Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse Review
In my head, the Shin Megami Tensei franchise is that franchise that doesn’t hold back in it’s complexity, being one of the toughest JRPG series out there. I didn’t even really know about it until I found out the Persona series is a spin off from the SMT series. Even the recent Tokyo Mirage Sessions borrows the combat system from Shin Megami Tensei. After playing through Tokyo Mirage Sessions, I decided to give Shin Megami Tensei IV a proper go, finding that the game is much larger and deeper than anything I had expected, after playing Persona and TMS. So I was pretty keen to try out the sequel, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse.
Apocalypse is definitely one of those sequels that expects you to have played the previous instalment right off the bat. There’s a little bit of exposition at the start, but it’s really told in the context of reminding you what happened, rather than filling you in if you missed out.
A brief recap of the gameplay for those who aren’t familiar: the combat system is turn based, and focuses on magic and physical attacks. If you’ve played Tokyo Mirage or Persona, the elements of Ice, Fire, Lightning and the rest are of course here. The unique part of the combat, however, is playing to the enemies weaknesses. If the enemy is weak to ice, and you use an ice move, you’ll get an extra move on your turn.
On top of all of this, you have demons. Literally have them- you can collect demons, in what I can only describe as Yo-kai for adults. You talk to them in weird and sometimes tedious conversations, to try and befriend them and get them to join your party. Once you have a few and get to a certain point in the game, you can even merge them together to make different and stronger demons.
Progression in the game, however, is tied to these demons. Once a demon levels up and learns all their skills/attacks, they can pass as many of them down to you, by your choice. Basically, by doing the research and putting in the effort, you can make your character learn whatever attacks you want, and even double up on attacks to make them stronger, or cost less to cast. It’s an interesting way to build a party and character up, as long as you have a clear idea of what you want.
Story-wise, Apocalypse is hard to sum up, and at times, a little hard to take seriously. If you’ve played SMT IV, you’ll know there was a 3-way fork in the story, with Law, Chaos and Neutrality being the theme of the each. Apocalypse picks up just after and during the neutral version, with Flynn (the protagonist of IV) preparing for the ending of his storyline.
However, the storytelling is a different… story. The start of the game rapidly flicks between light hearted to heavy, making it hard to really get a bead on who and what to get attached to, or even pay attention to. It does sort of mellow out soon enough, though, but the tone wasn’t really established well in the first few missions in the game. It’s a minor issue, however.
One thing I’m of two minds about is the art direction. It makes total sense, with the setting being a beat-up Tokyo under a gigantic dome… but it’s still rather bland overall. Maybe I’m just not a huge fan of the post-apocalyptic visual style anymore, but there simply isn’t much colour going on in the city, at least. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the boss battles have backdrops that remind me heavily of Earthbound.
Character design is pretty interesting, at least. While the player and non-player characters are standard, with their hairstyles usually being the point of interest, the demons are where Atlus’s off-kilter designs are shown off. A lot of the demon designs from IV are back, but there’s still a ton of new ones that are exciting to see show up. It’s really hard not to call these games Pokemon/Yo-kai for adults, with how cool some of these demons look.
Apocalypse is very much a more-of-the-same sort of sequel, but when the first instalment was already pretty solid, all you can really do is a few touch ups and a new story. Definitely check it out if you played and enjoyed Shin Megami Tensei IV- I’d have a hard time recommending it to anybody else without the context provided by the first game. Having said that, if you haven’t played the first one, go do that! It’s usually cheap on the eShop, and you already know there’s a fairly expansive universe around just the SMT IV story now.