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Review - Shin Megami Tensei IV

7thCircle7thCircle RPGamer StaffRPGamer Staff
edited August 2013 in Latest Updates
After a ten year hiatus, the next entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series has finally arrived. Has the time been put to good use, or is this game's most progressive feature a large e-shop credit?

Review
The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.
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Comments

  • ChickenGodChickenGod Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderators
    edited July 2013
    Honestly 7th, I'm not surprised at the score. Wish I could comment more on my experienced based against yours, but the reality is that I'm only 20 hours in a (thankfully) 80 hour experience.

    A couple of the things you mention that resonate with me are the maps an dungeon design. For SMT, I think this is one of the weakest entries in the multi-branded franchise in that regard, which is a shame. As for the music, I actually enjoy some of the tracks, but the volume is awkwardly low. Even buffing up the output to max with headphones, I don't feel like I'm getting the whole piece as intended. Of course they aren't as strong as most of Meguro's works, but I think some of the boss themes and challenge quest music do a good job of amping the player up.

    And I completely agree with you regarding the early game difficulty. Where I'm currently at, I'd almost say it was imbalanced. Tetrakarn, and later on probably Makarakarn, have broken the past few boss encounters, where as the start of the game was brutal to the point where you felt you had to get lucky and just reload hoping to avoid the BS.

    Overall I'm enjoying the game quite a bit, but there are certain aspects of the series that I expected to make stronger appearances here than they currently have. Thankfully addictive bonuses like the whisper system, apps, and allowing you to choose which skills carry over on level up allow for silky smooth customization system that makes up for some of these short comings in my eyes.
    "Looks like Teach just got tenure!" - Teach
  • WheelsWheels RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2013
    hmnn, interesting, I didn't find the early game balance bad at all.
  • DravDrav A Serious Man Full Members
    edited July 2013
    So, Dragon Age 2?
  • TG BarighmTG Barighm Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    Based on what I'm seeing on Metacritic (it was one of my picks), hardly. This is probably one of the harshest reviews of the game on the net.

    Anyway, I see my $100 didn't get me much, heh.
  • 7thCircle7thCircle RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2013
    TG Barighm said:
    Based on what I'm seeing on Metacritic (it was one of my picks), hardly. This is probably one of the harshest reviews of the game on the net.

    Anyway, I see my $100 didn't get me much, heh.
    What do you mean? I was going to give it a 1/5!

    Given that after the game arrived I did nothing but play SMT4 every moment I was home, awake, and not working, and it took me 2 weeks to finish, I have to assume the earliest reviewers didn't come close to completing the game, and it's during the middle that I realized it wasn't grabbing me or nearly as well made as Nocturne, Persona 3/4, or Strange Journey. I don't read other reviews when I'm playing a game to review it, but I did skim a couple after I beat it and saw some things I would consider objectively inaccurate, like they played the first 20 hours and then made assumptions about what the rest of the game would be like.

    I'm not saying their scores would all be lower if they finished it, but rating and describing a game after 20 hours when it's going to take 80-100 to finish isn't going to yield the most accurate conclusions.
    The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.
  • DarkRPGMasterDarkRPGMaster A Witness to Destruction Moderators
    edited July 2013
    From this review, it's basically like Nocturne, huh? All the cons were the exact same cons I saw in Nocturne.
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  • 7thCircle7thCircle RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2013
    DarkRPGMaster said:
    From this review, it's basically like Nocturne, huh? All the cons were the exact same cons I saw in Nocturne.
    I'd say there are many differences. Nocturne's bosses were much more strategic in nature, and it was common to need to rethink and reconfigure your party to take out a tough boss. In SMT4 I never needed to do this. Bosses were more like the strong, generic HP tanks in Persona 4.

    SMT4 also suffers from a bloated demon roster that encourages you to fuse and recreate your party each time you gain a level, but since skills are chosen by the player, the new demons are just like the old ones with a new sprite and name. The smaller roster in Nocturne led to me using demons longer, and they had varied skillsets and felt unique.

