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Shin Megami Tensei IV review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • Unspooling the twisting narrative
  • Fusing countless demons until you have the perfect teammate
  • Streamlined (yet recognizable) RPG gameplay
  • Drab color pallette
  • Overly conventional map
  • Running in circles till you find the exit that the map never indicates

If modern Japan is being invaded by demonic creatures and only angsty teens can save the day, then you’re probably playing one of the many Shin Megami Tensei games. The franchise is known for its hardcore JRPG gameplay and mature storytelling, and the fourth core Shin Megami Tensei adventure brings all those facets to the 3DS while streamlining many of the franchise’s pricklier features. The only downside to all the welcome advancements is that the few remaining flaws are made more glaring in the process.

The game begins in a (seemingly) medieval town as the teen hero joins an order of demon-slaying samurai in what appears to be a typical fantasy RPG. But you soon travel to the an underground twilight world that used to be modern day Tokyo. Dropping players into a post-apocalyptic Japan starts a massive plot that’s easy to follow (even when played in brief sessions), and its connections to previous SMT entries won’t be distracting to series neophytes. The cast of characters is small, but each is well-written and plausibly portrayed in the copious voice-acting. SMTIV has some of the strongest writing found on 3DS; it's a game that earns an M-rating for grown-up subject matter instead of bloody corpses.

Navigating a ruined Tokyo pushes players to make choices that will alter the ending of the game, but the impact of your decisions is clear to see long before it’s over. With each level gained through rock-solid turn-based combat, you not only assign attribute points as you see fit, but you also purchase special skills and buffs that subtly mold your character into your own unique version of the protagonist. It quickly makes you very invested in your hero’s growth.

"SMTIV has some of the strongest writing found on 3DS..."

The customization gets even more satisfyingly deep when it comes to your squad of monsters. Like a satanic Pokemon, you’re constantly collecting the beasts that occupy the hellish world, and these monsters are strengthened through a process called demon fusion. Two or more monsters can be melded together to form a new creature, passing on skills and traits to the next generation. Breeding the perfect creature takes time, but fusion is a surprisingly simple process, and one that gets more addictive with each fused demon you add to your team.

Outside of demon fusion and collection, many of the franchise’s key features are similarly improved via simplification. An enemy’s known weaknesses are clearly communicated with color-coded symbols, buying and selling happens in bulk, and your quest log makes the many objectives and side missions easy to follow. SMTIV effectively simplifies so many tropes without forsaking what makes the franchise popular.

Your choices are further empowered by the game’s smart handling of its economy. You can still grind experience points from constant battles, but you rarely get money, which is mainly reserved for completing quests. If you want to expand your demon roster or buy a new piece of armor, you’ll have to do some serious budgeting and make hard choices with your cash. Just like SMTIV’s other systems, the cleverly tight design brings out what’s most fun about the traditional gameplay.

"SMTIV effectively simplifies so many tropes without forsaking what makes the franchise popular."

The majority of SMTIV is so helpfully modernized that it makes it all the more frustrating when the game occasionally regresses. Most annoying is the overworld. It’s a dim map with an obtuse layout and a pronounced lack of detail, hardly all that different than the SMT maps players settled for on the PSOne. It’s far too easy to get lost for 20 minutes before finally stumbling upon your destination. The dungeons and indoor sections fare better than the map of Tokyo, but are still a little too drab, even though it fits the doomsday setting. SMTIV embraces its aesthetic with creative art design, it just gets a little oppressive after a few dozen hours.

Ultimately, those limited failings will either be seen as quaint by longtime RPG addicts or tolerable by newcomers that will appreciate everything else Shin Megami Tensei IV gets right. It advances the genre in subtle ways, exhibiting once more that JRPGs are alive and well on handhelds. Numbered Shin Megami Tensei entries are few and far between. Thankfully, SMTIV makes the most of it.

More Info

Release date: May 23 2013 - 3DS (US)
Jul 16 2013 - 3DS (UK)
Available Platforms: 3DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Altus U.S.A., Inc.
Developed by: Altus Co., Ltd.
Franchise: Shin Megami Tensei
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence

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14 comments

  • universaltofu - August 17, 2013 7:41 p.m.

