Shin Megami Tensei IV - 3DS Review

Having just spent the last three month playing Atlus' Persona 4 Golden on my Vita, firing up Shin Megami Tensei 4 immediately felt a little familiar. Combat is initiated by swinging with a button press - if you connect you get to do a bit of preemptive damage, but if the opponent strikes you first, there is a chance they get to go first in combat.

Outside of the way combat is initiated and how you are working with demons, bringing them over to your side and combining them to create new ones also felt familiar. In fact, a lot of things about Shin Megami Tensei IV felt familiar, which had the potential to be both good and bad. I love RPG games. Grinding for experience, building up better stats, turn-based combat - all of these are JRPG staples that can be both comforting, but also leave you wondering what new mechanics are coming to the table as well.

Right off of the bat however, SMT4 struggled to make a good impression. The story was odd and a bit confusing, characters were not terribly interesting, and it was a good long while before I had a chance to do any combat. Once I did, I found myself dying from one hit kills a surprising amount. I was determined however, to stick with it and see what the game had to offer, and in doing so I found a very entertaining game hiding behind a disappointing initial experience.

Graphics - 7:

I like the visual style quite a bit here. Characters and cinematic scenes look sharp, and while the environments could use a bit more variety once you enter the overworld map section of the game, at least the dungeons have excellent detail. The 3D effect is strong in SMT4 - it is one of the few I did not play with the 3D slider up all of the way. I probably kept it about two-thirds. That being said, the effect is used well, from providing depth while wandering a dungeon to smaller things like all kinds of different layers in the menu.

All of that being said, the demons - while often unique in appearance - are really not all that interesting. Many feel like rehashes from earlier games, and there is no animation on the screen to speak of. The demons just sit there lifelessly with combat effects smacked on top of them during fights. In fact, the game itself does not have a lot of animation, which is a shame because the system can do better than that.

Sound & Music - 9:

There is some good voice acting to be had here, and the sound effects are just varied enough that I seldom felt like they were getting too repetitive. The music however, was a standout from my perspective. There was a good deal of variety in the types of music, and all of it was done rather well. As a footnote, this game only comes in a $50 version, bundled with an art and strategy book, as well as a CD with selected songs from other SMT titles over the years, which was a nice little bonus.

Gameplay - 7:

The menus are easy to navigate, and access to the dungeons is handled by a strange but simple combination of overworld map and selecting destinations from a menu. Once you are in the dungeons, things can be a little bit more fickle, as timing your preemptive strike can be a bit frustrating right at first, and the camera controls rely on using the shoulder buttons to swing things around. These two items can combine to create some nasty advantages for the opposing monsters who can often pounce you before you are ready to do something about it.

Additionally, the difficulty can be a bit frustrating. It took me until about ten hours in to get comfortable enough that I was not often worried about one-hit kills. These can come in a few flavors - both from instant death enemy skills, or just them doing ridiculous amounts of damage in a single shot. Once you lose a couple of times, you unlock the option to play at an easier level of difficulty, which does help - but I still recall one fight where I was about six levels higher than my opponents, full health, my four against their three, and they got the preemptive strike and wiped me out before I got a turn in. Those moments can be a but frustrating.

Luckily combat itself, leveling and party management (acquiring demons) are all fun.

Intangibles - 8:

The combat system is actually quite interesting once you get familiar with it. It it turn-based, but those turns can shift around a bit based on whether you are getting critical hits or nailing an enemy's weakness. The same applies to when the demons are striking your characters as well. Gathering and combining for new demons is very satisfying, and you use a sort of discussion tree to try and convince demons over to your side during combat. Leveling up boosts not only your character, but your demons as well. This unlocks new combining options and teaches then new skills, which they can in turn teach to you. On top of all of that, there is a perks system that uses something called App Points - and you get these every time you level as well. The campaign is pretty decently sized as well. You can spend a couple of dozen hours or so just going through the main story and ignoring side quests, or blow about fifty to sixty hours if you want to do every last thing.

Overall - 7.75:

The characters just never really resonated with me, which is a point of concern when you are playing something like an RPG where story and characters help to drive so much of the action. Thankfully the story itself was pretty cool, with a handful of good twists inserted along the way. The various systems SMT4 has in place are the real standouts however, compensating for a few frustrating gameplay elements and a somewhat clumsily handled introduction.



  1. superphillip3230 August, 2013 12:13

    This game interests me, but I just can't justify $50 for a handheld game. There's just no way.

  2. No 3DS here, so won't be playing this one, but like Phil, I probably wouldn't buy it for $50. THOUGH, I will say I'm glad to see games trying new things like collector's editions.

