The Shin Megami Tensei series is one that has begun to receive a little bit more acclaim in more recent years, thanks in part to the success of Persona 4 Golden on the PS Vita and the release of entries into the franchise on Nintendo’s 3DS. Numerous entries however have eluded western shores for quite some time including the very first title.
First released onto the Super Famicom in 1992 and ported to a number of systems in Japan from the Mega CD to the Playstation, Gameboy Advance and more recently Playstation Network/Virtual Console releases. The title has finally made its way to western lands via the iOS format.
Shin Megami Tensei is an RPG in which you, the hero, must traverse dungeons with a party of up to five others fighting monsters and unraveling the various mysteries. It is set in what was back then modern day Tokyo, in the year 199X and Demons have found their way onto Earth. As the hero you have a few tricks up your sleeve including being able to converse with and even recruit the demons to fight for you via the Devil Summoning Programming you acquire in the early stages of the game.
The first question many will ask when it comes to the game is how does it handle on the iOS format? The answer is incredibly well. However there are a few oddities that may take people some getting used to. First of all to explain how the game works, it is a port from previous versions, not a remake or re-mastered edition, what you see on screen is what those who played on the Famicom, GBA, etc would have played. This means you don’t get fancy touch controls or improvements to the graphics, the game is also controlled via a virtual gamepad, but due to the nature of the game it works because you don’t really require any sort of advanced controls.
There are two modes in which to play, portrait and landscape. My personal preference was portrait as I felt the virtual gamepad looked better in that mode, but it really makes no difference. This is manually set however and not automatically set based on how you are holding your device at the time.
This is where we come to one of the games problems, because this is a direct port of a game made in 1992 we lack a lot of the modern and more user friendly ideas games have today. There is no lengthy tutorial explaining what to do, there are no direction arrows or indicators telling where to go and no proper explanation of controls. There is however a link in game to a website which acts as a user-guide for the title. The major problem with this however is not everyone who uses a tablet or android device uses it in proximity of Wi-Fi nor do they always have 3G/4G enabled devices. What this means is should you download the game and decide to head out for a journey and play it along the way you’re unable to access any proper sort of help for it unless you’re able to get an internet connection.
It’s a minor problem considering the amount of public Wi-Fi available to us all now, the option for tethering on phones, but it is still a possible issue and the decision to make the manual hosted online rather than downloaded along with the game is a somewhat perplexing one.
With this issue aside the game handles fine on the iOS format, it feels natural, nothing feels lost in the transition.
When compared to contemporary titles Shin Megami Tensei feels fairly unique. There are two methods of play, an overworld in which you traverse the city of Tokyo and the dungeon mode in which you traverse dungeons in first person but experience random turn-based battles. The closest modern game I can think of that matches the style, at least as far as the dungeons go would be Legend of Grimrock or Might & Magic X, but even those two have very differing ways of play. Due to this being a game from 1992, it does show its age significantly but it has a particular charm to it and the dungeons do still manage to create a sense of atmosphere. The battles however leave a bit more to be desired, again due to the age of the game there is little going on in a battle beyond your enemy appearing, choosing an attack and so on. There is minimal animation and screen effects but the sprites are nicely drawn and again have this unique style that I’ve only seen in Shin Megami Tensei games.
Unfortunately another significant detail that makes the game show its age is that it can be a bit of a grind-fest at times. There is a difficulty curve here with some of the bosses and of course players will have to do their fair share of grinding, even on the earlier dungeons.
As mentioned the battle system is a mostly turn-based affair but it offers a good amount of flexibility in how you attack even by today’s standards. You can naturally just attack if you desire, you can use magic or guns to attack your enemies or you can make use of the Demon summoning system that the game offers. With this you can recruit demon’s into your party and have them fight for you, or you can negotiate with demons in order to gain resources for your weapons or future summoning. As has become a staple of the SMT games you are not limited to just recruiting and summoning but also a flexible fusing system is offered allowing you to fuse two weaker demons to create a new one.
Another interesting aspect is the ability to shape your characters when they level up. Instead of automatically assigning points you do it manually, meaning you can have some characters focused on particular styles of play, and create your own classes as it were.
When it comes to re-releases such as these there are usually a number of concerns. Has the game aged well or is it only worth checking out for historical/nostalgic purposes? Does its mechanics hold up well today? Aside from the obvious graphical ageing, Shin Megami Tensei is a game that has held up well and is well worth playing. While some features may have aged not so well it remains a top RPG and is worth your money and iOS device space.