â€œNo longer human. Not angel, not demon. He is my puppet.â€
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse
â€œFirst Impressionsâ€ Retrospective
It wasnâ€™t too much of a secret that I was really excited for this game when it was first announced. When the release date for the U.S. approached, I saved up as much as I could, and spent nearly 70 dollars for the game and one-day shipping so that I could get the game on the day of launch. Around a week later, I have clocked over sixty hours (not counting the resets), having completed every optional side quest except one, completed my demon compendium to around 92%, and am now blocked to the ending by the final boss, despite the fact that Iâ€™m already max level and have the best equipment.
But getting blocked by a boss in Shin Megami Tensei is the beauty of the series for me â€“ especially if the last boss is such a challenge as the one in this game. Iâ€™ve been playing on the hard mode from the very beginning, and have conquered pretty much every single boss in the game, except for this last one, who I talk about on discord quite a bit. Am I salty about losing so often? Honestly, no â€“ getting my ass kicked like this shows that I can improve something in my set-up, and the reward of winning will be that much sweeter.
Considering all the above, and despite the fact that I need another route to play through, I think I can give some thoughts about the game as a whole. I am giving a lot of spoilers, so youâ€™re warned.
To start off the retrospective, I checked to see what reviewers scored the game, just to show the numbers.
Next, as far as gameplay is concerned, this is probably the most realized Shin Megami Tensei game. Combat has achieved a level of depth and polish that went past what I thought the Press Turn combat system could accomplish, mainly due to the changes to the smirk mechanic introduced in Shin Megami Tensei IV.
Smirk was essentially a buff that could be gained for exploiting a weakness, having your defenses succeed, scoring a critical, etc. â€“ in IV, Smirk essentially made you invincible for one turn, since enemies will always miss you if you have smirk, but you had to use the bonus damage gained from smirk on that same turn, otherwise the smirk would disappear and be wasted.
In Apocalypse, smirk will stick around for 2-3 turns, and is not as strong as it was in the previous game â€“ your evasion will not be stupidly high, but your weaknesses can no longer be exploited, and the bonus damage is still there. However, because they attached effects such as bonus healing, the ability to ignore certain defenses, and instant kill onto smirk: the infamous Hama and Mudo spells now deal normal damage, and are insanely strong as offensive spells, since having their instant kill effect from previous games being attached to smirk makes it so that the instant kill rate of success can be raised. Essentially, changes in combat make all forms of offensive damage feel reliable, and even healers getting smirk doesnâ€™t feel wasted â€“ even instant kill, which feels very RNG-dependent, can feel fair when it wipes you out.
Because of these changes to smirk and spells, we are introduced to new abilities that remove smirk (which were sorely missing in IV), and enemy resistances have been shifted around to accommodate this â€“ even though Apocalypse naturally treads familiar territory that IV covered, the encounters have remained fresh.
The remade partner system is also fantastic â€“ being able to choose your partners, and each partner having a distinct use, makes for a variety of ways to deal with bosses. Sometimes the key to victory is as simple as switching your partner, and the partner AI is competent enough to make a fight-winning move during an intense battle.
Demon fusion is at its best in this game â€“ the demon search function is incredibly useful in narrowing down a possible demon to fuse for battle, and you can just fuse two demons of your choice to experiment if you donâ€™t feel like using the search function (an option that was also sorely missed in IV).
To tie in with fusion, negotiation is also easier this time around â€“ you can communicate with every demon, instead of requiring an app or skill that would allow you to communicate with otherwise unintelligible demons. The best change is that if the demon youâ€™re negotiating has been in your party before, they might recognize you and join your party for free, eliminating the negotiation in between, which is such a welcome change when youâ€™re trying to fuse certain demons, and require the demons youâ€™ve used in the past. This is compared to spending cash and purchasing the demon you saved in the compendium.
As far as alignment is concerned, since Apocalypse doesnâ€™t follow the traditional law versus neutral versus chaos of previous games, itâ€™s more or less been re-designed to better fit the two endings Apocalypse does have. While your ending is decided by one major decision in the game, your actions and decisions leading up to that moment may result in a penalty (losing all your items or having most of your demons deleted).
