Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse (English translation: true reincarnation of the goddess) is a turn-based role-playing game with dungeon crawling.
You play as Nanashi, a young man who sets off with his friends to save a post-apocalyptic Tokyo from an invasion of demons and angels. You control demons to fight at your side while shaping the world's fate through Law, Chaos, Anarchy, or Peace.
Pro You get to collect and control many types of demons and angels to fight in battle
Demons and angels act as your party members in battle. While fighting, you can recruit almost any enemy demon or angel as long as it's at your level or below, through a process called demon negotiation. You barter with them through a conversation before asking it to join you; if it likes you, and if you give it the items, money, and whatever else it asks you for, it may join your party. You can then fuse angels or demons together to create stronger allies with better abilities. And there are hundreds of different types of demons and angels with their own fitting designs and relevant mythological lore, ranging from familiar names like Shiva, Lilith, Valkyrie, Phoenix, Raphael, and many many more.
Pro Highly challenging, yet rewarding turn-based combat
The battles in the Shin Megami Tensei series are unforgiving in how difficult they are, and SMT IV: Apocalypse is no exception. You fight with a party of demons you collect, aiming to pinpoint your enemy's elemental weaknesses and exploit them. Once you find the weakness, you're rewarded with an extra turn; if you keep landing the right attacks, then the game lets you chain a finite number of turns one after another. If you don't look up a guide, then finding weaknesses is a matter of trial and error, and hoping you don't die while you figure things out.
But this also applies to your enemies -- if they exploit your weaknesses, then they get extra turns instead. Most of the opponents you come across hit for a ton of damage, so you absolutely need to take advantage of gaining extra turns. And as you get farther along in the game, you get access to buffs to your party's attack, defense, evasion, and more, as well as debuffs to debilitate your foes. As you get better with the combat and earn some tough victories, the sense of satisfaction you get helps you to keep pushing forward.
Pro Brilliant music with a unique sound
The music in this game is on another level. Right from the opening main theme, it sets the tone with an otherworldly song with real weight and gravity, and an added twist with electronic sounds. This type of tune comes up in other tracks as a great leitmotif. Other songs mix in rock sounds with classical or even hip-hop influences, making for some memorable moments when an unexpected track kicks in. Some of the boss music, especially later in the game, are quite inventive, with some of them sounding downright mind-bending in how experimental they are. It's an overall incredible collection that stays with you for a long time.
Pro Philosophical story where you shape the fate of the world
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse is all about letting you decide what is right and what is just in a malleable world. You start off as an inexperienced demon hunter who's only trying to get by in a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo, in the middle of a war between demons and angels. As you get stronger and learn more about the demons' and angels' ideologies, your choices throughout the story determine how things turn out in the end.
Pro Your moral choices branch out to multiple endings
Your choices throughout the game determine which of the three alignments you fall under. Whether you lean toward Chaos with the demons, Law with the angels, or the Anarchy and Peace routes that reject Law and Chaos, the latter half of the game changes to reflect your views. Characters who were once your allies can become your enemies, or vice-versa, depending on which path you follow. The world shapes itself in drastic ways through your choices, leading you down different branches, each with their own separate locations to explore, powerful bosses to defeat, and unique endings that follow.
Pro Accessible to newcomers to the Shin Megami Tensei series
If you've never played a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game, then this is a fine place to start. Instead of one harsh difficulty set for the whole game like most others in the series, you can select your preferred difficulty option at the beginning. Navigating the world map is much-improved from Shin Megami Tensei IV as well, making it easier to figure out where you need to go. The combat system is also much better here, with fewer frustrating mechanics to deal with, offering a much smoother experience. In terms of gameplay, this is one of the strongest entries in the series and a good starting point for new players.
Con The story puts too much emphasis on your tropey companions
Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse has a lighter tone than SMT IV, mostly because of the "happier" cast of characters, but they all lean too far into stereotypes. The characters don't really grow in meaningful ways beyond their archetypes, the friendship angle gets played up a lot, and there's a pointless love triangle between Nanashi, your main character, and two of the female characters. All of this is too much of a departure from the bleak and grounded storylines in the rest of the mainline Shin Megami Tensei series, with this game pandering to another separate audience.
Con The Peace and Anarchy endings are flawed
These endings are strange for a number of reasons. With one route, the story spends the whole game making one point about certain themes, and then this particular ending shatters all of that in such an extreme way. It's an unsatisfying and anti-climatic in all sorts of ways. The other one is a mess of JRPG stereotypes that doesn't make any sense for a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game. It's the writers' experiment with a different kind of tone, but it may leave veteran players of the series with a bad taste in their mouths.
Con The Law and Chaos alignments are shallow and black-and-white
There's little depth or nuance to the ending paths you experience if your alignment ends up siding with Law or Chaos. Certain characters represent each alignment, and their reasons for going down these routes can be interpreted as too extreme for players to sympathize with. In SMT IV: Apocalypse, these endings are also shallower than they were in SMT IV. Since the other two endings have their own separate problems, none of the outcomes turn out all that well.
Con Spoils Shin Megami Tensei IV right from the start
This is a direct sequel to Shin Megami Tensei IV, following the Neutral ending in that game. You won't be lost trying to figure out what's going on, since the exposition does a good job of explaining things, but it spoils pretty much everything. You may want to consider going back and playing SMT IV first before jumping in here.