Shin Megami Tensei 4 Apocalypse

Before writing about Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse, I tried to go refresh myself on what I wrote about Shin Megami Tensei 4. Turns out, I didn’t write anything. Or if I did, I somehow failed to post it. (I really should check my old laptop to see if I have any unposted stuff still on there). What I remember of that game, which I played more than five years ago, was that it was very ambitious and engrossing but had some balance issues and a chore of an ending. My thoughts are more vague than specific. Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse is something of sequel/expansion to that game, and while it fits inelegantly with the previous game storywise, it irons out some of the gameplay flaws.

As far as the battle system goes, Apocalypse continues to refine and perfect the press turn system that was first used in Nocturne and refined through the Digital Devil Saga games through SMT4, with similar systems also found in plenty of the spin-offs. It is a good system. Hitting a enemies weak point gives the player’s party another turn. Unfortunately, the enemies can do the same. So it is a game all about finding and exploiting weaknesses. It also has the Smirk mechanic from 4, where occasionally critical hits or hitting weaknesses powers up the next hit, guaranteeing a critical hit or giving certain attacks new properties. It makes for a battle system that is prone to big swings in momentum, where good play can almost make it impossible for enemies to git hits in, but a bad matchup for the hero might result in a quick, helpless game over. However, the game allows the player to retry after a loss and is generally pretty friendly in ways that this series almost never is. It is hard to describe just how good this game feels.

One mechanic that never works as well as this series wants it to is demon conversations. To recruit new demons, you have to talk to them in during battles. In order to keep the conversations from being repetitive, the game somewhat randomizes the monsters’ responses. There is no good way for this system to work. If all the same kinds of monsters respond the same way each time, the system is pointless and easily exploitable. If they don’t respond the same way, the whole thing is arbitrary. I know that demon conversations are a favorite of some players; I think they are a great idea that hasn’t worked yet. Luckily, Apocalypse smooths things out by giving the player experience from the conversations, meaning that the attempt no longer wastes opportunity to level up. I don’t recall if this was how it was in SMT4, but I know it wasn’t in Strange Journey.

Also, demon fusion is still great. It might even be too easy and intuitive now, but that isn’t a real complaint. It is always fun.

Where the game kind of falters is in the story. Apocalypse is very ‘anime,’ in a way that is incongruous with SMT4, which as already pretty anime. While the battle party consists of demons, the adventuring party is filled with teens and pre-teens. Including a pre-teen girl that spends half the game calling the protagonist master. It is uncomfortable. It isn’t that they are bad characters necessarily, but at no point did I find them really engaging. I wanted to see more of the world, but I didn’t care at all about the characters or their struggles.

There is also a simplifying of themes. People with a better grasp of Japanese politics that I noted some uncomfortable undertones to the previous game. This game replaces the philosophical tragedy of the previous games with childish nonsense. It comes down to the power of friendship. SMT4 was already a step back for the series along those lines, this game feels like a leap further down the road. It wouldn’t be that big a deal, except for this game’s plot is shoved into the back third of the original SMT4. So the new characters and stuff need to mix with the previous stuff and they really don’t.

The more Shin Megami Tensei games I play, the less special they feel. This is the first time that one of them felt so pedestrian. I liked the game. I played it for nearly fifty hours, I enjoyed the vast majority of my time with the game. But it really didn’t feel special. Maybe that is because it is so similar to SMT4. I don’t know. Shin Megami Tensei 4 Apocalypse is a very well made jrpg, but while I appreciate it on a mechanical level, it didn’t really engage me.

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Now Playing March 2019

Beaten

Etrian Odyssey Nexus – post coming soon. Great farewell to the series and essentially to the 3DS.

Beyond Good and Evil –

I am not going to beat this game. Not this time through. There is a lot about this game that it still admirable. It is one of the better Zelda-likes of the PS2 era. But the game is just a touch clunkier to play than I remembered. Camera problems abound. The idea of Zelda with an active partner is a great one, but block pushing puzzles do not need the added hassle of waiting for the AI to come help push. I am about halfway through the game and I am simply done with it right now.

