With so much Persona titles filling the span of a few years, we felt that it was time Atlus went back to their roots with the mothership Shin Megami Tensei series. Lo and behold it did, as the company showed off the latest extended trailer to Shin Megami Tensei IV detailing characters, gameplay and setting on the Tokyo Game Show 2012 show floor.
Players will be controlling a protagonist who is part of a futuristic samurai group from the country of East Mikado. In contrast to the dark and demon-ridden landscape of post-apocalyptic Tokyo (because some traditions need to stick in Megami Tensei titles), East Mikado is bright and is built like a medieval castle. Yes, we're feeling vibes of The Village here, but instead of outcasts who shun technology, these samurais brandish their stylish and slick gloves that allow them to conjure demons and rid Tokyo of its plague as well as act as a fancy GPS device.
Like in past games, players will have to pick between law and chaotic alignments to further the narrative and open up branching story paths (ala recent SMT title Strange Journey). Players traverse the annals of a ruined Tokyo in a third-person perspective in 3D ala Shin Megami Tensei 3, though combat will be strictly in a first-person perspective with 2D graphics representing your opponents. You still control a small team of demons to kill off other demons or convince them to join your side. Judging from the combat, the press turn combat system returns, though it's not yet determined if it will be exactly like SMT 3's structure where exploiting enemy weaknesses will make you use half a turn and even give you more turns for fighting.
Your samurai companions will mostly be aiding you verbally throughout the story, though if you played the series long enough, two of them will represent both the law and chaotic alignments. Given the way the samurai NPC talked and displayed themselves, we figured the spikey-haired Walter will be representing Chaos while the suave-looking Jonathan will be representing Law; all bets are off on this.
The most welcome change is that the game will not have random battles. Taking a page from spin-offs Persona 3 and 4, SMT IV's protagonist can hack his way through obstacles and initiate combat with on-screen encounters with his sword. While on the overworld, you will have a yellow ring surrounding your player; as long as enemies are within that circle, you will be pursued until they touch you to initiate combat.
Another change is a minimalistic HUD; the screen won't be littered with stats until you turn on your aforementioned gauntlet to display the map and your stats in a hologram (ala Dead Space). We have yet to figure out if the moon phase and daytime cycles will return, as that usually affects encounter behaviors and the appearances of rare demons in certain areas, but we'll have to wait until Atlus sheds more detail soon.
The series' famous monster-generating mechanic, the fusion technique, is back. Players can fuse up to four different demons to make even more powerful demons to aid you in your quest. While the process is done digitally via the samurai's gauntlet, the endless strategies and possibilities from the technique will definitely please hardcore fans of the series. The developers did state that new demons will be added, like a Power Rangers villain stand-in with detached limbs and protruding white bones that may look like a minor antagonist waiting to be recruited. Fan favorites like Beelzebub and White Rider will also be recruitable.
With a bit of background trappings from Shin Megami Tensei 2 and 3, along with a bit of shiny nuances like a medieval organization shunning technology and some overworld navigational tweaks, SMT IV aims to bring in both the old and new generation of RPG fans. We do hope that it still retains its difficulty curve that forces players to change up their demons and allies; that is perhaps the only constant that needs to remain to preserve the series' integrity. Given Atlus' stellar track record with their past RPGs, it may seem to know what it's doing.
The game will be out in Japan for the 3DS in 2013; while no North American date has been set so far, the series' popularity overseas makes an English localization seem likely.