Shin Megami Tensei IV Review

Dealing with demons and forging a winning party make Shin Megami Tensei IV a great portable role-playing game, despite having a lukewarm cast.

by

It's not every day that you see a game like Shin Megami Tensei IV, especially on the 3DS. It hints at a mysterious tale early on, befitting the series' reputation for brooding themes and hellish settings, and this dark wash informs the attitude and appearance of the world, which is unsurprisingly experiencing an influx of demonic activity. You play as a samurai charged with protecting the Kingdom of Mikado, and the invading demons are yours to recruit as much as to destroy, keeping with the series' well-known catch-'em-all mindset. But make no mistake: although demon hunting, recruiting, and fusing may provide some of the best experiences here, there's more to enjoy beyond the demon-hunting trappings.

It's time for the Gauntlet Rite. No pressure!

After the game's vague and mysterious opening cinematic, you wake at Lake Mikado, where a friend, who's eager to get the both of you to the Gauntlet Rite ceremony, gets the main story rolling. The coming-of-age ritual for Mikado teens involves a test where applicants engage with futuristic-looking gauntlets, and the rare few who elicit a reaction from their gauntlet are initiated into the samurai ranks. It's here that you learn the intricacies of the dual-class Mikado populace, divided into the privileged Luxurors and the humble Casualries.

Shin Megami Tensei IV is steeped in the notions of affinity and contrast, and they're carefully woven into the story of your intimate group of samurai prentices. The supporting cast members all have strong personalities, though unfortunately, they never grow beyond their roles. Shin Megami Tensei IV harps on differences of opinion, forcing you to side with one or another to progress the story in a particular way. In that regard, the samurai serve their function quite well. However, unlike in a series such as Persona--an offshoot of Shin Megami Tensei--where relationships are nurtured and characters evolve, the characters here are borderline perfunctory.

Your first taste of samurai duty takes place in the Naraku caverns: Mikado’s link to the demon world that has long served as a training ground for budding samurai. Your gang of four heads into Naraku, but you travel alone due to the competitive nature of the exercise. It's here that your gauntlet's AI personality, Burroughs, comes to life and introduces you to the world of demons.

Instead of fighting alongside your samurai comrades, you recruit and command a flock of demons. These fiends must be coaxed into your fold; there's no Pokeball-like mechanic here. The hundreds of demons in the game come with personalities all their own, and negotiating the Press Turn negotiation system can prove to be a challenge early on. Some demons continuously request goods or currency, only to flee once they've had their fill. Others join you out of fear of their own demise. A few tricks of the trade exist, such as giving in to some requests but ignoring the third or fourth, but there are times when monsters introduce battles of wit, where you must judge their sensitivity to beauty or aggression, for example. A demon's appearance can tip you off in some instances, but it's rarely a straightforward process.

Walter and Jonathan may look happy now, but that joy won't last for long.

One of your first training missions requires you to fill out your battle roster, and the initial challenge of negotiating the Press Turn system provides your first clue to Shin Megami Tensei IV’s unrelenting difficulty. When you fail to entice demons into a partnership, they might flee, but it's more common for them to fight back.

When you aren't actively recruiting demons, the first-person battles become turn-based exchanges of physical and magical attacks. Elemental affinity is important, and a poor decision in battle, be it an incorrect spellcast or the breakdown of a negotiation, can reset the flow of battle in the opposition's favor, and your upcoming turns are wiped clean. This can spell doom for an unprepared party, and if you aren't lucky, it's a lesson learned very early on, but the game doesn't necessarily end with a single premature death.

Instead of facing a game-over screen, you awake in a hellish landscape, lined with tortured souls, by the river Styx. A ghastly ferryman, who's apparently too busy to worry about your meager spirit, offers to resurrect you for a fee rather than add to his existing burden. Interestingly, this can be handled by either in-game currency--macca--or Nintendo 3DS Play Coins. Play Coins are rarely incorporated into non-StreetPass games, and it's a welcome alternative when you're in a financial pinch.