Ongoing

Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse –

I am giving this another shot and this time I am making some progress. I was going to compare it to my thoughts on the original Shin Megami Tensei 4, but apparently I never wrote about it. And honestly, other than remembering really liking it, I can’t recall too many details. Apocalypse falls into that void of memory even as I play it. That might not be fair to a game I started nearly two years ago, did all the foundational parts and then put down. I enjoy Apocalypse while I play it, but once I put it down for any length of time I forget what I was doing as soon as I pick it up. Still, this time I am intending to stick with it until I beat the game. Maybe it will have left some kind of real impression by then.

Dragon Quest XI – I didn’t play a lot of Dragon Quest XI last month, but I am still loving all the time I am able to put into it. This is a great game and if it keeps up this level of quality it deserved to be remembered with Dragon Quest V as one of the best in the series.

Upcoming

Disney’s Epic Mickey – If I ever get any time to play video games again, I still intend to finally get around to finishing this game. Maybe it’s not worth it, but I genuinely want to get to the last third or so of this game.

Yakuza 3 – Again, I still want to play this, but I just don’t have any time to actually play video games right now. Maybe I should abandon my plan to replay the whole series to build up to Yakuza 6 and just play Yakuza 6.

Monster Hunter Generations – My brother called me and suggested playing some Monster Hunter. So we are going to play this some. Honestly, there is a lot of this game I never experienced. I kind of only beat this one halfway, so going back to it gives me the chance to really dig into the back half of Monster Hunter Generations.

Chrono Trigger – I’ve been feeling the need to play Chrono Trigger, so I think I might give it another run through, at least to a point to get another ending on my DS game file. Maybe I’ll finally do the added dungeon in that game.

Now Playing July 2018

Beaten

New Super Mario Bros U – I finally finished it up. I should have a post ready to go up soon. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this, which says a lot when I went in expecting to enjoy it.

Pokemon Ultra Sunread review here.

Ongoing

River City Knights of Justice – I had a long car ride and I had finished Pokemon and hit a snag on the next game I am trying to work through (see below), so I fired up River City Knights of Justice, the beat-em-up from a couple years ago that was a spin off River City Ransom, maybe my favorite game of all time, and set in a fantasy world. It is fine, but somehow also completely unsatisfying. It shouldn’t take me long to finish this, I think I am nearing the end, and will post my complete thoughts on the game somehow next month.

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers – I don’t know if I ever posted it, but I started something about the giant stack of unbeaten Shin Megami Tensei games I have sitting around a couple of years ago and was planning to make a genuine effort to beat them. Since then, I think I’ve beaten two of them, including the newly released Persona 5. The games in this mega-series tend to be long and challenging, not something that a person can just play. But I pulled this out while searching around for a new to play on my 3DS. While I am only three or four hours into it, I like it so far. It is clearly a much earlier game in the series than what I am used to, so plenty of the streamlining that has made the games more playable are not present here. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just a little more cumbersome than most 3DS games. It is definitely a SMT game. You recruit demons and fight through first person dungeons. The odd thing here is that the main character doesn’t have any magic. Which means that the magic stat for him is all but useless and cutting down build possibilities for the one character you get to make choices about down to nil. Still, so far it has been a good time, though I frequently I am not sure exactly where it wants me to go.

Suikoden V – I made a little progress and another post is coming about this game. I love this game.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy – I started this up again a few months ago, but I intend to speed through this sooner rather than later.

Yakuza – Probably Yakuza 0, but I’ve also got Kiwami and 6 ready to go. I plan to get my PS4 back from my brother, after only 9 months, and I’m itching for the unique menacing goofiness of the Yakuza series.

Persona Q

I love Persona 3 and Persona 4. They are some of my favorite games on the PS2, well-realized on both the gameplay and story sides of things. I also have greatly enjoyed the Etrian Odyssey series on the DS and 3DS. Though the two series are plenty different, such as Persona’s incredibly well written characters and Etrian Odyssey’s player created blank slates, they also have significant overlap. Both are fairly difficult dungeon crawlers, imbued with an old school sensibility that forces players to fend for themselves at times. The announcement that Atlus was making a game that combined the gameplay of Etrian Odyssey with the characters from those two Persona games was about the best thing I could imagine. While the end result was an excellent game, it didn’t quite live up to my exaggerated expectations. Everything combined nicely, except for the cast. There are just too many characters there for any of them to get their due. Persona Q: Shadows of the Labyrinth expertly turns the various systems of both Persona and Etrian Odyssey into an engaging gameplay experience, but can’t quite make room for all the characters in the story.

