04 June 2014

'Shin Megami Tensei IV', Part II

This review ended up being pretty short, considering how long-winded I can get over the silliest things. Perhaps I need to beat more Shin Megami Tensei games before I can go on for seven parts. Maybe then I can overanalyze every fault in characters, gameplay, plot, and theme that I come across.

I do like this game, but I don't feel the desire to deconstruct and reconstruct the game's basic elements from start to finish. Not yet at least. There is an unfortunate reason for that.

Superior being[s], I fricking hate that one picture so much. So, so, so, so very much.

So let me get the gigantic, stubborn elephant out of the room briefly before I continue onward. Oh, and possible spoilers.


"ATLUS?! Y U ADD NO WAIFUS???? TT_TT"

This pic should just fall in a pit and DIE.
No, big shot review sites and certain members of the Persona 3 and Persona 4 fan base. Not everyone, just those entitled and select few individuals who completely miss the big picture or refuse to do simple research. Shin Megami Tensei IV is not, was not, and will not ever be like Persona 3 and Persona 4. They are structurally different games; they exist in two completely different subseries in a huge franchise.

This isn't a game where you go to school and make friends with everyone, whether they would like you in real life or not. You do not start a harem of ladies who want to ride your disco stick. More than half of the cast drops like flies. But it's not just because of theme significance; it's because you are walking in a world swallowed up in hell and the human population is plummeting. We are beyond the point of a normal world threatened by possible apocalypse: this is the world AFTER the apocalypse. You need to fix up this damaged, destroyed place called Earth so that life can go on in another cycle of prosperity. The last thing you should worry about are who you want to bang and who do you want to join the investigation on the beginning of the mess.

Persona 3 and 4 do one thing, Shin Megami Tensei IV does another. If anything, there should be more comparisons to its mainline siblings like Nocturne or Strange Journey. But the world doesn't like to work that way. Persona 3 and 4 made Atlus beloved in the West; and some people still have no clue any Atlus games besides those two exist. Since the world can be a sad place, even when I try to think positive, I will continue on with my review. Then I will weep in my corner.  And I'll shot death stares of profound disapproval at the people who still think the MegaTen franchise is nothing but Persona 3 and 4 and don't attempt to amend their ignorance.


Tangent over. I promise.


Last Second Gameplay Notes

There are a few extra details I missed last time and wanted to sneak in before I end this review.

Well, crap. Outta macca again.
The majority of this game involves you picking up and completing quests of various kinds and sizes. It is strongly recommended you complete as many as you can. This is the only efficient way in gaining experience points, items, and money due to all three being frustrating to obtain. Grinding through common encounters will barely give you EXP, unless you stubbled upon an area too early on and are taking down demons several levels above you. It's entirely possible, but risky in the early parts of the game. Money - known as macca - is extremely hard to earn. And it sucks.

Equipment and items are expensive as hell EVERYWHERE you go. You'd think constantly replacing your weapons and armor for better stats would be a smart thing. With how much demons are crushing you every other second, one would hope that buying healing items and new equipment will put you ahead of the game. NOPE. Due to the lack of defense stats and the generally aesthetic-only usage of armor, there's very little reason to waste money on buying new items in every district you come across. More often than not, you'll have to sell some of the rare items you obtain and have little room left for.

Once you progress far enough in the game (probably by the halfway point or when you reach Kagome Tower), Burroughs will provide some apps on your gauntlet to invest in regenerating HP and MP. You are far more better off with these investments once you have enough App points of purchase them. In the beginning, you'll have to search corpses a lot and save up on items that recover MP. Or nearby terminals can help you get to a resting point - the samurai barracks in Mikado or the taverns in the underground districts.

Finding and keeping money on you at all times got so bad for most people that Atlus released DLC for money grinding. Yeah. And you can get rich very, very quickly. You might as well get the DLC if you're bad at managing money. The game is completely doable without it, regardless of difficulty, however. But still… WOW. I assure you most MegaTen games don't have this issue, minus Digital Devil Saga… depending on how you invest in skills.


Technical Presentation

Being a 3DS game, there are some limits to how Shin Megami Tensei IV presents itself. Add in the note that Atlus is not working on a AAA gaming budget (for good reason, given the current suicidal state of the industry) and we get a sense that there will be new and recycled features. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This generally occurred in making this game. Most of the time.