On your second trip to Styx, which is almost a given, the game's "easy" difficulty is subsequently unlocked. While you might feel ashamed to revert to such an option in other games, Shin Megami Tensei IV is punishing enough on its standard difficulty that you should realistically consider toning down the challenge, if only to progress further into the game. There are many strict rules to consider during battle, and staying alive can feel like an uphill battle early on, but it becomes easier with practice.

Demons; always looking for a handout.

Once you've managed to build a team of demons, you soon learn that they can be fused together. Standard fusions require two specific demon types, but there are also special fusions, which call upon a third ingredient. Fusions come with trade-offs: the new demon may not have the same statistics or elemental resistances as either of the two going in, and it's natural to feel apprehensive about risking a prized partner. To promote the growth of your roster through fusion, you can register demons and resummon them for a fee later on, ensuring they're never lost for good. It's rare that you feel a strategic need to combine your cohorts, but it's a good way to combine disparate skills from two demons into a single combatant.

The designs of the various demons are the most interesting aspect of Shin Megami Tensei IV's presentation. The demons range in appearance from grotesque mounds of flesh to odd conglomerations of real-world animals, and apart from a handful of deviations in their illustrative style, all are rendered exceptionally well. The presentation shares a lot with Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, but that was a Nintendo DS game. It's disappointing that the visuals haven't improved much across generations, apart from the vastly improved dungeon exploration. Demons sometimes shift in place when performing a move, or you might see a flash of color accompany certain actions, but they're generally stiff. In fact, the myriad death animations are more impressive than anything you see when demons are actually fighting.

"Behold, my favorite pose!"

Outside of battle, things get a little better. You navigate a simple 3D world from a third-person perspective, with your character's chosen equipment in plain sight, which is a nice touch. The majority of environments are unfortunately flat, with little in the way of contrasting colors or interesting lighting. Enemies emerge from the ground, represented as digital-looking figures constructed from blue cubes. It's possible to outrun them in the field, but when you want to engage in combat, you're encouraged to tap the X button to attack a nearby foe. Doing so ensures that you gain the first turn in battle, where failing to hit your target often results in the opposite outcome.

If you decide to play on the easy difficulty, the most recognizable difference comes during combat. Enemies aren't necessarily less powerful or smart, but you gain the monumental ability to flee from standard enemies, guaranteed. The hardest moments in the game are when you're thrust into a battle unprepared, and thus are killed before you can react appropriately. While the standard challenge is fair, there's something positive to be said for a system that eases the challenge without dumbing down the game at large.

Eventually, you find yourself on a world map. Unsurprisingly, it consists of more drab coloring, so much so that paths become difficult to distinguish. It's presented from a distant top-down view, and you're seen as little more than an icon against the brown and dark-gray landscape. Enemies are present, too, but are much harder to avoid given how cramped and unclear the pathways can be. That might be tolerable on its own, but there are bigger problems at hand than tight spaces. When you're instructed to visit a particular location, it can take quite a bit of wandering to find your way. Key locations are pinpointed on the map, but you can't identify their names unless you're already in the vicinity.

Exploiting enemy weaknesses will earn you extra turns in battle.

With the powerful gauntlet on your wrist, and the helpful AI Burroughs instructing you in the ways of the samurai and demons, you would expect to be able to track the names as well as the locations of the places you've been. Because this is not the case, the overworld map leaves a lot to be desired in terms of functionality. When you cross multiple bridges that require time-wasting discussions with toll collectors, it's downright frustrating to find yourself in the wrong location. A series of terminals does exist that can teleport you to some locations, but they're little help when you're headed somewhere without one.

Thankfully, Burroughs is useful in other ways, acting as the conduit to your equipment, demon management, and the ever-helpful save-anywhere function, for example. Crucially, she's your lifeline to quests, both obligatory and optional. Various hunter guilds across the game's world offer challenges, as do demons, on occasion. Burroughs tracks and stores these quests, which range from item collection to special battles against powerful demons. On the occasion that you find yourself underleveled, challenge quests provide an easy way to beef up your stats and macca count. You won't need to spend too much time dabbling in them in order to complete the game, but they extend your time considerably without feeling like cheap diversions. Demon hunting is fun in itself, but it's good to see there's more to explore here.

