Grass Pants Reviews – Shin Megami Tensei IV

So I beat this game a few weeks back and I’ve been sitting on some thoughts for a while, but I think I’m ready to talk about the game. While it wasn’t the best game I’ve played in recent memory, it was pretty damn good. Also, as always, I’ll be spoiling the whole game, at least on the Law route. Let’s get goin’.

Right, let’s talk aesthetics since that’s the first thing you’re gonna notice. First, the game is almost totally voice acted, outside of a few non-important NPCs or scenes. The voice acting is really good for the most part and a fair number of familiar names like Liam O’Brien end up showing up. There is too much of a good thing, though, as Burroughs – your handy navigational system – has an annoying tendency to interrupt more serious scenes with a cheery ‘Congratulations on completing the quest!’ Also, some of the demon voices (heard upon fusing or negotiating them into your group) are either meh or straight-up annoying, with the ‘teenage girl’ voice most certainly being the latter.

Speaking of the demons, though, they’ve got some of the best designs I’ve ever seen in the series. Specific mention goes to the archangels and Lucifer, who spent most of the series looking like reasonably normal (if Technicolor-skinned and winged) humans in Greco-Roman style armor. This couldn’t be more different in Shin Megami Tensei IV, where the archangels are apparently based on the Talmudic interpretation of them. The best thing about this is that it works so well. Considering that the archangels are likely the closest things to Yahweh, it makes sense for them to be unsettling and alien, as they most certainly aren’t human.

Raphael

Source: Shin Megami Tensei Wiki

Anyway, so the game has nice voices and some of the best designs in the series, but what you (or at least I) want from a MegaTen game is a well-done story, so how’s that stand up? I’ll admit, this isn’t the best story they’ve done and I feel like they tried to do too much, ending up stretching themselves really thin. The plot is definitely standard MegaTen and you’re very rarely right about a twist the first time around. The characters are interesting and well-developed, which means nobody ends up feeling one-dimensional (except for maybe the archangels, but that’s kind of their ‘thing’).

So it’s got that going for it, but it just tried to do too much.Toward the end of the game, Flynn and his allies are thrown into two alternate realities. One Tokyo where  someone pissed off Yahweh, causing His wrath to fall upon Tokyo and anyone who dare attempted to help them. This is referred to as the Blasted Tokyo, a hellish desert wasteland where humans have been all but killed off and forced underground due to one of Yahweh’s creations spewing poison and making the air unbreathable. The second world, Infernal Tokyo, is more similar to what we’re used to seeing in the game by now… except it’s constantly on fire, plagued with gang wars, and most humans have become hybrids known as demonoids.

Now, both of these are really cool concepts especially when you begin to deal with the ‘main’ character from both of these timelines: Akira. In Blasted Tokyo, Akira is a former Counter-Demon Force soldier who is slowly succumbing to the poisonous air. After dealing with Blasted Tokyo’s poisonous air, this Akira turns to the ideas of Chaos to help rebuild the Law-devastated world. Infernal Akira is a demonoid who, after becoming King of Tokyo thanks to the protagonists’ efforts, attempts to establish Law. It’s a really cool idea and, I’ll admit, one I didn’t notice until doing research for this article.

Source: Shin Megami Tensei Wiki

I just feel like they didn’t spend enough time dealing with the consequences of these two worlds. Although, I suppose they kinda showed what happened in the fact that Akira (a third one!) is actually King Aquila, who founded Mikado. So, while there’s not much in the game that directly talks about these consequences, it’s very heavily implied that whatever happens to the other two Akira, the result will be somewhat similar to Mikado, except without the angelic presence.Speaking of the story falling short, my major problem with it is how some of the (paid) DLC was handled.

Now, I’ve only done the Law route, so if I’m wrong about this, please correct me and I’ll be more than happy to fix this up. Anyway, to my understanding, a fair amount of the backstory such as the identity of the three masked men held prisoner by demons in Tokyo and the reason for the Firmament, the ceiling between Tokyo and Mikado, are all hidden away in paid DLC. Considering that the game makes the masked men (the non-Gabriel Archangels, actually) out to be a really big deal, it absolutely sucks that we have to pay to get this piece of the story in-game. Anyway, I’ve spent the last four paragraphs rambling about the story, so let’s finish this thing off with the gameplay.

Overall, I love how convenient everything is. I mentioned this back in my first impressions piece, but the game has trimmed a lot of the nonsensical, frustrating mechanics. There are no more random battles, you can save anywhere, you can attack out of combat for a first strike, you can download apps for Burroughs in order to increase your stock, give you more options for negotiation, and allow you to fuse more higher level demons sooner.

Speaking of demons, let me expand a bit on the Demon Whisper mechanic I talked about in my last post. Demon Whisper, essentially, allows you to learn skills from demons after they’ve learned all of theirs, or improve skills that you’ve already learned. It’s a really nifty system, as it encourages you to keep demons around for a while. Thankfully, they level… reasonably quickly. Slower than you, but not as slow as Nocturne had ’em leveling.

Source: Shin Megami Tensei Wiki

There are some issues with the gameplay, though. Anyone who’s read my Soul Hackers review knew how much the balance (or lack thereof) in that game bothered me. Shin Megami Tensei IV‘s got some similar problems, but they’re on a less horrible scale. It’s mainly a problem with the bosses. Some of the bosses are ragequit-worthy, whereas some I’ve managed to beat on the first try, completely unprepared.

The final boss of the Law Route, Lucifer, is particularly bad about this. All of his non-Almighty spells end up in two categories: Physical or Ice, with an emphasis on the former. So, if you’ve got a bunch of ice nulling demons on your side and spam Tetrakarn (the physical-reflecting shield), Lucifer can’t really do a whole lot. Then all you’ve got to do is smack him around with physical attacks until he dies.

That’s another small issue with the game, physical attacks seem a bit overpowered as – to my knowledge – no boss is totally immune to ’em. So just put all of your late-game stat points for Flynn into strength and punch things to death, and you should be pretty much good.

Anyway, aside from those relatively minor complaints (even the paid DLC story is somewhat forgivable due to being about five bucks total for both parts), it’s a pretty good game. Again, it’s not gonna win my Best of 2013 Award – mostly because Pikmin 3 is gunning for that one – but it’s a good game. It’s definitely the most convenient and forgiving in the series and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who likes JRPGs, but has been put off by horror stories about the series’ difficulty. Anyway, I think that’s all I’ve got on this topic. As always, thanks for reading and have a good’un.

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