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The battle system is an odd mix of the two series. It has the Shin Megami Tensei series’ elements and focus on hitting weakness, but also Etrian’s binds. It uses Personas, but not in the same way that rest of the series does. Each character has their set Persona, but each character is allowed a secondary Persona. They don’t alter stats or anything like that; they are simply receptacles for extra skills and a slight HP/TP boost. The boost is the biggest quirk of the battle system. The bonus HP/TP regenerates at the end of every battle. It incentivizes using some skills in every battle, but not going all out. It is best to use one strong skill, which is essentially free, and finish battles quickly rather than get drawn into a long battle. The boss battles turn things on their head, though. Instead of quickly know outs, they are going to be long drawn out fights. They tend to be more frustrating than fun, since you have to change your strategy around completely to make it work.

It is a battle system prone to wide swings in momentum. Critical hits or hitting a weakness gives that character a free use of a skill. If you can consistently hit weakness the battle turns in your favor, if not you drain your resources very quickly. It can be frustrating, when only a few battles sends you back to heal up, but when things are going right it is quite satisfying. Also, instant death magic in this game is stupidly overpowered. To make the majority of a breeze, just jam Naoto, who has both flavors of instant death magic, into your party and obliterate everything in your path. Combine it with the skill impure reach, easily available at low levels, and she destroys the game by herself. It makes it hard to look at anything else when one strategy is so overwhelmingly effective.

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The dungeon crawling is the best in any of the Etrian games, better than those in Strange Journey, the DS attempt at a similar style game. Each floor brings a new and tougher puzzle. In terms of complexity, Persona Q’s floors start out near the middle of an Etrian game and work up from there. They tend to be very windy with specific puzzles rooms. The difficulty of the puzzles depends on the player’s fear of the FOEs. The game conditions players to fear them, but often if you treat them like a boss battle the FOEs can usually be defeated. They tend to hand out both drops for good equipment and a healthy chunk of experience, making it worth the player’s time.

The story is the big disappointment with game is the story. I came in wanting to enjoy it, expecting to enjoy it. And to a certain extent it is. The central storyline, that of Rei and Zen and why the two teams are stuck in the dungeon is solid. Nothing too unexpected or groundbreaking, but it is a solid enough foundation to build this story on. The problem is with the characters. All of the returning characters from Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, in their own games, great characters. Combined, however, there are just too many of them, so none of them can get enough focus to feel real. It doesn’t help that none of them can actually change, since they have to go back into their own games from right where they disappeared.

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Really, there are just too many characters around. Only 5 can go in the party at once, but all 17 them talk as though you brought them along in the dungeon. So the whole cast gets reduced to one drop in characteristic. Teddy is after the girls, that is his only motivation. Chie likes meat, Akihiko protein and Rise the P4 MC. Some of them do come off better than others, though. Little Ken from P3 strikes up an unlikely friendship with P4’s Kanji. Occasionally Mitsuru gets through an uncharacteristic fun. Aigis was never my favorite character, but here her robot act, as overplayed as it is, is a fun counterpoint to the rest of the game. For the most part, the one-note cliché’s the characters are reduced to drop in far too often to to interrupt the player’s progress through the dungeons. A few times is okay, but it is constant and unceasing, making what should be a delight something that is more than a little frustrating.

The last problem with the game is that it hangs around just a little too long. Persona Q took me about sixty hours to beat, but I stopped enjoying it after about forty five. I trudged through the last dungeon, which is fine on its own merits, continuing with the game out of a stubborn desire to not let the game beat me. I should have just let it go; I would likely have remembered it better. Now that I’ve beaten it, I like it again, but I don’t love it. If I were to redo my Top 10 list from last year, it would either move from where I put it at to slot 10 or just off the list at 11, or maybe just stay where it was. Persona Q: Shadow if the Labyrinth is as good as anyone should have expected it to be, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get my hopes up way too high and set myself up for some slight disappointment.