Please understand: they've been sheltered their entire lives.
More issues arise in the aesthetics than anything else. Performance-wise, SMT4 loads fairly quickly and I experienced no crashes to speak of in over 60 hours of gameplay. A friend of mine once said one of the demon sprites turned black for a short period of time in the middle of one of the last major battles in the end game. Other than this one odd incident no major or common hiccups occurred that I am aware of.

Enemy AI seems competent as well. Both on normal and easy mode, I often found enemies would cast multi-target skills on my entire party during the later half of the game. Usually one demon would be weak to the attack, but two others would either block or absorb the skill in question. This may be due to having a competent team built on my end or the lack of certain single-target skills for the enemies. However, demon and human enemies are still smart enough to give you trouble on the most random of encounters. The lack of defensive stats may contribute to this.


Artwork and Graphics

Admittedly, this is not the best looking game for the 3DS. It's standard - as in being presentable - but it's nothing brilliant to push the hardware above and beyond the limits. Shin Megami Tensei IV, however, succeeds on the small details in the environments. 

Hallways and linear paths hardly feel restrictive because there is so much going on. Debris lays around in the middle and along the street with relics to gather. Fire erupts alongside the road where a fight may have occurred not long ago. Dead bodies of naive and reckless demon hunters lay around as a warning to others who trespass. Landmarks are decrepit, traffic signs are twisted and bent if they still exist in a recognizable form at all. Buildings range from standing tall, but empty and blasted or untouched, save for the grime and blood on the ground at the main entrance.


Each district or neighborhood has its own feel to it that is very unique. Ginza is the most expensive area to buy equipment, and it houses flashing lights, giant barricades, and high-end shops from a time before the apocalypse. There's even a Kabuki Theater in the area that thankfully retains some beauty in spite of the powerful demons surrounding it. Ikebukuro is a corpse of an former safe haven. Demons broke in and cleared the entire area of noncombatant civilians, leaving damaged and trashed stores with little loot for Flynn and company to gather.

Mikado is perhaps the least interesting location visually. You navigate through the capital city in a menu screen, listing off the various districts housing the higher Luxuror and lower Casualry classes. Despite the limited presentation, the background art and character sprites are still decent. Each district has a distinguishing feature to it and each population holds different opinions based on their caste status. Unless you decide to return to heal up at the barracks, you may end up ignoring developments in Mikado after Flynn and company explore Tokyo. Politics occur in both locations, but more emphasis is placed on the 3D world and the quests to complete down in the Unclean Ones' country.

While Mikado is a generally understated locale, the people of Tokyo are understated at times as well. A majority of the characters with dialogue portraits are those from Mikado. It makes sense in the beginning when you begin there, but most of the important figures in the story live in Tokyo. I won't deny that the portraits are well done, however. Every character looks unique in attire, facial features, and color scheme without looking "anime cliche" - and most certainly not "moe".

Then we get to the demon designs. Nearly all of the demons featured in this game come from previous games (such as Pixie, Isis, Mokoi, Chernabog, etc. A majority were drawn by the greatly beloved Kazuma Kaneko, who unfortunately did not return as the lead designer. Masayuki Doi took charge of creating the characters; a group of artists with experience in anime super seinen series like Kamen Rider handled the designs of some new demons. The new guys did the redesigns of the major demon figures in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. The reception from fans overall is mixed-to-negative.

I'm on the fence. Leaning towards the traditional, and away from the genre with men in tights.

I adore Kaneko's work because of how distinctive his style is. He creates dark, sometimes twisted creatures, but there's a simplicity to them that results in an elegant piece of art. Many demons don't look the same; he somehow manages to not get repetitive and obsessive on the details. Perhaps due to his unique vision and interpretation of demons, many fans associate Kaneko's art as the definitive "essence" of the Megami Tensei franchise. He knows how to incorporate elements and themes in culture, history, mythology, and religion in the demons he crafts, leaving a unique creature we may not have thought of if we didn't take time to think outside our ingrained presumptions of such figures.

