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Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Role-Playing
Publisher: Atlus U.S.A.
Release Date: Sept. 20, 2016


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3DS Review - 'Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 14, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Overlapping the story of the original SMTIV, the upcoming game focuses on a Hunter cadet protagonist who gets killed by one of the demons treating post-apocalyptic Tokyo as their personal playground.

Buy Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

It's amazing how many small complaints you can make about a game that you enjoy. The original Shin Megami Tensei IV was a solid game with a lot to like, as you can see in our review. That didn't mean it didn't have nagging complaints and problems. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is an interesting game in that it's sort of a sequel and sort of an excuse to fix many of those problems. The result is a game that is both mechanically superior to its predecessor but more difficult to recommend as a first venture into the world of ruined Tokyo.

Apocalypse opens up during the endgame of Shin Megami Tensei IV. The protagonist of that game, Flynn, is attempting to save postapocalyptic Tokyo from the forces of Lucifer and God's angels. You're not playing as Flynn in Apocalypse; instead, you're placed in the role of Nanashi, a novice hunter whose life comes to an unceremonious end when a demon murders him during a training mission. Nanashi is approached in the afterlife by the Irish god Dagda, who offers him a choice: Come back to life as a god-slayer or perish. Nanashi accepts the role of a god-slayer, and the story begins. His first quest unleashes the Divine Powers, who are non-Christian gods who seek to break the power of devils and angels by capturing Flynn before he can complete his quest. Nanashi must save Flynn and allow him to complete his quest before the world falls to the three divine forces raging over Tokyo.

The story relies very heavily on knowledge and memories from SMT4. The bulk of the characters, events and plot assume you've played enough SMT4 to know what they're talking about, so you can get the proper rush of nostalgia and enjoyment from it. This is great for people coming into Apocalypse from SMT4 but renders the game almost completely inaccessible to newcomers. You've been thrown into the endgame of another RPG and asked to keep up. The plot is more in-depth and is clearly intended to give a more complete ending to the game, offering you a chance to see characters and events that would've been impossible in the regular Neutral ending. It's a fun experience, and there's a lot to enjoy if you're a returning fan, but it may sometimes feel excessive — especially if you haven't played SMT1 and SMT2.

Not much of the gameplay in Apocalypse has changed from the previous titles. Perhaps the biggest change to the mechanics is demon affinities. In the previous SMT, demons were very flexible. You could give any demon any skill, and they'd use them equally well, which resulted in some very static builds. Now, all demons have an affinity for different skills, so you need a better plan about which demons you'll use. Do you give up a good skill, or leave it on a demon that can't use it well in hopes of carrying it forward to a new demon that can?

Similarly, the Apps system has been rebalanced. Most of the very powerful abilities are level-gated now. You need app points to purchase them, but you must hit a level or story requirement to actually use them. This means that creating a strong build is a much more challenging task. You'll feel it most with the limitations to demon and protagonist skill slots, which take a very long time to unlock and force you to specialize. You can't have a protagonist with every elemental spell and several debuffs a few hours into the game, and figuring out the optimal build for your protagonist takes a lot more time. This also applies to physical fighters, who can no longer rely on maxing out Dex.

The core combat system is almost identical to the original SMT4, though there are several changes. The Smirk system has been toned down. Smirking, which randomly triggers when you hit an enemy's weakness or get a critical hit, used to make you effectively untouchable. Now, it nullifies your elemental weaknesses and gives you a powerful critical hit on your next attack. This change goes hand-in-hand with the addition of skills that have additional effects in Smirking status. The most meaningful skills are Hama and Mudo. Longtime SMT fans know that Hama and Mudo are the basic Light and Dark spells. In Apocalypse, Hama and Mudo are regular elemental attack spells, and if you use them while in Smirking status, they regain their previous ability to instant-kill. It's a great change since it makes Light and Dark spells a viable part of your arsenal rather than a quick way to clean up messes.

The other major change is to the Partner system. In SMT4, you were assigned a random partner at the start of a fight, and that partner would randomly use elemental spells. This was more of a problem than a boon because if you got the wrong partner, they'd use an elemental spell that would help the enemy. Rather than having a random partner, you can select your partner in Apocalypse from a significantly larger selection of choices. The AI partners are a lot smarter and will avoid triggering enemy strengths. They're also very powerful and can grant full-party Endure or buff your party after every round. They also have a Limit Break-like gauge that fills up, and when it's full, every partner you have unleashes a powerful attack. This will also force the enemy to skip their next turn, giving you a second consecutive turn.

The combat changes are great. The numbers have been significantly rejiggered, so you don't gain an overwhelming amount of power quite so early. The combat system is still based on pure offense, so there are no defense stats beyond elemental nullification. You're still able to overwhelm enemies easily later in the game, but it feels less repetitive than in SMT4. The new partner system is nice, but it can occasionally be too powerful. Go into a fight with a full Assist bar, and you can sometimes overwhelm a boss before he or she can even act.

Many of the game's changes entail cleaning up rough edges and adjusting the interface. Tokyo now has a detailed map that makes it easier to figure out where you're going, a much-requested change from the previous iteration. The number of hidden elements has been reduced. You won't scramble for chaos or law points that you can barely see, and the various endings are plain and accessible.

Demon negotiation is also more heavily weighted in your favor. Demons are more likely to join you, and a certain number of failed attempts will promise success. Try to recruit a demon who is too high-level for you, and they'll call a lower-level friend to join you instead. Death is almost a non-entity. If you die, Dagda revives you for free wherever you died — or shortly before it, in the case of cut-scene battles.

Apocalypse's gameplay changes address complaints about the original game. There aren't any huge changes; the combat and demon-training mechanics are basically the same but are more user-friendly. If you disliked SMT4, there's little chance that Apocalypse will change your mind. Fans will have to decide how easily they can get burned out on similar content. There are new areas and new dungeons, but much of the game is spent revisiting places you've already been and redoing content you've already seen. It's about on par with Bravely Second, which featured new content that was bookended by a lot of familiar content. If you go directly into Apocalypse from SMT4,you'd get bored fairly quickly, but it's a great way to revisit the game if you're looking for an excuse to replay it.

Some of the new gameplay mechanics aren't very fun. For instance, traps scattered throughout the dungeon are just an excuse to make you pause and mash X a lot. Another involves powering up a jade dagger to break specific walls under a certain time limit, which is a thinly veiled excuse for backtracking. Most of the changes are good, but there are a few that just don't jive.

Graphically, very little has changed from the previous game. Apocalypse largely consists of recycled content. A number of the newer demons have had their artwork redone to be more in line with the SMT4 style. This means that Medusa's artwork has improved significantly — there's even a joke in the game about this. By and large, the character models are presented in mostly static shots, so don't expect any major changes from SMT4.The soundtrack is a mix of new and old songs, though the new songs are excellent and do a great job of evoking the older SMT games. The voice acting is solid, though some characters have been recast between games and are rather distracting.

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is somewhere between an expansion pack and a sequel. There's a lot of familiar content bolstered by some fresh content and strong mechanical changes. It's more Shin Megami Tensei IV, so if you enjoyed the previous game, you'll find a lot to like here, even though it can sometimes feel too familiar and repetitive for its own good. The story makes it rather inaccessible to newcomers. Despite the myriad mechanical improvements, it's recommended you play SMT4 first to fully appreciate Apocalypse. If enough time has passed since you played SMT4 and you're hankering to return to postapocalyptic Tokyo, Apocalypse is the game for you.

Score: 8.5/10

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