    Still have yet to dive into this one, but I've played the first hour or so, and for my first game of the series outside the persona arena fighter it kicked me in the balls, but I liked it, looking forward to getting into the fusion and late game battles.
  • C.King - July 26, 2013 1:34 a.m.

    just finished it and it was my first game of the series and.... it was kinda crumby for me criticalwave and megaton press were pretty much bread and butter and got me through the whole thing and never had to change my Armour. demon fusion was almost forced actually even thought u lvl like crazy u need to fuse them to keep thier lvl up there with the enemies and if demons could keep learning new skills there would be no need for it actually, also rly lame how if u held off on doing it for awhile it like u penalized since ur favorite demons would have no partners that wouldn't delvl em. they also got uglier as you went on and some of em seriously had genitalia drawn on i found myself killing demons 10+ lvls higher than me, story wise the whole thing was like a guilt trip, no choice was the right one, and no feel good moments if it wasn't for the promo i'd be pretty disappointed with it don't think it worth the full price if u not a fan or vet of the series they couldn't have animated it a smidge more? it's more expensive than other games but the cutscenes are... non existent? idk seems real funky to me given price. it like photostory and the art style actually downgrades at the more should be dramatic moments. if there a fan out there would u mind enlightening me on what i experiencd?
  • Pospoon - July 17, 2013 3:08 p.m.

    The 3DS is doing great lately.
  • rainn'sgaydar - July 10, 2013 11:26 a.m.

    On the one hand, I'm very interested in this, think I want to play it, and would like to get that $30 e-shop credit. On the other hand, I have to save for my preordered PS4. Anyone want to try and talk me into this?
  • wrightobjects - July 10, 2013 12:26 p.m.

    Well, the PS4 won't come out until later this year, whereas the promotion for SMT IV ends in August. I'd say go for SMT.
  • rainn'sgaydar - July 10, 2013 2:51 p.m.

    The issue is that it takes time to save up that $400. My wife and I hold ourselves to our agreed budget pretty strictly, but I might could still afford this and make it all work. I just can't seem to bring myself to pull the trigger.
  • Fenriff - July 10, 2013 3:17 p.m.

    Well I can't personally speak for this entry yet because it doesn't release til next week, but it's getting very good reviews so far and I can tell you that the last entry in the main series, SMT: Nocturne (Lucifer's Call if you're in Europe) was a ton of fun with a lot of content and a really cool atmosphere. The Persona games are also spinoffs of this series so if you enjoy those and wanna try a somewhat similar game with darker tones and no social sim aspect then give this a shot, I know I'm looking forward to it.
  • Talvari - July 10, 2013 10:19 a.m.

    Kinda feels like this review wasn't that full on words but I guess it doesn't matter. Been a long fan of the proper SMT games. They've really nailed turn based combat. Another game to make the 3DS even more desirable ;...;
  • BladedFalcon - July 10, 2013 11:41 a.m.

    ...Wait, you have a Wii U but not a 3DS? I don't wanna sound mean, but I think you got them switched up ^^;
  • Talvari - July 10, 2013 12:51 p.m.

    No offence taken :P I just happened to find the Wii U on a pretty damn good sale in which it was around the same price as a bundle 3DS XL. Decided i'd pick it up in january when that happened in anticipation of monster hunter and pikmin. I'm just not much of a handheld gamer nowadays. I'll probably end up getting one eventually though because the games are just too good to miss out on xD
  • BladedFalcon - July 10, 2013 1:21 p.m.

    Well, if you found the Wii U on a bargain sale, I guess I can't completely blame you. Though dude, portable or not, the 3DS just has more and better games XD
  • Talvari - July 11, 2013 10:53 a.m.

    Yeah for sure xD I mean I can't imagine myself playing an SMT game anywhere other than my sofa to be honest. If the 3DS version of Monster Hunter Ultimate had online i most likely woulda bought one over the Wii U tbh, but capcom and stuff >.>
  • DJMoofinLuv - July 11, 2013 4:04 p.m.

    I dig both, happy to have them. : 3 But the Wii U should have waited a bit before it released, they came out with so few games.. I can't wait for the new ones for the Wii U though!!!!
  • slimjim441 - July 10, 2013 10:07 a.m.

    Can't wait. Gonna spend a bunch of cash on the eShop once I register it, too. ^_^

Showing 1-14 of 14 comments

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