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Shin Megami Tensei IV

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG

Graphics & Sound:

The Nintendo 3DS is finally starting to come into its own. Genres of all kinds are getting the representation they need on the handheld, including Japanese role-playing games. Between Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan and Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, there's some quality fare to choose from. And with the release of Shin Megami Tensei IV, that selection just got even better. This is a ruthless, hardcore role-playing game that should satisfy both fans of the series and those who enjoy a good old-fashioned grind.

Shin Megami Tensei IV has its ups and downs in the visual department. The setting is truly bizarre and inspired in places, but at no point does any of the onscreen action feel alive. Whether you're exploring towns or fighting monsters, there isn't much movement; the Dragon Quest-esque fighting animations (or more specifically, the lack thereof) have been out of style since the NES era, and though the mechanics of the gameplay remain intact, some actual fighting animation shouldn't be too much to ask. Instead, we're treated to static images of your character, your allies, and your foes. This makes the characters even more difficult to grow attached to than they already are. Perhaps the special kill effects are the coolest part of the visuals; lethal gun attacks perforate enemies with splatters of blood, cuts rend them in two, electric attacks vaporize them, fire burns them away, and ice shatters them. It looks neat, but it's no substitute for quality animation. On the plus side, demons are creatively illustrated, and boss monsters look incredible; an early encounter with a demonic horse gives you a macabre taste of what's to come.

Shin Megami Tensei IV sounds great, though few will come for anything but the gameplay. The music fluctuates between the nobility of Mikado and the run-down hell that is the "land of the unclean ones" (not spoiling anything). Battle calls are always cheesy fun, especially when the voice acting is otherwise good, and so it is with this game.


Shin Megami Tensei IV casts you as an individual living in the kingdom of East Mikado, a community that relishes its Luxuror (noble) class and stigmatizes its Casualries (commoners). You are of the Casualry, but you have the opportunity to participate in the Ceremony of the Gauntlet, a special rite used to determine who will become samurai, the sacred protectors of the land. Unsurprisingly, the rite ends with you and a few others being selected as samurai.

You'd think being an honorary Luxuror and a sacred samurai would be cool, but shortly after the ceremony, a Black Samurai shows up and starts distributing forbidden literature to the Casualries. The knowledge contained therein transforms people into demons. After our heroes give chase, the Black Samurai disappears deep within the demon-infested Naraku caves. It is forbidden for anyone in Mikado to travel past a certain point, as it is where the "unclean ones" live. However, the religious organization in charge orders an expeditionary detail to track the Black Samurai down, no matter the cost. Considering its pedigree, Shin Megami Tensei IV is very disappointing from a narrative standpoint; while the setting is cool, the characters are not.


Shin Megami Tensei IV does not play around. It isn't the hardest role-playing game I've played, but it does not accept anything other than your full attention and careful strategizing. Even the weakest enemies in the game can kill you dead in a few turns if you're not careful. This is sometimes kind of a bummer, as fights that cost a great deal of your hit and magic points often don't yield much in terms of experience. If you're not into grind-heavy experiences, you might want to stay away from this one.

Speaking of difficulty, Shin Megami Tensei IV is usually fair. If you bring the wrong demons into a fight, you'll be stomped with extreme prejudice. The tide of battle can turn on a dime, so you'd best be prepared. However, there are moments with the game that will just plain infuriate you. Friendly NPCs can and will sign your death warrant for you from time to time; if one of your allies casts Bufu on an ice-resistant enemy, the enemy will be invulnerable for a whole round, on top of gaining an action slot or two. This is inexplicable.

If you want to switch over to the game's Easy difficulty mode, you'll have to die twice and pay the revival price. If you don't, you will find the continue system to be completely asinine. Macca is hard-earned, and cannot be won by simply killing every demon in sight. Since you can save absolutely anywhere in the game, you'll simply be resetting the game until you squeak past your problem areas.

Game Mechanics:

Shin Megami Tensei IV is mostly surprise-free for those who have played the rest of the series. The primary action consists mainly of dungeon-crawling, resource-gathering, quest-completing, and avoiding death at all costs. However, it's in the little details that the intricacies of the franchise shine.

Your special samurai gauntlet contains an artificial intelligence known as Burroughs. Burroughs is kind of a PDA/personal growth system that allows you to save your game anywhere, track quests, and upgrade abilities. As you level, you earn Burroughs Points, which can be spent on Apps that increase your demon stock and skill slots, unlock new abilities and bonuses, and more. It's definitely a hook for those who don't like to grind.

Your character cannot survive on his own, so he must appeal to his foes to get them on his side. This gives way to an interesting haggling mechanic that determines whether or not they will join you. Oftentimes, you'll have to answer a series of questions and give them a number of gifts. It's kind of a tricky system, and demons are an incredibly fickle bunch. Some might take a bunch of resources only to decide that they want to kill you anyway, while others might simply run away. Some will lay out a flat price that will automatically recruit them to your side, though those prices are almost never worth it. But once you get them, you can level them up or use them to fuse into new and (possibly) more powerful demons in the Cathedral of Shadows.

As far as the actual combat goes, it's classic Shin Megami Tensei. Exploit your enemies' weaknesses, then go in for the kill. Certain attacks and evasions will cause your character to smirk, which triggers an invulnerable state and earns that character an extra action slot. Properly capitalizing on this opportunity takes some getting used to, as you must learn the specifics of your enemies.

In terms of both storytelling and gameplay, Shin Megami Tensei IV doesn't reach the lofty heights of the Persona games. However, it's absolutely worth the time of any 3DS owner who wants an old-fashioned hardcore JRPG.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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