Flynn and friends are back with a second title set in the world of Shin Megami Tensei IV's post-apocalyptic Tokyo. The war continues between Merkabah and Lucifer and it's up to you to play through the new protagonist's story and find out who will reign supreme over the desolate world.
If you haven't played Shin Megami Tensei IV yet then go and play it first if you want a detailed rundown of what's going on in modern-day Tokyo. Though if you're not inclined to do so (and you'll be missing out), I'll explain it very briefly here. Flynn and his medieval homies come from the land of Mikado which they quickly find out is a peaceful scenic world balancing above the bleak and dangerous city of Tokyo where angels and demons fight to the death. SMT IV: Apocalypse is set after the ending of SMT IV, in the same city but with the famous Flynn (SMT IV's protagonist) making occasional appearances to the people and bringing hope to those who have given up on a quiet and safe life.
In Apocalypse, you play as a new hero who joins the Hunters - a group that works for the people, scrounging for food and offering aid to those in need. The age-old setup of god vs. the devil is shaken up soon into the story when a new deity appears, vying to save humanity in one way or another. As the story progresses, you'll become allies with those of similar interests as well as those with complete opposite interests to your own (out of necessity). The friction between the three parties constantly grows throughout the story and will have you question who is the most right in what they believe in.
Graphically, SMT IV: Apocalypse looks exactly the same as SMT IV. The character art, settings and animation all use the familiar visual style of the series. It does a great job of portraying a creepy post-apocalyptic world where you don't know what's around the next corner. I always find it phenomenal how much detail goes into the vast number of monsters that can be recruited, even if I tend to only recruit the cuter-looking ones. My ultimate goal is a team of the cuddly King Frost, Frost Ace and Jack Frost, though I realise it would make my opportunities of getting extra turns and smirking very limited (I'll explain these more later).
Most of the dungeons look similar - a desolate city street or an abandoned subway station filled with demons that need taking out. Some settings do vary it up a little such as the fairy forest yet it would have been nice to see a bit more variety. However, I know it's a little tough to ask for given the subtext of the game. I found all of the dungeon maps were interesting. There's always something to find hidden around a corner or in hard-to-reach spaces. There's also a new mechanic introduced where you must run from one spot to another in a minimum number of steps in order to break through a wall and either continue your quest or retrieve some rare goodies.
The soundtrack is very similar to SMT IV with mostly subtle background music playing that complements the dreary tone of the world. When you find your way to safety in one of the Hunter's dens, it changes to an upbeat ditty that is still stuck in my head.
The battle gameplay of Apocalypse doesn't stray from the tried and true formula of other games in the series. As you start battles with enemies, you'll be focusing on trying to exploit their weaknesses (elemental or otherwise) while ensuring that your current set of hired demons are protected from their own weaknesses. When you hit an enemy's weakness, you'll gain a turn and sometimes smirk which means that you're better at avoiding attacks and can cancel enemies' turns. There's nothing more rewarding than exploiting weaknesses for every turn, essentially doubling your turn count from four to eight. One change that was made in the battle system this time around is that light and dark attacks often do damage and if you're in the smirked state, they have a high chance of causing instant death on the targeted enemy. This is a welcome addition, making learning light and dark magic more important than in other installments.
Recruiting demons has always been a major part of the SMT series and it's just as important in this one. There's a wide variety of demons to ally with and help you out in your fight against other demons. You can still fuse them into stronger ones, assuming you're leveled up enough. With the addition of StreetPass in Apocalypse, you can also choose to set a demon that will either improve their stats or randomly fuse with another demon whenever you access the tool. I found setting up one of my lower level demons for this to be very rewarding as they often fused into completely new ones that I wouldn't have been able to obtain otherwise.
When you're not in fights with demons and angels, you traverse the world of Tokyo as an arrow on a map that moves across open roads and parks. Initially, a lot of the map is blocked off with notices telling you that the way was deemed unsafe or needs repairing and you'll eventually open them up as you progress through the story. While on the map, there's the occasional enemy to fight, treasure box to unlock and mining point where you can find goodies to sell. You'll also be given the odd side-quest to fulfill that will take you to different parts of the map away from the main story as well as into demons' domains where you'll battle your way through enclosed hallways in order to defeat the offending demon at the end and gain your reward. The overworld essentially plays exactly the same as in SMT IV except with some new locations. It would have been awesome to see the developers really expand on the world by adding another city to explore, though I never found myself getting bored exploring the same one.
Another Shin Megami Tensei game joins the ranks of awesome must-have JRPGs for 3DS. With an interesting story and engaging battle system that never gets dull, you'll be sure to sink dozens of hours into this newest installment of the epic series.
- + SMT's unique battle system still holds up
- + Engaging story that will keep you interested throughout
- + StreetPass offers a cool new mechanic
- - The overworld is too similar to the one in Shin Megami Tensei IV
- - Different dungeons lack visual variety