Throughout your quest, you face key decisions that ultimately influence the story. Quite often, these come in the form of siding with one friend or another. You're primarily a silent character, but the agency granted to you by the power of choice saves you from feeling like a mere passenger heading toward a conclusion. The ripples you make throughout your tale grow larger as the story comes to a close, which is good. But, knowing how long you need to play in order to impact the story makes repeat playthroughs via the New Game Plus feature seem like a chore in the making. However, if demon collecting is your thing, you may be enticed to extend your time as a samurai. Just know: your entire roster gets reset. You maintain your current level and abilities, if you choose, but you'll need to recollect demons. Thankfully, you earn considerably more experience points from challenges and quests, making it easy to level up demons quickly, and chase those ever-elusive "special" fusions.

Engage!

With its raw, horror-inspired settings, Shin Megami Tensei IV fits right in with other games in the series, yet in many ways it's unlike anything else in the current 3DS library. It's occasionally weak, held back by menial character development and a frustrating overworld, but it provides a challenging combat system made even more interesting through discussions and arguments with fantastically designed demons. Unfortunately, it's not a pillar of character development, or the best-looking game of its type. It's saved by the lure of the dark and mysterious world and the trials of fighting its inhabitants make Shin Megami Tensei IV a great role-playing game worth seeing through to the end. The excellent combat and the almost never-ending quest to explore the compendium of demons should keep you coming back for more, even if you have a fairly good assumption of what the other endings might entail.

The Good
A wonderfully twisted world filled with surprises
Challenging combat that's formidable yet flexible
Hundreds of interesting demons to recruit and combine
The Bad
The supporting cast grows tiresome
Clunky overworld navigation
8
Great
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Discussion

194 comments
Kasheall
Kasheall

If you want really good characters there are other entries in the series that will be more suited to your tastes (persona, devil survivor etc). Shin megami tensei was never about character development. Many prefer it that way..

XemansIIXII
XemansIIXII

how how how ?! this game looks so awesome when i read the people comments and also i love the RPG but when i go to you tube to watch and see some game plays i found that in the battle system you only see a pictures of your demons >< so please tell me people how you actually enjoy this game :$   

REVOLUTIONfreak
REVOLUTIONfreak

I'm surprised none of the reviews are bringing up the fact that this game is more expensive than most 3DS games. Why the $49.99 price tag? That alone makes me not want to buy it.

HyouVizer
HyouVizer

there hasn't been a video review for this game at all from gamespot, IGN or gametrailers and most likely any other official gaming site 

dadkwashere
dadkwashere

Characters were never a major aspect of Shin Megami Tensei. Really, only Persona, a sub-series of the franchise, focuses on character development. However, I do agree with the overworld clunkiness. Did not like it in Nocturne, do not like it now.

That being said, I really enjoyed the game, and the overworld music made it more bearable to travel in.

Cartr1dgeBased
Cartr1dgeBased

its a shame they made it exclusive to the 3ds. this series should have remaied on consoles. but i guess with the bankruptcy and all maybe they had to downsize the game

Crok425
Crok425

Character development? The main Shin Megami Tensei games were never about character development, it was always about characters choosing ideals like Law and Chaos and that makes you use your imagination on how his/her personality is like. As to why they chose such paths, that goes to your imagination, that was always the point of the characters in SMT.

The overworld is supposed to be explored, not point and click and you're on post-apocalyptic Tokyo, it's supposed to look like "dark-gray".

I kinda think Persona is spoiling people on how the main series are, but that's debatable.

CRAPCOM1926
CRAPCOM1926

So i wanna know....the story is good or not? Compare to Fire emblem awakening ( Which was Lame actually ><, the story...the games was, for my surprise, really nice and well done) IS better or worse?

Crok425
Crok425

They still go with the Persona comparison... SMT and Persona are different, stop comparing them. This would've got a 9.0 or 9.5 without dumb comparisons... at least is not a 5.0 an idiot put once.

AdrianWrz
AdrianWrz

no offense but looks like the reviewer played the first 2 hours of the game....

No mention of Special Summons,  The line "It's rare that you feel a strategic need to combine your cohorts, but it's a good way to combine disparate skills from two demons into a single combatant."

