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Review

Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse Review

  • First Released Sep 20, 2016
    released
  • Reviewed Sep 15, 2016
  • 3DS
Chris Damien on Google+

Apocalypse Now

At first blush, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse may look like a reconfigured version of 2013's Shin Megami Tensei IV, but that belies its complexities. It’s practically an entirely new adventure that comes with a host of enhancements to core gameplay and character progression. The result? An incredible RPG that surpasses its lofty predecessor in almost every way.

Nanashi and Asahi might not be related by blood, but they’ve formed a familial bond as two young would-be Hunters in post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Hunters help the populace by battling and taming demonic hordes that exist above ground in the city’s now-eternal night. They also serve as a lifeline for humanity, helping people forage and survive in the midst of a supernatural conflict between the hellish forces of Lucifer and the almighty angels of Merkabah.

Since Apocalypse’s story runs concurrent to Shin Megami Tensei IV’s Neutral Path storyline, folks who have played the original will see events and characters from a different perspective--that of the people living in what remains of Tokyo. While it helps to have some familiarity with the original, the game’s starting events ramp up so quickly that you're immediately engaged with the story at hand. While Shin Megami Tensei IV makes you slog through the dull-as-dirt setting of Mikado before you get to see the far more interesting demonic Tokyo, Apocalypse puts you right in the middle of the perpetually dark megacity, where all the interesting events and plot development take place.

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Apocalypse’s amazing sense of visual design manages to create a terrifying-yet-beautiful vision of a ruined metropolis. You explore fallen structures and landmarks, forage through rotten train stations, high-end shopping centers, and parks to find scraps of the old world to pawn for cash. The demons that roam and attack passersby are a mix of iconic Shin Megami Tensei designs and all-new art, some of which is particularly awe-inspiring--you know you're in trouble when you encounter a giant, makeup-smeared donkey-headed creature with a ripped torso and a peacock tail.

Beyond the story and setting, however, Apocalypse makes a host of improvements to its core gameplay that immensely improves the experience of demon hunting and exploration--save for the map, which is still as difficult to discern as it was in Shin Megami Tensei IV. For starters, the simple act of receiving new quests is now mostly automated. Instead of having to report back to a hub, quests are automatically delivered to Nanashi’s cell phone, and registered as complete when he accomplishes their goal; an elegant way to streamline the questing process. In addition, all of the game’s difficulty settings are unlocked from the get-go, and you can freely switch between them instead of forcing your way through a demoralizing cycle of deaths to access the easy difficulty setting.

Beyond the story and setting, however, Apocalypse makes a host of improvements to its core gameplay that immensely improves the experience of demon hunting and exploration--save for the map, which is still as difficult to discern as it was in Shin Megami Tensei IV.

Demon recruiting and fusion, a crucial component to the core Shin Megami Tensei games, also sees an interesting overhaul. Certain demon types that were once impossible to recruit through normal means can now be invited to join via the in-battle Scout command, and they have new conversation trees to explore. There’s also a brand-new element introduced where demons receive additional, innate buffs or debuffs to particular skill types, which needs to be taken into account when fusing demons to create new variations. For example, a primarily magic-damage-focused demon may have innate penalties on physical skills, but they get a bonus damage or MP reduction effect on electric and healing techniques. This is something you need to take into consideration when picking which skills to pass on to demons that result from fusions. Sure, you can make a Jack Frost with fire skills, but when it’s got an innate damage-dealt penalty on fire skills, wouldn’t that skill slot be better used for something it’s actually good at?

Combat itself benefits from improvements, too. While the engine is the same turn-based Press Turn system seen across several SMT games, two additions make a big difference in Apocalypse. The first seems minor at first: an overhaul to the Smirk status. By scoring critical hits and/or hitting an opponent’s weakness, a character or demon can score an extra turn in battle and potentially trigger the Smirk status, which negates that character’s own weakness while guaranteeing a critical hit on the next turn. In Apocalypse, however, Smirk can also grant normal skills a guaranteed additional effect, such as status debuffs or instant kills. Smirk was already crucial in Shin Megami Tensei IV, but intelligent use of it in Apocalypse makes battling a lot more efficient in the long run.

Everything about Apocalypse looks, feels, and sounds great; the excellent soundtrack works to enhance the feelings of exploration in a darkened, destroyed world. All of the gameplay additions improve elements where the original Shin Megami Tensei IV was lacking.

The other (more visibly important) addition is the partner system. A bevy of partners join you over the course of the game, including your friend Asahi, a kid from the Yakuza, a woman with the powers of a fairy queen, and the reincarnation of SMT4's obnoxious heel, Navarre. One character can be assigned as a partner, and they’ll join you in combat, attacking and providing backup under AI control. Partners can be targeted and damaged by enemies just like a normal party member, but since they’re not on the front lines, they can’t be targeted by several skills--a reality that's both detrimental and beneficial. Each partner specializes in different skills, such as buffs, healing, or direct damage, so picking the right partner for the right battles is crucial. After they’ve fought for a certain amount of turns, your team comes together for an all-out attack, using their combined skills while teaming up to deliver big damage and cancel an enemy’s turn entirely, making them invaluable for extensive boss fights.

