Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

Atlus’ decision to develop the fourth main numbered installment of its storied Shin Megami Tensei franchise for a portable system was akin to Square-Enix’s to make its Dragon Quest saga’s ninth installment for the Nintendo DS, perhaps an attempt to reach a greater number of players preferring to game on the move. In a further unusual decision, Atlus commenced development of a direct sequel to Shin Megami Tensei IV subtitled FINAL, which would receive the localized moniker Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, which proves to be an improvement in virtually every aspect.

Combat is largely the same as it was in the original SMTIV, with visible digitized enemies on fields and in dungeons, combat commenced by touching one of them, with a slash of the protagonist’s weapon guaranteeing his party’s first strike in the subsequent skirmish. Casual gamers will be happy to know that an easier difficulty is available from the get-go, and adjustable at will to pacify more masochistic players. As in the game’s predecessor, skills and items are available to avoid an encounter with a slash of the hero’s weapon if the representative enemy party is of lower levels than the player, although keeping a party of worthwhile demons is key towards victory in many cases, so actually fighting instead of skipping these battles is in most cases preferable.

Like the original Shin Megami Tensei IV, its successor utilizes the press-turn icon system originated in Nocturne, where exploiting enemy weaknesses uses only half a turn icon, and using skills that the enemy reflects, nullifies, or drains wastes more turn icons. Negotiation returns as well, and luckily the player needs not have special apps to negotiate with specific foes. If the player has scouted an enemy in the past, they may recognize the hero and instantly offer to join his party, although in other cases, the player must answer occasional philosophical questions and satisfy their demands for money, items, and the like, with foes either taking the player’s resources and running or agreeing to join their party.

In the direct sequel, players have a greater variety of partners that can contribute to battle, executing a skill or attack once the player has exhausted all their turn icons, and may occasionally learn new skills by leveling or through certain story events. As with before, the player can fuse demons into more powerful incarnations and have free reign in picking skills for the new ones to bequeath, always a must to keep up with more powerful adversaries. The smirk system returns, too, with a smirking protagonist or demon having its weaknesses temporarily nullified and guaranteed critical attacks. Overall, the battle system works well, although in some cases, foes might not recognize the hero even if he’s negotiated with them in the past, but even so, combat is sure to satisfy.

The area of control is significantly better than in the game’s predecessor, with a much-better direction on how to advance the main storyline thanks to things such as the map actually labeling locations and a flag icon indicating where to proceed for the next objective, and the other areas already good in the original such as easy menus, demon fusion, navigation of dungeons, and the save-anywhere feature, are still clean-cut. There is minor issue in some dungeons where teleportation devices aren’t labeled in terms of to and from locations, but otherwise, interaction is well above average.

Given the clearer direction, the story is also remarkably improved over its predecessor’s, although it only follows one specific ending of the previous game, despite the ability to transfer data from the first to the second installment via the 3DS’ SD card. The translation is mostly spotless, as well, in spite of some rare untranslated lines Atlus acknowledges in the final version, and the retention of Japanese names for many demons. Overall, the narrative is definitely a driving factor throughout the sequel, with its own ending variations adding to replayability.

Despite being a direct sequel, there’s enough variation in the soundtrack of Apocalypse to make it far from a rehash of the original game’s, with solid voicework, as well, and only occasional silent areas marring the aural aspect.

The visuals look nice most of the time, given things such as a variation in the protagonist’s appearance with different equipment and believable character models and nice artwork, although the battle graphics are still somewhat lazy, given the lack of variation in enemy animation when they execute their skills, and first-person perspective reminiscent of early Dragon Quest titles. Overall, the graphical aspect is by no means bad, but is lazy when it comes to depicting combat.

Finally, finishing the sequel takes roughly two days’ worth of time, with plentiful replay value in the New Game+ and ability of the player to decide what to inherit from their prior playthrough.

Overall, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, is, for the most part, an excellent direct sequel that hits most of the right notes with regards to aspects such as the refined game mechanics bequeathed from its predecessor, the improvements to interaction such as a clearer direction on how to advance and more indicative maps, the enjoyable narrative, fresh soundtrack, and stellar voicework, and leaves only minor room for improvement regarding areas such as its lazy battle visuals. This direct sequel is definitely one of the more enjoyable titles in a franchise that’s admittedly inconsistent, at least in this reviewer’s opinion, in terms of quality, and those that liked its predecessor will appreciate the improvements made in Apocalypse.

The Good:
+Improved over its predecessor in most areas.

The Bad:
-Battle graphics still lazy.

The Bottom Line:
What a direct sequel should be.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 9/10
Story: 9/10
Localization: 8/10
Music/Sound: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: ~2 days

Overall: 9/10

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