Shin Megami Tensei

Fan translations have given gamers who don’t wish to endure the tedium of learning the Japanese language the opportunity to play titles unreleased in their regions in their native tongues. Among the recipients of a fan translation is Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei, its original version being on the Super Famicom, known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System outside Japan. It would receive a few remakes that too wouldn’t see light outside the Land of the Rising Sun, that is, until Atlus’s North American branch announced the localization of the iOS version to their region’s market, providing an experience on par with, in some instances superior to, more contemporary titles in the franchise.

Upon starting a new game, the player endures a dream sequence where they name the various heroes and heroines and distribute stats for each. Unfortunately, without the assistance of a guide, players will have no ideas how the various stats will affect their characters, with wisely-invested statistics being necessary to getting through the game without any hassles. This reviewer, however, can provide some advice such as forgoing the Magic stat for the primary male protagonist since he doesn’t learn any magic spells, and only increase the luck stat on him since it’s useless on his allies.

The main hero and his allies participate in randomly-encountered enemy encounters in dungeons and the Tokyo overworld, with an encounter indicator fortunately indicating how close the player is to encountering foes. However, the rate of random encounters is fairly high, especially on the overworld, and items that temporarily reduce the rate are somewhat hard to come across. In battle, the player has a number of options squaring off against the enemy set (99% of the time consisting of only several incarnates of the same enemy), the primary protagonist early on receiving a computer he can use to parley with the enemy if desired.

With up to six spaces for attackers in combat, three in the front row and three in the back, the player must make some formidable allies out of the enemy through the art of negotiation, with the player’s alignment of Law, Chaos, or Neutral dictating which demons the player can recruit. Successful negotiation depends upon stats such as Intelligence and Luck, and if successful, the player can pick from one of a few rewards for successful negotiation, such as money, Magnetite (which is necessary to keep enemies on the battlefield or else they’ll suffer gradual damage with each step), leaving the battlefield, or becoming an ally, in which case they’ll demand various amounts of money, Magnetite, and items.

Although the game initially limits players as to the number of demons they can summon at a time, a computer programmer named Steven occasionally grants upgrades to this number, with a maximum of four demons alongside the two human characters composing the player’s final party. Summoning demons requires a certain amount of money, and keeping them on the battlefield, as mentioned, requires Magnetite that gradually decreases with each step taken in dungeons, or else the summoned demons will take damage. Fortunately, the player can actually make it through much of the game without having summoned demons, especially if they parley with the enemy every battle, and save their demons for challenging bosses.

Commands for the humans include attacking with an equipped melee weapon or firearm with various kinds of bullets, for the main protagonist summoning a demon to the battlefield or dismissing one, or using an item, a command available solely for the human characters. Other human characters may also be able to use MP-consuming magic, alongside the demons, which may also have “extra” commands that have no cost alongside attacking and defending to reduce damage. Victory results in acquiring money (although not as much as that potentially gainable from negotiation), experience for all human characters (with demon stats fixed), and occasional level ups by the human characters, in which case the player can increase one stat for level acquired, with more than one typically gained after bosses.

To create more powerful demons, the player can fuse two or three at a time at Cathedrals of Shadows, with player needing to pay attention to their alignment to be able to actually use them in battle. It is also possible to fuse demons to one of the main protagonist’s weapons, although coming across said fusible demons is somewhat difficult. In the end, the battle system works well for the most part, aside from the game leaving players in the dark as to the effect of the six primary stats, the mentioned high encounter rate, and so on, the negotiation system for the most part redeeming the battle engine and allowing the player to skip roughly nine-tenths of encountered fights.

The interface is also above average, with the always-convenient feature of automaps for each three-dimensional dungeon and occasional town, not to mention an easy menu system and shopping and a quicksave feature that also activates when the player should die in combat, allowing them to continue from the point of death and cutting down on wasted playing time. The title also allows players to choose between a view where a virtual gamepad exists below the game screen or overlaps the primary graphics. There are flaws such as no map for the Tokyo overworld and a sometimes-poor direction on how to advance the main storyline, but otherwise, interaction helps the game more than hurts.

The plot, however, is probably the game’s weakest link, with scarce developing cutscenes, although there is some variation depending upon the protagonist’s alignment, which provides nice replay value. The poor direction at many points is another mark off the narrative, which in the end doesn’t shine, but is by no means terrible. The translation is good, although there are some minor howlers such as “It is in no state to use the computer” when the protagonist is stunned in battle.

The soundtrack is one of the game’s strongest suits, with plenty of catchy tunes that would have remixes in later Megami Tensei titles, despite a lack of variety in the sound effects.

The graphics also look nice, with some monster animation, although there is no view of the player’s characters except during a few cutscenes.

Finally, the game will last players about thirty hours, with occasional sidequests boosting playing time. Ultimately, Shin Megami Tensei has aged surprisingly well, with solid battle and demon negotiation systems, decent control, an enjoyable soundtrack, nice visuals, and superb replay value. It does leave some room for improvement, however, in areas such as the thinly spread-out storyline, but otherwise, players interested in the Megami Tensei franchise’s history will find this particular entry to be a fun trip down memory lane.

This review is based on a playthrough on an iPad Mini.

The Good:
+Solid gameplay systems.
+Continue system cuts down on wasted playtime.
+Great soundtrack.
+Polished visuals.
+Excellent replay value.

The Bad:
-High encounter rate.
-Sometimes poor direction on how to advance.
-Story is thinly spread out.
-Some minor localization issues.

The Bottom Line:
A great port of a classic.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: iOS
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Controls: 7/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 9/10
Graphics: 8/10
Localization: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Medium
Playing Time: 25-40 Hours

Overall: 8/10

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License