HUGE thank you to Atlus for providing Dashing Nerds with a review code for this title!*
If predecessor Shin Megami Tensei IV was an exquisite steak prepared by a chef fresh out of culinary school, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse would be that same quality cut of beef but prepared by a master chef with years of experience under his belt. Both expertly done and fantastic to the senses, but the latter excels due to the refinement with its subtle nuances.
War is coming, are you on the right side?
**WARNING: THIS NEXT SENTANCE CONTAINS LIGHT SPOILERS REGARDING SMTIV!** Apocalypse picks up towards the end of the original SMT4 title where M.C.P.G. Flynn (Main Character from a Previous Game) and his fellow samurai Isabeau prepare for their final assault Tokyo against Merkabah’s angels and Lucifer’s demons. **SMTIV SPOILERS FINISHED!**
This time around, you play as Hunter-in-training Nanashi, who, in typical JRPG fashion, you may nickname if you wish. You and Asahi, your best friend/adoptive sister, seek out resources that will aid Tokyo’s hero, Flynn, as well as the rest of Tokyo’s Hunters in the fierce battle to come. The early minutes of the game help get you acclimated to the controls as you seek out relics to complete your mission.
Unfortunately, it isn’t long before things take a dramatic turn to OH CRAP! You die! Yup. D-E-A-D, dead. Luckily, you are given an ultimatum by the Irish-accented god Dagda: return to life as his Godslayer or stay dead and do…dead things. Upon becoming Dagda’s Godslayer, you are suddenly thrust back to the living world. Everything is back to normal, except now you have the ability to summon demons like a true Hunter! The next 7-10 hours are a bit of a slog as you and Asahi take on odd jobs in the hope of gaining stature and notoriety as Hunters.
The game really opens up and takes off when a poor decision causes very bad things to happen. Seeing as it is such a large part of the story, I dare not spoil anything. Let’s just say that taking the easy and fastest way is usually not the best way…
It’s important to note that Atlus decided to base Apocalypse’s timeline on the one created in SMTIV, but it’s not identical. While the timeline from the first game remains mainly intact, Apocalypse diverges at one big event. Sprinkled throughout you will be treated to cryptic dream flashbacks involving someone that looks strangely like Flynn and the player being addressed as “Akira”, leading to ever-deepening mysteries.
For the next 30 plus hours of gaming, you will experience unique characters, plot twists that come out of nowhere, and scenes that will make you swear to your friends that you were just cutting onions and you weren’t crying.
In terms of the characters, Apocalypse starts off with the stereotypical personality types. Asahi is your standard little sister character, passionate about proving herself to her father and peers. Nozomi, the wise elder sister-like individual has been around and seen things. She serves as the voice of reason most of the time. Oh, and she carries a huge shotgun, too! Navarre from the previous title makes his return in Apocalypse, though in a slightly altered state. A more floaty and green state. His personality has dulled and is far less annoying than in the previous title, filling more of a comic relief type role. Navarre’s younger brother, Gaston—err, I mean SIR Gaston, is the annoying pompous a-hole who can dispatch all manner of foe single-handedly. Hallelujah is the soft-spoken Ashura-kai member that is a loyal companion and a straight-shooter. Toki is the young silent assassin working for the Ring of Gaea. Each one of them will grow and develop as characters throughout your adventures and become much more than the cookie-cutter roles they initially appear to be.
The same, yet different.
Apocalypse doesn’t try to change the formula from the previous title. It doesn’t have to; SMTIV is regarded as one of the best role playing titles to date on the Nintendo 3DS. Instead, it fine tunes the systems ever so slightly, making for a more welcoming and enjoyable experience to newcomers, while also alieviating some headaches series veterans may have felt in the previous title.
The main systems that you are accustomed to from SMTIV are present: demon negotiations, fusion, press-turn system, smirks, the overworld map, challenge quests, and so on. No longer will you have to spend coveted AP to unlock the app to speak to certain demons; Nanashi comprehends their entire language from the get-go.
Smirking now adds additional parameters to some skills that can change how they perform. An example of this is with the light and dark element ability trees, Hama and Mudo. These elements do damage just like any other magic attack, but while smirking they gain an instant-kill chance property (they typically have this by default). While smirking, other abilities may gain additional status effects, such as Daze. Additionally, it is easy to tell when skills are changed by a smirk because they are highlighted green in your skill list.
For challenge quests, you no longer have to accept themfrom the bar; they show up on your smart phone menu and will be added to your list. However, you will still need to make a pit stop at a bar in an underground shelter to deliver the goods on a collection quest.
An INCREDIBLY welcome addition to the game was an improved Mapper App function. It actually shows your character on the map via a little flag and where you have to go for the next story quest. This simple little feature greatly improved my experience with Apocalypse, as I tended to get lost easily in SMTIV.
