Another case of will it or won’t it, ATLUS were at long last able to successfully summon Shin Megami Tensei IV in Europe after repeatedly nudging it back. Whatever the reasoning behind the delay, we can at least be grateful that Shin Megami Tensei’s near decade-long absence in the region has come to a close, marking a welcome return to the demonic machinations that have become such a cornerstone of the widely respected RPG behemoth.
Back from obscurity, we’re cast as silent protagonist Flynn and follow his exploits in the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. The opening hour recalls The Sword in the Stone, where we witness Flynn undergo the annual Gauntlet Rite – a ritual in which any 18-year-old can pluck up the courage to try on a futuristic gauntlet to see if they are deemed worthy to accepted as a Samurai. As can be expected for the tale to continue, Flynn is selected and joins four others in swelling Mikado Castle’s Samurai ranks.
Duty-bound to protect Mikado from the ravenous demons that wander Naraku’s darkened caverns that lay beneath the castle, your burden is eased by Burroughs, a navigational AI sprite housed within your gauntlet, who acknowledges you as her user and aids you in your relentless quests. App Points earned when you level up can be used to purchase Burroughs Apps, unlocking gauntlet functions that can add skill slots, grant HP regeneration, or decrease the MP required to use skills, among others.
Defying what has seemingly long been a staple of the genre, Shin Megami Tensei IV dares to send you alone on your adventure – the series’ unique trait seeing you form your own party. That isn’t through the story-driven characters that appear alongside you either, instead requiring you to communicate with the demonic foes that you encounter in the hope that you can persuade them to fight by your side. Decidedly cunning, the demons will question and bargain with you by draining your life or asking for you to gift them Macca to spend, all at the risk that they’ll quickly turn tail and flee with their stolen goods. It can be a nuisance when you fail, but your survival against mightier foes will rely on your perseverance to expand your demonic allies.
You’ll regularly lose your way in the game’s explorative dungeons, but at every turn, demons will appear and charge headlong into battle with you. These switch to basic 2D animation, with portraits on the upper screen depicting your attackers with your own party appearing on the touch screen below. You can mercilessly unleash attacks to thwart your enemies, but, as with other mainstay ATLUS series, it is exploiting weaknesses that will result in a swifter victory. Successfully doing so will grant your party member the chance to use an extra action per turn, but using an attack that they have resistance to will immediately nullify such bonus.
Beyond this, hours can be sunk into the Cathedral of Shadows App in Shin Megami Tensei IV where players can fuse multiple demons together – reborn as one with even greater power. Their creation is limited by your character level (which itself is driven by experience earned in battle), but this can be seen as more of an effort to not allow early access to mighty demons that will easily neutralise those that you face at the time.
Fall in battle, and even newcomers will be comforted when they appear before Charon at the River Styx. Here you can bargain for your life with either Macca or Play Coins, returning you to the land of the living at the point at which you fell. It’s a neat touch and one that plays favourably toward those that would otherwise be frustrated at being caught out by the game’s occasional difficulty spikes.
Masayuki Doi’s striking character designs are at odds with the rather lacklustre surroundings that you meander through, the stylised representation of the demonic hordes that you meet helping to alleviate disappointment. The stereoscopic 3D effect certainly adds to the experience, even if Ryota Koduka and Kenichi Tsuchiya’s accompanying soundtrack doesn’t always strike the right chord.
Those looking to elongate their time with Shin Megami Tensei IV can plough through a plentiful amount of Add-on Content that ATLUS have steadily released since launch. These Challenge Quests pose lucrative reward – namely armour pieces and more fearsome demons for fusion – for those willing to invest the additional cost and time required. Their variance in difficulty being carefully geared toward you embarking upon them after passing certain points, whether that be early on or post-game.
The blend of modern technology with Japan’s feudal past in Shin Megami Tensei IV is a commendable one, the narrative riddled with dark undertones that always make their presence known. Genre fans will find plenty to pour their time into, especially with the seemingly endless demon fusions to muddle around with, whereas ATLUS equally cater for those that are taking on the Shin Megami Tensei series for the first time.