Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (Nintendo 3DS) Review

By Nikola Suprak 15.09.2016 1

Review for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse on Nintendo 3DS

It really is amazing how far the Shin Megami Tensei series has come. It used to be something of a niche title back in its PlayStation days, but now new releases are almost as eagerly anticipated as some of the biggest names in the genre. The latest outing for the series, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, follows largely in the tradition of the previous titles in the series, particularly Shin Megami Tensei IV, which it is a direct continuation of. It has everything that everyone has come to love and except from the series, including demon hunting, recruiting, and the dark post-apocalyptic storyline that has come to define the series. It is exactly what you would expect…but not much more.

For those familiar with the Shin Megami Tensei series, a lot of the set up here should sound really familiar. Most of the world has been destroyed as a result of a battle between angels and demons, and much of humanity is gone with it. Tokyo has been spared thanks to a handy impenetrable shield that sprung up right when things were getting bad, which unfortunately trapped both the humans and the demons they were fighting inside with them. It is pretty much a sequel to Shin Megami Tensei IV and unfolds alongside one of the possible pathways in the title. Fortunately, the hero this time around is a brand new character and an even newer demon hunter. Of course, then, the story will focus on his growth and, oh, oops, he's dead. He and most of his buddies get mauled by a demon almost as soon as the opening cut-scene ends, leaving a bloody burned up messed in their wake. They just don't make protagonists the way they used to. Luckily, death in the Shin Megami Tensei universe isn't the detriment it is in other universes, and after making a deal with another demon, the very dead hero becomes very alive again. With newfound powers and the ability to recruit demons to fight for him, he must now try to end the celestial war occurring and hope his deal with the demon doesn't come back to bite him.

Almost immediately, this feels like a Shin Megami Tensei classic. The same mood, the same atmosphere that really makes the series so identifiable is still here, in spades. Long-term fans should definitely appreciate the chance to jump back into the world again, although the plot is perhaps not as strong as some of the earlier entries. It is still good, but at times becomes too convoluted and messy for its own good. Some later plot points will likely leave people scratching their head and at times it feels like things are being convoluted simply for the sake of being convoluted. Still, though, the story here is definitely unique in comparison to most other RPGs, taking place in a modern city with modern conveniences. It is a deliciously dark title, with a more serious and adult atmosphere than would be expected from a 3DS RPG. The writing and characters are all excellent on top of that, which is what really makes the story fun to follow along. The plot itself is still fairly strong on its own, but the writing elevates it even further.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse on Nintendo 3DS

Everything about this is just really well put together, and the refinement doesn't stop at just the writing. It is really well designed from an aesthetic standpoint, although some of the environments can get a bit boring and corridor heavy. The character and demon art, though, is fantastic, something the series has always been known for. There are a lot of repeats here in the demons, but still, when taken as a whole, this is a wonderfully creative and memorable pack of demons. Part of the fun has always been to see what cavalcade of monstrosities will be following you around this time, and there is certainly no disappointment on that front. The voice acting is impressive, as well, and there is an impressive amount of it. The production values here are great, and things like the writing, visuals, and sound all contribute perfectly to the mood and tone.

While all these things are great, the core gameplay is still built around the turn-based RPG mechanics of its predecessor. You and your allies line up against whatever wandering horde of monstrosities is passing by at the moment and the one who hits the other ones hardest is the winner. It is a very well executed example of a classic system, with plenty of tweaks and tricks to pick up along the way. The smirk system has returned with some slight modifications, and by using attack types that the opponent is weak against it can provide an enhanced status improving critical hit rates and giving another turn that round. It provides an extra layer of strategy in battle, and while only three demons can accompany the hero at a time, there are plenty of ways to reorganise the battle lines and summon in the appropriate demons for particularly tricky fights. Some of the later bosses practically require this and coming into battle unprepared is a good way to get wiped out rather quickly. The game is never too punishing for a loss, though, and as a whole this is probably slightly easier than previous ones. It still has a nice difficultly to it, however, and it is rewarding to find ways to gain additional advantages in battle.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse on Nintendo 3DS