    Finally, the setting and plot direction in Nocturne were stronger. Locations were more unique and interesting, and the characters were deeper and evolved over the course of the game. It made Nocturne more effective as a story-driven game where in SMT4 the main quest objectives take a long time to complete and you rarely feel like you're actively achieving a story goal once you reach Tokyo. The deluge of optional quests keep resending you back to the same areas with vague directions, and overall SMT4 feels like you're doing the same thing in the same location with the same party for ~40 hours in the middle. That wasn't the case in Nocturne.

    I'd have loved to ramble more in the review, but word count limitations and what have you...
    The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.
  • ChickenGodChickenGod Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderators
    edited July 2013
    7thCircle said:
    SMT4 also suffers from a bloated demon roster that encourages you to fuse and recreate your party each time you gain a level, but since skills are chosen by the player, the new demons are just like the old ones with a new sprite and name. The smaller roster in Nocturne led to me using demons longer, and they had varied skillsets and felt unique.
    Can't say I look at a large demon roster as a con. That and picking which skills transfer is a huge plus in favor of SMT4 compared to Nocturne. One of the biggest annoyances to me in Nocturne was random skill assessment on fusion. With Nocturne you could still pick which skills you wanted to transfer, but at the cost of wasting time hitting the refuse button until random went in your favor. It was nothing but a needless waste of time for the player as far as I'm concerned. You either give the player free and easy access to what they want without a 15 minute workaround, or put actual restrictions in place, such as Zio weak demons being unable to learn Zio skills to keep things balanced.

    Regarding the size of the roster, when the number of available demons dropped off later on Nocturne, thats when I grew the most bored. Fusing in these games is fun, and by the end of Nocturne you had very little choices for new demons. In fact, you'd often keep many of the Fiends from earlier levels due to how powerful their resistances were. So far I'm not seeing a low level demon that has crazy good nulls like Daisoujou did, for example. None of the demons in SMT4 feel overpowered in their innate resists or nulls so far, which is the reason that Nocturne had some memorable demons in the first place. The HP/MP system in 4 helps prevents everyone from being copies simply due to the fact that if you put a whole bunch of high cost spells on a demon with low MP, they aren't going to be very effective mages, healers, or buffers. Long story short, all my demons in Nocturne had the best skills available because it was worth the hassle to do so. In SMT4 you get to do the same thing without being annoyed every time you want to fuse a new demon.

    Also, SMT4 is one of the few games that could make use of soft reset, yet doesn't have. Why?
    "Looks like Teach just got tenure!" - Teach
  • 7thCircle7thCircle RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2013
    ChickenGod said:
    Can't say I look at a large demon roster as a con. That and picking which skills transfer is a huge plus in favor of SMT4 compared to Nocturne.
    I was just contrasting Nocturne and SMT4. I liked how the demons I used in Nocturne were more memorable and had some character to them that carried over in battle whereas SMT4 did not, but didn't see that as a big deal and didn't mention it in the review.

    As far as the customizing goes, I think Strange Journey is the current high point for the SMT system for reasons I detailed in that review. SMT4 took out many of the gameplay mechanics I liked in Strange Journey and reverted back to something like a simplified, mainstream take on Nocturne that ended up stripping out much of the individuality of everyone and everything.
    The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.
  • ChickenGodChickenGod Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderators
    edited July 2013
    Yeah 7th, I can see how you could get more attached to some demons in Nocturne. Particularly the fiends. Plus, actually seeing their model in combat can do wonders too. Still, I mostly get attached to demons based off the art design I like the most over anything else. Seeing plenty of brand new demons, along with some redesigns such as Kikure-Hime is good enough for me. Wish they would go ahead and change some more of the sprites that they've been using since Soul Hackers though, even if its just the pose. Wendigo is seriously getting old!

