Oh fuck this gay earth. Here we go again. It's been 10 years since that old masterpiece SMTIII was made. Actually I can't believe it's been 10 years. God dammit I'm officially old. You damn kids don't know how much better it was back in the good old days. And you got no respect for your elders these days either. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh right, it's been 10 years since the last numbered SMT. Can SMTIV live up to the legacy set before it? Of fucking course not. Anybody who isn't blind and stupid can see that Nocturne was a fluke. Ever since Persona 3 came out and Atlus saw how much more profitable it was to make a candy ass game dumbed down for pussies they have never looked back. What has changed in the past 10 years? A lot. Philosophies have changed, the world has gone to shit, and the dream is most definitely dead.
First of all, as FUCKING USUAL, they're making the game for a shitty handheld. Specifically the shittiest one of the two. Man seriously what is this shit anyway. The Vita is SO MUCH BETTER than the 3DS, yet all my time is spent with my 3DS because it's the one that gets all the games. Iz sum ol' bullshit I tell you. Fuckin' Sony, how do you make a machine that is so much better than your competitor and still lose anyway? You suck. But whatever, as I was saying, fuck handhelds and fuck you Atlus. This shit literally has worse graphics and sound than 10 years ago. That's pretty fucking sad. Oh, what, you thought there'd be advancement in all these years? What a fool, don't you know we're in the Dark Ages of gaming? At the very least the 3DS is just powerful enough to handle a third person perspective, so there's that I guess. And I heard that the 3D effect was especially good in this but it's a bald faced lie, it's just as god awful as in everything else and I immediately regretted moving the 3D slider.
The 3DS being terrible aside though, generally speaking the art is good, and although the sound quality is bad due to the 3DS as usual, the music is decent. Not up to the standards of ten years ago but definitely better than whatever the fuck happened with Strange Journey. I like how the game has some remixes of classic songs such as the title screen, the fiend music, the Cathedral of Shadows music, etc. I also like how there are different battles themes that play in different areas like in Nocturne. That's nice. This is also the first numbered SMT with full voice acting, and while I generally prefer voice acting over nothing, I feel like in this game it's a mixed bag. The voicing on the main characters is fine overall, but this game has so many random demons talking all over the place that they're forced to use a lot of the same voices over and over again and in a lot of cases it doesn't quite fit. But whatever, that's not a huge issue.
The Press Turn System is back, and I mean actually back, which is awesome. This singlehandedly shoots the game up tremendously. They regressed with some bullshit ass battle system in Strange Journey but they're back to the good stuff with SMTIV. Each party member's action happens after you select it as it should be rather than having to select your entire party's actions before anything happens, hitting enemy weaknesses and scoring critical hits gives you extra turns, having your attacks nulled or miss punishes you by taking away turns, having your attacks drained or reflected takes away all of your turns, passing uses up less of a turn than performing an action... yes, excellent. Very good. This is a very important part of the game and I'm glad they got it right, especially with how clueless they've been about this over the years.
Something new in this game that I really dislike is how random encounters are handled. Enemies randomly pop up on the field and chase you, when they touch you it triggers a battle. You can hit them with your sword before they touch you to score a pre-emptive attack on them. This is similar to the way Persona 3 and 4 handle it, with one key difference and the reason why I hate it: in SMTIV enemies are randomly and constantly spawning on the field. At the very least the enemies in P3 and 4 had the decency to wait until you were off screen to respawn, but in this game they keep spawning on your ass EVEN WHEN YOU'RE STANDING STILL. This is awful. Look, I'm a slow player. I like to be able to stop, look around, check things out, think about where I want to go next. In Nocturne, which had traditional random encounters, I could do this because I knew that as long as I didn't move, I was safe from being attacked. I could take a few steps, stop, and peacefully look around with the camera as much as I wanted. In the Personas I also could, because as long as I killed the enemies on screen, they wouldn't respawn until I was a good distance away. In SMTIV you CANNOT do this. It's impossible to stop and look around for more than 5 seconds before another enemy spawns on your ass. This forces me into a pace that I'm not comfortable with. I mean for fuck's sake, you can't even stop and look at your god damn map in peace without getting jumped. It's infuriating. Either do it the way Nocturne does it, or if you MUST have the whole "hitting enemies on the field to guarantee pre-emptive strike" minigame, do it the way the Personas do it. Christ.
The story in this game is generally good. It has a lot more people and character dialogue than Nocturne, but nowhere near as much as the Personas. The characters are okay but nothing special, so it's far below Persona standards in this regard, as expected. One of the cool things about SMT is how the story changes based on your alignment, which is based on decisions you make throughout the game. Unfortunately, SMTIV makes the same mistake as Strange Journey by having 3 paths (law, neutral, chaos), and locking you into one not based on what you actually want, or even based on something that makes sense, but on bullshit that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the issue. Nocturne and Devil Survivor handle this correctly: they ASK YOU which side you agree with and which one you side with is the main decider.
