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Shin Megami Tensei IV (Nintendo 3DS) Review

Review for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Shin Megami Tensei IV has arrived, and to spoil a long story, it was worth the wait. Anyone worried whether SMT could deliver on the humble 3DS can set aside their fears. It's a heavy hitter with surprisingly good 3D visuals and plenty of well balanced content. Returning are series favorites, such as the Press-Turn system, and plenty of tweaks to improve playability without sacrificing any of what makes the series so good.

For those who don't know, Shin Megami Tensei is a very "core" set of RPGs in the Wizardry/Dragon Quest mold. The fourth game returns with series staples such as first-person turn-based battles and building a party by talking to demons met in combat. Then there's the Press-Turn system, in which the player gains or loses combat turns by attacking enemy weaknesses or strengths (and vice versa for enemies against the player).

All in all, it's easily one of the most feature rich combat systems on the market. That's something sorely needed in an industry that more often than not leans towards playing it safe. Spells, hit points, and melee are more than enough for most - maybe with some sort of gimmick like limit breaks.

Press-Turn is no gimmick, though. It's a highly tactical system that requires careful party building, systematic breakdowns of enemies and enemy types, and careful resource planning - from mana to spell use. It's also well balanced and rarely unfair, but it can often be difficult - brutally so. Still, once understood the combat in SMT is highly satisfying stuff, and IV very much succeeds on that count.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

The story is satisfying as well. From the very first minute, with its eerie, mystical introduction, on to more humorous moments which introduce the main characters, SMT IV is everything one expects of a big name RPG. The story twists and turns smartly, throwing predictable and unpredictable curves, and conspiratorially nodding to the audience all the time. That is to say, this is a game that acknowledges its users and their intelligence.

For instance, everyone knows the "young teen becomes hero" setup, and the game makers know that. They also know that gamers know that. Therefore, the story and dialogue reflect as such, while steering the game towards more serious subject matter. It's refreshing to play a game like Shin Megami Tensei IV today, when some RPGs are still aiming at overly, painfully melodramatic material with nauseatingly cliché characters. It's refreshing to be treated like someone with a modicum of intellect.

However, while the intentions are always good, the execution of the story department falters here and there. Perhaps it's an Atlus curse, because the writing can at times be - for lack of a more tender hearted description - not very good. Over repetition of words is grating, for one thing.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Hand-in-hand with the usually good-but-sometimes-bad writing is voice acting that also stumbles from time-to-time. Again, the majority of the dialogue is well delivered, but would this be a Shin Megami Tensei if there weren't some hilariously bad deliveries, leftfield stuff that just doesn't mesh with the intent of the written words? It wouldn't, and SMT IV upholds that series tradition.

These are the major issues - things like gameplay and story - in which SMT IV largely delivers. Of finer concerns there are many. The user interface (UI) is a humble star of the show: thoughtfully crafted, packed with well organised information, attractive, and easy to use. It's one of the best RPG UI's in ages. The overworld calls to mind Soul Hacker's in the best of ways. Overworld maps are in the old Final Fantasy / Dragon Quest style, lovingly crafted with lots of detail and are fun to explore, easy to navigate, full of characters and hidden away places.

Additionally, all those locations look great! The 3D graphics deliver in a way that most 3DS games don't. Shin Megami Tensei IV's 3D dungeons and towns look like they belong on a regular console. Textures are detailed and visually pleasing. Honestly, it's impressive what the team squeezed out of the humble 3DS, and will leave people wondering why there aren't more RPGs like this on the system (talking to you, Square-Enix!).

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Another mark in the mildly negative column are the 2D portraits. As with Etrian Odyssey IV, portraits consist of static hand-drawn material. Unlike Etrian Odyssey IV, though, the portraits do have alternate frames, for yelling or laughing, and so on. While it helps to mix up the presentation, one does yearn for slightly more frames, even some small amount of animation. Compensating are some very smart "cinematic" style portrait cuts. Characters fading in or out, tilting, moving around each other keep things interesting during long dialogue sessions.

Less forgivable are the monster dialog portraits - by and large they lean toward mediocre. Oftentimes they can even be just plain bad, flat with little to no shading, awkwardly drawn, or just rudimentary and boring. They can also be quite good, especially boss portraits. All of them, though, are completely static. For such a high quality game, the lackluster monster portraits are often a disappointment, especially given how often they are on view.

It's easy to overlook most of these flaws, though. After all, the real meat of the game is quality stuff. Given the uniqueness of the series compared to the rest of the industry, such minor sins will receive a quick pardon from most fans, and rightly so.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV on Nintendo 3DS- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

Some may argue that the game isn't as difficult as the hardest of the series, yet Shin Megami Tensei IV delivers a difficulty well above what most are used to in the genre. On normal difficulty, even non-boss fights can quickly turn deadly, and boss fights require very thorough understanding of the Press-Turn system. Easy difficulty is trivially easy, however, with boss fights providing only a mild challenge. Something in-between would have been welcome. Combat is always satisfying, though; tactical with unique mechanics that really set the series apart from the rest of the genre.

Graphics

Shin Megami Tensei IV delivers some of the finest 3D visuals available on the 3DS, with high quality character models, level geometry, and texturing. Battle sprites lack animation, however are well drawn and entertaining. The UI is also attractive, as well as functional, and one of the quiet highlights of the game. The only real stumble here is dialogue portraits, which range from impressively professional to strangely amateurish.

Sound

As with the graphics, sound design is high quality from effects to music. As with the graphics, there are some slight stumbles. Most of the voice acting is high quality, better than performances in Soul Hackers, however there is also the requisite awkward Atlus cheese, with odd deliveries that don't quite mesh with the dialogue, and text that is mostly good yet sometimes is very much not.

Value

As with any good SMT, this fourth mainline game provides a lot of content. There are numerous demons to fuse and side-quests to undertake. While the US$50 price tag is well above what most 3DS games are asking for, and some may have difficulty paying that for "just a handheld game," SMT IV does provide a console-sized amount of gameplay.

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

In a year that started strong, with Fire Emblem and Etrian Odyssey IV, and hasn't let up since, with Luigi's Mansion and Animal Crossing, Monster Hunter and Soul Hackers, and many more, the 3DS has yet another jewel to set in its crown. But Shin Megami Tensei IV isn't just another big name that Nintendo can boast about. It's one of the finest, most well produced, technically sound, feature rich and content packed RPGs released in years. True Shin Megami Tensei fans should pick it up without hesitation, and anyone who enjoys RPGs should strongly consider it as well.

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10.07.2013

5

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Developer

Atlus

Publisher

Atlus

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

Reader comments - add yours today Comments on this Review

Senior ModeratorStaff Member

Cannot wait! This should come to Europe asap...it's already been confirmed, hasn't it? I think NIS is bringing it over, if I recall correctly.

Sounds very good, Javier - thanks for the review Smilie

Adam Riley < Operations Director :: Senior Editor :: Cubed3 Limited >
Word of Adam | Voice123 Profile | AdamC3 on Twitter
Staff MemberOur member of the week

http://www.siliconera.com/2013/04/17/shin-megami-tensei-iv-is-headed-to-europe/

SMT IV is definitely coming to Europe. Have no worries! Release date is TBA though.

waiting for it.nice review.

Staff MemberOur member of the week

Thank you!

"Over repetition of words is grating, for one thing."
Funny you should say that, you used "humble" at least 3 or 4 times :p  Anyway, great review for a great game.  I'm enjoying it Smilie


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