Bringing in new artists with no history working on a MegaTen game was quite a gamble. In some ways, they did well. Several of the demons still have an alien, creepy "air" to them - like the Archangels (Gabriel being one of my favorites of the four). A handful of others do as well, but manage to fall in the uncanny valley. Yaso Magatsuhi first appears in a comedic fashion, but his design is a bit too explicit in being gory and creepy. While he is found in DLC, Masakado... looks... like a clump of dirt and lava, not a demon.

And others are outrageous: either they clash too much with Kaneko's creations or the overall design just looks bad. Lucifer is the epitome of atrocious. Good superior being[s]. No. Dear mother of YHVH, Allah, Jesus Christ, or whatever you wish to address the superior being(s), what the fuck is THIS:




The sickly washed-out palate, obsessively minute detailing, and excessively bright yellows and whites are just revolting. This glaringly clashes with nearly every single aspect of this game. It's like you hang a lush and tranquil Thomas Kincaid painting next to posters of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica in a metalhead's bedroom. Or you place a My Little Pony doll next to figurines from Neon Genesis Evangelon. It's just… aesthetically WRONG. Like wearing a rainbow polkadot tie with a black-and-yellow-stripped dress shirt.

Maybe they were trying to go for a similar aesthetic to Kaneko's design of Beelzebub, but at least the Lord of the Flies is a FLY, not, according to my friend Rasen, the love child of Emperor Palpatine and Slenderman!

On the plus side, however, of all the new designs, my favorite may be Yamato-Takeru. Technically he's semi-new, at least for MegaTen games outside of the Persona series. His look is simpler, and it sits next to the order humanoid demon designs a lot better due to him looking less ornate and deformed. He received the least amount of excessive details to his attire that turned him into something explicitly monstrous, and he looks better for it.


Localization and Voice Acting

Voice acting is... everywhere in this game. Even the tiniest side character and demon speaks at some point. It's quite an ambitious undertaking to have so many audio files.


This is one of the best English dubs I have ever [currently] heard in my [short] life. Everything is so natural, so subtle, I can nearly hear the voice actors breathe in-between each line of dialogue. The characters nearly popped out of my 3DS, stood next to me, and chatted as if they were really alive. The tones are spot-on, the stutters and murmurs are stunningly believable. The emotions suggested through vocal cues - such as gasping and exclaiming - are expressed at appropriate times and under appropriate circumstances. The dialogue holds a wide range in vocabulary and grammar to make nearly every single voice distinct and unique. The use of explicit language is tasteful, used to make or illustrate an emotional impact.

Dear superior being[s], damn it, I adore this so much. I can't list a single bad performance. Everyone ranged from brilliant to very good. This was pure gold from start to finish. Matthew Mercer as Walter, Orion Acaba as Jonathan, Eden Riegel as Isabeau, and Ali Hillis as Burroughs all need praise in the form of hugs, fan mail, or awards for how damn good of a job they did. Even Yuri Lowenthal and Liam O'Brien, both of whom predominately voiced a variety of main and minor demon boss encounters were wonderful. One minor character who should have had a character profile, Nozomi, voiced by Laura Bailey, was one of my favorite characters in some of my favorite side quests. I could go on and on. Just damn. Persona 5 better reach for this standard of greatness or surpass it completely.


(Uh... why is Gaara "cross dressing"?!)

Anywho.

Outside of the American release, as of June 2014, this game has hit a crappy bump in the road known as bureaucratic bullshit. Europeans have either given up or are still waiting for Shin Megami Tensei IV to reach their continent. Hopefully they get this game sometime before the sun creates a supernova and consumes our entire solar system. I know that paperwork and negotiations and meetings mean a lot to businesses, but a clear yes or no to EU localization will be wonderful.

Supposedly the EU is trying to make multiple language releases for fans there. A kind sentiment, but it does explain why they are taking forever on saying yes or no to SMT4 in Europe. This is especially true since this game is 75% voice acting. Hope this ends well.


[UPDATE: As of 2015, Shin Megami Tensei IV has made it to Europe!!!! ... As a digital release. I hate using Nintendo's online shopping features and I hate how European fans had to wait for a long time. However, the game is out at last. One day Atlus will get better at EU releases... I hope.]


Soundtrack

Another reason that early picture of whining pisses me off. This soundtrack is great. The main theme is perfect: it pumps you up and gets you ready for a really awesome experience. Easily one of my favorite main themes in a video game.