    On the gameplay side, it does sound odd with how you were higher leveled and had one more character, but would get destroyed because they attacked first? I wonder what type of gameplay mechanics games like these use, like the "roll of the dice" to figure out who-wins-what, and I have experimented with that type of stuff briefly...but balance is always important.

  3. Haha - understandable. Do you happen to have Fire Emblem though? If so, keep in mind the $30 credit for the eShop.

    I actually have no problem with $50 for a handheld game, though all things being equal, I'd have probably gone for a $40 version sans music and book. Still, I've spent more on console and PC games that took less time to beat.

    Thanks for dropping by!

  4. I think that's exactly what it was - just dice rolls that had averages, but also some highs as well. It sort of felt like a throwback to older tabletop games like D&D where you could get wrecked very quickly by a single really good roll.

    I do think it was cool to see them try a different kind of release, and like I mentioned to Phil, 40+ hours isn't too shabby - I'll take it. I will admit though, knowing I was getting an eShop credit of $30 helped take the sting out of it as well, especially since I have enough right now to pick up Etrien Odyssey at a $10 discount on the eShop through tomorrow.

    Glad you dropped by!

  5. I remember seeing an eShop credit deal I think on the Wii U side of things, but it might have been this one.

    40+ hours is definitely awesome and I would say makes it worth it, I just don't play these games very often (see: basically never). Even 20+ hours is pretty awesome, considering that there are console games for $60 with campaigns under 10 hours.

  6. JRPG's are in a really funny place now, they're expected to be classic at the same time as being progressive, most are only successful if they're one or the other, and the ones that are in the middle are that kind of Final Fantasy XIII - like abominations. So I totally get what you mean when you say that the classic JRPG elements are comforting but also leave you wanting more.

    It's always a real issue in JRPG's when the characters don't resonate with you, the genre has always been very character centric, being stuck with them for so long, you've got to love them, or even hate them, but sometimes you get the kind of character that just feels like a kind of contrived idea of a person on an adventure.

    As for this game specifically I've never played any in the series.... perhaps I'll start.

  7. Hey Josef - thanks for dropping by.

    The fact that the characters fell a bit flat for me - they weren't bad or anything, they were just... solidly unspectacular in any way - was a definite let-down for me. I think what you said though about JRPGs - and even specifically calling out Final Fantasy has a lot of truth to it though. I've long said that I think Square is in a really tough place, because if they do something too new, the alienate their long-time fans, if they don't, they get railed on for not changing up the formula, and when they aim for something in between, that too receives a good deal of scorn.

  8. Huh... I thought the CD/Strategy guide was only for the first hundred thousand or so purchases of the game. Oh well. But it was still good in the end as the game keeps kicking me in the jugular. I NEEDED that map and demon cheat sheet.

    Since I'm still relatively new to JRPGs, I can't say much about the traditional-or-progressive issue. However I can agree that the genre seems kind of stale. Maybe it's because the same companies are pumping out the same thing over and over again (like Square Enix, and - sadly - Atlus). Maybe there are cliches in the story or gameplay formula that just don't impress us in the 7th/8th generation anymore. Maybe everyone is just playing too safe, especially now that JRPGs don't sell as well as they used to and it could tank an investment that took a lot of time and money.

    I dunno. I guess I'm rambling.

    Back to SMT: IV, I agree that the characters are flat. I can remember names and appearances... but not much in terms of personality that makes them unique. Considering that in SMT tradition, there's the whole clashing of ideologies (order vs. chaos) and its backed by unimpressive, relatively forgettable characters. The plot can only make up for so much of this gaping whole.

    Regardless, I've been playing this game in short, 1-2 bursts. As you said, the game decides to say, "DIE, BIATCH!" and insta-kills you and your progress a bit too often. At least saving is pretty instant as its in the menu, unlike 'Nocturne' where you have to sacrifice a few unicorns and a dragon's claw just to survive the dungeon and reach the save point.

    Fun game, but it hurts... a lot.

  9. Yeah, I picked it up about a week after release, and this was the only copy of it I could find. I looked at Amazon about two weeks ago, and they were still listing it as well. I get the feeling this is the only packaging they went with. That map was handy at the end though, no doubt about it.

    I find it impossible to really argue with any of your observations - they're pretty much inline with mine throughout the game too. I really enjoyed it, but there were a handful of things that just could have been done better. The punishing difficulty I almost expect from the series now anyway, like Wizardry. But after having played Persona 4 Golden for so long months prior, these characters and the overall storyline just did not resonate with me in the same way, making it harder to be invested in the outcome.

    Glad you could stop by to comment, thanks!


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