Welcome back, SMT fans, to another HamburgerTime SMT Let's Play. This time we'll be heading back to the Tokyo Under the Dome for Shin Megami Tensei IV's 2016 sequel-type-thing-but-not-really, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse!
This game, hereafter SMTIVA, isn't a true sequel as much as it is an Alternate Continuity of, specifically, the last third or so of the original, and on the Neutral route specifically. It was written by a largely different team than the original and reveals quite a few things about the setting that either weren't explicitly stated or weren't stated at all in SMTIV. It also happens to be the most polarizing game among fans of the mainline SMT franchise due to a more character-focused narrative, with recurring human party members as opposed to just you, your demons, and some people that betray you later on as is typical. Depending on who you ask, it's either a breath of fresh air from the bleakness and isolation that is typical of the franchise or an irritating Genre Shift that seems like something from a completely different, Lighter and Softer series plonked down into the SMT-verse. I myself am definitely on the "pro" side (hence why I'm doing this blog), but I do think some of the criticisms are valid. Expect a lot of demon jokes about them.
Pretty much everyone agrees the gameplay is aces, though.
So sit back, relax, and let the end begin!
Nanashi: I had such a strange dream last night. I saw the world as it was before I was born, the streets of my city filled with living, thriving people instead of horrible creatures and dead bodies. I saw the nukes fall, and the Firmament rise. And I saw a man who looked just like HIM, the hero, turn to me and address me as "Akira." And I took his hand, as though that strange name was my own...
We open on a building in the desolate, dark streets of Ginza. One of its rooms is lit, and inside we find a teenage boy dozing on a sleeping bag, as a girl the same age watches something on TV. These are, respectively, our player character Nanashi, and Asahi, his stepsister and best friend. Asahi prods Nanashi awake.
Nanashi: Whoa, hey, I'm up, geez! Oh, it's just you. My one constant, such that it is in this rathole. I have no idea why people kept having kids down here.
It's certainly a desolate situation, but the TV brings news of hope. A great hero, Flynn, has appeared from above the Firmament. In no time at all he has established himself as the light in Tokyo's darkness - slaying demons, crippling the crime syndicates that had held a stranglehold on the city, and inspiring the ordinary people that they may someday see then sun once more.
Perhaps you remember him?
Nanashi: Gotta admit, he's a real champ. Heard he put down that Red Knight freak in Tennozu the other day.
As the broadcast ends, a middle-aged man enters, followed by a younger man with a demon in tow. Respectively, these are Nikkari and Manabu, senior demon-hunters and Nanashi and Asahi's mentors. The two teens are hunters-in-training, which mostly entails going on fetch quests and not actually fighting demons. And, wouldn't you know it, they come bearing one now!
Nanashi: Bleh. If they let me actually DO stuff I'm sure I could be on par with Flynn someday. I'd summon creator gods, hell-lords, archangels, even!
Specifically, Nikkari and Manabu have cleared out downtown Ginza of demons, and are sending in Nanashi and Asahi to search for Relics, useful items left over from the fall of civilization that the people of Tokyo, now living in underground shelters, need. So let's hit the streets.
Relics, as you remember, are the Vendor Trash of the game - they're how you make that big Macca. The second one you find here, though, is a bit different.
Nanashi: Score! Smartphone! I could summon demons with this and kick those goddamn angels right out of- aaaaaand it's broken.
Tough break, kid. Finding this phone ends the sequence and sends you back to the building, where Nikkari and Manabu regale our two rapscallions with a history lesson - the end of human civilization.
In 2013 AD, the world wasn't exactly in tip-top shape, but there was some semblance of normalcy. Then, out of nowhere, hideous creatures straight out of myths and legends appeared - demons. Every nation blamed every other nation for their appearance, and soon, global nuclear war resulted. The only significant city to survive was Tokyo, thanks to its patron god, the Earth Spirit Masakado, who shielded the city by becoming the great dome that now covers it. Over time, rumors began to spread that the true instigators of the war were angels, and thus the war came to be known as "God's Plan." Over several years, the people of Tokyo tunneled to the other side of the Firmament via the Tokyo Sky Tower - only to inexplicably find a thriving civilization, already centuries old, on the other side. A kingdom ruled by the selfsame angels said to have caused the war, who chased the Tokyoites back into the darkness.
So yes, they gave you the story you needed to buy the very last DLC for in the original at the very beginning.
With that out of the way, the two Hunters and their cadets return to their home base, the Kinshicho Underground District, with Nikkari having to kill a Fomorian demon that appears to threaten the entrance guard.
Nanashi: GEEZ! Never a dull moment around here...
Once inside, you have control of Nanashi. The underground districts here work just like the ones in SMTIV, with a bar where you can heal, a weapon shop that isn't open yet, and item shop to hock relics at, and NPCs to talk to - though at this point most of them say the same things, about how all of Tokyo is putting its faith in Flynn. There's nothing to do now apart from talking except heading to the southeast stairwell, through the underground passage (you can raid the supply cache for some essential Medicine that would no doubt have saved many lives, you ass), and then head up the next set of stairs, where Nanashi's bedroom, indicated on the map by a handy flashing flag, awaits.
