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Shin Megami Tensei IV Review: Whose side are you on?

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shin megami tensei iv

Title: Shin Megami Tensei IV
Price: $49.99
System(s): 3DS
Release Date: July 16, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Atlus (Atlus)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes and Violence

It’s been 10 years since a major installment in the Shin Megami Tensei series has been released. It’s easy to forget, since so many side-stories and spin-offs have appeared. I’d even say the Persona line has surpassed the original in terms of popularity. I’d like to hope that changes with Shin Megami Tensei IV, as I’ve developed a deep love for this game over the last few weeks. It’s a fantastic game that still has me questioning which side is truly right, and what could be the best outcome for humanity.

shin megami tensei iv

From East Mikado to Tokyo

Flynn is a casualry from a small town outside East Mikado. He’s always dreamed of being a samurai. Samurais live among the luxors, the upper crust, in East Mikado and get to defend the whole kingdom. It’s a dream job, and a chance at a whole new life. Which has brought him and his friend Issachar to the castle to attempt the Gauntlet Rite. It’s a ceremony open to individuals from all walks of life, with the victorious being approved by the gauntlet and made Samurai.

Naturally, Flynn passes, along with Jonathan, Walter and Isabeau. Issachar leaves in disgrace. However, the life of a Samurai isn’t exactly what the new recruits thought. As Prentices, they learn that a Samurai’s main job is to journey into the depths of a dungeon called Naraku to defeat the demons that live within. To do so, they must actually ally with these demons, using the gauntlet and its AI Burroughs.

Flynn and the others became Samurai at the absolute worst time, however. Demons have begun appearing outside of Naraku and a mysterious Black Samurai has appeared. She’s distributing strange literature among the casualries that is not only causing unrest, but adding to the demon population. It’s up to these Samurai Prentices to journey down past the forbidden areas of Naraku. This sends the group to the last place anyone would expect – Tokyo.

shin megami tensei iv

Subtle, yet merciless

I have to admit though, I expected something more in terms of visuals and audio from a $50 3DS game. I expected Shin Megami Tensei IV‘s animated cutscenes to actually be, well, animated. Instead, I see static images on background that only slightly shift for a change in perspective. The world map is reminiscent of previous installments, like Persona: Revelations and Soul Hackers, and can still turn people around despite a full map on the touch screen. The full voice acting is a nice touch, but many actors and actresses are reused, so demons and NPCs all end up sounding the same. I suppose I expected a big jump forward from Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey and Soul Hackers, instead of an incrimental change.

Yet, this probably won’t matter to most people planning to pick up Shin Megami Tensei IV. They aren’t there for a flashy and extravagant sights and sounds. They are playing for the story and let me assure you, this game comes through. It is a huge game and 20 hours in, I expected I was only about a fourth of the way through. It was all because I was doing as Challenge Quests as they appeared, while also grinding as much as possible to level up and get new demons. Even with my zealous abandon when it came to seeing everything, I didn’t realize how many optional Demon’s Domains and Challenge Quests I was missing during that first 20 hours. I should have been keeping up with the included strategy guide, but I always prefer to try and go through a game on my own before looking in one. Once I did, I realized how much I had missed.

For example, I spent about 15 of those 20 hours barely scraping by in battles. Despite level grinding like crazy in the game’s fast-paced, turn-based battles, the demons in the first floors of even the first dungeon, Naraku, could still sometimes catch me off guard and nearly decimate my team. I was exploiting weakness, resulting in my avatar and team occasionally “smirking”, which means they’d have a temporary boost, but would still find myself restoring the team’s HP after every battle. It wasn’t until I reached Shinjuku and finally died for a second time that I discovered something. I had been playing on standard difficulty the whole time. Now that I died twice, the game was giving me the option to shift to an easier difficulty level. How much easier was it? I never had to worry about surprise attacks, something that was happening often, again. Also, if I would check the Flee option during battle, it would now almost always say I had a 100% chance, where previously I’d be lucky if I had a 30% chance. Opponents also seemed a little less murderous and I finally stopped needing to heal after every battle, which was quite lovely.

I also recommend keeping the two Shin Megami Tensei save files separate. Make a note for yourself saying your goals for each slot. When decisions come up that shape the storyline, they’ll be subtle. For example, I was expecting a big choice at one point that would blatantly say, “Align with Asura-Kai?” Instead, I came across a boss battle that offered an option of defeating a logical demon, who provided sound reasoning, or not. The only indication that this influenced whether I received a “law” or “chaos” ending came after the battle, when either Walter, who represents chaos, or Jonathan, law, would make a comment on the outcome. Since I wanted to go with a chaotic route my first playthrough, because Troy Baker voices Walter, I ended up reloading a previous save in the other slot and making one my “law” slot, and the other “chaos.”

It’s really for the best. Shin Megami Tensei is a huge game, even if someone ignores all the optional Challenge Quests and doesn’t go hunting for random Demon Domains or Demon Quests. You could spend hours just hunting for and fusing demons, or gathering relics to become a Macca-millionaire. As for the main quest, it’s an intriguing adventure with quite a few twists and turns. I’ll admit that I didn’t see the very first one coming. I thought I was perhaps playing a game set in the past that somehow had relics from our world appearing in it. So when I saw what was really going on, I was pretty amazed. From then on, I found myself audience to a story filled with intrigue, friendship, conflict, drama and even a few funny moments. It’s quite well done.

shin megami tensei iv

Shin Megami Tensei IV is everything you expect, and more.

Though I was hoping to be a little more visually impressed, I don’t mind being let down in that regard. It’s a minor complain, especially for those familiar with recent installments and spin-offs to the series. Shin Megami Tensei IV is everything I thought it would be, and more. The story is amazing, there’s an astounding number of demons to collect and use, the adventure is refreshingly difficult and I came away genuinely caring about the characters and their predicament. Most importantly, I was left truly contemplating my moral decisions throughout the game. While some could definitely be considered lawful and chaotic, the issues were more gray than black and white. I was never really sure if I was making the right decisions, even if it seemed like one could be more lawful than the other. I liked that feeling. Even if a 3DS owner isn’t particularly interested in Shin Megami Tensei IV, they should at least be happy that such an engaging and thought provoking game exists.

Site [Shin Megami Tensei IV]

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