For the past few weeks, I’ve been recommending games from the Persona and Shin Megami Tensei series for those who have just finished Persona 5 as their very first Persona title. I’ve been selecting games that have similar gameplay elements to Persona 5. These titles are more accessible, both in terms of design and availability; I don’t expect a lot of people to go out of their way to buy a Super Famicom and learn Japanese to play Shin Megami Tensei II after all. Ideally, more people will be interested enough in Personaor Shin Megami Tensei after trying all of these recommendations to the point where they’ll find a way to play older titles like the Persona 2 duology or the original Shin Megami Tensei. Perhaps they would even express interest in these games being more readily available on current platforms. That’s kind of beyond the scope of these articles, so for now, we’ll wrap it up with this final recommendation, which deviates the most from Persona 5 out of the four recommendations I made.
Unlike Nocturne, which was a bleeding-edge attempt to make a 3D Shin Megami Tensei game with wildly different cultural influences, Shin Megami Tensei IV is an homage of sorts to the original Shin Megami Tensei on the Super Nintendo and as such, made its way onto the Nintendo 3DS.
The game follows the protagonist Flynn, a newly-recruited samurai in the medieval nation of Mikado, who is tasked to pursue the Black Samurai, a mysterious figure who has been corrupting his countrymen with forbidden knowledge.
In some ways, it’s more accessible than Nocturne with the game’s the slightly larger emphasis on supporting characters. Flynn has three companions who have also been drafted, occasionally fighting in the party with him: Jonathan, Walter, and Isabeau. It’s decidedly more easygoing and endearing than one would expect from these kinds of games, where characters are usually emblematic of larger ideals or concepts like Law and Chaos instead of having very detailed motivations or complex arcs. Jonathan, Walter, and Isabeau are essentially stand-ins for these ideals, but at least they have some personality injected into them which makes it easier to relate to them or engage with the story compared to older titles.
When it comes to the gameplay, the Press Turn system is present as most Shin Megami Tensei and Persona games go, but the layout is more akin to the earliest titles in the SMT franchise, framed in first-person enemy encounters. As not much animation is needed due to using sprite art in the first-person instead of 3D models, battles move at a blistering speed. Along with the usual Press Turn mechanics of exploiting weaknesses, there’s also a chance for a demon or Flynn to enter a “Smirk” status, which increases damage and evasion while removing elemental weaknesses. Both the player and the enemy can enter Smirk status, so battles in IV are very momentum-based, which can be very exciting or unpredictable in a way that’s still pretty fair, though enemies can hit like a truck and even sweep the party if they manage to hit anyone with a weakness to their attacks.
This makes managing your demons and their composition a crucial aspect in IV, but fortunately another result of not needing to animate nearly as many unique 3D assets is that the developers were able to include a staggering 400 demons into the game. This grants a lot of freedom in how the player decides to proceed in the game. I wouldn’t exactly say battles are harder than Nocturne, but the game has its own fair share of punishing moments, and the awe-inspiring flexibility of the amount of compositions you can create with your party can be a bit overwhelming to say the least if you’re not used to the series as a whole.
So Shin Megami Tensei IV, with its tonal accessibility mixed with decidedly old-school design updated to more modern standards, can be a bit of a mixed bag for some people, especially for anyone who really prizes the aesthetic of Persona 5 as a major reason for playing it. Even so, I would certainly hold Shin Megami Tensei IV up as one of the finest RPGs in the genre, like the other titles mentioned earlier.
Shin Megami Tensei IV is available on the Nintendo 3DS, and also has a direct sequel, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, which takes place in one of the continuities possible near the end of IV.
The titles we’ve talked about over the past few weeks are all great ways to introduce players to the larger scope of the Megami Tensei games, and they might help players appreciate Persona 5 even more as a game that seems to take the best of both franchises. And while we haven’t heard a lot about it recently, there’s also Shin Megami Tensei V on the way for the Nintendo Switch, so it wouldn’t hurt to check out some SMT so you know where V is coming from.
As always, if you’ve never played one of these games before, let us know about which ones you’re most interested in and certainly tell us if you ended up giving it a go because of these articles. I’d certainly be very glad if you gave them a shot and enjoyed them as much as I did. Cheers.
Ming Dao Lui is a writer who wrote one too many "video games as art" think pieces in his college days and enjoys watching films when he isn't raiding.