Surviving Another Week in Tokyo

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It is rare that a game improves on all of the faults of its predecessor and still doesn’t feel like an appreciably better game.  Devil Survivor 2 manages to achieve this feat.  Nearly all the problems I had with the first Devil Survivor are eliminated or lessened, but I didn’t really like DS2 any more than I liked DS1.  I did like DS1; it was often frustrating but the core gameplay was solid and the story was decent enough.  Devil Survivor 2 doesn’t greatly shake things up, it merely sands down all the little problems that held back the first game, without introducing new problems to replace them and still manages to not really be an improvement.

One of the problems I had with DS1 was that I constantly felt lost.  I couldn’t easily judge if I was spending my limited time effectively.  The game takes place over a week and the clock moves with each scene you trigger, so you have decide which story paths to follow.  This same system is in place in Devil Survivor 2, but the game does a better job of communicating your progress and the relative importance of each scene.  Maybe that was because I was quicker to turn to a walkthrough when I was struggling, but DS2 does make some changes to make things easier.  There are fewer time dependent missions that could result in the loss of a character.  Plus, the game now has a system to tell the player how they stand with the rest of the cast.  It is similar to Persona’s S-Links, but much less integral to the game until the end.  The extra scenes are mostly just get to know the other characters and build a relationship with them.  It just makes things easier.

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Another way the first game made me feel lost was with its lack of a compendium.  You could buy and fuse all the demons you wanted to, but once you fused it, it was gone forever.  So if you managed to fuse a demon with a great combination of skills, or even one skill that you wanted to move to another demon, you only had once chance to do it.  Devil Survivor 2 adds a compendium, but it barely fixes the problem, since it is so expensive that you can hardly use it.  On replays the cost can come down, but by then it isn’t as needed.  Still, its very existence is an improvement.

Possibly the biggest annoyance on the gameplay side of playing Devil Survivor were missions with NPCs, because those NPCs were completely suicidal.  They would either charge into enemies or simply fail to even attempt to escape, resulting in game overs for the player no matter what they did.  Devil Survivor 2 has much fewer escort missions, fewer NPCs and the NPCs it does have tend to be sturdier and smarter.  Really, just eliminating most of those sorts of battles is a big improvement.

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With all of these improvement, then why isn’t the game anymore fun?  The biggest reason is that the story is stupendously inconsistent.  Sometimes you see a scene about people starving, a couple hours or later you are having a feast to celebrate a victory.  One scene talks about how powerful and dangerous some sealed demons are, in another a party member beats one of those demons into submission with a laptop.  The story in DS1 wasn’t any great shakes either, keeping most of the cast hidden for the first couple of days and making it hard to get a read on anybody other than Atsuro and Yuzu.  I don’t remember the tone being that all over the place though.  The tonal inconsistency of Devil Survivor 2 really kills the game.

I tend to be harsher on games in the Shin Megami Tensei mega series that I am of other games because the bar has been set so high.  It is the difference between Sonic Generations and New Super Mario Bros 2.  I would call NSMB2 the better game, but it feels worse because every other Mario game is better.  Sonic Generations, though, it the best game in its series in a decade or so, so the fault with it are easier to dismiss.  That is how I feel about the Devil Survivor games.  They aren’t as good as many of the other SMT games, but they are still better than most of the other games available.

I’ll Face Myself

p4a

Last summer, for about two months I developed an intense infatuation with fighting games. They were all I played. I wrote a couple of blog posts about them, but apparently never managed to get them posted. Maybe I still have them somewhere, outlining my thoughts on about a half dozen different games, from my ineffectual struggles to become competent at King of Fighters XIII to my drunken mastery of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 to my surprising indifference to Street Fighter 4. Also, my thoughts on the surprisingly single player focused Persona 4 Arena.

I like fighting games, but I am no damn good at them. In fact, with a few exceptions I am downright terrible at them. I was quite good at Soul Calibur 2 at one point and with great effort I’ve managed to attain a level of skill at King of Fighters XI and XIII that I’d call “not embarrassing.” Otherwise, though, I am generally very bad. Still, I love the genre. The simple concept mixed with deep mechanics is interesting to me, even if I am unable to master those mechanics. Plus, they tend have some the most colorful characters and absurdly nonsensical stories around. Persona 4 Arena has a colorful story but not a nonsensical one. For a fighting game fan who is inept enough to unable to really play other people, P4A is just about perfect.

