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Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Shin Megami Tensei IV.

Today's archival rec is 300: Rise of an Empire.

Shin Megami Tensei IV.

Have you ever wanted to play a game, but everyone kept insisting it was so difficult, and that just put you right off? That was me with Shin Megami Tensei IV. I was eventually swayed when watching the first five minutes of a Let's Play, and dropped eighteen quid at the Nintendo Online Store to get it, hoping vaguely that it wouldn't be too difficult.

Shin Megami Tensei IV places you in the shoes of a young man from the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, Flynn, as he is chosen to become a samurai, demon hunters who venture into the caves beneath the kingdom to fight monsters. With his new friends Walter, Jonathan and Isabeau, he is tasked with capturing the Black Samurai, a mysterious figure who has been handing out books that transform people into demons - a search which will lead to him discovering the secrets behind (or beneath) Mikado.

Nice statue.

Much as I enjoyed this game, I was a bit surprised to hear that Shin Megami Tensei is a rival to Final Fantasy in Japan, mostly because it was clearly being made on a far, far smaller budget. Voice acting is very limited, limited to major characters and boss monsters, by and large; cutscenes are primarily series of still images; and amongst the art assets, it's clear that a lot of them are being recycled from earlier games in the series. That's not a bad thing: The relatively low budget did not at any point stop me from enjoying the game, but it is a notable one, especially for a series that apparently is a competitor with a series with gigantic, unending budgets.

(Then again, it is also a handheld game, with all that that suggests.)

Nobody loves you, Jonathan. 

The gameplay is fun, but can get a bit repetitive, being the standard RPG fare of 'take on quests and sidequests, encounter random monsters, engage in turn based battles, use money from battles to buy nicer equipment.' Your party is constantly changing, though, as three of four of your party members are demons you have recruited to your cause through the art of conversation, and you can fuse your recruited demons to create new ones (although sometimes you may not want to - especially towards later parts of the game, you may find that the demons you can fuse are objectively worse than the demons you have. I personally tended to fuse demons into ones that I found aesthetically pleasing, because I am very shallow).

The gameplay is also not nearly as difficult as advertised. While this pleased me, it does raise questions about why so many people are complaining about it being so extremely difficult, bar maybe nostalgia for older, purportedly more difficult games in the series. Answers on a postcard to that one, I suppose.

As far as the story goes, it was clearly written by lunatics. Don't get me wrong, I adored the story, and it was bolstered by some genuinely interesting and charismatic characters (not you, Jonathan), but around the point the interdimensional thought aliens started shunting you between realities, it became abundantly obvious that this storyline had been hammered out by throwing ideas at a darts board. It was a delightful, ridiculous romp, even if I do feel a little like the endings (of which on my first playthrough I went with Neutral) were all lacking in drama, somewhat. 

Don't look so shocked at me saying that, guys.

Now that I've finished, I'm still full of questions, especially as nobody amongst the fans can seem to agree whether this story takes place in an alternate universe to other Shin Megami Tensei games or not (my assumption is that it does). I'd say 'I'm sure the DLC will answer my questions', but I've looked up the DLC, they just create more questions. I've also looked up the manga (one of them, at least, nobody likes Jonathan enough to scanlate his one), and that just creates more questions, too. I'm good with there being questions left outstanding at the end of a story, but in this case, it feels like a little bit too much was left unclear. 

The voice acting was all very good, and the dialogue writing was okay too, with all the Mikado folks talking in a slightly stilted, archaic way, while the Tokyo residents spoke much more casually and fluidly. The OST wasn't that good, but it was perfectly sufficient for purposes.

So, I enjoyed this game a lot, and I probably would recommend it, especially if you're a habitual JRPGer. As of yet, there's no hint of a Shin Megami Tensei V, and the development time between these games seems - often lengthy, to say the last. There is however, a crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem coming up soon, so I'll be keeping my eye on that with some interest. 

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