Summs up my idea why only he played 2 hours... after first 2 hours >.> u pretty much hit a dead wall of difficulty of not combing/regathering ur demons to keep combining them to climb the ladder of levels of different demons to fit different situations.

You get ur most powerful demons from combing leveled up demons when they unlock their hidden skills.  Very soon you end up with 2-4 resistance based passive skills demons from combing.  = which is extremely needed.

Side quests are pretty fun usually leading to some unique/epic battles that some you have no choice but skip cause they be too hard.  Or need very well fused up demons.

I got to say when it comes to fusing this is the easiest.... fuse system out of all shin megami games.  Reason being since u can choose specific skills and not neededing to spend 30mins to 2 hours to get the perfect inherited skills from both demons of going between screens and getting random skills.

>.> SPOILERS-----------------------------


Were their even a mention of TOKYO??? >.>

-------------End of Spoilers--------------------

Navigation is also similar to other shin megami tensei that fans know.

Also i give it  9/10 >.> reason being dont remmber last time a game made me playing 18 hours straight

Detriiment
Detriiment

Bought this game two days ago.  Been playing non-stop.  Totally worth getting.. insanely addictive.  The 3DS is a great portable mainly because of the great titles for it. (Fire Emblem: Awakening, Super Mario 3DS, and now this.)

dragonlance01
dragonlance01

I've always loved Shin Megami Tensei series for its non-stop appealing, interesting story. Guess I'll be disappointed with this one, that is unless Gamespot misjudged the "weak story" part.

chyng85
chyng85

I'll love this game~ 

dudejeff22
dudejeff22

GameSpot, your one job in life is to have a video review up when no other website has a video review up. Lately you've been slacking on this -- hard. What's your reason for existing, then?

One job.

VayuPurana
VayuPurana

he forgot to mention the demon whispers

whenever one of your demons levels up, there is a chance they'll allow you do choose one of their own  attacks/spells/skills etc they have for your human main character to learn, but if you already have a skill one of your demons has, then you can still choose it and it in instead increase that same skill's power showing a number next to it so for example Dia +5 or something, meaning you increased dia healing power 5 times more then normal 

gfish777
gfish777

Chuck Norris gave it an 11 brah! It's that good!

granola_goodnes
granola_goodnes

Dang! a 10.4 average user review?  seems just a tad high.

snxx
snxx

@XemansIIXII The first RPG I ever played (Phantasy Star for Master System) had the same combat perspective, so I don't see what's the problem with it.

chipwithdip
chipwithdip

@XemansIIXII Don't let that put you off. It's an extremely challenging game. Just entering a fight wrong can net you a game over. If you're tired of RPGs where you can mash to win, or spam auto-battle, this HAS to be up your alley. The only negatives I find in this game's design is that navigation after reaching Tokyo gets a bit rough.

danstrider
danstrider

@REVOLUTIONfreak Man..i have to pay about $70.00 here in Brasil. I would be so happy if i had to pay just $50.00. lol

chez_rubenstein
chez_rubenstein

@REVOLUTIONfreak They were offering a $30 eshop credit if you purchased both this and Fire Emblem Awakening by Sept., which EVERYONE should own, anyway.  They will most likely drop the price after the promotion is done, IMHO.


abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@REVOLUTIONfreak 

Already clocked in over 80 hours and I don't believe I'm even halfway through the game, considering that most handheld RPG games tend to be between 20-50 hours, this game is well worth the extra $10.

kingotnw
kingotnw

@Cartr1dgeBased What's wrong with hand helds? I love my 3DS. I play it constantly. I also own every other current generation system from all companies (WiiU, PS3, 360, Vita, 3DS, etc). I am happy the game is on the system it is on. These games don't end up on handhelds because of bankruptcy, these games end up on hand helds because a large percentage of people who own handhelds own them to play games like this. Games of this nature don't sell well enough to dump 10+ million dollars into development, which is what you have to do when developing for consoles. It's as perfect a game as is possible. I love it. I do everything optional, and take my time doing everything. I haven't once felt the need to rush out of hurrying to get to a certain part because what I am doing is boring. It's an exceptional game, that everyone who is a fan of the genre should own.


