Shin Megami Tensei IV allows you to take on the role of Samurai, specially-selected soldiers who are tasked with protecting the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado and, eventually, getting to the bottom of what is happening in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. While the game starts off slow by tasking you with the simple mission of descending Naraku, a cavernous dungeon located inside a statue in the Samurai’s meeting ground, it soon erupts into a game filled with a dark, enticing story, and an addictive demon collecting system akin to other games in the series, as well as the popular Pokemon series. Upon reaching the end of Naraku and facing off against an unnecessarily difficult boss, you are led to a ruined Tokyo, where demons and corruption have taken over. From there, several twists and turns block your path before the end of the game, each one requiring more thought and eliciting more emotion than the last.
The story is a strong part of Shin Megami Tensei IV, but the gameplay is not lacking, either. Soon after starting the game up and entering Naraku for the first time, you are given the ability to talk to the demons you face off against and try to recruit them into your party. Most of these dialogue trees require you to give them items or answer questions correctly, although you may rarely find that they just simply want to join your party and will not put up a fight whatsoever. After you have assembled a team of three demons and yourself, the tutorial ends, but you can still recruit most demons you fight as long as you can understand them and are the same level as them or higher. The demons that accompany you gain levels just as you do, and they also learn skills after attaining specific levels. After learning all of the skills at their disposal (which does not take as long as one would think), you are able to pass on any of that demon’s skills to your main character. If your character happens to already have one of the skills the demon has, that skill will power up slightly, giving you reason to still use demons with the same skills as your character.
The combat system is simplistic, although it does have a certain layer of strategy in boss battles. You are given a single Press Turn for every character in your party, up to a total of four. Any action a character takes uses up a Press Turn, unless the enemy is weak to it. In that case, the Press Turn is given back to you, giving you more incentive to figure out what skills are good against which enemies. This allows you to significantly increase the amount of turns your team gets, and when used correctly, I even managed to fell some bosses in a single turn after only using attacks they were weak against. Some other bosses, however, manage to exploit the Press Turn system themselves, leading to many failed battles on my part.
The difficulty of Shin Megami Tensei IV is all over the place, although it does balance out somewhat in the middle. Certain bosses require to grind immensely, although I managed to defeat most of them by fusing demons who had high amounts of health and an attack that would gain our team another Press Turn. However, sometimes even this does not help. I found myself switching to Easy mode a couple of times in order to slay a cheap boss once or twice. Another aspect of Shin Megami Tensei that could have used a little more balancing is the sense of direction when you are given missions. Your quest list will often list where you need to go, but not how to get there. I found myself wandering around the world map for a long time, aimlessly entering every area I encountered in hopes of finding the place I needed to go. Most of the time the game does a good job of placing these locations close to the point where you got the quest, although there are a few exceptions.
Shin Megami Tensei takes a hold of your morals and emotions from the very beginning and doesn’t let them go until the very end of the game. The game unfortunately prefers to use text instead of cutscenes to convey its story, although the dark message it is trying to get across definitely shows. Even though I encountered roadblocks in the form of unbalanced bosses and lack of information, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Shin Megami Tensei IV. If you are a fan of gripping stories and aren’t intimidated by a little bit of grinding, look no further than Shin Megami Tensei IV.