SMTIV as well as Strange Journey have a retarded system where questions throughout the game give you a set number of law or chaos points based on what you answer even if the question doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the actual issues, and then it locks you into a path based on where you are on the law-chaos spectrum. It could even happen that you're already so far into law or chaos that you're practically already locked into a path by the time you even get to hear what each side stands for! This is a bad system, it forces you to have to game the system and answer based on points rather than what you want. Ideally, your choices in the game should push you towards a side that coincides with them, but in SMTIV this is not possible because the majority of the questions do not necessarily coincide with any side. You get pushed to a side based on arbitrary points values assigned to meaningless questions.
Say you do the sidequest to get medicine for a woman with a terminal disease. You get the option to either get her a medicine that might cure her, or get her a medicine to allow her to die peacefully. The former gives you lots of law points (causes you to side with the angels) and the latter lots of chaos points (causes you to side with the demons). Why? That decision has fucking nothing to do with whether you want to help the angels or the demons. In another you're fighting hunters and after beating them you have the option to either finish them off or stay your hand. Former gives you law points and latter gives you chaos. Again, why? It has NOTHING to do with anything. You think the angels don't kill? Wrong. In fact, they probably would. You could kill them and be law because you're a knight templar who is purging the world of the unclean ones. And yet the game assumes, incorrectly, that if you kill that means you're chaos. But even if killing them gave law points instead, that would STILL be incorrect because you could kill them simply because "They knew the risks when they decided to do this" or "That's what they get for fucking with me" or ANY number of other reasons. It doesn't necessarily coincide with any side. Your decision gives ZERO information on which side you belong with because the question is meaningless. In another situation, a random woman is hiding in a room and asks you if you're a human or a demon. If you say human, you get law points. If you say demon you get chaos points. But why? The game assumes, incorrectly, that if you say the truth you belong with the angels and that if you lie, you belong with the demons. Why? It makes no sense. And to make matters worse, this pointless, meaningless question gives as many points as the big story questions of which side you're going to help.
Again, Nocturne and Devil Survivor handle this correctly. Devil Survivor waits until each side has come out and explained what they want before asking you to side with one, and your choices up to that point don't matter. Nocturne has the point system BUT each side explains their philosophy and asks you whether you agree with it at one point in the game. If Chiaki asks you if you agree with Yosuga and want to help her and you say no then you cannot get that ending no matter how many Yosuga points you've gotten up to that point. But in SMTIV? The decision of which side you're going to help gives you just as many law or chaos points as one random woman hiding in a room who asks you if you're a human or a demon. Terrible.
At least it's not too difficult to game the system and keep yourself close to neutral so you can make a more educated choice, both because it's easy to know which side each answer "obviously" pushes you to, and because there's a dude who conveniently tells you what your current alignment is. But it's the principle of the thing. I shouldn't have to game the system just because the designers were incompetent.
Another thing I don't like is how equipment now changes your appearance. Normally I wouldn't have a problem with this, but fact of the matter is that 90% of the equipment in the game looks like utter shit. Just design something that looks good and keep the character model the same the way it's always been done. I mean what are you trying to pull, some sort of WRPG shit? Just don't. Americans already have the whole "ugly looking characters" thing handled just fine.
Demon fusion and negotiation is always fun. I've probably said this before but it's one of my favorite things about SMT. It makes every level you gain a lot more meaningful and important because every time you're gaining access to a whole new batch of demons that you can create. On top of that you gain 5 stat points each level that you can distribute however you want, and the (soft) stat cap has been raised to 200, but I miss the vitality stat. I don't know why they took that out. Each level up also gives you APP points which you can use to get perks such as more skill slots, demon slots, better negotiation, and much more. Demon fusion continues to get friendlier and more streamlined, now you are able to manually choose ALL of the skills that each demon inherits, similar to Persona 4 Golden, which is pretty huge. It's nice to not have to reroll your skills over and over until you get the ones you want, though I sort of feel like it's a little too powerful. There should be some sort of limiter, like maybe only allowing you to inherit 4 skills. Or, y'know, just making the game in general way harder, that's always a good solution.