This is NOT an entry level game though by any stretch of the imagination. If y ou have never played a game of this genre, I would start elsewhere. There are less complex ones to get someone used to the genre overall.

HyouVizer
HyouVizer

@Cartr1dgeBased  they did not affect the development of it at all it happened well after the game was full completed

they wanted to stick to the roots of SMT1, SMT2,  as well as strange journey since it use to be the original SMT4, so doing that they put a lot of old school SMT charm into this game which would seem underwhelming a console platform so a handheld was best to do their vision justice 

and this isn't the first time SMT games have been exclusive to handhelds, i don't see why its a big deal overall 

dadkwashere
dadkwashere

@CRAPCOM1926 Like you, I found the story in Awakening lacking and I found this game's story much better, if a little cliché in terms of the series whole, kind of like pokemon and being a master and all that.

HyouVizer
HyouVizer

@Crok425  yes its a spin off franchise but persona games are SMT whether you like it or not, but i do agree it's rather annoying when a SMT maintitle game is being reviewed they always go to a spin of franchise for a comparison and it just degrading honestly, its like them comparing a main title Final Fantasy game as a guide line to a Crystal Chronicles game 

HyouVizer
HyouVizer

@AdrianWrz how could you play that long unless you had your charger hooked up to your 3DS while playing it the whole time O_o

dadkwashere
dadkwashere

@AdrianWrz I agree with you, bro. The game REALLY picks up at Tokyo, and I would have played 18 hours straight too if I wasn't taking summer courses.

modestmouse44
modestmouse44

@AdrianWrz That sounds right. He mentioned nothing you encounter later in the game (or at least beyond about 2 hours or so). Personally, it's the best game I've played since, well, SMT 3. It's addictive, deep (so deep!) and very rewarding. Definitely not for casual players or people used to checkpoint-save shooters.

snake63
snake63

@Detriiment I guess that you can't wait for Mario and Luigi and The Legend Of Zelda A Link To The Past sequel because I can't.

LeBlancChien
LeBlancChien

@dragonlance01 as usual, at first moments the cast and story feels a bit bland, but when you reach a certain point, it's getting better.. just like your usual SMT

modestmouse44
modestmouse44

@dragonlance01 It stands toe to toe with SMT 3 and Digital Devil Saga and it's the best game currently on 3DS.

I'm not sure if it's their review philosophy to remain totally objective when reviewing a game, but Gamespot is showing a trend of being tone-deaf to when people fall in love with a game en masse.

Kusann
Kusann

@VayuPurana It's not a "chance", you ALWAYS get the demon whisper when the demon has no more skills to learn. At least that's what I understood D:

abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@chipwithdip @XemansIIXII  

I didn't think I'd like the 1st person perspective also but now I have no issues with it and love the battle system.

chipwithdip
chipwithdip

@abHS4L88 @REVOLUTIONfreak Yo! I got the game too (like I told you earlier). I only put in 40 hours though. <=X

Loving my team I got. There's just something REALLY satisfying when the demons you make start really putting in work with all the skills you've slapped together during your quest.

Gurzociurlo
Gurzociurlo

@modestmouse44 Many reviewers pointed a finger to the story. I'm sorry, I love the SMT series and I'll be getting this one, but I think I'll be disappointed with the story. I'll just play because of the modern explorable areas.

Xanedis
Xanedis

@devild0ogwhite @gr1ndgr1nd Yeah, that's almost a no-brainer... Although an improved port for Vita might be a possibility, but I wouldn't count on it.

abHS4L88
abHS4L88

@chipwithdip 

I made the mistake of getting attached to some of my demons now I'm having a hard time getting rid of them (never deleted a demon) since their fusions are nothing I want or require a demon I need for something else, haha. 

Shin Megami Tensei IV More Info

First Release on Jul 16, 2013
  • 3DS
Shin Megami Tensei IV puts players in role of a newly appointed samurai where they will struggle with factions that have nefarious designs on the world as they defend their home kingdom from a growing army of demons.
8.5
Average User RatingOut of 105 User Ratings
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Developed by:
ATLUS
Published by:
ATLUS, Nintendo
Genres:
Role-Playing
Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
Mature
All Platforms
Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes