|...I'm so tired of playing this game. That's what that face means.|
Shin Megami Tensei IV is the first time a mainline SMT title has been released on a portable console, and it's kind of a doozy. One of the most expensive 3DS releases this far, it feels more like a home console title than just about anything else on the system. Is that a good thing? Maybe.
-Shin Megami Tensei's high presentation values are absolutely wonderful- every inch of the world is covered in detail, the music is atmospheric and fits with the moody visual style, and the voice acting is... there, I guess. Some of it is great, some of it is mediocre, but this feels like a fully fleshed out world.
-The sense of pacing from both a story and setting standpoint, is very welcome and expansive, especially in its early chapters,. Though you start from menu-based environments and a twisted labyrinth, you are introduced to a world far more massive and fascinating. SMTIV grips you the entire way.
-Though its mechanics are a bit strange, it's hard to deny the engaging gameplay systems at work in SMTIV. You can build you character however you want, distribute app points, coerce demons to your side, fuse them and meld their abilities, and much more, the wealth of content in the title is felt at all times, and may be a bit overwhelming.
-While it is the first fully voiced SMT entry, its dialogue often comes off a bit stilted, and the main characters aren't very engaging. Though each has their moments, it's hard to feel for them, especially when they are as voiceless as the nondescript player avatar.
-Mapping is a major issue in the game, as areas are not titled on your exploratory map and objects like doors and holes don't appear until scanned, which can often be overlooked. This can lead to some aimless wandering.
-The difficulty of the title is largely based on the carelessness or ignorance of the player, which can be forgivable, but SMTIV often resorts to exploiting this in order to keep them from progressing. While some may interpret this as a teaching method, others may find it aggravating.
Never have I felt so divided on a title. Which is funny, because SMTIV is, at its core, a very black-and-white experience. I started the game and, even in its early moments, loved how it played. The menu-based Mikado suited my Etrian Odyssey-driven mind just fine. And then I entered Naraku and I fell in love with the dungeon design. But, things slowly progressed on, and when I say "slowly", I mean... yeah, slowly. The game will wall you if you don't learn how to play by its rules, and even then, some shoddy mechanics can inhibit you from moving forward. With a game that is so long, it can be tough to keep pushing on. Trust me, trying to find time to get through this game and its story wore me thin. I became almost exhausted with it.
And don't get me wrong, Shin Megami Tensei IV is a fun game, it truly is. It's mysterious and moody, filled with twists and turns that I guarantee you won't see coming. When you're press-turning through battles and kicking demon ass, it's hard not to get caught up in all the rollicking fun. But SMTIV is also meant to be replayed many times, and with the length and production values of a console game, it's definitely something you might want to do in short bursts. And though it's a game that thrives on ambiguity, even up until its final moments, that's not something that I personally handle all that well. Not that I like to be spoon-fed my plot, but I'd like to know where things are going, at least.
One last thing to mention is that SMTIV isn't really hard, so to speak. Its difficulty is only evident in its barely-consistent "smirk" mechanic, which can, and often will, trip you up more often than not. Unless you're well-aware of the challenges you'll be facing as you move forward, you cannot let your guard down for a second, because smirks could be the difference between life and death. And that's an odd thing to say about a game series known for its difficulty... it's never that hard... it's just a bit cheap.
Final Verdict: As an engaging and massive handheld experience, Shin Megami offers playtime and quality that is unparalleled by other titles on the 3DS. If you're interested in the story, take care to note that it comes in short, nondescript bursts, and do take care to avoid auto-grinding. It never ends well. Most importantly, remember that this is a long game- don't overwhelm yourself with its massive experience.