Persona 3 brought the SMT games to a level popularity in the states that many people never thought it would achieve. It was significantly more lighthearted then previous installments and set a standard for what people expected in SMT titles. A few years later the states saw Persona 4, and everything we knew fell to ultimate ruin. What could have/ should have/ would have been a really cool story was completely lampshaded by social links, school clubs. part time jobs, and horribly bad sequels. Needless to say when it was announced that after an eight year hiatus Shin Megami Tensei 4 was finally ready there were mixed reactions. Would it be as dark and ominous as Nocturne was? Or a divine comedy like Persona 4? Which fans was this game going to appeal to?
Fans of the two later Persona games seem to be in almost complete concurrence over a lot of things. What fun is it without social links? Why bother making your stars go over a hundred? What do mean the furthest you can make it with Isabeau is holding hands? Why can’t I hook up with Hikari, Nozomi, or Lilith? And in the long list of things wrong with this game my personal favorite is: A pipe organ isn’t poppy enough. Not joking. These have all been heard en masse. So let’s step back a little bit and put a few things into perspective….. Graphics and Atmosphere: Okay so a common misconception with a lot of things is that a dark atmosphere defaults into gritty. It takes a combination of dialogue, atmosphere, and story to qualify as gritty. LOZ Twilight Princess is not gritty, SMT 4 is not gritty. What it has is in fact a dark atmosphere with bits of comedy scattered around. For that matter there are distinctive moments (Isabeau desperately avoiding spoilers and Jonathon meowing like a cat) that actually seem to clash a bit with the mood the game sets for most of the rest of it. In stark contrast to the few lighthearted moments the game offers there is an almost nauseating darkness lurking around the corner. Slum dwellers being taken to make medicine to control demons (I’m not spoiling how, it made me almost physically ill which hasn’t happened since my first play through of DDS2). This was pulled off in dingy disgusting rooms with pallid figures strapped to chairs and buckets of feces on the dirty floors. Could this have been pulled off in clean rooms with bright lights? Oh most certainly, but it wouldn’t have been terrifying. Add in the staff all wearing black and gas masks for a fantastic creepo factor. want to up it one more point though? It’s painfully deliberate, outside of each of these rooms is a hallway neat and pristine with glass floors and fluorescent lights, part of the mood is in the fact that they just don’t give a damn about these people. This is hardly the only incident like this though, an office building with trash strewn all over, streets with overturned cars, and holes in fences for Chaos’ sake at one point you fight the possessed statue of Hachi! Your on map character Flynn moves flawlessly on the maps complete with different animations depending on what he’s equipped with. You can also make him the worst dressed samurai in history. One knock I do have against the graphics is the reuse of sprites. A lot of miscellaneous people look suspiciously familiar. The monster art is brilliant as expected with new monsters being added to the mix that will send a chill down your spine at the bloodchilling designs. If your jaw didn’t hit the floor upon seeing the four angels Raphael, Gabriel, Michael, and Uriel then I would like to presume you saw spoilers or you don’t have a jaw to drop, so go borrow someone elses and drop it.
Sound: I’ll start by saying I wasn’t so sure about Matthew Mercer going in. I’ve heard a lot about him because his work as Kuroh Yatogami is being heralded as genius. Personally though I had yet to deal with the guy. I’m willing to admit, right here and right now that he delivered his lines with a professional air that I’m far from used to from voice actors nowadays. He was downright amazing as Walter. Two more va’s that I knew nothing about Orion Acabrand and Eden Riegel round out your friends as Jonathon and Isabeau, now just because I said Mercer was brilliant does not mean that these two were anything less then great. The voice cast did a very nice job overall, even Liam O’Brien and Yuri Lowenthall and that is difficult for me to admit (acknowledging Lowenthall outside of Serph Sheffield is a feat for me, and even then I think that was more script the actor.) The music is equally fantastic with haunting melodies instead of j-rap. Especially when it comes to the Cathedral of Shadows music. Wow! Such a simple melody will stay with you. No I’m not joking, I don’t think I’ve listened to a video game song so much since Melodies of life, and that was not by choice.
Gameplay: I think SMT4 is the only game that I’ve ever died multiple times in the tutorial, and they are in fact so nice that dying twice unlocks easy mode. What rats. In spite of this though I must say that the gameplay is extremely smooth. If I have one major issue with the battle system it’s in the memory system. I hate how after you either fuse or defeat an enemy you know all it’s strengths and weaknesses. It makes the game way too easy later on and makes training a walk in the park. I mean yes it’s handy but if I don’t remember the enemies strengths and weaknesses myself I deserve to lose turns in the press turn system. DDS and Nocturne were nowhere near as forgiving. Also I like that the app system allows for additional customization to both Flynn and the monsters he controls. things like the mapping function and restoring Hp or Mp while you walk definitely comes in handy. Another handy feature in this game that is designed to save time is the recommended fusions in the Cathedral of Shadows, it shows you exactly what fusions you can make without the horrid grid system of Persona. There’s also the challenge quests which fill out the game. The story itself only takes up about 7 or so hours of gameplay. So the quests are another really awesome thing you get to do, not only do you get fantastic rewards but also extra exp. Banzai! Right we all like extra experience, also you don’t get money from battles, but through challenges and fundraising. And by fundraising I mean extortion.
Story: The story is pretty neat with five young individuals being gifted with the right to call themselves samurai. Of these five, four of them hit it off ad became friends/ tentative allies. They are tasked with hunting down the black samurai in the unclean ones territory. The unclean ones being the denizens of Tokyo (whereas the Samurai are from Eastern Mikado). The black samurai has been spreading books around to the poor people of Mikado, the books are strange works known as fiction which turns people into monsters. It’s some pretty odd stuff, it also only seems to affect those who are extremely weak-willed such as Flynn’s childhood friend, on the other hand Isabeau, one of the five samurai in question, reads manga does not transform into anything other then an awesome character. So the four young samurai, all from different walks of life chase after the black samurai and they are down there on the streets of modern Tokyo and they are so confused, it’s fantastic. All of that is amazing and it only gets better once the Black Samurai has been executed. Wow! Characters: Flynn, your standard silent protagonists is faced with some of the hardest decisions I’ve ever seen in a video game. I really like the way it’s handled, personally my Flynn came off kind of proud, but fairly indecisive. Walter a lower class citizen from Mikado represents the Chaos route in SMT4, he wants to create a world where the strong forge everything. Jonathon a high class member of society is law, he has no interest in the people of Tokyo and wants the people of the Mikado to remain as the chosen ones. Lastly is Isabeau who refuses to side with either Walter or Jonathon, she wants the people of Tokyo and Mikado to live in harmony with one another. She simply refuses to sacrifice one side for the other. Side characters like Navarre, Nozomi, and Hikari aren’t particularly deep, but there’s enough to each of them to let you get to know them. The side characters that leave you with the most questions though are definitely Gabriel, Lilith, and Akira.
So I guess my summary here and what I’m getting at is SMT4 is strong enough on it’s own, without social links, without clubs…..well I guess there might as well be part time jobs all things considered. It is a fantastic game and if you are willing to stop and look past Yu Narukami then I think it’s something that can be loved and embraced by anyone who’s played an SMT game.
Graphics: 4 out of 5
Sound: 5 out of 5
Gameplay: 4 out of 5
Story: 5 out of 5
Characters 4 out of 5
Overall Enjoyment: 5 out of 5