Shin Megami Tensei is a franchise generally associated with both quality and difficulty. Hardcore RPG fans perk their ears when the name is mentioned. When the sequel to the newest entry was announced, I felt a mix of mild confusion and excitement. How would a semi-canon sequel to SMT4 work? Will it manage to be as engaging and entertaining as the previous installment? As it turns out, while SMT4: Apocalypse isn’t as difficult as SMT4, it’s certainly a much better game.
Like most SMT games, SMT4: Apocalypse has the main character fighting and aligning himself with demons. These demons allow the protagonist to stay alive in the sprawling city of Tokyo. The game takes place just before the ending of SMT4, as the hero Flynn looks to defeat the forces of heaven and hell in order to unite humanity. As the new main character Nanashi readies himself for his first ever fight, he perishes at the hands of a demon. Luckily for you, the demon lord Dagda revives you, as long as you obey his wishes. As you struggle with Dagda’s power inside you, Flynn goes missing, leaving you with ample opportunity to rescue him, all the while altering the fate of humanity. Dagda’s wishes become clearer, while the friends you encounter clearly wish for a peaceful life. As the protagonists power grows through demon summoning and levelling, choices must be made and tolls must be paid as you decide whether to become a hero of Tokyo, or submit to Dagda’s vision to become the Godslayer, the epitome of humanity.
The combat system is almost identical to SMT4. If this was any other franchise I would be disappointed. It sure is a good thing that SMT4’s combat system was almost perfect. Your characters armour determines your resistances and weaknesses, while demons have their own set of affinities. Careful planning is essential to defeating your enemies, and taking advantage of every type of spell is required to win. Attacks flow at an intense speed, and each fight feels like a legitimate threat. The big change from SMT4 to SMT4: Apocalypse is the addition of the Partner system. As you gain more friends, you can swap who you want your main partner to be. The partner provides an added boost to the fight, depending on the person, and will usually use abilities that contribute in a small but meaningful way. The amount of customization in combat means that almost all builds are viable, as long as you effectively use all types of abilities. Even in the end-game, I was able to effectively utilize a specific team focused around one damage dealing demon, and it worked as long as I had a clear balance. The turn system and weakness system still works perfectly, and demon interactions are just as fun as they were in SMT4. The design of Tokyo is much clearer this time around, and many of the dungeons are much more manageable, except for the final one.
SMT4’s core themes spoke to me on a personal level, but this game takes it even further. It takes the concepts of right and wrong, and blurred the lines so much that it felt foolish to even question any decision I made. In SMT4, Lucifer and Merkabah were Chaos and Law respectively, with Neutral being humanities path, the true path. In SMT4: Apocalypse, you MUST make a decision. Either side with your friends to create their vision, or work with Dagda to kill all gods and allow humanity to be free and transcend its limitations. Neither answer is inherently correct, and arguments are made throughout the game for each choice. In the end, it’s up to you what you need to do. The game introduces the Divine Powers, a subset of gods who wish to overthrow the Creator God. Many of the moral dilemmas stem from them, and ultimately reinforce certain aspects of the games decisions. Every choice has a consequence for those around you, and you must constantly ask yourself what it is you’re fighting for and what you’re willing to give up.
As for most Shin Megami Tensei games, the game has a beautiful art design. Each demon has an intense and unique look, and the way the bob up and down in battle has this mesmerizing quality to it. While I don’t think the location of Tokyo is as interesting as it was in the previous game, the world still feels legitimate. Most importantly however is the music. Fan favourites are back from previous games, and the new original scores are nothing short of perfection. It’s an absolute experience just looking and listening to the game.
SMT4: Apocalypse is the sequel SMT4 deserved. It may not be as difficult and the mystery may be gone, but the improved combat, shift in design, and intensity of its themes make this the best RPG on the 3DS to date. Be aware that playing SMT4 before Apocalypse is highly recommended.