Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Tested on: Nintendo 3DS
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse – Review
If we have to be completely honest, every time we simply catch a whiff of a Shin Megami Tensei title we already know we’re going to be in for a treat. Thus, with nothing but good spirits we started playing this latest iteration of the series on 3DS, and as expected we didn’t have that many bad remarks about it. Nonetheless, we didn’t expect ourselves to be in the middle of a war between heaven and hell, with Tokyo being the last bastion of humanity, or at least, the last bastion within reach. In many ways we were surprised to see so many Devil Survivor influences, albeit brought in a very interesting and original way.
The war between the angelic Merkabah and the demonic Lucifer has escalated and our blue planet has become the battleground to settle the score, sadly, with our human race stuck in the middle. Soon after, nearly every human settlement was wiped off the face of the Earth, except for Tokyo, which is being protected by a mysterious barrier. Nonetheless, the barrier isn’t perfect, as its inhabitants are trapped within the limits of a barren and nearly destroyed city, with demons that were already in the vicinity when the barrier was cast. Sadly, even though ‘peace’ was restored, the last human survivors are now reaching their limits, as going out of the protective bubble is no option, they even have to resort to eating demon meat. Flynn, the most renowned hunter, is believed to finally put a stop to the war, but before that happens, they have to survive long enough.
You will play as the fifteen year old Nanashi, who grew up with Asahi, and you’re both aspiring to become hunters yourself. While all is going relatively well for you, your family and your instructors, things take a turn for the worse/bizarre, when your mentor is murdered by an extremely powerful demon, and you follow him mere moments later. When you don’t find yourself in front of the pearly gates of heaven, you already feel like things are off. You get offered a second chance by a demon named Dagda, if you pretty much agree to become his little bitch. Reinvigorated and more powerful, you’re able to save Asahi and you’re on your way to become fully-fledged hunters. That being said, it’s only the beginning of your ominous journey.
Overall the game is chockfull of story content, which unfolds as you progress with the main quests. You’ll quickly get captivated by the grim events that are going on, and how you, and your childhood friend are struggling to make the (limited) world a better place.
Graphically Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is a delight and the developers did their best to combine the best of 3D graphics for the free roaming sections, and 2D for the battles and conversational aspects of the game. You’ll be treated to absolute topnotch visuals that fit in the palm of your hand, and of course, within the boundaries and capabilities of Nintendo’s 3DS. The only thing that might serve as a negative remark is that the areas in the 3D rendered portions of the game do not have that much clutter, thus they tend to feel somewhat empty from time to time. The city however, does have a reasonable amount of decoration, to make it feel a bit more alive.
The visual novel aspect of the game is well taken care of, even with the limited amount of movements your characters will make during conversations. Nonetheless, the facial expressions often seem to be one of Atlus’ fortes, as they are always very detailed and lively, to make sure the proper atmosphere is set.
In many ways, this game is somewhat reminiscent of a Pokémon title, albeit with creatures from the depths of hell, but with a hefty dose of demons that can join your party. Due to this, the developers had to create a reasonable amount of monsters, to make sure the game doesn’t get bland too fast. While the creators made sure there are ample evil minions to encounter, many can already be found in games such as Devil Survivor 2, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the universe flows into other games like this.
The foundation of the atmosphere is properly set by the graphical quality of the game, but the sound of this title adds to said mood. You’ll be treated to upbeat tunes when situations call for them, and more tranquil tracks when you’re roaming around the different areas. While the soundtrack in itself might not be extremely memorable, it’s certainly great for a handheld title.
Voice acting is also a huge part of this title, albeit only during key story sequences and a few short one-liners and words during combat or when trying to have a conversation with random townsfolk, or strangers you come across in Tokyo.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is a fairly tactical RPG, that feels somewhat like a grim Pokémon title, where you’ll have to collect demons in order to have a fighting chance against the forces of both heaven and hell. If you’re not strolling through the suburban areas of Tokyo, you’ll find yourself exploring the city, and fending off groups of monsters one after another.
Just like in Devil Survivor 2, you will escape the clutches of death, and thanks to this you’ve become stronger and are able to summon demons, at least, after persuading them to join your side. Keep in mind, the spots on your team are quite limited and it also seems that you can’t have the same demon twice, thus merging your current ones might be a good idea. During battles you can have four active demons making the active party total six, as you’ll be able to dish out some damage too, as well as your partner. The latter will do random actions within his/her capabilities at the end of your turn. Thus this means you can be randomly healed or they can help you fend off monsters, whatever they see fit.
Unlike Devil Survivor you actually have to convince demons to join your party, and they tend to mouth you off, steal from you, run off with goodies and so on, before they actually leave their treacherous ways behind. More than often you’ll have to sweet-talk them, offer them money, bits of your HP and MP, and then they might just join your team. Thus grinding becomes fairly important, as you’ll need proper resources to persuade your future companions. As mentioned earlier, at some point in time you’ll have to opt to merge different beings into one, in order to start catching the base creatures again. Merging has to be in sync with your own character’s level, and with the heaps of combinations available, this quickly becomes an extremely fun mechanic to mess around with.
Combat follows a fairly traditional turn based format, which certainly works for a game such as this. You, and your monsters will be able to attack in consecutive turns, and the enemy party will do the same. At the end of your turn, your chosen partner, Asahi or the ones you unlock as you progress, will also perform an action. A fun twist is that your own monsters actually teach you their skills by leveling up, thus your skills are dependant of the demons you have in your party. Of course, both you and your demons will receive experience for solving quests, be it those tied in with the story, or side-quests. When you level up, you can assign stat points, which grant you more strength, dexterity, agility, and so on. Demons also get improved stats and learn new skills once in awhile.
Outside of combat you’ll either be roaming around downtown or inside the city limits of Tokyo. The first is in a 3D rendered format, like you would in any third-person game, the latter is map based, where you move your marker around the map. Of course, stages and objectives are also in the same 3D rendered format. In both the map based style, as well as during quests outside of the town, you’ll be able to start battles, as the monsters roaming around will attack you when they notice you.
You’ll also have a few options gear-wise, but these prove to be rather simplistic, but pleasant nonetheless. Not only will you be able to spice up your character’s appearance, you’ll also be able to boost your stats. Nonetheless, acquiring cash and collecting demons prove to be a rough ordeal for your wallet, thus you’ll have to find a proper balance.
The only somewhat negative in the gameplay element seems to be the rather crappy camera positioning, no support for the second stick of the New 3DS, and the sometimes clunky controls. Other than that, this game is a demonic delight.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is one of those handheld titles that might just be the game of the year on its platform. You’ll be treated to an interesting, albeit grim, storyline, filled with interesting characters, monsters and a background that makes up one dark but beautiful painting. If you’re into RPGs with a hefty focus on planning, collecting critters and a reasonable amount of exploring, you’ll certainly love this title in the Shin Megami Tensei universe. If you’re still looking for a present for the upcoming holidays, look no further.