Nanashi: Another bizarre dream... I saw Fujiwara and Skins, the lead Hunters, but they were so much younger than they are now. They, too, called me "Akira," and I replied to them in a voice that wasn't mine. They were discussing the great war of 25 years ago in some sort of underground base... they mentioned the destruction of "Russia" and "China," and total radio silence from "the United States" - I only vaguely knew these names in my waking life. Then suddenly, on the monitor... that man from my first dream at the Ginza District's central crosswalk, wielding a sword. Then suddenly the sword was in his neck, then suddenly his head was that of a demon, and then the nuke was falling, and then the dome was rising... and silence...
Wow, wonder if that was significant? You can choose whether to tell Asahi about the dream or not, but I'm not sure it affects anything. She reminds you that there's an all-Hunter meeting at the bar soon, so that's your next destination.
Once you arrive there, we're introduced to Asahi's father and Nanashi's adoptive father, who is the head Kinshicho Hunter and is known only as "Boss." He's very protective of them. With pleasantries exchanged, the broadcast from Shinjuku begins. We see Fujiwara and Skins' present-day selves, who give the hunters a briefing on the current state of affairs in Tokyo. All-out war between angels and demons is brewing; Merkabah, the head angel, has taken control of the Sky Tower and is launching an assault to exterminate Tokyo. Opposed to him is the Demon Lord Lucifer, who has commandeered Camp Ichigaya - and, of course, neither cares one iota about the civilians caught in the crossfire. Tokyo's only hope is Flynn, and all Hunters must support him!
Nanashi: This Flynn stuff's even sucking ME in... Can't let 'em know that, though.
After the broadcast ends, Nanashi and Asahi meet up with Nikkari and Manabu again, who have a new mission for them - a food supply run. You can tell them about the dream for some interesting information, namely that "Akira" was the name of an infamous traitor to the Hunters, a form colleague of Fujiwara, Skins, and Nikkari himself during the war who sold them out to the angels and went to live in the kingdom atop the ceiling.
The food supply run takes place in Kinshi Park, just through the north exit of the underground district. Nikkari has a little surprise for the two young Hunters - this will be their first day of formal combat training!
Nanashi: Holy SHIT yes!
The demons around here are very weak, so it's an ideal place to practice. In fact, for this sequence (and ONLY this sequence), the only enemy encounters around here are Katakirauwa, a type of weak pig-like demon commonly hunted for food by Tokyoites. They are The Goomba to end all Goombas, weak to everything except Gun skills and Darkness, including basic physical attacks! This fills you in on the details of the Press Turn system which is identical to SMTIV's... with one notable exception. SMTIV's infamous Smirk buff, which gives you a chance at a MASSIVE boost upon striking an enemy weakness or getting a Critical Hit, has been noticeably depowered. It still boosts your attack power, guarantees a Critical Hit, and makes it so your weakness can't be hit, BUT it no longer boosts your dodge rate and can be removed if you get hit by an Ailment skill. With that out of the way, carve dem porkers, Nanashi!
Nanashi: That's it? That's all a demon is? What's everyone so scared of?
Kill three Katakirauwa, then head to the fountain to meet up with Nikkari again. Your conversation will be rudely interrupted by a gathering of demons, led by a huge one who looks like an upright donkey with a peacock tail.
Nanashi: Uuuuuuhhhhhh is this bad? He looks... stronger than the pigs...
The demon leader identifies himself as Adramelech, one of Lucifer's elite knights. He's come here to survey the angels at the nearby Sky Tower, but he's found himself a bit peckish and wants some tasty human. You're launched into a battle with him and his Horde!
Nanashi: Wait what? I didn't, this is- GYAAAAAAAAAA!
Nanashi is hit with a tremendous burst of fire! Adramelech aims another blast at Asahi, but Manabu pushes her out of the way and gets flambeed for his trouble.
Nanashi: Oh God, oh God... Manabu... I've known him my whole life... AUGH THAT SMELL, this pain, I'm gonna hurl...
Nikkari attacks Adramelech, burring his knife in the demon knight's neck. Adramelech is less then impressed. He aims another burst of fire at Nanashi, who is shoved out of the way by Nikkari, who takes the full brunt of the attack and perishes.
What, you thought those two were going to live? In a JRPG?
Nanashi: No no no no no no no no this isn't real this isn't FUCKING real... Nikkari, Manabu, can't stand... hurts... too much...
Adramelech mocks Nanashi as the demon steps forward... and tears the poor kid's torso open.
Nanashi: And that... was how I died. Unmourned, unloved, just another casualty of the world as it is... now... Asa...hi...
Well that sure was a short game, huh?