Playing Shin Megami Tensei: IV

I’ve long been a fan of the Shin Megami Tensei: Persona series, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to give the mainline games of the series a try. I picked up IV on the 3DS first, finished it, and moved promptly on to the first game (on iOS) and Nocturne for PS2. Ah, Nocturne. Finally, I’m playing the game that will allow me, once and for all, to shed my “casualness”.

Shin Megami Tensei IV 
was a fascinating, but flawed, experience. The game has a dark post-apocalyptic atmosphere, with creepy synthesizer music and a misanthropic plot. You take the role of a Samuri from a vaguely Christian Kingdom who, along with a few companions, descends upon the remnants of a demon-infested Tokyo through hidden tunnels (Tokyo being destroyed is a main theme that seems to occur in most mainline SMT games). Along the way, you encounter various demons who you can fight, bribe for money, or coerce into joining your ranks.

The mechanics work, and there’s always an element of strategy and luck to every battle. You don’t have to grind levels in SMT IV, but you do have to pay attention to every fight. Just spamming the “attack” button will get you to the game over screen very quickly.

While SMT IV is a ton of fun, it is a bit lacking in plot and character development. As the game progresses, it becomes clear that your companions aren’t really real people as much as they are paragons of certain ideologies. One of your companions is a privileged richboy who hates demons and represents the “law” side of the spectrum. Another of your companions comes from the poorer classes, and thinks Tokyo’s chaotic landscape isn’t so bad. Often, you’ll have to settle disputes between the two, moving the plot along in a specific direction that culminates (predictably) in a showdown between your party and the ultimate good or evil.

That may not be the most original concept, but SMT IV sure is nuanced about it. Whether you choose to align with angels or demons, the game is quick to remind you that your choice might not necessarily be the right one. At one point in the game, you’re cast into a hell of your own doing, a realm made up of the culmination of your own choices (and, trust me, it’s bad no matter who you choose to side with). There’s also a neutral path you can walk, which is probably the most rewarding but also the trickiest to obtain, though somehow I managed it on my first try (without even using a guide).

As it stands, SMT IV is a flawed gem. It’s not the godsend to JRPGs that Persona 3 was, but in an era where most JRPG games are of the cutesy kiddie variety, it stands alone, boasting a mature narrative and very little BS.

Thoughts on Nocturne will be posted in a few weeks.

2 thoughts on “Playing Shin Megami Tensei: IV

  1. I love SMT IV. For me, the best part of the game (and the series as a whole) is the atmosphere and incredibly robust fusion system. This game does both of these phenomenally, though Nocturne does the atmosphere a bit better. I thought the story was quite good, though I got the chaos ending which was disappointing and short. The final boss was underwhelming as hell too. Gotta play it again to go for neutral.

    1. Yeah, all things considered, IV was not really that difficult. Karn spells basically win you the game, including a big portion of the final bosses.

      Neutral ending was pretty quick, aside from you having to do a lot more. I do love, though, how even the neutral ending made me feel incredibly uneasy.

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