    Also, I do believe SJ is a an under appreciated game. To be honest I probably didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. Maybe it was just me expecting another love affair like I had with Devil Survivor, I dunno. Seeing what happens to the people in SJ as you mentioned was very powerful, plus the dungeon crawling was excellent. Oh, and you had more control over your alignment. I've read its really tough to get the Neutral ending in 4, which sucks because I'm not following a guide or anything. Maybe I'll end up wanting Law or Chaos, but that doesn't look to be the case at the moment.
    "Looks like Teach just got tenure!" - Teach
  • TG BarighmTG Barighm Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    I don't read other reviews when I'm playing a game to review it, but I did skim a couple after I beat it and saw some things I would consider objectively inaccurate, like they played the first 20 hours and then made assumptions about what the rest of the game would be like. I'm not saying their scores would all be lower if they finished it, but rating and describing a game after 20 hours when it's going to take 80-100 to finish isn't going to yield the most accurate conclusions.
    Fair enough. At least I gave them two weeks before I recorded the score.
  • DravDrav A Serious Man Full Members
    edited July 2013
    TG Barighm said:
    Based on what I'm seeing on Metacritic (it was one of my picks), hardly. This is probably one of the harshest reviews of the game on the net.
    I've read several reviews that were about as middling as 7th's; they just forgot to back it up with a middling score. Read the IGN review if you want a laugh. Although I only really brought up DA2 because there are some similarities between 7th's review of that game and his SMTIV one.

    About how much weaker would you say this game is than Strange Journey, 7th? Besides, uh, 0.5 weaker.
  • sladewilsonsladewilson New Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    sorry I totally disagree with this score ( yes we all have our own opinions). The game is utterly brilliant and in my opinion better than nocturne especially in story and setting. I would probably have given it a 4.5/5
  • esukoesuko Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    Wanted to ask if I have only played Persona PSP trough and Persona 3 half-way this one will still have enough new stuff to warrant a purchase? I mean while reading the review it looked like for hardened Shin Megami Tensei veteran this would have too much the same and too simple. But would be interesting for a newcomer?
  • DarkRPGMasterDarkRPGMaster A Witness to Destruction Moderators
    edited July 2013
    ChickenGod said:
    I've read its really tough to get the Neutral ending in 4, which sucks because I'm not following a guide or anything. Maybe I'll end up wanting Law or Chaos, but that doesn't look to be the case at the moment.
    Actually, it's very easy from what I read if you know the trick. Somebody gave a minimalistic way of pulling it off, and from what I've heard it works. The downside is that you cannot take any side quests until after you're locked into the route unless you know which ones effect your alignment and which ones don't.
    esuko said:
    Wanted to ask if I have only played Persona PSP trough and Persona 3 half-way this one will still have enough new stuff to warrant a purchase? I mean while reading the review it looked like for hardened Shin Megami Tensei veteran this would have too much the same and too simple. But would be interesting for a newcomer?
    It would be interesting for a newcomer. A friend of mine hadn't played a mainseries SMT game before, and he got addicted to it. The usual rules for SMT apply, beginning starts off hard, the game gets easier over time when you find out the 'tricks' to how the game operates.
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  • sladewilsonsladewilson New Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    I think the conversation on this thread is pretty amazing whether you think positively or negatively about the game. Its really something admirable the reviewer is so open to questions.
  • JitawaJitawa Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    I've liked it so far, but I can see what he means as far as the demons being less unique. I think they probably could've fixed that by having a longer fixed list of skills for each demon (So demon X always has Zio, dream shot, Pulinpa, and Resist Light on their skill list, you can only choose the rest of them... or whatever).

    Part of the issue is how short the skill lists are starting out. You have to "pay" for expansions to the skill capacity, and that necessarily limits how many skills a demon can have from the outset and learn as they level. Even later in the game, I guess they had to assume you might have never leveled capacity to the normal SMT length. If they'd defaulted to normal SMT and let you expand just how many skills you could transfer... maybe that would've worked for keeping the demons reasonably unique.

    I do hit a situation fusing now where any demon can basically be a carbon copy of whatever they were fused from, and that's different from the personality you might've had from certains Demon's skill sets in the olden days.

