When I think of my favorite games, I think of products where each detail and decision was made in harmony. Culminating in an experience that uses every aspect of a video game to convey a message. What makes SMT IV special is how it’s the opposite of what I just described, it’s a product where every asset from gameplay to story is competing with one another. Culminating in a hodge podge of ingredients and recipes with no finished meal in sight. It’s a half game.
It’s Frankenstein’s monster made of ideas ranging wildly in quality. I admit that there are pockets of good, but even that is incidental. The soundtrack is great, the world building and underlying mystery is solid, but they ring hollow as the rest of the game isn’t up to par. The storyline is a debate on ethics in which both contenders are embarrassing caricatures of the ideas they’re supposed to represent. The game cowers away from this discussion for a “both sides are bad” conclusion that just feels insulting. There’s no reason to care about anyone because they’re all pawns for the writers to do whatever they want with. A character will throw a monologue at you explaining their motivation, only to have them betray it for the sake of the plot moving forward.
The gameplay is supposed to be challenging to represent the hostility of Tokyo, but everything is so easy and cheesable. The structure of an open world with multiple side quests conflicts with the story of being a mercenary completing time-sensitive missions. The world building portrays Tokyo as a rough and gruff place, but the story tries to make you care about it near the tail end. The game is marketed as a visual novel in which you choose your own adventure, but your character is a blank slate who only does what others tell him to.
This is why SMT IV is so fascinating to me. It gets worse the more I think about it. It’s this decayed onion where peeling back a layer reveals one stinkier and rottener than the last. I haven’t talked about the broken combat system, the multitude of mechanics that go nowhere, or the dubious design decisions for I fear this review would get too repetitious. I’ve played worse, I’ve played soulless cash grabs that only serve to take consumer’s money, and SMT IV isn’t one of those games. However, it’s my prime example of a “bad game,” it’s what I would tell upcoming developers what not to do to save face.