Waaaay back in 2013 when I was till in college, I picked up Shin Megami Tensei IV on a whim. I'd never played a game in the series before, but a friend of mine kept going on and on about how great the series was and what an amazing game IV was going to be, so I figured what the hell? I'll give it a shot. Thus was born my love of the Megami Tensei series. When I heard the announcement for Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse, I immediately went on Amazon and pre-ordered the game. It took me a month or two to get around to actually starting the game, and then I took a break halfway through to play Pokémon Moon, but having finally finished it tonight, I can say that it is a wholly satisfying game, even if a bit too long.
If you've played Shin Megami Tensei IV, then you already know how Apocalypse plays. Their gameplay is EXACTLY the same. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? Apocalypse isn't technically a sequel to SMT4, but it does take place in the same universe (albeit an alternate one) and will spoil a bit of the story of SMT4 in various ways, so make sure you play that one first if this piques your interest. Now as for the story, it takes place in the year "203X," 25 years after an apocalyptic war between Merkebah's angel army and Lucifer's demon army. Caught in the crossfire was humanity, leading to a massive nuclear cataclysm. In a last ditch effort to save Tokyo from annihilation, a hero erects a massive dome over Tokyo, saving from nuclear holocaust but subjecting it to complete isolation. On top of this dome forms the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, a Judeo-Christian theocracy. You play as Genericunnamedplayercharacter, a 15 year old aspiring to join the ranks of the Hunters, an organization that tries to protect the last vestiges of humanity from the hoards of demons and angels infesting Tokyo.
I won't spoil the story itself, but the context is that you're bound to the god Dagda who wants to use you to slay Merkabah (YHVH's avatar) and Lucifer (Satan's avatar) as only humans can permanently kill gods. Also, for those whose Judeo-Christian mythology is rusty, YVHV is the theonym for the Abrahamic god. Anyway, plot devices happen, and third faction, an alliance of polytheistic gods called the Divine Powers, is formed and stands in opposition to both Merkabah and Lucifer, adding another box on Dagda's "to have my Godslayer kill" list. For those who have played SMT4, you may remember that most all choices as well as the three endings were solidly either Chaos, Law, or Neutral. Apocalypse has several different endings based on your choices (although, fair warning, most choices you make don't affect anything), but none of them are as obviously Law or Chaos. Rather, they're pretty much all variations of neutrality, making them a lot more interesting in my opinion.
The storytelling in Apocalypse is really stellar, and it will rip out your heart and grind it into dust on a few different occasions. My favorite aspect of the game, however, is not about the narrative but rather some of the mechanics and how approachable it is. Apocalypse offers five different difficulty settings, making it extremely accessible for long-time Megami Tensei veterans all the way down to "This is literally my first JRPG ever." If you find yourself completely up against a wall (or just want to wreck everything ever) and have a few bucks to spare, Atlus offers your standard "pay to win" DLC. For $1 each, you can download special dungeons that give you massive exp boost items, ridiculously valuable items to sell, more app points, stronger demons, you name it. Normally I think pay-to-win schemes are the worst thing in the world after mandatory after school meetings, but in a purely single player game, I don't really have a problem with them, especially at such a low price. Want the extra crutch? They're cheap downloads. Don't want it? Just ignore them.
After you kill the Divine Powers, Merkabah, and Lucifer, you get to the most god awful obnoxious dungeon I've encountered yet in an 8th gen RPG. In the last dungeon, you fight reincarnations of all the hardest shit you've fought for the past 45 hours (dungeon-wide boss rush; great) culminating in a duel with Satan and, at last, a fight to the death with YVHV himself. Ever wanted to literally kill God? Here's your chance. It is - obviously - not an easy final boss, but by the time I got to him, I was 50 hours in and level 120, so with some careful item management and strategic move use, it was an extremely manageable boss fight.
I'm not sure if I'm prepared to say that Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse is better than its predecessor, but it's a DAMN good game, and it really makes you think. This is not a game for the easily offended with regards to religion, and it really does force you to confront some difficult theological questions, especially the very end of the game. Being an agnostic myself, I wasn't prompted to do any soul searching or anything of the sort, but as I'm fascinated by theology in general, I absolutely loved the neutral, questioning tone the entire game took. If you've got a 3DS and are a fan of JRPGs, I absolutely positively recommend this one. It's a good 50 hour commitment and does start to feel like it's dragging by the time you get to YHVH's domain, but it's an incredible experience that ought not be missed.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.