Shin Megami Tensei IV's soundtrack is very atmospheric and dark, but there are a variety of tracks that play depending where you are. Mikado tends to have more organic and traditional-sounding music (like "K's Tavern" and "Eastern Kingdom of Mikado"), invoking a feel of samurai or medieval eras. More electronic tracks with hints of piano and guitars remain in the various regions of Tokyo, though some traditional-sounding elements remain. Of course, orchestral is present as well, though mainly saved for more intense boss fights and end-game dungeons.

Though the smallest and first district you encounter, "Ueno" may be my favorite. A hauntingly beautiful track plays, greeting you to the destroyed world of Tokyo. Ueno is just the beginning of the dank and eery plague that covers the world. The other districts have unique themes of their own (like "Shibuya" and "Ginza") and range from being minimalistic and quiet to loud and catchy. Some are repetitive, mainly one of the above-ground themes, but most still have a sense of energy and catchiness to help you forgive this grievance.

Very few impressive - as in large - dungeons exist in this game, but Kagome Tower and Lucifer Palace have really awesome themes. The Reverse Hills is pure nightmare fuel, and no other music could be appropriate for that place than something fitting of an abandoned mental hospital in a horror film.


Some songs are actuarially remixes of past MegaTen games - mainly in the mainline series. Though I haven't played most of them, I recognized some of them in my run of Nocturne, such as "Normal Battle" (now "CLUBMILTON") and the Fiend Battle theme "Majin" (now "Battle C4"). None of the music playing in the Cathedral of Shadows app is original: some originate in SMTI (compare SMTIV's), Nocturne (compare), and one most likely from one of the Majin Tensei games. Unlike the re-drawings of mostly plot-important demons, I found the remixes I noted to be very well done. Some sound better than their originals, other don't, but I enjoyed them all the same.

Other honorable mentions I'd like to include before wrapping up include "Black Market", "Camp Ichigaya", "Boss Battle Theme", "Tokyo", and "Aboveground Urban Area C". If I missed another goodie, sue me. :P


Overall


Shin Megami Tensei IV is a brilliant game. It is beautifully and competently made, a 3DS title worthy of purchasing. Though it can be merciless in the beginning, this is still a good gateway into the Megami Tensei franchise. Even Persona 3 and 4 fans can handle this alright, due to having somewhat similar turn-based battle mechanics. This may not be "modern" enough in design since mastery of the gameplay takes a higher priority over the quality of the storytelling. In spite of that, the story and characters still are well written and fleshed out enough for fans to discuss the ideas, morality, and themes presented. Every sidequest feels relevant with hardly any filler, and the rewards are worth it (for keeping or selling: you NEED that macca). You learn and find new pieces of the world and obtain a good selection of demons and items to take on the next challenge.

Sometimes you can get lost, and sometimes the gameplay is overwhelming. Sometimes you feel like the poorest schmuck in video game history. But with some trial and error, practice, and good ol' Atlus programming bullshit this game can be enjoyed. Once you beat this game, you are ready for most of the recent entries in this franchise. The older games are another can of worms, but you are far more qualified and prepared to tackle them than if you start with something so EASY MODO like... Persona 4 Golden.


Great now I sound like a MegaTen elitist. Oh well. I still adore Persona 3 though. Even that's far less EASY MODO. Anywho...

Still though. I hate you, Mastema. I frickin' hate you so much. And you're only gonna be worse in Strange Journey.

And why did Omoikane have to spam Diarahan every other turn?

And why was Naga so hard, even when I HAD THE RIGHT DEMONS TO KILL HIM?!

... At least Nocturne is much easier thanks to all of this tough love.

I wish things stayed like this forever... TT_TT

Pros:

+ detailed, immersive post-apocalyptic environment
+ distinctive character profiles
+ atmospheric, dynamic soundtrack
+ phenomenal voice acting
+ compelling story with balanced pros and cons in ideologies
+ a great introduction for new players interested in Megami Tensei franchise
+ overall quest system strongly promotes exploration and curiosity
+ allows all sides of conflict to have strengths and flaws
+ flexible demon fusion system


Mehs:

~ a few repetitive side quests and backtracking
~ emphasis on world-building over character development
~ difficulty in managing money
~ some new demon designs clash with old ones
~ the oddly programed Law-Neutral-Chaos alignment system
~ may sometimes need to consult guide for help


Cons:

- frustrating early-game difficulty
- vague quest descriptions and objectives
- navigation and world map gets confusing if not frustrating
- nonexistent defensive attributes and stats


Rank:
4 out of 5


Not everyone will like this game, but I can't recommend it enough.