    I also preferred the 3D/polygon models in Nocturne though. I think the animations for opponents like Mother Harlot and even the basic movements of the demons in your party added a lot character over static pictures.
  • WheelsWheels RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2013
    7thCircle said:
    SMT4 also suffers from a bloated demon roster that encourages you to fuse and recreate your party each time you gain a level, but since skills are chosen by the player, the new demons are just like the old ones with a new sprite and name. The smaller roster in Nocturne led to me using demons longer, and they had varied skillsets and felt unique.
    Is this something that happens farther in? I'm at 10 hours in and I've been able to stick with one set of demons for long stretches so far, fusing a new one or two every few levels.

    As far as the demon's being the same after fusing, I suppose that depends on what new skills the new demon has, whether they're just an upgrade as far as attributes etc. If you're caring a bunch of magic abilities over to a strong physical type demon its not exactly the same despite the same skill set no? Still there's no doubt this hurts the fun of fusion.
    esuko said:
    Wanted to ask if I have only played Persona PSP trough and Persona 3 half-way this one will still have enough new stuff to warrant a purchase? I mean while reading the review it looked like for hardened Shin Megami Tensei veteran this would have too much the same and too simple. But would be interesting for a newcomer?
    I think so, as much as I enjoy the battle systems in the Persona series, the mainline SMT games have a lot more depth to them so you'll probably enjoy getting a full roster of demons to work with.
  • Strawberry EggsStrawberry Eggs The Bemused Administrators
    edited July 2013
    This will be my first numbered Shin Megami Tensei game, and my experience with the franchise as a whole is limited to four games. The shortcomings in the story and characters department sound disappointing, though only time will tell how much that will impact me.
    Reincarnation, realization
  • esukoesuko Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    Thanks for the helpfull comments. Now if they just would release this in Europe.
  • OcelotOcelot is not declawed RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2013
    It was really interesting reading this review as somebody for whom this was my first main-series SMT game. Although my experience was going into it as somebody who had only played Persona 3 & 4 (and a bit of Devil Summoner), we had some similar issues with the game. I felt like the samurai characters were pretty much abstract ideals brought to life instead of people, and I was never 100% on board with the Press Turn system. It's too weighted against the player at the beginning of the game and too easy for the player to exploit later on.

    I still enjoyed the game quite a bit, but there are certainly things I'd improve, and I think 7th did a good job identifying those.
    Becky Cunningham, Staff-at-Large
    Twitter: BeckyCFreelance
  • storino03storino03 Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    I find the story/characters to be good, having not really played much in the SMT entries (the main ones anyway), this game seemed refreshing. There are a few things I dislike, like the camera angles reverting to the front-facing position when you exit a room or pick up an item, and so far, not having an exit dungeon spell, so once you finish the boss, you have to trek back to the entrance.

