RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Sep 27th 2021 at 08:00:00 AM by (SirPsycho)
Posted under RPG, 3DS, Atlus

In 2009, Atlus released the first game in the Shin Megami Tensei series since Nocturne. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey would release for Nintendo's DS to good reviews and underwhelming sales. However, Atlus kept the development team around and they began work on Strange Journey's followup. The fruits of their labor would release in 2013 when Atlus released Shin Megami Tensei IV for the Nintendo 3DS, with a European release following in 2014. The 3DS was only 2 years old at this point, and Atlus used a lot of the early marketed features in Shin Megami Tensei IV. The character art in cutscenes are 2D, with the environments being in 3D, and the console's 3D functions can be switched on to create a layering effect during cutscenes, exploration, and battle.

Shin Megami Tensei IV starts with the player character, canonically named Flynn, and a childhood friend named Issachar making their way to the capital of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado for a ceremony that determines the year's new crop of Samurai. You succeed while your friend fails. This setting comes across as quite archaic, based on feudal ideologies, rigid social structures split between rich and poor, and containing a notable lack of technology. That is until the Samurai gear is introduced, which hints at the idea that Mikado is placed in some vision of humanity's feudal past set in the modern era or near future. You start off the game being hazed by the stuck-up rich kid until he bites off a bit more than he can chew. This series always plays around with ideas of a different apocalypse, and the one in SMT IV is quite a bit different than the others in the series so far. The prologue continues until the player is informed of a Black Samurai who is spreading literature throughout the Kingdom. An expedition is soon launched to Flynn's hometown as news of a demon outbreak reaches the castle. Soon afterwards, Flynn and his friends are then told to go deeper into the dungeon of Naraku beneath the capital of Mikado. The group finds that there is an entire world underneath their feet, as Naraku soon opens up and it becomes clear that Mikado lives on a stone dome that has covered Tokyo.

The main focus of the game is on the classic Shin Megami Tensei formula of gathering demons and fusing them together into stronger demons as your main character levels up. The combat system is built on the Press Turn system with one major addition, Smirking. A character or demon getting a Smirk essentially turns them invincible until their next attack. They will easily dodge attacks, avoid their weakness, and get a significant attack boost while Smirking. Smirks are triggered randomly by exploiting enemy weaknesses or getting a lucky critical hit. It's not able to be fully controlled which has been the main criticism of Smirk's implementation. Later in the game, the focus shifts to the game's more philosophical elements. A nice change from earlier games is the fact that Flynn's friends and allies spend a lot of time with him, sharing their beliefs while discovering the truths of Tokyo as a group. This makes the decision to follow law, chaos, or walk the neutral path feel stronger than in previous games where the main character's friends basically scatter as soon as the game really starts to ramp up. Shin Megami Tensei IV often feels like a classic party with the random ally that joins you in battle while you're on the main quest.

The First Major Challenge

The demon summoning system has many changes to it compared to previous games in the series, including the various spinoff series that Atlus has developed over the decades. Summoning and fusion are built around a huge search system that allows players to use as many or as few restrictions as they would like. Instead of manually picking demons to fuse together the player will search for matches, either with the three suggestions on the main page or by searching through each individual demon's matches. Exploration takes place in two main ways, with the classic overworld map and a fully 3D environmental exploration system once the player reaches their destination. Random battles are also replaced by enemy parties which freely roam the map, allowing players to ambush enemies but also opening themselves up for ambushes. One great addition to the game is its question system; it's based on the quests from Strange Journey but built upon quite a bit. There are even repeatable quests which can help give a stuck player some direction and rewards.

Shin Megami Tensei IV features one of the strongest soundtracks of its time. A small team consisting of Ryota Kozuka, Kenichi Tsuchiya, and Toshiki Konishi composed the soundtrack, which is deep and has many variations of battle themes, true to the series' name and heritage. The music is bold, sticks out in the player's head, and can easily be listened to outside the game. The audio is also incredibly fitting for the game, featuring many creepy sound effects. Playing with headphones on will even reveal some audio details which are almost impossible to hear through the speakers, such as demons on the map making noise when they spawn. As the setting shifts, so too does the overall sound design, with the order and hopefulness of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado shifting towards and being replaced by the chaotic hopelessness and corruption of Tokyo found below.

The graphics in the game are also fantastic, especially for the 3DS. A lot of other role-playing games for the console ended up going with a visual style similar to Funko Pops. On the other hand, Shin Megami Tensei IV goes with a more detailed and realistic graphics style. Characters have believable proportions, and the world and dungeon areas all feel like real places to be explored. The more supernatural elements in the game have Atlus' trademark ethereal animations in the background. What makes Shin Megami Tensei IV really feel like it sticks out and makes it worth playing is the fact that Atlus brought absolutely everything to the table and went all out in the kitchen.

Shin Megami Tensei IV is a modern classic RPG, with many aspects of its design being ripped straight from the 8 and 16-bit era. Thankfully, the developers seem to have known what to modernize, as the game is easier to play and jump into than older games in the same series. It's likely not the best series to start a journey into role-playing games though, as the way players progress in the game is not the most immediately obvious. This is why Shin Megami Tensei IV feels like an RPG for the RPG fan. It is designed in many ways to feel like little more than a modernized version of the original games. It's almost taking some cues from Dragon Quest in this regard, not straying far from its formula but just smoothing out the rough edges. Atlus did a late reprint of some of their 3DS library, and this was one of the games that benefitted. There are still a lot of brand new copies on the market, with these sealed copies running around $50. Loose or complete and used copies are also selling for about $30-40. When the price difference is that small, you may as well treat yourself and break a seal.

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Just finished this a little over a month ago and have been deep into the Apocalypse follow up (of which I'm at the final boss and struggling to find a way through it). Love these games so much, thanks for putting a spotlight on them!
@Crabmaster2000: Out of all the RPGs I've played and reviewed recently, SMT 4 is my favorite one. I believe it is truly a modern RPG classic, not just because of its deeply embedded callbacks to the 16 bit era (the music is a big one, some of the 'vocals' in the game's music sound like high quality SNES digitized voices), but because its really good.

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