The most fun to be had here undoubtedly comes in the form of recruiting and combining demons to bolster your fighting ranks. All the demons running around in dungeons can be recruited to build up a proper fighting force, and there are plenty to find along the way. There are over 400 in total, and there is a certain Pokémon "Gotta recruit 'em all" feel to things. Lesser demons can then be combined into stronger, more impressive allies, and the adventure's team management aspect is near perfect. Beyond the three active team members, there is a certain amount allowed on the bench that can be swapped in as needed. The size of these reserve forces grows over time, and figuring out the way to manage the available roster adds a nice bit of strategy. Finding that perfect fighting force is very addictive, and figuring out what demons to ditch, what to keep, and what to merge into stronger allies creates this wonderful bit of complexity that completely changes how easy or difficult battles are. There are some minor frustrations to the system, and recruiting demons can be a bit of a hassle from time to time. To recruit them at first, they need to be engaged in conversation and given certain items, but the best dialogue option feels a bit random at times and they can also flee at the end, seemingly for no reason. Overall, it is a fantastic system and these minor annoyances don't get in the way too much.

Even beyond the depth offered by the demon recruiting aspect of the title, there is a great amount of content here. There are plenty of quests to complete along the way and tons of loot lying around to be evaluated and sold for profit. This can be used to purchase better equipment, but the best way to improve the stats is through levelling up. The demons all level up individually, but there is a fair amount of customisation that can be done for the main hero. There are five different stats to sink points in to, and where they go is entirely up to the player. It might not be the deepest of systems, but it adds enough to a system that already has plenty of depth. Beyond that, levelling up also gives a certain number of App Points that can be used to purchase skills that help in demon recruiting and battle. Some skills can be used to increase the number of skills that can be equipped at one time while others will do things like adding skills that allow for asking demons for money in battle. There are a fair amount of options. Grinding to unlock more skills never feels like much of a chore, nor is it even particularly necessary.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse on Nintendo 3DS

Outside of an occasionally muddled plot and a difficultly level a bit on the low end, the only major issue is that it is hard to see exactly who the target audience for the game is meant to be. This is a very poor starting point for newcomers to the series, as only the briefest of synopsis is provided to the game's ludicrously convoluted plot. It is gripping and well written and all of those good things, but it also grabs the player by the scruff of the neck and dumps them in almost immediately with only a brief summary for the events of the previous game. It is easy for veterans of the series to get lost here at the best of times, so it is hard to imagine someone without a working knowledge of the previous game being able fully appreciate the story here. It feels like walking into a movie halfway through, and newcomers are going to keep turning to the person next to them and whispering, asking who everyone is and why they should care.

At the same time, though, it feels like a certain segment of the dedicated Shin Megami Tensei fan-base might not be able to get fully on-board with this latest adventure in the universe. A working knowledge of the original Shin Megami Tensei IV is needed to fully appreciate the story, but people with that knowledge will have already been exposed to most of the tricks this new game has to offer. The battle system is largely the same, although there have been small refinements made to some important aspects, like the smirk system to make the game feel more balanced and harder to break open. Locations are also re-used at times, although there are new dungeons and a nice overhaul to the overworld map to make things less confusing. A nice summary of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse would be "like Shin Megami Tensei IV, but better." Locations, combat, and even the demons all are largely re-used from the original but appear in an upgraded form. While all these things make this one of the most enjoyable and complete Shin Megami Tensei titles to date, it is also easy to understand if someone who already played Shin Megami Tensei IV might find themselves growing bored because of how similar an experience this offers.

Screenshot for Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse on Nintendo 3DS

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is sort of a weird game in that it is both undeniably great and a little bit disappointing at the same time. It is a poor spot to jump into for newbies and yet returning veterans might be a disappointed by how much the game repeats itself. While it might not be the best Shin Megami Tensei title out there, it is still very enjoyable from start to finish. Boasting an interesting (if a bit convoluted) story, and addictive combat system, and more demons than you can shake an evil stick at, there is plenty to sink your teeth into here. There is just a great balance of depth and accessibility here, and hunting and fusing demons is great, addictive fun. It might not be doing much to reinvent the Shin Megami Tensei formula, but then again, it didn't really need to.

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   

Comments

Our member of the week

I loved the original SMT4 so I'm very much looking forward to this landing in Europe later on. I had never played a SMT before the fourth entry, but I got sucked in, mostly because I persevered, because admittedly it was hard to get into initially, and the game itself wasn't presenting itself well through its first couple of hours, but it got loads better in the end once you reached Tokyo and got into the gritty atmosphere of the post apocalyptic urban settings. I want more of that atmosphere from this sequel Smilie.

Cubed3 Limited Staff :: Review and Feature Writer

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