    I don't even pay to get revived in the game. I save often, and if I screw up, I won't have missed too much game time.
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  • ChickenGodChickenGod Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderators
    edited July 2013
    DarkRPGMaster said:
    Actually, it's very easy from what I read if you know the trick. Somebody gave a minimalistic way of pulling it off, and from what I've heard it works. The downside is that you cannot take any side quests until after you're locked into the route unless you know which ones effect your alignment and which ones don't.
    Well, one of the topics I read indicated that the "simple" method doesn't work. Of course its Gamefaqs, so maybe that person is wrong or screwed up somewhere along the line. Also you can't expect people not following a guide to ignore the Challenge Quests (which are an integral part of the experience) until much later. Alignment should be relatively intuitive or give the player a way to make a concrete decision on what they would prefer when push comes to shove as opposed to relying on arbitrary decisions that hardly even reflect upon the situation at hand like in SMT4 thus far. The whole thing won't even be an issue for me if I can manage to pull the Neutral path out of a hat. However, I'm not the type of person to replay games, especially one as long as this, so I'll be extremely peeved if I end up on a path I can't stand.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but in SJ didn't you always know where you stood on the Alignment graph? Even if you weren't where you wanted to be, couldn't you also feed that Gnome in the very first area some kind of item to go from Law or Chaos if desired? Why Atlus didn't keep these things is beyond me, especially since that little Gnome or whatever it was saved me from the Law path that I didn't want to be on after answering every question honestly.
    "Looks like Teach just got tenure!" - Teach
  • tsubakisamuraitsubakisamurai New Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    Hey 7th, forgive me if this has already been answered, but did you have access to the dlc as you evaluated this game? I feel like the content is a welcome addition, giving you even more ways to customize your experience. I'm really enjoying the game at about 25 hours in, though I think I agree with your score so far. The over world map navigation is unforgivable, they either needed to cut back on the clutter that keeps you from progressing or remove the enemies from that area entirely. I've party wiped twice because my tiny marker has no way to trigger preemptive attacks, and there is almost no way to avoid those battles. I also give Atlus and Prima a 0.5/5.0 for only releasing 40% of a walk through in the included strategy guide, I have no shame in admitting that I refer to them quite a bit for SMT games.
  • ultranessultraness Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    I'm really enjoying the game. Strongly disagree with this review, since I think that it generally improves upon other games in the series.
    ChickenGod said:
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but in SJ didn't you always know where you stood on the Alignment graph? Even if you weren't where you wanted to be, couldn't you also feed that Gnome in the very first area some kind of item to go from Law or Chaos if desired? Why Atlus didn't keep these things is beyond me, especially since that little Gnome or whatever it was saved me from the Law path that I didn't want to be on after answering every question honestly.
    It isn't as easy to check your alignment as it is in Strange Journey, but you can find out what your alignment is by talking to the cynical man in the various bars in Tokyo. You can also manipulate your alignment by choosing to spare or kill your opponents in the hunter tournament. Atlus didn't remove these features--they changed them.
  • ChickenGodChickenGod Overdosing Heavenly Bliss Moderators
    edited July 2013
    ultraness said:
    It isn't as easy to check your alignment as it is in Strange Journey, but you can find out what your alignment is by talking to the cynical man in the various bars in Tokyo. You can also manipulate your alignment by choosing to spare or kill your opponents in the hunter tournament. Atlus didn't remove these features--they changed them.
    They changed this particular element for the worse as far as I'm concerned. Without a guide, many would have no idea the cynical man even meant anything. Saying that you're a polite guy is an extremely vague way to say that the player is on the law path than being able to compare your name color to your demons or whatever the system was, I honestly don't remember. Yeah, I agree that you can mess up in Strange Journey, but at least the use of a guide allows you a chance to fix things. If alignment modification is tied an early game, 1 or 2 time quest that you will never have access to again after completing it as opposed to a hidden option near the end of the game that doesn't disappear upon use, then I'd gladly take the older design. I do agree with you however that other aspects were refined and improved upon, like demon recruitment, user interface, and various customization options.
    "Looks like Teach just got tenure!" - Teach
  • 7thCircle7thCircle RPGamer Staff RPGamer Staff
    edited July 2013
    Drav said:
    Although I only really brought up DA2 because there are some similarities between 7th's review of that game and his SMTIV one.

    About how much weaker would you say this game is than Strange Journey, 7th? Besides, uh, 0.5 weaker.
    I was feeling the DA2 similarity too in terms of general pros and cons, the scores, and the conclusion.

    I love the press turn system, so I'd say combat is much stronger in SMT4 than Strange Journey. Although it can be cheap at times, I also prefer SMT4's higher difficulty in combat. SJ's major weakness was how the labyrinths and pacing changed midway through and become slow and boring at best, and frustrating at worst. SMT4 does not have any massive dungeons and the gameplay pacing is more consistent (story pacing, not so much).