As of now, Apocalypse is the best Shin Megami Tensei game as far as gameplay is concerned.
As far as the story and characters are concerned, I think Apocalypseâ€™s cast of characters are more or less better than IVâ€™s cast. The MegaTen community is pretty divided on this, especially since a lot of these characters are â€œanimeâ€ â€“ they often make the comparison to the characters of the newer Persona games, and in a way, Iâ€™m inclined to agree with them: A lot of Apocalypseâ€™s, and by extension IVâ€™s, characters are just downgrades from the crew of soldiers trapped in a demonic world in Strange Journey.
I suppose itâ€™s worth saying that Strange Journey is probably the most well-written game in the mainline series (although Digital Devil Saga and Persona 2 have better stories overall in the larger MegaTen universe), but the shame is that Apocalypse had an opportunity to be better than Strange Journey in that department. If I had to list the best characters in Apocalypse, I think Navarre and Gaston are probably the characters with the best development â€“ while I donâ€™t strictly dislike any of the characters in Apocalypse, those two had character arcs that were more or less a joy to watch, especially Navarre.
Navarre played a small role in IV, where heâ€™s more or less an asshole to the protagonist, Flynn. The beauty of Navarreâ€™s role as a main character is mainly divided in two reasons. The first is that Navarre is pretty much the target of jokes all over, and they never get old. Heâ€™s just about the funniest character in the entire game, but his development comes around when you look at the sort of person he was prior to Apocalypse. I think one of the biggest things about Navarre is that at first glance, he could never seem like a hero, and indeed, he never does anything really heroic. Heâ€™s a coward and arrogant, but the game makes a point that he carries a deep shame about his past actions, and in one of the final dungeons, he comes to terms with this. During a major decision that determines your ending, Navarre will send you a message that encourages his faith in you â€“ the only person to do so amongst all your friends.
It also helps that heâ€™s one of the most useful partners to have. And of course, all I said about Navarre is ultimately an opinion â€“ he has plenty of well-deserved haters.
However, Apocalypse treats certain characters really poorly, as well â€“ mainly the antagonists of IV, Godâ€™s Chariot and the Demon Lord. The personalities seemed to have been modified to better fit the narrative, but considering that Apocalypse is meant to branch out from the neutral route in IV, this seems like a very poor decision as far as writing is concerned. There are other moments in the game, mainly in the last two acts, that made me really disappointed with how bad the writing could get. The way they handled characters such as Toki â€“ who was severely underutilized â€“ greatly disappointed me since the â€œwalking Reasonsâ€ of Nocturne displayed a more developed personality with their hypocritical actions, amongst many other things.
But really, certain moments of Apocalypse is all that really bothered me. This game is superior to IV in almost every regard, and itâ€™s probably what I consider to be the best RPG on the 3DS as of now. I might be heavily biased, but after having played the 3DS RPG library rather extensively (and I mean I went all over with Etrian Odyssey, Stella Glow, Bravely Default, and Fire Emblem, just to name a few) â€“ I canâ€™t really find anything to top this game.
Atlus usually has a lot of discount sales for their games, and a Europe release is coming in winter â€“ chances are the people who likes this series already owns the game, unless money becomes an issue (and Iâ€™m pretty much broke now, gotta save up for Persona 5 for the next five months). Nonetheless, I think that if you can grab the game for a cheaper price, you should do so â€“ although you should also play IV, it gives a lot of context to Apocalypse and makes the latter much more enjoyable to play. You can also import your save file of IV for extra bonuses in Apocalypse. IV is also relatively cheap, and gets cheaper due to sales rather often.
Iâ€™m gushing though. Iâ€™m gushing fountains because this game has been fantastic, although definitely not for everyone. I am also attaching the official trailer on the Nintendo channel, in case you want to see some footage and hear the voices:
"My Godslayer will kill every last god and demon out there!"