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Fight For The Top 50 – Shin Megami Tensei IV

by Kimberley Wallace on Nov 28, 2013 at 08:00 AM

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I've been a Shin Megami Tensei fan for nearly a decade. Finding ways to overcome the harrowing battles just scratch an itch for me. I love how if I die, I always rethink my strategy and return with a better solution. Some people might call me a glutton for punishment – a masochist, if you will. While I knew when Shin Megami Tensei IV released it would be right up my alley, I wasn't expecting to get so invested in the philosophical conundrums it brought my way.

Learn more about the Game Informer Fight For the Top 50 Challenge 2013

Becoming a great samurai in SMT IV isn't easy. Death will stare you in the face more times than you can count, but once you surpass the greatest feats, a sense of accomplishment washes over you. This has always been SMT's calling card, and while Shin Megami IV doesn't completely turn the formula in new directions, it offers plenty of different avenues for you to strategize your way to victory. Want to fight less enemies? Converse with a monster that is the same as one you've already recruited, and he'll immediately abandon the battle. Like a specific skill one of your monsters has? Transfer it to your main character. Want to get an extra turn in combat? Better exploit an enemy's weakness. SMT IV forces you to think at every turn, and that's why I love it. When a game really forces me to examine a battle I'm facing and proceed cautiously without being reckless, it's doing its job. Too many times, our brains go on auto-pilot in RPGs, but in SMT IV, that's a death sentence.

Swaying monsters to join your party and fusing monsters becomes an addiction. As soon as I leveled up, I'd check and see what new possibilities it'd unlock for demon fusion. On top of that, fusing demons together lets you transfer some of their skills over to the new monster you're creating. 

Those are the elements of SMT that are continually strong and rarely get overlooked, but what often fail to get mentioned are the stories. This isn't so surprising as narratives aren't SMT's strongest feature, but in SMT IV, I thought Atlus handled the philosophical dilemmas wonderfully. Throughout the journey, you're contemplating what type of world is best, and you have two characters constantly trying to sway you between two ideals. The "law" side wants you to sustain a world with a social structure, making peace the goal. The "chaos" side takes a survival-of-the-fittest approach, where the strong dominate without much order or fairness. While these principles seem basic for the alignment system, you often get conflicted between them, as both sides present their argument well, even when you know you're siding with the devil. The decisions you make between these ideals provide a ripple effect throughout the game, and seeing how your choices play out is the highlight. 

SMT IV makes you ponder with its philosophies and battle strategies. I had a hard time putting down the game, and found when I did, I was still thinking about it. That's more than enough reason to fight for its place on our Top 50 list.

The Top 50 Challenge

We have a few RPG fans in the office, but Joe Juba was the best choice. Joe has played not only Nocturne, but has also dabbled in some of the SMT spin offs, such as Digital Devil Saga and Persona. Joe really dug Persona 3 and 4's persona fusion, so I'm confident he'll enjoy luring demons and fusing them for better combatants. Although, I know he may not entirely enjoy monsters being hard to lure his way, especially since negotiating with monsters takes some luck and guesswork. What I do think Joe will revel in is figuring out the best strategy by using everything at his disposal to survive, especially making the best decision of when to fight or talk his way out of battle. However, he may not love SMT IV's ruthlessness in its punishing battles; I'm hoping he sees these moments as an opportunity to tap into the complexities of SMT by using different demons and tactics. While Joe won't get into the nitty-gritty of the philosophical questions, he should at least get an idea of Walter and Jonathan trying to sway him toward their ideals about the future of the world.

Joe was given one day to play Shin Megami Tensei IV. Come back tomorrow at 2 PM CT to read his impressions and see if it’ll get his support for Game Informer’s Top 50 Games of the Year.