Everything about Apocalypse looks, feels, and sounds great; the excellent soundtrack works to enhance the feelings of exploration in a darkened, destroyed world. Your demonic servants roar, cry, and yell in the heat of battle, making combat feel more lively and risky than ever before. All of the gameplay additions improve elements where the original Shin Megami Tensei IV was lacking. Meanwhile, the story’s eagerness to get into the heat of the new conflict makes it quick and easy for you to become caught up in this bewildering, dangerous world where humans, gods, and demons coexist. Apocalypse is a fantastic RPG that goes above and beyond the original Shin Megami Tensei IV to become one of the shining gems of the 3DS library.

Back To Top
The Good
Excellent pacing
Post-apocalyptic Tokyo is fascinating and exciting
Collecting and fusing demons is a fulfilling pastime
New combat and demon development systems are a great addition
The Bad
Unintuitive map
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Heidi’s played every official English-language Shin Megami Tensei release, and SMTIV: Apocalypse is among the best. Now that she’s seen the Anarchy ending, shes tempted to go back and see some of the other endings available in the game. Heidi reviewed the game using a complimentary download code provided by Atlus.
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johnrayjr

Why is Gamespot inserting non-review videos at the top of reviews? It's incredibly annoying.

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SpiderLuke

Do I need to play the previous ones or can I jump into this blind?

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Regent192

I really hope you don't have to do a lot of tedious grinding in this game. That was one of the reasons I stopped playing jrpgs for a while

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SpiderLuke

@Regent192: I live for the grinding. Lol

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Regent192

@SpiderLuke: I envy you :/

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OmegaFlare18

@SpiderLuke: thats what she said

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Grampy_Bone

Might have to check this out. I enjoyed SMT4 quite a bit but damn that opening dungeon sucked ass.

Avatar image for sakaixx
sakaiXx

Although SMT is the main series, persona had overshadowed the series and its other spin off so much. I dont mind since I personally loved persona way more than the rest of SMT series but the series is a gold mine for jrpg lovers. Especially the ones on the ps2.

Hope people pick this up while they wait for persona 5!

Avatar image for Itzsfo0
Itzsfo0

@sakaixx: its personal taste but I prefer Etrian Odyssey and a few other rpgs on the 3DS/DS line..but I wont deny Persona sub-series within SMT is pretty good - I've enjoyed them all.

Avatar image for sakaixx
sakaiXx

@Itzsfo0: never liked etrian odysees games because hated the 1st person view in dungeons. Even persona 1 and persona Q I was barely able to finish it even though I am a persona fan, the fps view never worked for me.

But strangely I finished SMT Strange journey twice(one law, one neutral)even though I hated the camera. Though the skill inheritance does make the game kinda stupid easy.

Probably will try my luck when etrian odysees V comes around. But like you said, its personal taste

Avatar image for Jestersmiles
Jestersmiles

@sakaixx: It have yet to play a persona game that better than nocturne , no persona comes even close. Only hispter weebos like the persona series better , so I guess your one of them.

Avatar image for sakaixx
sakaiXx

@Jestersmiles: cool. Dont mind since most people only knows SMT on the ps2 era. Had been a fan since persona 2 and had some involvement in translating persona 2 innocent sin in english but ehh. Whatever, as long as people play the series.

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Jestersmiles

@sakaixx: well since most of the older SMT games never made out of Japan till way later if that, yeah Nocturne was my first Tensei game. Kinda hard for people to know of a series that was mostly only publish in Japan :D.

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presauk

@Jestersmiles: Given that Persona is by far the more popular (and thus mainstream) franchise it would seem inaccurate to call it a part of hipster culture. If anything those of us who support mainline exclusively are closer to hipsters than the Persona exclusive players.

As for the whole weaboo thing. I mean given that we are both playing games steeped in Japanese culture we would be every much the weeaboo as a persona exclusive gamer. Remember there are many more titles in the SMT franchise than the Persona franchise; with the exceptions of DDS and Strange Journey I know of no games set outside of Japan.

So really, it seems like SMT mainline specialists (myself included) are the hipster weaboos. I don't really mind and I'm glad to be considered a supporter of such an amazing franchise. It's just a shame that us fans can't get along with each other without this pointless name calling BS.

Also you say you've never played a Persona game superior to an SMT title? I wonder if you've played Strange Journey,.. Strange Journey is fun and all but it has by far the weakest combat system of the modern SMT titles. It also has a skill inheritance system that pretty much encourages "cheating" (registering demons you fused with sources so you can get back the source). Alongside that I'd take a Persona title any day of the week. But to each is their own.

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Jestersmiles

@presauk: I said I never played a Persona game that better than Nocturne, I specifically said the title in which I am compering the persona series too.

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presauk

@Jestersmiles: Fair enough I see now that you were only comparing with Nocturne. But even still are you telling me that Nocturne NEVER frustrated you? Also I still think it's pretty hypocritical to be calling anyone a hipster weaboo when you're comparing Nocturne to everything.

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The7698466

I've just bought a 3DS and was looking for a game to play on it. This and Snake Eater are interesting me a lot.