Before playing I'd heard criticism from reviewers saying that this game is too hard. That shit makes me furious. Did you assholes even play Nocturne? I bet you didn't. Anybody saying this game is too hard has no business reviewing ANYTHING. You don't have the knowledge and the experience to have a valid opinion. Do you see me reviewing books? No. Everybody knows real niggaz don't read. But no, the difficulty is at an okay level. I would've liked it to be harder but it's not too bad; due to going back to the Press Turn System SMTIV keeps up the tradition of making it easy to die in random battles, provided that enemies decide to be smart (which honestly could stand to be more often). However, something I don't like is that the game is characterized by an undue amount of leniency. For example, now you don't get an instant game over if the protagonist dies. And when you do get a game over the game allows you to go back to the point right before you died.
But what really, REALLY pisses me off the most is that they sell you DLC which is described as an extra quest but in reality is a grindable quest that gives you exp items which allow you to level up SUPER fast, probably up to level 99 in a few hours even if you're at the start of the game. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? These dipshits are literally charging me actual money to ruin my game! Don't you fucking get it? Proper level progression is an ESSENTIAL part of an RPG. If you can just get up to level 99 in a few hours at the start and just go rape everything free the whole game is destroyed! Thankfully I didn't save and was able to delete the offending DLC (although I didn't get a refund), but that's not the point. The fact that this horse shit DLC exists at all is a disgrace. What is this world coming to? And you thought I was kidding when I said everything's gone to shit. This essentially makes it so that every potential difficulty in the game becomes fake. Who cares when I could just buy my way to victory? I even thought it was an interesting mechanic how enemies don't drop money in this game when you kill them, and the only way to get money is by selling items that you find and through negotiation, so it becomes more of a commodity, but then there's also DLC that gives you shitloads of money, and DLC that gives you shitloads of APP points. What's next, paying for DLC that plays the game for you? FUCK YOU Atlus.
It's obvious that Atlus no longer cares about maintaining integrity of design. They've given in wholesale to the pussification of gaming that has corroded the industry. What gets me is that even WITH these things bitch reviewers STILL dare list one of the game's flaws as being too difficult. Are there no limits to this fraudulence?
But you think they were done? No, they were not done. After beating the game you get the ability to play again on hard mode. I'm always a fan of a good hard mode but guess what? They ruined this too. You don't choose it at the start of the game, it's just an option on your field menu and you can switch between it and normal at will. For the record, I hate hate hate hate hate HATE this new trend of difficulty modes that can be freely cycled between mid-game. It makes the whole thing feel cheap and pathetic. What's stopping you from getting to a tough spot, switching to normal to pass it and switching back? Nothing. What's stopping you from going to a shop, switching to normal where prices are significantly lower, buying what you need and then switching back? Nothing. Yeah, yeah, your own "self control", but just the option being there pisses me off and makes any potential difficulty you might face feel fake. And what's stopping the developers from being "Well if our 1 line of code that jacks up damage makes something too hard they can just switch back to normal"? Nothing. So now they can get away with being lazy ass FUCKS and not putting any work into it. And that pisses me off. In fact, since you can import your compendium, levels, stats, items etc too overall it's just WAY too fucking easy to cheap it out. It's to the point where you have to exercise so much self control that you may as well be playing the game with house rules that you made up like 1-character run or starting equipment only or whatever the fuck. It's pitiful.
Here I was all ready and willing to play the game again on hard mode, but after this bullshit I can't even be assed anymore. A hard mode should have more work put into it than a line of code that takes 30 minutes to implement. It should be carefully designed, balanced and tested. It should encourage the player to play optimally and to use all of the tools at his disposal to overcome it. It should NOT require the player to limit himself in what he is allowed to do. What you're doing there is abdicating your JOB as the designer and if you're going to do that then you may as well not do anything at all. Furthermore there should ideally be some sort of content-based reward for playing on hard. It doesn't have to be a lot, but something small like a new boss the way DDS did it goes a long way. It can even be something small like new dialogue (such as the ghost in Nocturne that tells you since you picked hard you may never again turn your back on the enemy). If you do something like add an extra dungeon? You've gone far above and beyond. It should NOT be so identical to normal mode that you can switch between the two at any time. THIS is what a hard mode should be. And also what it will never be, ever again. Ever since Innocent Sin, and then Soul Hackers and then this have all turned hard mode into a mere "hack" that you can switch on and off, it's clear what Atlus's position on this is.
They would rather make more money by compromising their games for the benefit of pussies and frauds than make something truly good. And it's only going to get worse from here on out. This state of affairs saddens me greatly. It's sad to see a great and beautiful thing crumble before your eyes. At the very least, I suppose I won't have to be too worried now that Index Media went bankrupt and that Atlus could be bought by *shudder* Square-Enix or Nintendo, since it was already probably all downhill from here anyway. SMTIV has a lot of good SMT mechanics, particularly Nocturne's battle system, that makes it still be pretty good, but ultimately is unworthy of the number it bears. Not to mention pisses me the FUCK off.
Final Verdict: B-
Final Playtime: 108 hours