One area that has been drastically expanded upon is the partner system. Previously, you were randomly assigned a partner and they just did whatever they wanted. This could lead to headaches if the partner that was selected cast magics that the enemy was immune to, giving the enemy bonus turns or letting them have a smirk. This time around, you are able to select which characters will be your main partner. Each possesses their own abilities and roles that they excel in. Nozomi loves her gun abilities and is great at dishing out status effects, while Navarre is a master of the buff spells.
Each turn you take, a small bar by your partner’s health will fill, and when it is maxed out you will be able to unleash an Assist Attack. When this occurs, you will stop an enemy (bosses too) from taking their turn completely. Instead, two of your partners will use one of their abilities and then every single one of your party members will do a large, all-out group attack, similiar thto the later Persona titles.
As I played more and more, I felt that depending on who you selected as your partner had more weight. Asahi, for example is a healer. Rather early on she will gain the ability to cast Media (group heal spell). What this ends up leading to are free group heals at the end of every turn. Have a demon throw down some defense boosts or attack decreases on the enemy and your team will be VERY difficult to kill.
A bang for your buck!
Just like SMTIV, you get a lot of bang for your buck. Apocalypse’s single playthrough takes upwards of 40-50 hours, not including the three distinct endings to choose from. It will take you even longer to complete all the challenging quests. Players also have access to a large database of information that they can skim through that cover details ranging from past events to in-depth character descriptions. This will be especially helpful to new players who didn’t play the previous title.
Thinking about filling the demon compendium? Tack on a bunch more hours, because you are going to have 450+ demons, angels, and gods to mingle with. It still blows me away just how much game Atlus can cram onto a single 3DS cartridge. Maybe they are in league with some ancient gods…
Looking good after all these years.
The presentation and quality with Apocalypse is virtually identical to SMTIV. The voice acting is still incredibly well done, with many of the voice actors reprising their roles from SMTIV. We even get Flynn, that title’s main protagonist, as a voiced character now! Oddly, the voice actor who previously voiced Navarre did not reprise his role, even though Navarre is a long term party member this time.
Music has been changed of course and is still top notch (I especially liked the overworld tune, which I’m listening to it as I type this review). Spell and attack effects have slightly different animations, but if you loved how SMTIV was presented, you will like it here, too. Here is an excerpt from our review of SMTIV that explains more:
“You move your avatar around a fully 3-D overworld map, and the areas and dungeons you explore are also 3-D modeled. You can see your character’s current equipment outside of battle, from your hat to your shoes…Combat and dialog shift into the world of 2-D, where the demons are sprites with limited animation, and spells and attacks are flashy and powerful. Each demon has their own lines, and though they are few (and repeated frequently), it is still a welcome touch. During dialog, you’re presented with a window of character portraits and text – fairly normal in this setting – but as I stated earlier, it’s very well handled via voice acting and numerous, expressive character portraits. On the other hand, interacting with generic NPCs is a dull affair. They are sprite-based, like the demons during battle, standing in front of you with just text boxes. The presentation is very familiar for fans of other SMT titles, but the reuse of generic sprites throughout the game is certainly a low point for presentation. “
Seeing that this takes place concurrently with the original game, you will be visiting and seeing a lot of the same locals that you did in SMTIV. Except for the bodies or debris laying around, you will be seeing the same old settings all over again. There are some new locations that spice things up, but the game could have certainly used more.
Can’t wait for more!
With the tweaks and improvements made to the various mechanics, access to a large database of information and character descriptions, I can easily say that it is the most approachable title in the main SMT series for new fans. However, if a newcomer starts here, they will also be shown important spoilers from the 4th game–a couple tidbits that could have been easily covered by simply introducing Merkabah and Lucifer in their demon forms from the start instead of the brief scene showing their vessel’s appearances that they quickly decide to switch from.
The improved partner system, while very nice, can really take away from the hard-as-nails SMT difficulty that many people associate with the series. If you are a veteran, I highly suggest you play this on the hard difficulty. That isn’t to say you can’t still get a challenge on the normal setting. There were a number of large difficulty spikes even on normal mode I contended with. Some of which involved encounters where you are forced to fight boss after boss after boss, all without a chance to heal or save.
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse proved that the previous title wasn’t a fluke; Atlus has the amazing ability to put a console-rich JRPG experience one a handheld device.
If you haven’t gotten a chance to play Shin Megami Tensei 4, you can check out our review HERE !
- Great plot twists and characters
- Voice acting and presentation
- Interesting alternate timeline angle
- Fantastic introduction game for newcomers to the main SMT series
- Improved map function
- Partners can make things a bit too easy
- That one damn dungeon with the doors that teleport you around!
- Spoilers from the previous game that could have been avoided
- First 7-10 hours are a bit on the slow side