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Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse beginner's guide

Understanding leveling, demons, apps and endings

Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse is the latest entry in a franchise with a reputation for being esoteric, unforgiving and niche, making it tough for players to get into. But is that really true?

Much like the less-maligned Persona series, each Shin Megami Tensei game is an experience that stands on its own, which makes every entry a perfect place to jump in. Arguably, there are some small exceptions to Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse, seeing as it's a direct companion to Shin Megami Tensei 4. But that doesn't really change anything, as you can still play it with just a simple grasp of Japanese role-playing game concepts.

In this guide, we'll reintroduce the twists to returning Shin Megami Tensei 4 players and teach newcomers the best ways to play the latest entry in developer Atlus' storied JRPG series, out now on Nintendo 3DS.

The story thus far

Shin Megami Tensei (roughly translated as "True Goddess Reincarnation") centers around the struggle between heaven and hell, and humans and demons. Each game is an isolated affair in a new world, but as previously mentioned, Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse takes place in the same world as Shin Megami Tensei 4 and shares a few characters.

While there is some overlap that you'll benefit from by playing through Shin Megami Tensei 4, all you really need to know is that your character, a 15-year-old named Nanashi, lives in a post-war Tokyo. It's's covered in a gigantic barrier that traps humans and demons alike inside. Very shortly into the narrative, a demon slays Nanashi, who's then reincarnated as a hand of Dagba, a deity that tasks him with defeating demons.

How stats work

Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse follows the same stat system as Shin Megami Tensei 4. It has old-school RPG sensibilities, allowing you to assign statistics to your characters after each level-up. Deciding how to allocate them can be quite the conundrum. It's not as complicated as it seems. Just don't overthink it.

Primary stats include strength (melee weapon damage), dexterity (gun-based damage), magic (magic damage), agility (speed in battle, evasion percentage and accuracy) and luck (critical hits and the smirk system). Everything funnels into how you approach each fight, and other statistics (such as defense) will be inherited automatically or dictated by equipment.

Magic is better than before

Magic builds are actually more viable in Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse than in the past, and as a rule, are a much easier avenue to take if you're new to the series. While strength and dexterity are highly situational based on your gear, magic can actually spread across a number of different elements for an easier experience overall.

Min-maxing

The philosophy of min-maxing — putting all your points into one or a select few stats — is still king, no matter what build you go for. (To a degree, stats that near the 200-point mark are less effective, and should be distributed elsewhere, but this won't happen until much later in the game.)

First, before you put any points into anything, choose one of the three offensive styles:

  • Melee, which is more of a brute force approach with raw power and almost no nuanced management.
  • Guns, which is based around skills and thus requires a little more finesse.
  • Magic, which is entirely based around understanding elemental counters and weaknesses.

Next, try to use an "every other level" method when allocating stats. For example if you're going with magic, put all of your points into that first. Then, the next time you level up, put a few points into agility and luck. After that, return to magic. (Or, if you're feeling bold, just put several into magic.)

Magic may seem daunting at first. It's technically the toughest system to understand because you need to learn elemental counters and weaknesses, but it's going to be worth it for those difficult boss encounters.

Don't underestimate luck

Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse treats luck differently, so consider investing in it. Many other JRPGs tend to treat it as an ancillary stat that might just grant you a better chance to get extra loot. In Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse, boosting luck every so often can help you win fights with massive critical strike damage, where your attacks hit for more than normal. It also funnels into the smirk system, which returns from Shin Megami Tensei 4.

The smirk system

In Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse, smirk can impact certain skills, so be sure to actually read the descriptions for them through the character menu if you find yourself using them often. It works both ways though, because if an an enemy ambushes you on the map, they'll earn the smirk status in turn.

Demons are your friends (and enemies)

Demons, unlike party members in most JRPGs, are disposable. Even if some of them are prone to evolutions, Shin Megami Tensei is not Pokémon, and you will not bring your first monster with you to dominate the rest of the game.

