The Gauntlet Rites are a trial of adulthood. The year anyone in or near the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado turns 18, they travel into Mikado Castle to stand in a stifling line as they wait their turn.
The main hero (default name is Flynn) and Issachar, his best friend, are two such people. Issachar has always been looking forward to moving out of Casualry life—the social caste of herders and workers—and becoming a Samurai. Samurai are chosen from either Casualry or Luxuror backgrounds—the latter being the social caste of the aristocrats.
The Gauntlet, an aptly named machine that fits over the user’s wrist indiscriminately decides those worthy of being Samurai. Usually, the Gauntlet lies dead and silent, but when the right user appears, a “mystic script” appears on the Gauntlet’s digital screen and comes to life. After someone becomes a Samurai, they live within the castle and are treated to a life of comfort.
Despite the fact that in the past few years, no new Samurai have been chosen, Issachar hasn’t let his hopes sink. Unfortunately, as things would turn out, being a Samurai isn’t part of his fate. Flynn, your character, is chosen to be a Samurai. Issachar, sadly, is not.
Issachar left behind, Flynn is then escorted to meet the other newly-chosen Samurai. Walter is the only other person of a Casualry background to be chosen. He’s an outgoing, rough-around-the-edges type who’s nevertheless friendly. Meanwhile, Jonathan is a mellow Luxorer who extends a hand of friendship to Flynn and Walter despite their different statuses. Isabeau is the only female of the group. She’s reliable and has a stoic personality, but provides some humor as the others attempt to make her break her cool.
Finally, Navarre is unfortunately probably what most Luxurors are like—condescending towards the Casualry and someone that was already living the easy life prior to being chosen to be a Samurai.
Despite his age, their commander, Hope, has a commanding presence. He may be strict, but he also cares for his subordinates. It is when he first meets them that he introduces the group to their task as Samurai—to fight the demons that wander in Naraku, a sprawling dungeon with many levels going deep beneath Mikado. This knowledge has always been kept secret, but before it has a chance to really sink in, Flynn and the others are given their first task.
With the help of Burroughs, an AI that exists inside the Gauntlet, the group journeys into Naraku to both fight and befriend the demons in order to protect the citizens of Mikado, Luxuror and Casualry alike.
Shin Megami Tensei IV has a very solid world and history that it builds upon. In this game, unlike its predecessors, you’re treated to a world different from the one we live in. In previous games, one would start out in our world before something happens that irrevocably changes it. In Shin Megami Tensei IV, you start out in an established kingdom ruled by a King and a monastery of Priests with the Samurai as their army against the demons.
Essentially, while in previous games we started out in a “Chaos” setting, in this game, I feel like we start out in a “Law” setting. While I’ve never been sympathetic toward the Law side of events in Shin Megami Tensei games, I’m much more conflicted now that I’ve been introduced to a world that… well, isn’t utterly destroyed and desolate.
Shin Megami Tensei IV’s cast of characters is vivid, too. Their portraits are well-drawn and their voices portray their emotions well. I love how the AI Burroughs also seems to have her own personality. Their interactions are a pretty large focus of the game, and anything that happens to the characters feels more real than if they weren’t as developed. While I feel that the writing is sometimes inconsistent in terms of word choice, ultimately the game is very well-written and doesn’t come across as stiff.
The characters aren’t the only “people” with personalities, though. The demons are also all very unique. Each one is voiced (not with unique voices, mind you; that would be a lot of voices) and they taunt and growl at you as you negotiate with them or fight them. They each have their own personality when they talk, complete with different capitalization patterns in their text and speech patterns. It’s the kind of thing you can only do in a videogame.
I also like how, if you choose to talk to a demon, their portrait appears onscreen rather than just having their sprite highlighted in the distance.
Shin Megami Tensei IV’s music fits perfectly with the locations and atmosphere of the game, too. While it is definitely a different feel than Shoji Meguro’s music, the game itself also has a different atmosphere from previous Shin Megami Tensei games, so I felt it worked perfectly. Ultimately, all of these things come together to give Shin Megami Tensei IV a cohesive setting and story, which is one of the game’s strongest points.
From here on, we’ll gradually be explaining various aspects of the game. Keep in mind that some aspects we won’t be covering completely because I haven’t fully unlocked them yet, but hopefully this series of articles will give provide further insight into Shin Megami Tensei IV. Stay tuned for more of our ongoing coverage!