    On the other side, SJ's story was much better. It maintains a dire intensity for the first several dungeons, and the squadmates in SJ are nothing like SMT4's wallflowers who are more like marginally sentient anthropomorphic philosophies than real people. I also loved how SJ tied together the moral issues in a consistent way in all aspects of the setting. As I mentioned in the review, that was an inconsistent mess in SMT4.

    I felt like SJ's demon customization where you can fuse one specific ability onto a demon was interesting, strategic, and progressive for the series whereas SMT4's overly simple fusions let you copy all the skills of the old demon onto the new one with no new strategies to consider. The demons themselves are more distinct in battle in SJ while in SMT4 they're templated with Strength, Magic, Agility, and Balanced types that each have 1 weakness and 1 strength. The dungeon design in SJ was significantly stronger with themes and puzzles. Everywhere in Tokyo looks the same in SMT4, and the opening dungeon looks the same on most floors.

    I found SJ much more interesting to play, working my brain more with the customization, story, and dungeons. If it had ended at 40 hours the review was going to be a 4/5. SMT4 was a solid 3/5 the entire time for me. There was always something in the game irritating or disappointing me. Despite the higher difficulty in combat, though, I'd say SMT4 is more mainstream and easier to finish. SJ goes insanely hardcore with the later dungeon layouts.

    So that's my SJ/SMT4 contrast... which one sounds weaker is tough to say because they have different types of flaws, and SMT4's flaws are more subjective. Overall I'd say SMT4 has better combat, but SJ has better everything else and is a more captivating game.

    @sladewilson -- Thanks, I usually watch my review threads and answer reasonable questions. Reviewing a major title after it has released does lead to more interesting discussions since others can give their feedback.
    tsubakisamurai said:
    Hey 7th, forgive me if this has already been answered, but did you have access to the dlc as you evaluated this game?
    Nope, it wasn't in the e-shop before the release date and that's the only way to get it.
    The lesson here is that dreams inevitably lead to hideous implosions.
  • DravDrav A Serious Man Full Members
    edited July 2013
    Thanks for that. Honestly my biggest problem with Strange Journey was that I left there were too many story scenes, often interrupting you in the middle of dungeons, and often just consisted of really wordy ways of saying "Welp, we found this thing, and now we've got to go here! *cue backtracking*". The actual story itself was pretty cool, and if it had been a PS2 game with Nocturne-quality cutscenes I might not have minded as much, but static portraits vomiting pages of dialogue at you gets old really quickly. It sounds like SMTIV is pretty much exactly the same though, just with a less interesting story.

    Unsurprisingly it sounds like the game has suffered a lot from Kanenko not being involved. Most people praise him for his (excellent) demon designs, but he was also the creative director for both Nocturne and Strange Journey. Hopefully he's working on some other game, and hasn't decided to distance himself from the series.
  • ttocsttocs New Member Full Members
    edited July 2013
    I'm new to this site and I can already tell I'm going to love it here. A mediocre/decent review and I check the comments and it's a civil conversation. That's priceless these days.

    As for the review, I agree with a lot of the points you made but having not played the earlier entries (besides the offshoot persona series) I can't really relate it to anything else. I'm about 10 hours in so I still have a ways to go but it's a good game so far. I'm looking forward to seeing where things go. I just wish the overworld map (where you are a blip on the screen moving around) wasn't so darn complicated and impossible to follow. Hell, I'd rather have a menu based movement over that.
  • MacstormMacstorm Ysy St. Administrators
    edited July 2013
    ttocs said:
    I'm new to this site and I can already tell I'm going to love it here. A mediocre/decent review and I check the comments and it's a civil conversation. That's priceless these days.

    As for the review, I agree with a lot of the points you made but having not played the earlier entries (besides the offshoot persona series) I can't really relate it to anything else. I'm about 10 hours in so I still have a ways to go but it's a good game so far. I'm looking forward to seeing where things go. I just wish the overworld map (where you are a blip on the screen moving around) wasn't so darn complicated and impossible to follow. Hell, I'd rather have a menu based movement over that.
    There are always exceptions, but for the most part we have a great community here. Welcome!
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