And I will continue to keep my fingers crossed for the European release of Shin Megami Tensei IV. Whenever it happens.



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Part 1

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

6 comments:

Raui said...

Good job on your review!

Personally I like the item shop theme

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQPDe1mU31s

Decarabia said...

>may sometimes need to consult guide for help

mel you pleb

Melanie~Light said...

Thanks for stopping by again, Raui! Love that theme too. There're so many tracks on this soundtrack I love. It broke my heart to not list every single song. ;_;

And yeah, Deck, I know. I'm a spineless wimp. *rolls eyes* But then again, MegaTen fans hold less of a stigma on looking up help with guides or asking fellow fans. And it doesn't affect the score in a positive or negative way. So... HA. >:P

Chalgyr Vokel said...

Amazingly long, detailed summary of the game. I remember how hard it was to FIND this game when it first came out. Very limited at the time. I had to hit 5 or 6 different shops - Gamestop, Best Buy and more were all sold out. Eventually though, I got my hands on it - agree with most of your sentiments and also scored it on my site about the same when I reviewed it. :)

Voltech said...

"...a group of artists with experience in anime super seinen series like Kamen Rider handled the designs of some new demons."

As a wise man once said, "YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

That was -- that was an exclamation of joy, in case there was any confusion.

You know what, though? I'm actually interested in seeing some of the backgrounds and art and such for the game. Not the demons, per se (though on that note, this game's Lucifer reminds me of Soulcalibur's Voldo...who I wouldn't recommend running a Google search for). I want to try and see if I can find at least a little bit of the background/setting art somewhere. I tend to stockpile video game concept art -- settings, especially -- for writing purposes, and I've got a hunch that some SMT productions can offer some inspiration.

Seriously, if you ever need to make a good setting (or get references for a new character design) go to Creative Uncut if you haven't been there already. it's got a huge database that's only getting bigger by the week.

That aside...well, there's not that much else to say about the game, is there? Okay, that's not true; I can't help but wonder how people would respond to it if it was on consoles (maybe it'd be perfect for the Demon's/Dark Souls crowd?), but all things considered the game's already the best it can be on a handheld. And "the best it can be" is pretty friggin' fantastic.

So as usual, thanks for the review. And as for me? Well, there's just one thing left for me to say. HENSHIN!

*turns into a goose*

...I can still make this work.

Melanie~Light said...

@ Chalgyr Vokel

It was that hard to find?! Huh, very interesting. All the Gamestops in my area had this game on the shelves. That being said, I dunno if it means that it sold well or if people refused to but it for some stupid reason. Their loss though. They could play Pokemon for the billionth time or try Fire Emblem Awakening (both of which are good in their own rights), but Shin Megami Tensei IV is different, and would be interesting to at least TRY.

Still, I'm glad I bought this game. I'm glad it's a handheld. I don't bring my home consoles to school, so I need some good Atlus games and/or RPGs for on-the-go. This succeeded... minus the first twenty hour session of one rage-quit per hour. :)

@ Voltech

I wonder if the game would have been more successful as a console game. I can see the Demon/Dark Souls crowd being slightly interested, though the difficulty is kinda different. There'd be less Kotaku articles of journalists losing their excessive "balls hard mode ONLY" pride over a handheld game. Sure, this game did make me re-consider game difficulty, but SMT in general has enforced me to play all games defensively until I get used to the gameplay. There never was any "pride" in my approach.

Anywho.

I'll check out Creative Uncut and see what I find. It could have helped me in this review, but meh. Live and Learn. I could see if it can help with my fanfic, especially with the designs of the cultists and their Personas.

Maybe in a few years some kind gamer will get SMT4's artwork plastered all over the internet. I'm not gonna take pics from my iPod over everything b/c it ain't HD. The Appolo Store one was enough, and that didn't turn out great. :P

As usual, thanks for stopping by. Hopefully I convinced someone to buy this game. If not, I'll just find another internet source and scream at the top of my lungs.

Besides, screaming can get some things done on the internet. XD

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