Shin Megami Tensei is not Pokémon

Get used to the idea of getting new demons constantly, trying to fill a slot with each elemental type and build a well-rounded party. For example, you won't want to stock up on too many fire-heavy demons and then run into a boss that counters all of them.

As a rule, you'll want to get new demons every five to 10 levels, as that's when they start to depreciate in value.

Keep in mind that you can summon previously discovered demons from the compendium (found in the Mido section of the main menu) at any time by spending Macca, the standard currency of Shin Megami Tensei games. For example, if you find a useful demon that can heal, make sure to register them first (which locks in their current incarnation) before you accidentally dispose of them.

Recruit new demons

You can acquire demons through other means like fusion (where you join two demons together to create a new species) or StreetPass functions, but generally you're going to recruit them through in-combat dialogue prompts. They might ask you for an item, a favor like killing another party member (which you should do often against your better judgment — remember, they're disposable), or they might just join out of the goodness of their own heart.

There is one thing to keep in mind that's new to Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse. In the past, demons dialogues would result in one of three things: a conversation that could lead to a join, a rebuke with no option to try again or an escape. Demons can still rebuke you, but you might have the option to speak to them again immediately after that failure. If a demon isn't immediately hostile (read: engages in combat), you in all likelihood have the option to talk to them again right away. Make use of that opportunity. If you're coming from the original Shin Megami Tensei 4, it's easy to forget.

Pick the right apps

Apps return in Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse. They provide macro bonuses to your team after expending a certain amount of points on them. You earn those points through normal gameplay.

Apps include more quality of life additions, like making the map easier to read, or more direct influences such as providing HP and MP recovery after leveling up. You'll unlock more apps as time goes on, so don't feel like you need to spend your points all at once.

Import a save, get a bonus

You can also earn a point bonus if you import a Shin Megami Tensei 4 save. It doesn't need to be a complete save file, and it doesn't have to be yours. If someone you know owns a Shin Megami Tensei 4 cartridge, you can complete the entire process in minutes. Load it in your Nintendo 3DS, select the import option on the title screen, and the bonus is yours.

Look for long-term solutions

Look for long-term solutions when choosing bonuses. For example, why buy the HP recovery module when you can buy the MP one instead? If you want HP recovery, just have a party member use cure to heal everyone to full. (Look for Caladrius early on for this ability). The same goes for apps that boost your ability to recruit new demons instead of buffing your existing ones.

Choose your own ending

(Light) spoiler warning (maybe)

While we don't discuss the details of Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse's endings in this section, we do talk about a few characters who stand at the crossroads between them. We've hidden the names behind pink blocks that obscure the text and prevent anyone from accidentally reading names they don't want to know.

If you want to know more, just tap on or hover over them with your mouse, and the words will magically appear. If you consider this information spoiler territory, stop here.

Like its predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse has multiple endings. Unlike its predecessor, the requirements for getting different endings are much easier.

In Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse, each ending is generally regarded as a neutral choice, rather than a black-and-white one. Instead of being dictated through secret alignment calculations, unlocking the endings is a straightforward process.

Your first choice takes place at a crossroads that involves siding with either Lucifer (the devil) or Merkabah (the chariot of God). Siding with either of them will grant you an early ending. If you want to see more of the story and reach the other two endings, choose neither.

Your next crossroad is the choice to side with Dagda, the demon who reincarnates you at the start of Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypse. If you side with him, you'll obtain another ending. If you choose to reject everyone, you'll get a fourth ending.

As you can see, it's pretty straightforward, but there is a Shin Megami Tensei-sized caveat: If you decide to side with no one and have made more selfish choices than altruistic ones, all of your demons will be removed from your inventory. Likewise, if you choose Dagda and have played selflessly, all of your items will be lost.

If you want to keep your options open, save often and in multiple slots to avoid having to stick with a choice you weren't ready to make.

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