Megami Tensei is one of those rare RPG franchises where spinoffs grossly outnumber main numbered entries, and while the first three initially saw release on consoles, the fourth installment, Shin Megami Tensei IV, would be released on the portable Nintendo 3DS. The quality of the series is often inconsistent in this reviewer’s opinion, although the fourth numbered entry is luckily on par with the better entries of the Atlus pantheon.
The fourth is the first of the main numbered entries to feature visible encounters in the form of digitized foes instead of random battles, all of which charge the player’s character upon noticing him. Players can slash these digitations to commence battles, with all antagonists suffering a little damage with successful preemptive strikes, although the enemy normally contacting the player’s character will start standardly, with either the player’s party or the enemy going first in separate turn sessions. If players aren’t in the mood for battle, they can use a particular skill where slashes against enemy digitations nullify them, but yield no rewards, if the levels of representative enemies are below the hero’s.
However, battle is entertaining enough to the point where players will actually want to engage the enemy, with the fourth entry utilizing the press turn icon system present in Nocturne and the Digital Devil Saga games, where exploiting enemy weaknesses consumes only half an icon (the number present representative of the player or enemy party size) and using skills they nullify, reflect, or drain eating up multiple icons, for both the player’s party and the enemy. However, since players will wish to upgrade their party of the hero and three demons to take on harder fights later in the game, odds are that most of the time they’ll want to parley with the enemy.
If the player wants a demon to join their party, they’ll face a number of questions, the answers to which lamentably lead to inconsistent results, with foes sometimes eating up all the player’s press turn icons and getting free shots at the player, although if they make it past the initial stage, they’ll have to satisfy demands for money, items, HP, MP, or the death of one of the player’s allies. Sometimes enemies bail out while the player fulfills their requests, but if the player succeeds, the enemy will join their party. As in prior games, the player can fuse weaker demons to create more powerful ones, and fortunately, they can manually select skills for fused demons to inherit.
When the protagonist levels, the player can distribute points into their stats freely, and receives ten app points the player can use to purchase new apps for the main character’s gauntlet, which can do things such as expanding the hero and/or his demons’ skill set limits (with a maximum of eight), additional negotiation options, lower demands for demon recruitment, enemies sometimes asking their allies to join the hero as well if the player succeeds in negotiation, and so forth. Sometimes when one of the player’s demons level, the player can learn one of its skills. Overall, the battle system is enjoyable aside from the fickleness of demons at times, and a casual difficulty is unlocked with two deaths in standard mode, perfect for newcomers to the series.
Even on casual mode, however, the bulk of the fourth entry’s difficulty comes from the frequent terrible direction on how to advance the main storyline, which seems to assume players to be familiar with a certain metropolis’s geography, a strong unlikelihood among Westerners. The menus themselves aren’t terribly troublesome, and a save-anywhere feature exists, but although the game tracks story quests and sidequests, this reviewer perhaps spent hours wondering where the hell to go next. Ultimately, interaction definitely leaves room for improvement.
The aforementioned poor direction is a giant mark off the plot, which isn’t terribly memorable, although there are options that affect which ending the player ultimately receives. The translation is more than serviceable, although the localization team was somewhat lazy in terms of demon names, many of which are still in Romanized Japanese. In the end, average story, but decent transition to English.
The soundtrack is mostly good, aside from a few silent areas and others relying on ambience, and the voice acting during cutscenes and demon negotiation are boons.
However, one could describe the fourth installment’s graphical style as inconsistent. Normal exploration utilizes three-dimensional environments with the protagonist having a proportionate character model, although battles are in a first-person perspective with animated demons on the top screen and portraits on the bottom screen representing the protagonist and his three demon confederates. The enemy demons don’t have special animations when attacking or using skills, and demon negotiation causes their representative portrait to fill most of the top screen. Cutscenes mostly utilize static character portraits, with minimal animation. The visuals are by no means bad, but are somewhat lazy at points.
Finally, overall playing time hovers around the two-day mark, with a New Game Plus and countless sidequests accounting for plenty lasting appeal.
In conclusion, Shin Megami Tensei IV is for the most part a solid addition to the main numbered series that hits many of the right notes, particularly regarding its enjoyable battle system with endless demon variety, its multiple narrative endings, its good soundtrack and voicework, polished character and enemy designs, and plentiful lasting appeal, although there are issues the development team could have resolved, particularly the fickleness of foes during negotiation, the awful direction on how to advance the chief storyline, and inconsistent visual quality. Even so, this reviewer would recommend the game to newcomers, and is hyped for its forthcoming direct sequel Apocalypse.
+Fun battle system with endless variety.
+Story has multiple endings.
+Nice character and enemy designs.
+Plenty lasting appeal.
-Enemies can be fickle during negotiation.
-Terrible direction at many times how to advance.
-Consequential unfocused plot.
-Inconsistent visual quality.
The Bottom Line:
One of the better Megami Tensei titles.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 9/10
Playing Time: ~2 Days