Naraku is an expansive dungeon in Shin Megami Tensei IV and the only place you encounter demons for a good part of the beginning of the game. It lies beneath Mikado Castle and its only entrance is guarded by the Samurai and the Monastery. Most outsiders don’t even know of its existence, let alone even knowing that demons exist.
The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the dungeon is that it is beautifully detailed. In stereoscopic 3D (and I rarely take notice to this in other games), the dungeon is especially immersive with how the steam wafting out of walls seems to fly past you as you walk by.
The second thing I noticed was that there is no indication of the moon. There is no moon cycle in this game. While this is a shame, it really didn’t linger in my mind—I had so many other factors to worry about when it came to demon encounters, fusion, and battling that it hardly mattered to me in the end. (My only regret is that I spent so much time thinking up a moon-related name for Flynn.)
The third thing is that there was a yellow exclamation point right in front of Flynn’s feet.
The Gauntlet that Flynn has comes with many functions, and Burroughs, the AI inside it, does almost everything automatically for you. One of these is scanning nearby objects. When there are objects of interest nearby, you’ll see a wide yellow circle appear around Flynn. This alerts you that something is nearby. If you find the object of interest, it takes less than a second to scan the item before it is complete and a yellow (or red) exclamation point appears. This means that you can take some sort of action here.
Of course there are the usual A-button investigation objects, such as signs to read or objects to observe. Sometimes you’ll find “mystic relics,” which you can bring up to the surface and sell for Macca. (This is the only reliable way I’ve found of earning money thus far.) These gathering spots regenerate after a short period of time, thankfully, so I’m not usually left too broke.
Other times you’ll find treasure boxes. Simple. If you’re unlucky, you’ll also find a random object that is actually a trap, leading to an ambush by a monster.
And yet, some other times, you’ll find an exclamation point over or under a large square of yellow tiles with no indication on how to use them. At these points, you can use the Up or Down key on the D-pad to look up or down, respectively. (You can actually do this anywhere, but it serves no function except when you’re standing on the square.) If you do this, you can actually move up or down.
This is how Flynn climbs ladders, jumps up ledges, crawls through tunnels, jumps down ledges for shortcuts, etc. The dungeons in Shin Megami Tensei IV are really a lot more interactive than I remember them ever being in past games.
Enemies appear onscreen as pixel-like blue monsters of fragmented squares, like the unscanned monsters in Strange Journey. However, rather than being just blobs, these have shapes, so sometimes you can tell what monsters are attacking you prior to battle, if you’re experienced with the area. For example, bird-like monsters flapping on wings soaring after you are likely to be Gryphons in the first dungeon. The tall man-like figure is likely Lham Dearg, while a tiny waddling dwarf-like figure is likely a Mokoi.
In Shin Megami Tensei IV, you can also use the X button to whack at the opponent when you see them walking around in a dungeon, and this gives you the first strike in battle. Rather, you really, really should, because otherwise it is very likely the opponent will get the drop on you, and in a game like Shin Megami Tensei IV, you really don’t want that to happen. (I learned this the hard way, and the battle system punishes you pretty hard if you miss. Save often!)
The weapon Flynn is using changes depending on your equipment, and since he can use a variety of weapons like swords, spears, and daggers, the range and how he swings his weapon changes. It takes some time to get used to a new weapon when it comes to whacking enemies for that pre-emptive strike.
If you choose to run away… well, the monsters are rather persistent, so I always found it better to strike the enemy, enter the battle screen, and then choose to run away then. The monster on the map also disappears if you do it this way, and you’re less likely to be ambushed.
Other aspects of dungeons are poisonous floors, bridges where enemies ambush you, and rooms where you can either rest (these are unfortunately rare) or talk to fellow Samurai undertaking the dungeon. Luckily, Burroughs will warn you before you enter a room that contains a boss.
One problem, though, is that Naraku is very large, and there is no means of returning back to the surface instantaneously until fairly late in the beginning portion of the game. Running back and forth between the floors can be troublesome when enemies hound you, but I definitely won’t say it’s useless, or boring. Battles are dynamic, and, honestly, you need the battles. Battles make the demons strong. Each floor, luckily, isn’t too expansive by itself, so running through three floors without battles can take as little as one or two minutes.
Another helpful factor is that Burroughs comes with a map on the bottom screen that keeps track of the direction you’re facing, where you are, and where items of interest, like mystic relics, shortcuts, and stairs are.