05| Shin Megami Tensei IV

Released: July 16th, 2013

Available On: Nintendo 3DS

To say that Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was a breath of fresh air when it was released on Western shores in 2004 is an understatement. Long after the twilight of JRPGs heydays, the subgenre began to grow stale, with quality release not seen for quite some time. It took the traditional blue sky adventure shonen formula and switched it into a dark occult modern horror fantasy setting. The usual brain dead turnbased battle system with a boring linear overworld, became a highly tactical and strategic turnbased battle system with the entire game being designed as one big dungeon. The title single handedly spawned the series to become a mainstay in the West and aided Atlus in becoming a dominant publisher for niche Japanese games.

Over the years there have been plenty of entries to the series. Such as the Digital Devil Saga titles, the Devil Summoners, Strange Journey, the Personas, etc. However, it was quite some time before an actual full numbered sequel was released. To gamers who don't know much about the series, it was kind of like the wait for Street Fighter III. The studio kept churnning out all of these spinoffs, side-series, and technical sequels. However, they never really made a game that was actually a full numbered sequel. Eventually that changed in 2013 with the release of Shin Megami Tensei IV.

First, I have to address the giant elephant in the room. The game was made for the Nintendo 3DS, a handheld. This initially disappointed a lot of the fanbase as the series was traditionally associated with home consoles. Now while the series was never known for its crazy production values through most of its life, the third entry of the main franchise had a bit of a production going for it at its time, being that it was fully 3D with tons of character models and ambitious dungeons. Now to be fair this is a valid complaint, as Atlus probably could have upped the presentation department significantly if the game was on a PS3 instead. However, thinking of it, the game more then lived up in pushing boundaries in more ways than one.

To begin, I'm going to describe just the type of game Shin Megami Tensei is. The mainline series is basically a traditional dungeon crawler meets a traditional JRPG meets Pokemon. There is a main overarching story that the player has to go through with character development, world building, etc. This combines with the usual crafting of party members and the like. Though, it's the type of party members one gets that's interesting. As the player fights enemies they can choose to either kill them or "negotiate" with them. Basically instead of throwing balls in their face to get the enemies on your side, you have to talk with them and convince them to join you. If successful, then the enemy will be part of your team, if not they'll either attack you, run away, or run away and steal something. Instead of being "pocket monsters" the enemies in the game are straight up demons from an alternate universe. They look dark and satanic which makes them appealing in a weird way. One can level up these demons with experience or by fusing them together with one or more demons to create an even more powerful demon. Though it just isn't the power of a demon one has to keep in mind, but also the skills they have in order to help one's party. Finally, one also transverses the world and visits different lands, but unlike other JRPGs, the entire world is basically one giant dungeon as all the maps have a maze like quality to them.

In short, Shin Megami Tensei combines three main types of RPG genres and creates its own thing that appeals to a specific type of gamers. So how does the fourth entry in the series fair? Pretty damn well actually. Sure there were some changes that some may have mixed feelings about, but overall it is an extremely solid entry in the series. The first thing one notices is that the title is very clearly designed for a handheld. Unlike the console versions of the game, dungeons and areas are much more bite sized. This isn't to say that they are easy, but transversing the average map/area in the game can probably be done in twenty minutes or so, compared to the console titles which are usually around three times that. The main story also takes a bit of a back seat to the sidequests which truly make up the meat of the game, as players will find themselves exploring the world and random areas to take out hordes of enemies, hunt for items, or challenge hidden bosses.

This may all seem very eyerolling, and in most titles it usual is. However, Shin Megami Tensei IV makes the exception in that this format gives more than it takes. The bite sized dungeons are admittedly a bit disappointing, however there are so many areas to explore and venture through it eases the pain. The side quests don't detract from the single player campaign and do well to flesh out the world. They also work in synergy with bite sized dungeons in having the player go through an act with boss fight and all in a reasonable amount of time. And as cliche as this sounds, these two things also makes the game very easy to pick up and play, as well as results in it being very replayable.

The presentation of the game is great. I don't want to spoil too much, but let's just say that the game manages to serve fans who both are accustomed to traditional medieval style settings, as well those who enjoy modern settings, and those who enjoy the "not so distant future" settings. The lore is very well done and one can easily get lost in the world. There is also a bit of interesting philosophy thrown in the story, even with moral choices that truly effect the gameplay, even to the point of one half of the game being entirely different due to it. The only downside is that this is no Witcher, as the choices are pretty literally either black, white, or gray.

As usual by Atlus, the soundtrack is superb. Atlus really went all out to give the game its own style and unique feeling. Plus soundtrack art is some of the best I've seen. I mean...look at this!

THAT is an album cover. It really reflects the quality of the game.

In short, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a fantastic game. Despite being on a handheld, it managed to push the boundaries of the series and the JRPG genre. Also, much like Kid Icarus: Uprising, it significantly upped the standards of what developers should be doing for their handheld entries. Shin Megami Tensei IV may have been on a handheld, but it truly earns that number at the end of its title. It is a full fledged sequel and continuation of the previous titles in the well regarded series. Atlus knocked it out of the park with this title, and it deserves all the recognition.

Posted by Punk Rebel Ecks Wed, 15 Feb 2017 03:04:19 (comments: 2)
Wed, 15 Feb 2017 03:24:16
I loved this game. Probably the most bleak setting and story I've seen in a game for a very long time, and yet it was very captivating. And that first big plot twist when you get to the bottom of the tower and figure out where you are was one of those absolutely mind-blowing moments for me.
Wed, 15 Feb 2017 09:55:20

I really need to get into more of these games. The only one I've played heavily is Persona 3. I have Persona 4 still unplayed.

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