At this point, many people have a vague idea of what playing a Shin Megami Tensei game entails, even if their only connection to the series is the increasingly popular Persona spinoffs. These dark, demon-infused, dungeon-crawling RPGs have maintained cult status outside of Japan since the early 2000s thanks to the release of Nocturne, and have only continued to grow in popularity.
The newest title, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, acts as both a strong expansion on what was established in Shin Megami Tensei IV and another good entry point in a series that some might consider too overwhelming due to its trademark difficulty.
If you’re brand new to Shin Megami Tensei, Apocalypse may be a lot to take in at first thanks to its narrative. It acts as both a sequel and spinoff to 2013’s Shin Megami Tensei IV, so it may not connect with everyone unfamiliar with the series, but it does do an admirable job of introducing its world and giving you the broad strokes of what happened in the previous game’s story.
The reason I call it a spinoff and a sequel is simple: it takes place during the events of SMT IV’s neutral ending path, both expanding on the events prior to that ending while also creating an alternate version of those same events. It’s an odd approach, yet it works, giving us a revised take on the canon ending from the last game.
With all of that being said, what is this demonic tale actually about? Apocalypse follows the exploits of Nanashi and Asahi, two rookie demon hunters who barely survive an encounter with a tough group of demons. This battle then introduces Nanashi to a mysterious being named Dagda who promises him untold powers in exchange for becoming his “God Slayer.”
Despite its different approach to storytelling, Apocalypse is very much just an updated version of the previous game.
The rest of the story slowly unfolds more of Dagda’s past and motivations, and provides us a different perspective on Tokyo’s war between demons and angels. While it still deals in potentially world-ending events, Apocalypse tells a more personal story than SMT IV, helping it stand out in a series full of unchanging narratives.
Despite its different approach to storytelling, Apocalypse is very much just an updated version of the previous game, complete with the same overworld and map, (mostly) the same enemies and mechanics that don’t stray far from what you expect from the series. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the previous game might be the best the series has to offer mechanically, but its lack of notable changes and its retreading of many environments from SMT IV adds up to a less impressive title in the long run.
That’s not to say there haven’t been any improvements made, some of which make this an even friendlier experience than the last. The main hub is a lot easier to navigate thanks to a better map and a waypoint system which points you in the direction you need to go for your main quest. The dungeons have also improved, expanding in size and adding plenty of dead ends and twisted traps. This makes them a lot more devious to navigate, but offers a welcome change from SMT IV’s narrow corridors and repetitive layouts.
Demon negotiation and fusion is still a major focus in Apocalypse, and while it’s largely unchanged, it remains one of the game’s strongest aspects. Negotiating with demons can be tricky at first, as it seems like it’s almost due to random luck that you are able to win them over to your side. As you learn more about the different personality types and the questions they ask, though, you’ll quickly gain an understanding of what responses work best.
Once you feel you’ve had enough of your demon pals, fuse them to make create stronger allies and carry over some of their skills. Building up a strong, balanced party is key to winning some of the game’s more difficult battles. After getting a handle on these systems and their intricacies, you’ll quickly learn why this is the highlight of any SMT experience.
When games like Apocalypse can find ways to bridge the gap between new players and series veterans without sacrificing what makes it special, I can’t help but applaud that.
The most surprising thing about Apocalypse is its difficulty. It’s not a particularly tough game; I had to crank it up to the hardest difficulty to get what some fans might consider “true” Shin Megami Tensei challenge. Sure, you could chalk that up to my prior experience with the franchise, but I do believe it’s a more welcoming game than any previous title in the series. And thanks to the ability to change the difficulty on the fly and save anywhere, which are holdovers from SMT IV, you never have to worry about being stuck for too long.
Newcomers might be taken aback by Apocalypse at first considering its many systems, but a series as typically unforgiving as this leaves many potential fans on the outside looking in. When games like this and SMT IV can find ways to bridge the gap between new players and series veterans without sacrificing what makes it special, I can’t help but applaud that.
If you’re looking for something a little different from your typical handheld JRPG and haven’t taken the plunge with SMT in the past, you can’t go wrong with Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse. It’s both an entertaining continuation of the events of the previous game and a solid entry point for those unsure of what it truly means to be a demon hunter. Its familiar mechanics and setting may lessen its impact, but even today there are few RPGs on the market quite like it.