Shin Megami Tensei IV – 3DS
Release Date: Jul 16, 2013
Reviewed by Dean Engle
Review Score: 5 of 5
With other Japanese RPG franchises like Final Fantasy struggling to stay relevant, Atlus has done a fantastic job of making high quality, unique JRPG experiences over the years. Persona 3 and 4 were some of the best JRPGs on the PS2, a system that had an overabundance of that type of game, and after receiving mixed reactions for their attempt at breaking into the Xbox 360 and PS3 with Catherine, Atlus have finally returned to form with Shin Megami Tensei IV on the 3DS.
Shin Megami Tensei IV takes place in a world that resembles feudal Europe with a Japanese twist including appointed samurai to hold and defend the nation of East Mikado. However, there are technological advancements such as LCD screens and AI in the gauntlets given to samurai that hint at a more complicated world than what is seen. The story starts off with the main character Flynn and his friend Issachar traveling to Mikado Castle to see if they will be chosen to become legendary samurai. After becoming a samurai and learning the ropes of befriending and fighting the demons that are found in the dangerous caverns of Naraku, Flynn and his newly appointed samurai friends meet someone who calls herself the Black Samurai. After following the Black Samurai into the forbidden depths of Naraku, the world opens up and becomes much more complicated.
As is regular for Atlus games, almost all the dialogue is fully voice acted, and fantastically at that. The writing and acting create characters that may be stereotypical from time to time, but are still effective at creating a world that’s easy to become invested in and care about. The story is great journey through an odd world that has some really creative mixtures of aesthetics. Shin Megami Tensei IV is hard to put down, as is normal for an Atlus game, because the next story revelation is always just around the corner. But the story, world, and characters aren’t the only thing that make this game great.
Just because this is a 3DS game doesn’t mean there are compromises in terms of gameplay. Much of the world is fully realized in 3D and the 3D on the top screen of the 3DS looks great. Much of the navigation when in an area without demons is handled by an overworld and menus, but this makes getting to the places you want to go is much quick and easy. There isn’t much downtime other than the occasional grinding that might make a certain boss fight a bit easier, but Shin Megami Tensei IV isn’t a game that requires excessive grinding.
The demon befriending and fusion that is par for the course for Shin Megami Tensei games still stand as a great concept that hasn’t been done better anywhere else. There are three demons that can fight alongside the Flynn in any given battle, and these demons can teach him their abilities as they level up. As Flynn levels up you get to choose where to place skill points to determine whether you want to focus on magic or physical damage, and each increase in level rewards points that can be spent on apps to increase everything from the amount of demons that can be held at one time, to the amount of spells both Flynn and his demons can learn, to how much demons cost to summon after they have been fused.
The fusion system is much too complicated for me to fully explained here, but I will simply say it’s a way to create more advanced demons while also keeping a record of past demons that can later be acquired at a cost. This system makes calculated fusion and handling of money extremely important. Each fusion and each purchase can be the difference between having the correct demons to fight your way through the game and being too weak to make it through floors of the different dungeons. As with the other Shin Megami Tensei games, Shin Megami Tensei IV doesn’t have random encounters that have been the bane of JRPGs existence for years. Each creature or set of creatures is represented by a hologram-like entity in the game, and getting into a battle requires Flynn and the creature to run into each other. The turn based battle system, encounters, demon befriending, and fusion combine to create a game that doesn’t get boring because there’s always something new that needs to be done. Whether it’s getting more demons to fuse stronger ones, completing the interesting side quests, or diving deeper into the story, there’s never a dull moment in Shin Megami Tensei IV.
If you separate the narrative and the gameplay elements from each other they probably wouldn’t stand out on their own, but together they create a spectacular game that is definitely worth playing for any fan of the genre. And even if JRPGs are something you used to enjoy but think the quality has fallen off in recent years, Shin Megami Tensei IV may still be a game you will thoroughly enjoy. Atlus consistently delivers on unique game concepts mixed with creative story lines full of well written and well acted characters, and Shin Megami Tensei IV is another great entry into a series already filled with plenty of great RPGs.