Post-Mortem: Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

 

 

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I love SMT, a lot. I’ve played, *deep breath*, I, II, III, Raidou 1 &2, Devil Summoner, Soul Hackers, DemiKids Red & Black, Imagine(far more than anyone should and than I dare admit), Strange Journey, you get the idea.

So of course I hit the ground running when Apocalypse came out.

Where does it stand in the pantheon, though?

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Apocalypse has great IDEAS. The theme of a Polytheist alliance banding together to tell Lucifer and YHVH to go kick rocks? Brilliant.

The execution, not so much. The protagonist was deliberately given a younger appearance to lure in… you guessed it, the casuals. In addition, the theme of the POWER OF FRIENDSHIP permeates the entire game. You keep expecting a Social Link… Go? prompt to appear halfway through the game, it’s that blatant.

I’ll give Atlus credit, though. IV:A doesn’t rest on that theme too heavily. Some nasty, nasty things go down in this game. People die in horrifying ways. Tokyo is a twisted place.

Merkabah is a DICK. But it just gives the whole experience constant tonality shifts. Someone dies brutally, but your best friend is totally there with you! Your friends are with you, but Merkabah slaughtered every hunter in range of him with one swing of his Hama-wielding hand.

You get the idea.

Oh, and the DLC…

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Let’s not go there. Apocalypse is a great game, and unlike its predecessor, rarely loses its fangs. It just every so often, sadly, reminds us of what could have and should have been had it committed to the full nine of a proper warring gods SMT experience.

Bears noting: the music is as good as ever. This is now my ringtone.

It may remain as such for months to come.

[Post Mortem] Summon Night 5

I have a friend who describes disappointing or mediocre films as ‘cute’. Probably the only time I’ve heard the word used in a derogatory sense.  Still, it caught on with me. Whenever I play something that I enjoyed, but fell short of being really memorable or gripping, I define it as ‘cute’.

Summon Night 5 is a quintessential cute RPG.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the game. Working Designs’ Victor Ireland handled the localization, so of course the writing is on point. All the characters have great, clearly defined personalities, and witty, enjoyable dialogue.

The problem is they’re in kind of a boring, empty world.

Sure, it’s a well realized world, but there’s not much happening there. A gang is running around kidnapping spirits, and eventually evil nasty critters show up. They die, you go back to your happy life.

What I WILL say in the game’s favor is that it is not easy. Don’t think you can just rush in and steamroll enemies. They have that trademark ‘move too far and everyone blitzes you’ AI. It’s hardly innovative, but it means you won’t be plowing through the game.
The late game in particular, with nigh endless respawning enemies and bosses with massive HP, was incredibly frustrating. If it wasn’t for careful strategy, lots of grinding, and a dash of sheer dumb luck(the weakest character in my team punching the final boss in the face for the killing blow), I’d probably still be playing it.

Let me be clear: Summon Night 5’s a fun world to play around in. It’s just after you visit, you can’t really think of a reason to go back, apart from seeing the other protagonist’s story. The male and female leads are each well fleshed out and have clearly defined personalities as well(always a plus), but again, there isn’t much for them to do besides be the generic anime hero.

There’s nothing wrong with the standard shounen anime, mind you, but wouldn’t you rather be watching something like Fate/Zero instead?

Oh, and by the way:

Best. Fishing game. Ever.

Post-Mortem: Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters

This was a fascinating little game. Sadly it’s also very experimental, and part visual novel, meaning it’s going to get overlooked by reviewers and gamers alike.

TTGH is difficult to classify. It has elements of SRPGs, VNs, and modern occultism.

The big appeal here is the story, because I love modern day plots and the occult, and TTGH has plenty of both.

Aksys’ localization team again prove their work to be some of the best in the industry. Every character’s personality comes through with wit and charisma, and even the less likable characters(Mifune starts out as a total bitch) still come across as fleshed out and well developed.

Sadly, due to the episodic nature of the game, a lot of the more interesting characters wind up resigned to being important in a single chapter, but at least you get to hang out with them at the HQ.

What really brings the game down is the obtuse battle system.

While it makes sense that fighting ghosts should be a difficult venture and they should not be easy to confront, the implementation of it just feels kind of haphazard.

Battles are somewhat like SRPGs such as Eternal Poison and Fire Emblem… in theory.

Movement occurs on the grid, then the actual attacking gets displayed in 3D visualizations.

TTGH uses a very unique graphical style with hand-drawn art animated into short scenes, and it really makes the visuals pop.

It’s just a damn shame that most of the battles boil down to guess work. Maybe the ghost will be there when you attack it, or maybe it’ll move right past you and run into you, negating your turn altogether.

It makes the battles thrilling when your attacks do connect, but insanely frustrating when they don’t. It becomes less about strategy and more about guess work.

Of course, you can easily break the game when you unlock skills like Eagle Eye and buffing, which instantly show you ghosts and let you boost your ATK through the roof, but someone’s bound to get frustrated long before those skills come into play.

If you can adjust to that glaring flaw, then you’re in for one hell of a ghost hunting occult tale, one well worth experiencing again in the future. I can’t say I’ve ever played a game like it, which is usually the highest praise I can offer.

As an aside, although I happen to be straight, I couldn’t help but think that the two gay characters who appear in the game are borderline offensive. They’re caricatures at best, insulting at worst.

Maybe the community wouldn’t take offense by it, but I feel developers can do better than falling into gay stereotypes.

Post-Mortem: Deus Ex – Human Revolution

I didn’t ask for this.

Yeah, Jensen, I know.

Deus Ex HR had a pretty steep climb awaiting it from the get-go. Not only is it the prequel to one of the most beloved(and replayed) PC RPGs of all time(of which I’ll share my thoughts one day), it also follows on the heels of a sequel that was widely disliked at best; more commonly considered an insult to the franchise.

Where Infinity War went wrong(focusing more on action over being an open-ended RPG), HR seeks to stay true to the original. It certainly succeeds. Each level has a wide variety of objectives and methods in which to complete them.

Want to stay unseen, and only crack skulls when absolutely necessary? Adam’s your man.

Want to turn into a mass-murdering vigilante, blowing apart and skewering anyone who dares to cross you? He can do that too.

Apart from getting a little tedious, the gameplay stays enjoyable all the way through. Even the controversial boss fights, while quite difficult, are nothing the protagonist can’t handle without some quick movement and thinking. Well, being armed to the teeth helps as well, but that’s never difficult.

Where HR really shines is, thankfully, the story. As good as the original game’s mechanics were, it was really the story and characters that people often remember. Choices mattered, relationships could change based on how the protagonist acted. The world was believable and thought-provoking.

Human Revolution delivers on all this, too. Where the original game was in a cyberpunk-styled world already sinking into disrepair and ruin, HR takes place in a civilization at the peak of innovation.

There’s chaos on the horizon, though, and it’s clear the utopia isn’t going to last much longer.

The game really glows through character interactions, especially as the protagonist engages in debates with key figures. These verbal conflicts are often more engaging(and challenging) than any of the boss fights, and easily the highlight of an already great game.

Sure, you can augment the protagonist to get additional insight into their minds so you can know how to respond, but where’s the fun in that? (It’s actually quite fun.)

HR was a big success critically and financially, so even though the ending ties smoothly into the original game, hopefully the team at Eidos Montreal find a way to build on the foundation they’ve created.

He might not ask for it, but I will.