Shin Megami Tensei has long been one of the great series in role-playing games, especially for fans of a challenge and urban-fantasy games, which are a counterpart to the fantasy JRPGs that are the norm in Japan. Nintendo scored a minor coup when the series, long based on Sony's PlayStation 2, made the jump to the 3DS with enhanced remake Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked, with plans for a proper new entry in the series teased at Nintendo's E3 2010 press conference. Those plans are now coming to fruition with the incoming release of Shin Megami Tensei IV for the Nintendo 3DS.
The setting of SMT4 is a middle-ages kingdom known as Mikado, which mixes Western and Japanese fantasy traditions. Special gauntlets with Smartphone-like functionality — including access to magical "apps" — have long been the hallmark of the samurai, protectors of the country from untold threats and emblems of its power. A small team led by Flynn (you can change his name, of course) are ordered to investigate a black samurai whose books seem to turn people into demons. You must fight through lairs and the world beyond to investigate the underground city of Tokyo and stop the problem at its source. In true MegaTen tradition, things start getting much, much, much larger and much, much worse very quickly, forcing the player to make choices that can lead to one of several highly distinct ends.
The gameplay of SMT4 sticks mostly to Shin Megami Tensei traditions. Players are still traveling through dungeons, but now it's in third-person view, in full 3-D, and with a controllable camera. They fight demons in random encounters in traditional JRPG fashion, though you have a chance to recruit them as allies if you can correctly answer their questions. Demon allies can be combined into more powerful demons, now using a convenient Cathedral of Shadows app on your gauntlet. Your gauntlet's translation app isn't always up to the task, forcing you to pursue upgrades, among many other things.
SMT4 has the player relying on both human and demon allies to fight foes successfully, providing opportunities for discussion and character interplay more akin to the Persona series. The third-person view is also used to introduce some more complex exploration than the Ultima-style maps of earlier games, including using the gauntlet to manipulate the map in different ways. More importantly, the art looks as good as the series did on the PS2, with crisp anime-style models, smooth character art, and a bunch of classic-style monster sprites.
Of course, one element hasn't changed: Shin Megami Tensei IV will be one of the most difficult role-playing games on the 3DS when it comes out this July, even with features designed to make it slightly more newbie-friendly. Gamers looking for a challenge are unlikely to be disappointed with the latest entry in this classic series.
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