So far this month I haven’t played many games that feature parties. I’ve spent a lot of the month playing through Disco Elysium and I guess there’s an argument to be made that the player character and his brain could make up an unreasonably large party, but I feel like I’ve already spoiled that game. Arkham Knight and Assassin’s Creed Unity are single player games with interesting side characters but I wouldn’t classify Nightwing or Napoleon Bonapart as “party members”. I have been playing a lot more Smash Bros Ultimate this month than at any other point in the last 2 years or so, so maybe I can work with that.
Or maybe I’ll just talk about Shin Megami Tensei IV. Aside from the player-character Flynn there’s a robust cast of others like you who join you in the hunt for the mysterious Black Samurai. They’re not as memorable as the demons who Flynn can summon to his side though. I’ve always enjoyed mythology and folklore, so I liked that I could populate my party with Medusa, the Minotaur, and a griffon for example. It seems like every creature is taken from established lore or ancient stories; from The Goetia to the Iliad.
Part of the appeal of the demons from Shin Megami Tensei are the monster designs themselves. Centaurs for example aren’t as straightforward as I’m used to: instead of the standard man’s upper body on a horse, it’s a pair of horses in the vague shape of a human. The amount of artistic license on display is commendable, to the point where Atlus uses its own mascot as Jack Frost in the SMT franchise. The Jack Frost mascot design is further used with other creatures too like Pyro Jack, Jack the Ripper, and King Frost.
Since the creatures level up and power up alongside Flynn, there’s a practicality to keeping them around. After all, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a game that can quickly kill you so it’s worth it to have a party of creatures with high stats. The issue with that kind of leveling though is that Flynn learns new abilities and can power up his own abilities based on the demons he has with him leveling up and learning new abilities themselves. Most demons only learn 1 or 2 abilities though so sometimes it is better to swap out or merge or evolve those demons for the sake of enhancing Flynn’s abilities.
What drew me to Shin Megami Tensei and Persona were the Pokemon-like aspects of the game. There’s a very limited amount of dialog that Flynn can have with some of the demons, which helps to differentiate SMT from Pokemon, but the creatures never feel like full-on characters in their own right. Even if they were, I could see there being issues with some of them if you had them in your party. Haruman and Son Wukong for example seem to be the same character but taken from different historical sources and it would have been fun to see them interact.
I’m at a point in Shin Megami Tensei IV now where I think I stopped the last time I tried playing. I’m unlocking terminals, taking on odd-jobs around Kasumigaseki and Shinjuku, but for the most part I’m just trying to strengthen my party. My Black Frost might not be the emotional core of the game, but he’s an absolute tank who just won’t be stopped. It used to be anyway, this damned tournament side-quest is killing me mercilessly.