Atlus have brought us many wonderful Shin Megami Tensei spin-off games in the last decade: Persona 3 , 4 , Devil Survivor 1 , 2 and Strange Journey , however, Shin Megami Tensei IV is the first numbered title in 10 long years. America has had the game over a year now, but it’s finally out in Europe on October 30 th and there is every reason to be excited about it.
We join our silent protagonist, Flynn, as he makes his way to the medieval kingdom of Mikado, with the goal of becoming a chosen Samurai. These chosen few keep the world at peace, by exploring dungeons, stopping evil demons and partnering up with, well, less evil demons.
Helped along by your charming, talking wristband, Burroughs , you begin your journey . The game wastes no time introducing you to the chaos and dangers of being a dungeon crawling Samurai, showing you right from the off that lacking focus or being ill-prepared won’t get you very far. Even on the normal setting, this is not a difficult game, it’s a brutal game. You won’t be given a demon to help you on your way, you’re told to find and partner up with one yourself, which might see you dead before you succeed. I had to swallow my pride and select the easy setting after dying several times in a row.
Exploration takes place in third-person, but battles take place in first-person, and for those who have played any games in the SMT series, you’ll know how the battle system works. You have access to demons, who are able to use and share a variety of abilities. Discovering a foe’s weakness and exploiting it is key to winning any battle and staying alive. By taking advantage of their weak spot your team will gain an extra turn, use something that they can block, then you’ll lose a turn. The battle system hasn’t changed much, which is great, as it’s a wonderful mechanic.
If you come across a demon you would like to add to your team, then you’ll be able to stop the battle and have a friendly chat. I say friendly, this system is luck based, you can give the greedy creatures everything they want, items, money, your HP and MP, just for them to say “Well, I’m off, thanks”. Refuse or try to Cheat them and the demon might take offense or just simply want to eat your face off. It can lead to some really witty and well-written dialogue between you and the beautifully designed creatures. Achieving your goal and getting them to team up with you is a damn good feeling, which doesn’t get boring quickly, a good thing, as there are hundreds of them for you to beat, collect, use and fuse.
Demon Fusion returns and it’s as awesome as ever. If you feel a few of your buddies just can’t handle themselves in battle, then it’s time to say goodbye and merge them, creating a new bad-ass partner who’ll let loose on the pitiful fools who stand in your way. Collecting and fusing different demons in a number of ways is not only addicting, but gives you a great sense of freedom and allows you to totally change the flow of battle.
Away from the combat, exploration is also enjoyable, with each new dungeon and floor giving you new goodies, a new set of enemies to face and hidden paths waiting to be discovered. I’ve spent hours wandering around talking to demons, looking for items and just enjoying the battle system. If you find yourself in need of a distraction or just want to earn some more money, then taking on Challenges is a good idea. Although they are your average “Go collect this”, “Go kill that” kind of side-quests, the rewards are good and the missions can be pretty enjoyable.
There are some issues however, the story, although having some great ideas and enjoyable moments, just isn’t as strong as previous entries. This is remedied a little by the fact SMT IV is well-paced, giving you just enough to stay interested. The fellow Samurai that join you on your quest, are nothing special and are disappointingly unmemorable, a shame as SMT has given us some truly loveable characters in the past. Overall these aren’t big problems, as the game still stands up with these flaws.
Aesthetically the game isn’t great, but it’s good enough, the characters and demons are well designed, as are the dungeons, however, NPCs and some backgrounds can look pretty ugly at times. The soundtrack is brilliant and although no Japanese language option is available, the English audio is solid, as expected of Atlus.
Although the story and characters aren't the strongest in the series, SMT IV gets so many other things right. With over 80 hours of gameplay, hundreds of demons to collect, tons of side-quests to take on, DLC incoming, and a strong battle system to enjoy, this game is worth every penny of it's £17.99 asking price. Get your Nintendo 3DS out and prepare for some brilliantly brutal JRPG goodness, just don't feel ashamed to change the difficulty to easy. Shin Megami Tensei is back!