Welcome to the Cathedral of Shadows (Detailed Review)
Demons, angels, and humans. All at each other throats struggling for survival, power, and dominance over each other. Where do you fit among this chaos? Well, SMTIV starts off fairly simple. You are put in the shoes of a young protagonist with one simple goal; to become a samurai. A samurai is basically a chosen citizen of Mikado who is trained to guard the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado as well as combat demons. Since the story is arguably one of the most important parts of the game, here's your spoiler free synopsis.
You are in East Mikado. Mikado is seemingly chivalric country that is broken up into two main groups, citizens of nobility are known as "Luxurors" and the lower class peasants are known as "Casualries" You attend the Ceremony of the Gauntlet and are appointed to become a samurai. You soon meet up with Walter, Jonathan, and Isabeau. These are three unique NPC with distinct personalities as you will soon find out. You are a samurai and you've even met new friends. Surely nothing can possibly go wrong now. Well unfortunately it does. Soon after a pretty in-depth tutorial things start to go south for our new samurais…and I mean really south. You will slowly become dragged into all sorts of drama; wars between demons and humans, loyalties between your morals or your duty as a samurai, as well as choices that neither you nor our fellow samurais could have ever seen coming.
Speaking of choices, the choice system in SMTIV is absolutely well-crafted. SMTIV doesn't have your typical choice system that you would see in other games. The choices really stood out to me because they didn't have a morality feeling to them. The way choices are presented don't have a clear "good" or "bad" answer. They are genuinely just difficult choices to make. With that said, choices made throughout the adventure will have a dire effect on the conclusion of the story. This was a great decision by Atlus because it encourages the player to make choices based on how they actually feel about the situation presented before them, instead of choosing a certain choice just to have a "good" character or vice versa. SMTIV is a very mature game with mature themes. The plot can be overwhelming sometimes if you don't pay close attention to it, but trust me the sooner you listen and try to comprehend exactly what is going around you, the sooner you will realize how exceptional the writing is in this game.
Similar to previous entries in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise, SMTIV utilizes the "Press Turn System". This system provides a unique take on turn based battles. The main goal of this PTS is to take advantage of your enemies' weaknesses. Exploiting enemy's weaknesses allows for your team to get extra moves. Enemies will try to exploit your weaknesses as well in order to earn themselves more moves. You can also lose moves by having an attack blocked, absorbed, etc. This system is very interesting and highly encourages the player to focus of different builds depending of their weaknesses as well as the weaknesses of their enemies. While you explore the world in third person, combat takes place in 2D, first person. This is absolutely awesome. Some might not embrace this style of play but Atlus uses a very unique art style (which I'll get to later) with the demons to make looking at these 2D images extremely engaging.
Demons. Oh yes demons. That is the cream of the crop of the Megami Tensei franchise. For people new to the series, think Pokémon. While in battle with the demons, you can "catch" them, but don't think you'll just be throwing a little ball and crossing your fingers. Atlus is a little bit more devious than that. In order to catch demons and make them fight for you, you must "negotiate" them. That's right negotiate. During battles you can talk to demons and convince them to join your side. Believe me this is not as easy as it sounds. Demons will try to extort you for health, items, and macca (money) just to join you. Most of the time demons will just simply take all your willing to give, insult you, and then finally leave you with a dumb look on your face and angry in your heart. This is where Atlus makes things interesting. You must know when to tell a demon "no". You must be able to negotiate properly in order to essentially tell a demon what you think they want to hear to "sway" their hearts to join your cause. The more demons you get to join you to more you will begin to fill your compendium (demon collection). When you finally start getting these tricky little demons to join you, it's time to fuse. Mido is a computer program that allows you to fuse demons you have gotten to join you. Demons can fuse with other demons to create a stronger demon with a mixture of both the original moves as well as it owns. Fusing is a very necessary as well as helpful way to strategize. Fusing correctly can give you access to incredibly strong demons earlier and even later in the game. Formulating the perfect party using negotiations and fuses will be important to your survival. Burroughs is also a very key piece you will need to survive.
Burroughs is an AI that is installed in your gauntlet. She organizes everything for you. She also keeps you informed about what quest you currently have activated. There are tons of side quest that you will have access to and Burroughs is great at keeping you updated on exactly what needs to be done to complete each one. She also gives you access to an app store. The app store is crucial to your progression as you level up and get experience you will increase your stats as well as earn "app points". These app points can be used to buy tons of things ranging from more demon slots, negotiation techniques, gradual health increase etc. Using the app store will surely increase your chances of not becoming demon meat while exploring this massive world.
The world in SMTIV is huge. There isn't any other way to explain it. The majority of the exploration is in 3rd person. There are plenty of things to find by exploring such as relics, side quest, macca, items etc. The one thing that holds the actual exploration back a tad bit is the overhead map. The overhead map is very simple but can be confusing. Your character and enemies will be represented by a blue icon. The color scheme for the map can sometimes make it confusing to navigate and you will probably find yourself going into dead end, or accidentally retracing your steps. With that said when you finally find out where you're going and get back on track you will begin to discover "terminals" these terminals act as fast travel zones for you to warp to. After you begin to learn to navigate the world, things will become easier for you and you will get immersed into this massive world because that exactly what it is…massive.
Visuals & Sound 10/10
The art style in SMTIV is wonderfully unique. The 2D images of the demons are well drawn out and each and every one of them have their own crazy look to them. This is a dark toned game as you will begin to see and Atlus has done a great job in showing how dark this world can be with their color scheme. The 3D world is just as stunning. Character models look fantastic. SMTIV is the first game in the main series to be fully voice acted as well. The voice acting is a welcomed addition to the series. Now you can actually hear the demons insult you before they take your items and run. The score is spectacular. Even though the overhead map can be difficult to navigate, while you're lost you will have some catchy tunes to listen to. Every area of SMTIV has a great tune to get you immersed into whatever the current situation is. SMTIV is hands down one of the best looking as well as sounding games to hit the 3DS thus far.
Playtime & Replayability 10/10
SMTIV is a very long game. A single playthrough will net you roughly 50-70 hours of playtime depending on your difficulty. There are tons of reason to replay it again. Picking different choices, recruiting new demons, as well as playing on a harder difficulty setting are just a few. For anybody who wants to completely get the maximum amount of content (and believe me there's a lot) out of this game multiple playthroughs is a requirement and trust me you won't regret it.
Final Verdict 9/10
+Unique Art Style
- Confusing Overhead Map
SMTIV is a breath of fresh air for classic RPG's. With most modern RPG's going the action route, it becomes harder and harder to find a great RPG that sticks to the roots and foundation of what RPG's were initially built upon. Atlus has proved to fans of the genre that classic RPG's are can still be stronger than ever.