The day has finally come: Shin Megami Tensei IV is now available at retailers and on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. I was fortunate enough to receive an early review copy and get a bit of a head start, but seeing as the game is absolutely massive I’m still going to need some time to complete the game and post a full review. For launch, I still would like to share my brief first impressions of the game.
As indicated in the headline, I am currently just over a dozen hours of play time. It’s hard to say how much of the game that covers, but it doesn’t feel like a whole lot. This is one thing I can say with certainty: SMT4 is crammed with content. There are so many side challenge quests and peripheral activities that it’s hard to maintain focus on the main quest line. The game never seems to force you into any one direction. Side quests have mostly been of the basic “kill ‘X’ number of a certain enemy type and deliver their parts,” but just recently I unlocked access to a new line of virtual reality Training Battles, which are tougher battles with specific stipulations that must be met. So far these have consisted of winning tougher battles within a set number of turns.
Every where you turn there’s a treasure or relic to collect, or a new demon type to figure out. But instead of always killing the demons, a key part of the experience is attempting to convince the beasts to join your party. After that, there’s demon fusion to eat away more hours as you combine two other demons to form a new hybrid. The random nature of the scouting system can be frustrating (sometimes the dialogue choices make it literally impossible to win a demon over to your side), but the addiction of trying to “catch them all” is a more powerful force.
As expected, the battle system is strategically deep and you’re-gonna-die-a-lot challenging (unless you flip on the easy mode difficulty unlocked shortly into the game), continuing the tradition of the press turn mechanic which rewards pinpointing enemy weaknesses with extra turns (or penalizes not paying attention to an enemy’s resistances). Unlike Nocturne, the battles are back to more of a 2D presentation viewed from a first-person perspective. That’s not my favorite JRPG battle style, but I’ve actually been quite pleased with how the 3D slider helps add depth to the experience, both during 3D overworld exploration and the flatter battlefield scenery.
The only thing I’m still a bit iffy on is the storyline. Not that it’s poor or anything, it’s just that I have not yet grown an attachment to any of the characters. That being said, the theme of samurai and demons mixed with modern technology and the ancient arts is truly fascinating. Hopefully as the story builds a stronger relationship will be established with the characters.
Even without having formed a strong bond with the cast, I am completely hooked on Shin Megami Tensei IV. Shin Megami Tensei has been one of my favorite JRPG franchises for many years now, but I haven’t been this absorbed by one since the PS2 days of Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga and the third and fourth Persona games. There’s still a long ways to go, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that Shin Megami Tensei IV has all the markings of a Nintendo 3DS instant classic. Does that really surprise anyone?