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Persona 4 Arena is an extremely accessible fighting game. With its auto-combos and mobile characters, it is very easy to play. It verges on being as much as a button masher as Smash Brothers, but its simplistic surface hides a fighting system with significant depth. Again, I am no expert at exploiting those systems, but I can see them. What is amazing to me is how this game was constructed. Nearly all mechanics in this system are adapted from the Persona RPGs battle system. The Persona’s become some sort of Strikers, popping in to deliver special attacks. Status effects abound, with mute sealing off all attacks that use a persona and poison slowly draining a player’s life bar. On top of that, it does a great job of letting each character’s personality show through their attacks, from Teddy’s goofiness to Kanji’s formless brutality. The game is easy to pick up and play, but there is enough depth for fans of the genre to sink their teeth into.

The big draw, at least for fans of the Persona series, is the story. The story in P4A is a fine, if inessential, addition and an effective bridge between P3 and P4. It plays out largely like a dungeon in Persona 4. Someone is trapped in the TV world, and the investigation team is drawn in to find them. At the same time, part of the crew from Persona 3 ventures in to the TV, chasing a disturbance, which is obviously the same person that the other crew is after. That person turns out to be a prototype of the same kind of robot as Aigis. With help from the other characters, this new robot, Labrys, manages to face her shadow and overcome her problems. Still, the group doesn’t find out who put Labrys in the TV in the first place, leaving a hook for the sequel that I didn’t expect to ever come, though I have been proved wrong.

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I was surprised that I didn’t hate Labrys. One of the things I liked about Persona 4 in comparison to Persona 3 was that it didn’t have any ridiculous stuff like persona using dogs or shadow fighting robots. Not that I didn’t like Koromaru and Aigis, but their presence kept P3 from having the verisimilitude that P4 had. When I saw that the first thing P4A did was add a robot to the P4 cast I was a little annoyed. After playing it, though, I found it worked well to bridge the two games. The P4 cast would show up when anybody appeared in the TV, finding a stolen, supposedly failed, prototype gives the P3 cast a reason to come running and join the other cast. Plus, Labrys’ story makes for a fine justification for the fighting nature of the story.

Honestly, it was just good to see the P4 cast again. I was much more attached to them than the P3 cast, plus they were fresher in my mind. I actually bought the friendships between characters like Chie, Yosuke and Yukiko. Other than their relationships with the protagonist, I don’t remember that camaraderie between the P3 characters. Did Aigis ever have a conversation with Akihiko? I don’t remember. While this game’s story is not perfect, I was happy for any excuse to see these characters together again.

As fanservice, P4A is basically perfect. It is a fun, accessible fighting game that exists mostly to provide an excuse to revisit the one of the most enthralling worlds to have ever existed in a JRPG. Shockingly, it also succeeds at being a solid fighting game too. It’s story mode it absurdly wordy, but it gives the fans what they want. I am eager to play the sequel, though I am unlikely to drop sixty bones on it.

A Strange Journey

I had what I thought was a great idea to play through Persona 3 or 4 over the course of a year, beginning on the date when the game begins and playing a week at a time.  I was going to have a weekly update on the blog here of what I accomplished that week and my general impressions of the game.  Not the most original idea, I know, but I thought it sounded like a fun way to replay one of favorite PS2 games.

That plan fell through.  One reason why was because I didn’t get started in time; I missed the date that either game starts on.  That was not an insurmountable problem; I still could have played a couple of weeks to get caught up and went on from there.  But I also couldn’t decide which of the two games to replay.  I like Persona 4 more, but I’d kind of like a second go at Persona 3 now that I am more familiar with how the Shin Megami Tensei series works.  Again, a problem I could have easily solved.  Another reason I held off was that I wanted to have a way to get some screencaps of the game while I played.  I wasn’t planning to do a full on let’s play or anything, but a couple of shots a week to demonstrate things would have been nice.  I do want to get some kind of capture device on the near future, but I have no definite plans.  Or money for that matter.  That was the big one.  If I am going to devote a year to a project like that, I’d like to do it well.

