Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is not quite a sequel, side story, or even an expansion to the well-received Shin Megami Tensei IV.
If you took the movie Die Hard and filmed a What If ending showcasing what could happen if Reginald VelJohnson’s character Sgt. Al Powell had infiltrated the Nakatomi Plaza instead of waiting on the sidelines, then you would find yourself in a similar situation. Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse uses this What If scenario to fine-tune the gameplay from its predecessors and treat players to a very satisfying RPG for the Nintendo 3DS.
It’s hard to discuss Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (Apocalypse) without addressing its relationship to its predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei IV (SMT IV). Apocalypse‘s story begins towards the end of SMT IV‘s plot and many characters carry over into it, assuming that the events of the neutral route in SMT IV are cannon. As you play through the game, the majority of plot details in SMT IV are revealed to you. Depending on your tastes, you might want to play through SMT IV first to full appreciate both games.
That said, if you haven’t played SMT IV yet and are worried you might be lost with Apocalypse, the answer is a definite no. Apocalypse communicates all of the necessary information to you as you go along.
Dead at 15
You’re dead. Or at least you die very early on as the result of an ambush in Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. You’re resurrected by a god and given new direction in your teenage life.
At the start on Apocalypse, Tokyo has been under an enclosure and become ground zero in the war between angels and demons for a while. The humans are caught in between and different factions have allied with either side. Flynn, a human Samurai from outside of the dome, has emerged as mankind’s savior, intent on freeing them from being pawns in their eternal struggle.
The main character of Apocalypse begins the game as a meager Demon Hunter apprentice, learning the ropes of surviving in this terrible environment. Due to the influence of the god that returns you to land of the living, you are thrust into a situation where you introduce an entirely new third group to the conflict. This new party creates chaos on an already messy battlefield and they have their own road map for the universe’s future.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is the story of what happens when the polytheistic gods get tired of the angels and demons’ war and decide to take the wheel.
If it ain’t broke, barely change it
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse takes everything that has been done in the series before and refines it to a very satisfying gameplay experience.
For those of you that are uninitiated, you will spend the majority of your time in encounters with various demons. While you can obviously choose straight combat, the series is known for the opportunity to negotiate with your foes and turn them into allies. That’s assuming you don’t botch the discussion or your enemy isn’t feeling like being difficult at that particular moment.
While you will win over many of your potential allies through the art of negotiation, the rest of them you must amass through demon fusion. Fusion allows you to combine two or three of your demons to create others. It gives you the opportunity to pass on useful skills of your choosing to the resultant creature and can turn even the most basic demons into a well-rounded pillar of your team.
In all, they are almost 450 demons for you to encounter and you can negotiate or fuse most of them into your ranks. Unlike in Pokemon, these creatures are all based off of mythology and have loads of personality. The art for a good number of which has been retooled for Apocalypse.
The smirk system, the most recent evolution of the Press Turn system, returns from Shin Megami Tensei IV. If you exploit an enemies’ weakness, you will not only do more damage, but will have the chance at gaining the smirk buff. Under this state, your characters will have a guaranteed critical attack the next time they go on the offensive. Until this attack is utilized, they will not suffer critical blows from their opponents. As if these benefits were not enough, characters under smirk will only use half of a normal turn phase, allowing you to fit even more actions in before your opponent gets a chance to recover.
Utilizing the smirk system intelligently can make even the most improbable encounters a breeze. Of course, the smirk system can also be used by your foes to wreck your party at the same time.
When not fighting, negotiating, or fusing demons; players will do all of the typical things one might expect from an RPG. Explore the demon dystopia that is Tokyo, talk to NPCs, pick up quests, drop off quests, and min/max your party. The overwhelming majority of things to do in the game work well and it makes for swift, satisfying gameplay.
One of the first thing you might take notice of Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is the engrossing soundtrack. I was in love with the music from this game and would find myself pausing momentarily from time to time to let it player out. Traveling from city to city on the “world map” of Tokyo? Let’s let that awesome Tokyo theme play out.
I’m sure the synth-driven score might not win everyone over to such an extent, but it is definitely one of the standout aspects of the game’s presentation.
What didn’t win me over was the script, not to be confused with the interesting mythologically-infused plot. I found myself wanting to skip through the cliche’d interactions between the silent protagonist and the two teenage females in the game. Naturally, a love triangle emerges in the later portion of Apocalypse and the execution is so shallow that it detracts from a game full of clever interactions with demons and other NPCs. Younger players may not roll their eyes to the same degree that I did, but I never ended up feeling attached to the new cast of characters in the game. I think it’s partly due to the dialogue present.
Thankfully, these scenes only make up a fraction of the game’s content. The rest of the time, you’ll likely find yourself gleefully grinding away and not worrying about it.
My other biggest issue with Apocalypse is that some of the dungeons feature very little variety in appearance. The urban ares feature passable city layouts, with streets lined with different looking buildings and some unique aspect to every section of the map. It’s the other environments that are lacking severely.
The demon domains you can enter for some side quests are lined with generic organic material, with nothing to differentiate any of the corridors from the next. The domains are rather small and briefly encounters, though.
The final dungeon in the game is a long series of virtually identical sections with a door switch puzzle. I found myself tired of it about halfway through and ended up abruptly pausing my playing session to take a break. With the climax being so close, I don’t think that’s a desirable outcome.
Anyone who decided to play through Shin Megami Tensei IV recently in anticipation of Apocalypse‘s release may find themselves regretting that decision. There are some reused areas and elements due to it being set in the same area, which may make Apocalypse feel a bit stale.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is without a doubt one of the best playing menu-driven, party-based RPGs to ever come down the pipe. A few things detract from the experience, but don’t mistake any complaints for a reason to pass this game up. It is a very engaging gameplay experience thanks to the combat and demon fusion systems. Series veterans and newcomers alike will find plenty to enjoy.
- Most streamlined SMT game yet
- Very swift and satisfying menu-driven RPG combat
- Demon fusion is fun, addictive
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Script is a little weak
- Some of the new characters are uninspired
- Some dungeon environments have little to no variation
- Reused areas from SMT IV might leave some with “been there, done that” feelings
“Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse takes everything that has been done in the series before and refines it to a very satisfying gameplay experience…”
SegaBits was provided a free copy of this game for evaluation purposes by the publisher. The reviewer played the game for roughly 70 hours in two weeks, completing the main quest and the majority of the side content available before writing this review.