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Review: Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

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Once more into the breach

You could say I like Shin Megami Tensei. I mean, the original name (Megami Tensei), essentially translates to "Rebirth of the Goddess," so you know there's going to be religious undertones afoot. A story framed around the battle of Yahweh and Lucifer with humans caught in the middle? Yes please.

Although a lot of people tend to focus their attention on the much-loved Persona series these days, the core franchise is alive and well, and Shin Megami Tensei IV was pretty fantastic. And how's this for a gap between follow-ups -- three years later, Apocalypse comes along to build on top of the world IV created, but with a completely new setup.

I wasn't really down with the idea at first but after digging into it, I think I like it just as much, but for different reasons.

Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (3DS)
Developer: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
Release Date: September 20, 2016
MSRP: $49.99

I'm confused as to why IV is even in the title of Apocalypse (marketing though), as it is indeed a new tale. You can import your save from the original for some items, and there's some returning appearances from a few characters, but that's about it.

It's still an SMT game and it's just as bizarre as ever. Using smartphones to summon demons? Sure, you had me at hello. But focusing on yet another "teen" character, with some added "totes"-like dialogue from the annoying friend anime archetype, not so much. The developers noted that they wanted to go younger so people could "relate" with the story, but I really wish they went with the adult protagonist concept they originally planned. It would have been cool to see the dichotomy between the weary old guard and timeless deities, but Apocalypse does try to differentiate itself in other ways.

That's done mostly through the main character's standing, which is of a lower caste than the elite super-soldier from IV proper. You start off as a lowly scavenger, which, while not an original idea, is a break from the all-knowing superhero setup or even the charismatic-as-hell shonen. Also, you die at the start and get reincarnated. Heavy! Another thing to keep in mind -- the endings all center around neutral tracks, which should satiate people who disliked the pointed ones of IV.

Purists may lament that there's no Japanese audio, but the English track is more than sufficient as it touches the limitations of silliness without going overboard. I also dig the reworked character models, which have more detail than previous games. A lot is still presented in the form of still pictures in motion, but the drawings themselves are great. I'm also a sucker for all the wonderful cutscene art and the religious imagery -- the creator of Evangelion was right, crosses and pentagrams just look cool, as do the details in Apocalypse like the cracked UI to denote your beat-up phone.

But just like IV, the in-game models are underwhelming, and that's obvious even at a glance. The environments not only repeat often (Tokyo cityscapes), but they're drab, and although they might not be the exact layouts, many look straight re-used from IV. It's arguably better than walking from place to place entirely in menus, but I'm putting this more on the limitations of the 3DS than anything.

But since beauty is only skin deep, a lot of you don't care about that in the slightest. Apocalypse is a great RPG, with a limitless sense of progression and party choices. You can recruit just about any monster in the game, fuse them with others to create new ones, form relationships with them, or just throw them into the gutter (like many of them would do to you). I'm talking crazy monsters here, like devilish peacock horses (named Adramelech) that revel at the idea of your death.

And I don't think I'll ever get tired of convincing demons to join my party. Before Undertale was preaching the idea of pacifism, SMT was doing it, and it still works in Apocalypse. Some can be reasoned with, others want bribes, and a few want you to murder your own teammates. There are also more depraved demons that give Berserk's apostles a run for their money. It's pretty much the best. If you're still a believer, its old-school JRPG combat holds up, as does the returning "smirk" system which grants you extra damage and defense after exploiting an enemy's weakness. As far as mechanics go it's a little thing that makes bosses more tense, while feeling balanced and not an oversaturated genre staple.

Another understated SMT convention? The ability to roam around and find random shit. I love that I can walk around some area and stumble across an insane rambling man in an inconspicuous room that tells me to "get the hell out," and that's it -- no super item or revelation. It's a weird thing that reminds me of those corridor crawler sequences in Goonies II on the NES. Atlus doesn't always play by the rules, and it makes for an unpredictable adventure.

Atlus has been going strong for over 30 years and it has no sign of stopping. This would have been a cash-in almost anywhere else, but here, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse was shown the level of love and care most would give aggressively marketed new IPs. It's still no Nocturne, but it'll do. 

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse reviewed by Chris Carter

8.5

GREAT

Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
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Chris Carter
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Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step, make an account, and start blogging in January of 2009. Now, he's staff! ------------------- T... more + disclosures


 




 


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