I've never been a fan of first-person RPGs, but Shin Megami Tensei IV might change that.
From the beginning of my experience with SMT IV, it was abundantly clear that this wasn't a low-budget, go-first-person-because-it's-cheaper kind of game. Instead, crisp graphics, full voice-acting, and smooth animations all spoke to the time and money invested in its production.
And after spending half an hour or so with Shin Megami Tensei IV, I found that I really wanted to keep playing - which is an experience that 3DS-owning JRPG enthusiasts will no doubt have for themselves once they get their hands on the game.
Shin Megami Tensei IV incorporates many of the best parts of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise and mixes in some new touches to keep things fresh. The end result is, like so much an evolved Persona, an improved experience in many unexpected ways.
Gameplay is split between a 3D, third-person overworld map and a 2D, first-person battle perspective. I toggled the 3D slider on and off in both views and was very pleased to see that it added a great amount of depth to both experiences.
It may seem antithetical to mix 3D into a first-person battle system but, as with Etrian Odyssey IV, the effect helps remove the inherent flatness of first-person combat and makes the entire experience more visually compelling.
In the overworld, streets positively came alive with the 3D turned on and the rich, vibrant colors all stood out nicely despite the muted and darker palette of the urban environment.Samurai showdown
Navigating in the overworld works similarly to other Shin Megami Tensei titles - you run about on quests and missions and encounter generic enemy stand-ins to initiate combat.
A well-timed sword strike grants you an advantage to the ensuing battles, while being caught unawares allows the enemies to enjoy an advantage over you.
Once battles start, you're presented with a view of the enemies on the top screen and battle menus on the bottom touchscreen. You can navigate the menus with your stylus, fingertips, or via the d-pad and each system works equally well.
I primarily used the d-pad for the menus as it seemed more familiar and worked better on the demo 3DS unit, but on my 3DS XL I think the stylus or fingertip approach will be the way to go - if only because it'll make me feel like I'm typing commands into a high-tech wrist gauntlet of my own.
For refined roleplayers
Shin Megami Tensei IV will appeal to those looking for a darker, more mature RPG experience and it's perfectly suited to a 20-minute play sessions or a longer evening of gaming curled up on your sofa of choice.
It's certainly not a bright, cheery, or casual-friendly game, but neither is it so demanding that it should scare off newcomers to the excellent world of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. In fact, it might even be a good introduction to it.
Shin Megami Tensei IV will be released in North America on July 16 with a few pre-order bonuses and bundles available. Although it's confirmed for a European release, there's no firm date available at this time.