There is another reason that greatly trumps those three reason for me giving up, or at least delaying, this Persona project.  That reason can be summed up with one picture:

That is my pile of unbeaten Shin Megami Tensei games; there are 9 of them if you add in my PSN copy of Persona 2 Eternal Punishment.  Some of them I’ve not played, like Digital Devil Saga 2 and Soul Hackers.  Others I’ve played quite a bit but haven’t quite beaten, Persona 4 Arena and Devil Survivor 2.  Going off of Howlongtobeat.com, I’ve got about 300 hours of video games in that stack.  I find it hard to justify playing through either of the Persona games again when I haven’t yet played Nocturne.

So now my plan is to try to beat all of those games over the next year, in time to start a Persona replay at the correct date.  I’ve made plans to beat a series of games over the course of a year before (see my still ongoing replay of the Zelda series), but this time it is less of a concrete project and more just making these games a priority.  I’ve enjoyed every SMT game I’ve played so far, but they take so long that I kind of have to set aside time to play them.  First up, I am going to finish the single player of P4A.  I’ve already cleared it as several characters, but I want to try to do with all of them.  It shouldn’t take all that long, but it isn’t exactly fast.  Also, I am going to put a little more time into Devil Survivor 2.  I’ve been playing it some recently, but not putting any serious effort into it.  And these games generally require some effort.  That is part of what makes them great.

While I’ve become a big fan of this series, and all its various sub-series, I haven’t been aware of it for all that long.  The first Shin Megami Tensei game I played was Persona 3.  I bought the FES re-release after hearing the internet gush about the game forever.  I loved it, despite some niggling complaints, mostly about having to rely on AI party members for healing.  There was a notable flaw in the AI that if you were poisoned, they wouldn’t heal it unless you were at full HP.  So every turn they heal your HP, but leave you poisoned so they would have to do the same thing in the next round.  Still, once you learned the idiosyncrasies of the system it was particularly fulfilling.  Persona 3 was not exactly punishingly difficult, but it did keep players on their toes.  The player had to be wary or it would be game over.  After years of Square’s fun but generally toothless RPGS, Persona 3 was a big change and a refreshing one.  I was hooked.

So I looked into the series and tracked down a couple of other SMT games, Digital Devil Saga and Devil Summoner for the PS2, figuring they would keep me busy while I waited for Persona 4.  Neither of them really grabbed me like Persona.  I loved their settings, especially Devil Summoner, but they each had their faults.  I wasn’t a big fan of DDS’s character building system or how it really felt like only half of a game.  It was half of a game that took me fifty hours, but it definitely feels incomplete.  Still, the battle system, which was largely similar to Persona 3’s, with an emphasis on hitting enemy weaknesses for more turns, was largely great.  Devil Summoner’s battle system, though, was limited.  It was an action RPG, but none of the fights were significantly different than any other.  It was all dodge and slash and having the right element.  Fun initially, but repetitive.  Despite not really loving either of those games, I was hooked on the series at this point.

From Persona 4 on a new SMT game was something I greatly looked forward to.  Which is strange, since I’ve only finished two games in the series since then.  I’ve pre-ordered most of them, aside from the PSP games since I didn’t have the system until recently, and spent a lot of time tracking down Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga 2.  But I’ve only managed to finish the first Devil Survivor and Shin Megami Tensei 4.  Though I enjoyed it, Devil Survivor frequently paralyzed me by giving me many choices and no clear idea of their consequences.  It also ended up taking me a long time to beat, which meant that I didn’t end up getting to Strange Journey or even Devil Survivor 2 when they came out.  I have played those two games, getting probably halfway through each of them. SMT 4 was one of my favorite and most anticipated games of last year.  I wasn’t letting anything put me off of playing it.

Shin Megami Tensei games are a constant struggle; that is part of their charm.  They are generally fair in their challenge, but also unrelenting.  Much like Etrian Odyssey, they require players to learn their systems and to exploit those systems.  The enemies will do the same. You have to learn and take advantage of enemies’ weaknesses while covering your own.  The general idea of hitting a weak point for a turn advantage is carried across the series.

