentice quickly, be it the quick triggering Walter, the goody-two-shoes Jonathan, or the girl that takes neither stance, Isabeu. Each character is strong enough to hold their own through specific story incidents, and you can choose to take their stance when the alignment issues come to light. There aren't many characters in this one in comparison to some of the other games in the "SMT" series (more specifically the "Devil Survivor" games and "Persona" games), but it works well too. The English voice acting is top notch to boot.

Now let's talk about the gameplay. "SMT IV" is a 3rd person dungeon crawler with dynamic camera angles that you can manipulate as you wish. You explore location, find demons, engage them in combat, rinse and repeat. The dungeon exploration itself is completely new, as they have removed the first person dungeon crawling mechanics of old. With the new third person camera, you can look up to climb ledges and ladders, look down to jump over scaffolding or pits. You can turn the camera manually, crouch over small holes, jump over long say the least, the game is making good use of the 3DS technology to create a nice dungeon crawling experience.

Isabeu is awesome. You go girl!

Combat is your standard turn based affair that we're used to seeing in "SMT" games of old. Not the ones like in "Persona" or "Devil Survivor", but more reminiscent to the likes of "Strange Journey" and "Nocturne". You get 1 turn for each character in your party, up to 4 at a time, and the enemy has a fixed amount of turns as well. Acting with any action costs a turn, but striking an enemy's weakness will grant you an extra turn. You can also pass your turn on to your next party member if you feel like the current character won't be effective during that turn, 2 passes take up one turn, so you can work around that for a perfect coherent strategy. If played against the enemy correctly by abusing weaknesses, you can have up to 8 actions in a single turn.

Of course, this all applies to the enemy as well. If they score well against your team, they'll get to move a lot more than you do, and when that happens, it's most probably game over for you. This game is brutal, and the game will constantly try to throw you on your back foot with very difficult demon encounters left and right. Missing will make you lose turns, so will striking the enemy's strong points, and if you land critical hits, you get extra turns. Battle is a very strategic affair, and you WILL need to manipulate the weaknesses and strengths for your team to get more turns on your side. 

Behold! The gauntlet rite!

Combat is nice and all, but the game wouldn't be "SMT" without the talk of demons. You know what I'm talking about. During combat, you'll be doing battle mostly against demons of many types, like in many "SMT" games, you will be able to negotiate with these demons to get them to your side. Before the demons will commit themselves to you, you will need to get on their good side, as always. This can come in many ways, be it answering their questions to their liking, giving them items, macca, your health, spirit and so on. Demons that have been suckered to your side will then fight for you...or you can use them for demon fusion, an aspect that has been present in the franchise for a long time. Fusing two different demons will get you a new one, that's how it works. When going to new areas and recruiting new demons, new fusion possibilities are always open, so this is a very addictive process to find yourself the perfect team.

Game content isn't lacking in any way. On your first run, the main story alone will get you somewhere easily between the 20-30 hour mark, WITHOUT side quests. This is fine, but the game tosses you a lot of side quests from time to time...its the matter of whether you want to do them, or not. The side quests don't seem like much as first, but as you complete prerequisites more pop up here and soon becomes overwhelming. Hell you even get side quests from demons during random encounters, they will employ you for help. With all these side quests in mind you can easily cook up another 10-20 hours, if you are the hardcore type. Lets not forger that you can go for the other endings after you finish the game, letting for multiple playthroughs.

Demon fusion!

Like most "SMT" games are..."SMT IV" is hard. Like, it will break your balls if you go in unprepared. The game throws you into many boss battles with the odds stacked against you. Enemies get the first move most of the time, and if you do not have the right team composition, you will die before you get a chance to even fight back. It discourages new players, to say the least, though veterans should be just fine. There is also a huge lack in environment variety this time around, since we're travelling around the city of Tokyo for the majority of the won't be seeing much except for buildings, streets, buildings, streets....and more streets. Okay, maybe you'll see some underground train stations, but that's it. Not weird castles, deserts or volcanic's all in the city.

"SMT IV" is surely a great debut for the franchise on the 3DS....though I kind of expected more. The exploration mechanics have been severely improved, and challenging battles make this an entry that won't be soon forgotten. But, the lack of environments really make exploration a lot less fun this time around. There's a lot to do on "SMT IV", but unless you're really hardcore, you won't be digging too much into those. Fans of the series will find a lot to like about "SMT IV", new comers will find something to like, but it isn't the best place to start in this franchise.

Happy gaming!