Review: Become a demon-hunting Samurai in Shin Megami Tensei 4
Shin Megami Tensei IV is the first of the core series to make its way to a handheld. It's even more impressive that a new entry in the core series has finally surfaced, considering the last entry is almost 10 years old. Is the new generation ready for another hardcore demon-hunting game?
Looking back at other Shin Megami Tensei games, they certainly weren't a cakewalk. Everything from Nocturne to the Devil Summoner games were definitely catered to the hardcore. Thankfully, Shin Megami Tensei IV seems to buck that trend, and actually offer a more an experience that's more approachable to newcomers. I don't consider myself a series veteran at all, and I found myself easing into the game rather quick.
Taking place during a time where Samurai and high-tech equipment are commonplace, your main character becomes an honorary Samurai. Unlike Samurai of history, these selected individuals have one purpose: to rid the land of demons.
Unlike its Devil Summoner sibling on the 3DS, SMTIV plays out in third person. Getting around is fairly self-explanatory, though the game does have a quirky system of getting to a higher or lower platform. For example, to scale a ledge, you have to press the D-Pad up, which will have your hero look up and only then be able to scale. It's somewhat silly and almost unnecessary, but it won't break your experience.
Battles, however, play out in 2D, with encountered monsters showing up on the top screen, and your commands all relegated to the bottom screen. It's not as flashy as having full 3D battles, but it gets the job done.
What's more important is that the battle system is absolutely phenomenal. There are a lot of various intricacies that can turn the tide at any time. Certain enemies are weak to certain attacks, and learning to exploit these will be the key to victory. There is also a battle mechanic called Smirk, which will give your smug character or monster the ability to do more damage.
The biggest draw though is the demon collecting. Since there are literally hundreds of them in the game, you'll spend most of your time persuading this wonderfully colorful cast of monsters to join and battle on your behalf. It's time to throw out those Pokéballs, since you'll have to use a combination of wits, praise, berating and bribery to gain their favor. These are arguably some of the more entertaining sequences in the game. Since each demon has a very different personality, it'll take some trial and error, and it's not something you'll really get a tight grasp on since the demons are so varied.
Demon collecting just scratches the surface, too. Each of these demons can then be fused together to create even more powerful ones. During their fusion, they'll inherit skills from both (or more) parents. Unsure on which demons you should be combining? The game does a great job at suggesting combinations that are near your level, and these are usually quite powerful.
To make your journey even more accessible, you'll have access to Burroughs, an extremely high-tech and advanced gauntlet which houses info on pretty much anything you'll ever need, from maps and stats to demons. Burroughs is one of those great reasons that new players will feel a lot more comfortable starting out with SMTIV.
What's even cooler about Burroughs is her ability to upgrade over time. As you level up, you gain points to spend with Burroughs that will unlock various new 'apps' for the gauntlet. Many of these will be essential to the progression, but many will help out tremendously by offering a boost in experience, raise demon storage, or help out with negotiating.
While SMTIV does pride itself on being the most accessible of the bunch, it will still kick your butt on many occasions. Don't mistake accessibility for lack of difficulty. You must stay on your toes in battle, ensuring your demons are always up to the right level, using the correct skills and unlocking the super helpful Burroughs apps. Death is somewhat inevitable, but thankfully, it's handled rather well. Once dead, you're able to pay the ferryman a set amount of money to resurrect you right before you fell. Don't have the money? Start a tab. Don't want to pay money? Use your Nintendo Play Coins. It's a well done system that will undoubtedly alleviate some of the frustration from falling in battle.
Shin Megami Tensei IV might be the most accessible SMT game to date, but it's also a meaty RPG that will last you tons of hours, and that's not even counting all of the demons you can collect, fuse, and evolve, and side quests to take part of. It's not only one of the best RPGs you can pick up on the 3DS, it's one of the handheld's best offerings to date.