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Supabul

@the7698466:

So many awesome games on 3DS, I'll make a suggestion if you never had a DS before and like JRPG's you should hunt down a copy of Radiant Historia, its brillant

Avatar image for sakaixx
sakaiXx

@the7698466: is it a new3ds or 3ds? Cause oh boy you not gonna have a fun time adjusting the camera on mgs with the old. The camera sucks on the small screen unless you have the additional analog stick.

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csward

I haven't even heard of this game, but I will have to check it out!

Avatar image for sakaixx
sakaiXx

@csward: you probably heard of persona 5 (or 3,4 etc). You know, the game "every jrpg fans had been waiting for"?. Well persona is actually a spin off of this series! shin Megami Tensei serve as the main series while the rest is a spin off.

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gargungulunk

@csward: the series has been around since the 80's...quite a few games have been built around turn-based combat, demon fusing, stories that decidedly nestle into that gray area of good vs evil...and the aftermath of a twisted apocalypse where class still rules....I'd say don't even check it out, jump in.

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phili878

I must say, I have a Xbox One, Ultra-setting PC and new 3DS and I am most content with the new 3DS games so far this year...really good stuff! I am looking forward to get this. Love to play 3DS for like an hour before falling asleep each day.

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Lebowski53

3ds is the best gaming device on the market.

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RogerioFM

@lebowski53: Portable and with great games. I agree.

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CRAPCOM1926

Me looking at what was left at this years: at side of Dq7 everything else is shit ( As for FF XV and Last Guardian ill wait for a review but i really don t care)

me: What it this? Shin megami Tensei Apocalipse? The Hell? I forgot about this game, i wonder if it is as good as IV, which i love it. *sees the gamespot review and score with a 9* well ****, i guess is time to get some extra work because games arent fucking cheap in venezuela.

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phili878

@CRAPCOM1926: Get rid of those socialist asshole leaders that run the country for their own personal benefit (Dilma and Lula in Brazil), and games will become more affordable again....

Avatar image for Itzsfo0
Itzsfo0

@CRAPCOM1926: this wasnt a surprise though as the new 3DS XL and 3ds line period has been great with a ton of rpgs/jrpgs and strategy games not to mention a huge backlog of games and Shin Megami / smt has always been a great series just like Fire Emblem, Dragon Quest, Pokemon, Zelda, and Bravely Default line/series of games...so theres plenty of content and other games i'm not listing. Shin Megami, and Rune Factory, and Kingdom hearts and 7th Dragon III: Code, Mario & Luigi, Monster Hunter (series), Etrian Odyssey (all 4 games) , Etrian Mystery (both games), the 2nd Bravely Second I'd put Fire Emblem above them all (all 6 titles for the 3ds/ds line) and of course DQ is getting several updates over the next year...its funny the New 3DS XL has no competition on the handheld market (not including regular mobile gaming, thats different) just in the handheld gaming market ...I myself haven't had a DS device at all until this past year with the New 3DS XL and since I've purchased in the past 12-15 months about 11-12 titles, completing each 1 by 1...and I've been enjoying it...its been the best most worthwhile purchase I've made in years.

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sakaiXx

@Itzsfo0: personally I think the library was kind of small for a handheld game. But the games that do came out screams quality!

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gargungulunk

I'll spare the hyperbole, but going into the comments, yes---

SMT games alone have been worth the purchase this handheld.

There are a fist-full of entries and each one has its own flavor.

My only dilemma is that I need to not play DQ-7 for two weeks (that will have to wait) So I can fully dive back into Tokyo.

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oromashu

@gargungulunk: tough decisions. i haven't played dq7 before but i love the series. so the temptation to get into a classic jrpg is real for me. but i also like smt because its so anti-jrpg with its bleak overtones.

Avatar image for gargungulunk
gargungulunk

@oromashu: I haven't played 7 either, but I've only heard good things about over the years...it's like I was waiting for this revamped version. Yet SMT has this completely different vibe to, and I've got the itch to fuse some gnarly demons and go exploring.

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iandizion713

@gargungulunk: O im diving into DQ7 first. I cant pass on that baby.

Avatar image for gargungulunk
gargungulunk

@iandizion713: Its still a tough call, I'm getting DQ7 tmrw, but I think I can wait till winter to start. Normally I'd be all over it, but with these two games being similar in epicness, I can't play both simultaneously.

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iandizion713

@gargungulunk: I agree 100%, its a very hard choice.

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Dualmask

Never played an SMT game before, always wanted to. Maybe this can pull me away from Monster Hunter Generations for a while.

Avatar image for CRAPCOM1926
CRAPCOM1926

@Dualmask: get IV 1st. This game seems to continue where the neutral route from IV left off, and is cheap to find or so my friend in murica tell me....

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Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse More Info

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  • First Released Sep 20, 2016
    released
    • 3DS
    The story of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is one of human pawns being shuffled across a chessboard by the higher deities.
    8.4
    Average Rating15 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
    Developed by:
    ATLUS
    Published by:
    ATLUS, Deep Silver
    Genre(s):
    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
    Blood, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Violence