The other big draw is how the series makes use of a wide variety of myths and legends to fill out its roster of enemies and allies. They are called Demons general, but they run the gamut from Japanese demons to Celtic heroes to Christian Angels.  But it also uses them as characters in the stories. They aren’t embarrassingly re-imagined like Final Fantasy’s summons (I’m looking at you Shiva) but they are sometimes re-contextualized in a modern setting.  Still, having knowledge of the myth that each creature springs from helps to understand where characters are coming from.  In Persona, a characters persona tells you about their character.  For instance, Persona 3’s protagonist starts with the persona Orpheus, who in the myth went to Hades to save his dead lover, and eventually becomes Thanatos, who is death incarnate.  The game doesn’t just assume you know this stuff, though it doesn’t go out of to inform you either.  Most games have a compendium, a list of all the demons you’ve encountered, that will give you information about them.  That will tell you most of what you need to know.  Having a basis in real myth gives the stories of these games another level that most RPGs lack.  Sure, many of them end up being little more than the typical anime nonsense, but at least there is something going on rather than just blindly hitting all the otaku pleasing tropes.

So I am going to try to get back to Persona 4 Arena soon.  I’m not doing much else with my PS3 right now, though I don’t get a lot of time for games on the TV.  I am also going to try to power through the rest of Devil Survivor 2 soon as well.  That would be a good start, but I doubt I’ll ever be actually caught up on this series.  I expect to see Persona Q here a few months after its Japanese release in June, and Persona 5 is looking to be the big send off for the PS3 some time next year.  Staying on top of this series is a never ending battle, but a worthy one.

SMT Devil Survivor, with no “witty” title

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor is a game that, on paper at least, I should really enjoy.  I like strategy RPGs, I like Shin Megami Tensei and its rock/paper/scissors-esque battle system, and I like games with branching paths and different endings.  However, despite being made up almost entirely of things I like, Devil Survivor ended up being much more frustrating than fun.

It took me a while to figure out just why that is. It wasn’t because it is difficult.  I’ve played harder games than Devil Survivor, and though it was far from easy, Devil Survivor was far from too hard.  Actually, the difficulty is just about right.  It wasn’t the at times off putting character designs and characters.  Yeah, Yuzu’s boobs are weird and she’s kind of annoying, but for the most part the story stuff is pretty good.  After beating the game (taking Amane’s route out of necessity rather than choice) and thinking on it for a while I’ve realized what the problem it.  Devil Survivor needs a map.

I don’t mean an explorable map, like DQ VIII and nearly every other classic RPG.  That is not part of the game for a reason; it simply does not fit with what the game is doing.  I don’t necessarily mean a true map.  I just want some way of navigating the various game systems. I want a map of map of each character’s progress, some way of charting my progress towards the various endings.  Chrono Trigger had multiple endings, but its endings are dependent on big obvious things.  It is never hard to tell what ending you are going to get.  I don’t mind making tough decisions with real impact in games like this, I just want to know that I’m making such a decision.  With Devil Survivor, I really never knew where I stood.  I decided early on which ending I wanted to get: Atsuro’s.  I kissed his ass for four or so days in the game, only to get to Day 7 and realize that somehow I failed to unlock his ending.  I only had Amane’s and Yuzu’s endings to choose from. It was frustrating, and that frustration could have easily been avoided with a touch of transparency on the game’s part letting me know how about my progress.

It is not just in the story mechanics that need a map.  Even though Devil Survivor has the SMT series’ usual collection of demons, it lack the usual compendium.  The player can’t catalog and buy back old demons.  That makes the fusing process a constant move forward.  It doesn’t make it impossible to repeat specific builds, it doesn’t really even make it harder to do so, it merely makes it a longer more tedious process to do so.  Also, you can’t just look through a list for the demons with the right attributes for a tough battle, you have to get lucky with the auction house or fusing.  Just as with the story, Devil Survivor’s party building mechanics drops the player into the wilderness with no way to find their way around.  And for me at least, that is a big problem.

I love maps.  I doubt I would have enjoyed Super Metroid or Ocarina of Time without them.  I loved drawing maps in the Etrian Odyssey series.  Those are literal maps, sure, but the concept is the same.  I like to see where I have been and plan out where I am going.  Radiant Historia uses a timeline so the player knows where and when they are in the game’s time traveling, reality switching story.  Throughout almost all of Devil Survivor, I felt lost and I hated it. Which is sad, because otherwise it is a really good game.