The intent to finish Shin Megami Tensei 4 (SMT4 from here on out) before I reviewed it was there honestly, but that is not going to happen. SMT4 started off on the right foot so this review will have notes at the bottom on how to enjoy SMT4 more.
This was my first foray into the world of SMT as the series has always intrigued me. Also, I’ve only met one person who has played previous games in the series and they didn’t give me much hope that I’d enjoy it. Like my impressions stated though, the price is(or was depending on when you read this review) right with the deal that Club Nintendo had going for it.
SMT4 starts out slow… and weird with your character floating above clouds with a multitude of voices saying quotes that even farther in the game still doesn’t really seem to matter. Then you’re introduced to two other main characters in this dream that know you, but you haven’t met in-game yet. This “dream” set up an expectation for the character movement that the actual game didn’t completely commit too. Most of the story is delivered in a still picture menu option fashion.
Having three ways to deliver the story is interesting, but it almost feels like three different types of RPG’s mushed into one game. I may have enjoyed the setup had it been done mostly in the 3rd person view with the still image quest/dialog delivery system along side it. The still image setup, while interesting, feels lazy. That’s probably just a style preference and it looks like it’s not mine. The top-down map view also felt lazy and with no names (other than the region) on the map. It’s tough to tell specifically where you are. That got a bit frustrating.
A feature that has been praised around the net is the demon fusion part of SMT4. Basically, there are combinations of certain demons you can capture and then fuse together to create a whole new demon. This concept gets marred by the limited amount of demons you can have (unless you upgrade your capacity to handle more) and the need for more powerful moves and/or demons themselves.
In a fusion you can choose to keep the native skills of the demon you’re creating or chose a combination of skills from the demons you are fusing. This is useful to add elemental skills and abilities or certain defenses that said demon would not have attained by leveling up.
You also lose the two (or three+ if you choose a special fusion to make a usually higher level demon) that you put into this evolution. You can choose to save the demon’s state (moves and abilities) as they are before you fuse them into a new demon to summon back later for a usually hefty sum. At a high point in the game I’ve had about $50k. Some, if not most of the summons, usually cost around $10k+ each. At least saving the state of demons is possible and free since you may want to create a certain demon and you can’t have two of the same demon in your party simultaneously. You will inevitably need to part ways. I just wish I could catch a wild version of a demon to create the new one. At the same time I would liked to have certain abilities of the ones already in my party. It’s the “cake and eating it” conundrum.
Combat goes smoothly and makes a fair bit of sense. All demons (and you with your armor) have elemental defenses and weaknesses. You can consider this to be similar to Pokemon but with less obvious traits. Obviously when a demon is lit on fire, you could probably guess that ice would do the most damage. Some demons just look weird and non-elemental and at that point it’s a crap shoot unless you’ve got your wiki-cheats up. If you don’t and you attack with the element they are strong against, you could end up getting your damaged returned to you and lose your turn. Granted if you know the elements then you can gain an extra turn for your team and usually shut them out.
The problem for me was in the difficulty of the fights even when you out level the mobs. You could get your butt handed to you by mobs that you more than double in level if they get to attack you first. There are a lot of one hit kills and boss battles are even meaner. While having a difficult game is nice, an insta-gib fest is never my idea of fun. When you continuously get slapped around or continuously monkey-stomp the bad guys the game get’s either frustrating or boring. If you die then you can choose to resurrect yourself for 14 Play Coins and then sometimes for free. If you die enough you unlock the option to play on an easier setting.
My last note of contention comes in the multiple endings of SMT4. While I may not have beaten the game, you can see what they are here. These endings are not what I want at the end of a long quest. All of them are like endings to movies I wouldn’t appreciate. I’m glad I didn’t beat this game.
How to enjoy this game:
-Grind yourself till you way out level the areas.
-Make sure you have a wiki-guide thing to let you know what mobs are weak to what including bosses so you can focus on more important things like character development and story (for what it’s worth).
-Pick up all of the relics you can because that is a great way to get money.
-If you like a demon, save the state at which you like him/her the most and resummon him/her when you get a chance. There’s nothing like being stuck with a bunch of demons in your party that you don’t like.
-Upgrade the amount of demons you can have in your party so that you don’t have to feel pushed into fusing demons just to make room.
-Upgrade the amount of spells you and your demons can learn so you don’t get frustrated when you have to decide whether you want to give up one useful skill for another.
-Upgrade to regen your MP at least once, you’ll thank me later.