Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Shin Megami Tensei 4-1's Downloadable Content

3DS RPG DLC! Besides being way too many abbreviations all at once, it’s a subject I haven’t touched on yet. This is partially because most add-on content I’ve seen so far has been for PC games, which traditionally are more used to DLC and expansions and so on than Japanese RPGs are. This is also partially because there was not one single bit of Dragon Quest 9’s DLC that was even worth ranting about, so I didn’t bother. Fucking Dragon Quest.

Anyway. This will be the first time I’ve seen an add-on for a Shin Megami Tensei title (unless you count The Answer for SMT Persona 3, which does sort of count, but also sort of doesn’t since it was less an add-on than it was an expansion that you’d have to re-purchase the entire game for). Let’s see how Atlus does. I can only hope they’ll outperform some of the games I’ve seen in the past.

As usual, I’m not paying any attention to anything that doesn’t have any particular story content. You can just assume that the DLC packages for different armors and Experience/Money/App Point grinding are wastes of money.

Clipped Wings 1 and 2: There’s no point in separating these 2 DLCs, they’re each half of a whole. Uh...nope. Nope. Don’t like’em. They’re each about $2.50, which is not very much these days, but even then, you are not getting your money’s worth. All they are is a tiny bit of plot dialogue, and a series of fights against the Archangels (Uriel, Raphael, Gabriel, and Michael). They’ll take you 10 minutes each at the very most to complete, assuming you’re victorious--and I don’t think it’s fair to count it if you have a longer experience just because you lose a few times. As fights go, they’re fine, but it’s not like the game isn’t already filled with plenty of decently challenging fights already.

The storyline for the DLC is mildly interesting, but too light and too lacking explanation. Oh, to be sure, I appreciate that this DLC provides us with some information on how 3 of the 4 Archangels were captured prior to SMT4’s opening, and that it provides us with some background for Mastema’s role in the game. But that information is rushed, and frankly, I’m not sure that randomly throwing time travel causality loops in was really the best way to handle this scenario. While the passage of time in SMT4’s a little difficult to get a firm grasp of at times due to inadequately explained differences in time flow between Tokyo and the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, the game hadn’t had any time travel until this moment, so it feels forced and out of place.

Plus, this DLC introduces a plot hole (besides the standard logical paradoxes of time travel to the past): if protagonist Flynn did indeed go back in time to defeat the Archangels and allow Mastema to capture them, why in the world does Gabby not recognize him during the game proper’s course of events? Once the other 3 are freed, why don’t they recognize Flynn, for that matter? Yeah, you can argue that they realize that the past events are set in stone and they shouldn’t attack him in the present before he’s traveled back to set the past events in motion, but even accepting that answer, it makes no sense for Gabby, or any of them, to trust Flynn as much as she does and they do. She charges him and his companions specifically with rescuing the other 3 Archangels in the middle of the game, and if Flynn follows the Law path, all of them will completely trust him to fight Lucifer alongside them. Do they somehow think he isn’t the same guy as from back in the past? Even if they’re not sure, wouldn’t they say something, ask something, do some sort of investigation or take some kind of precautionary measures?

There is 1 criticism I’ve heard for this DLC that I don’t share in, though. Some people have complained that since the Archangels are significant parts of the main storyline, they should have been fought in the game proper, not as optional add-on bosses. I actually don’t agree with this criticism. I mean, taken at face value, it’s logical, but the plot of the game kind of makes it hard to make that happen. By the time you reach the point of the plot where you may actually be opposing the forces of God, the Archangels have already fused with Jonathan to form Merkabah. Until then, there’s no reason they would attack Flynn, and at that point, they’re no longer individually in the picture. Still, that’s just one small thing that isn’t a problem with this DLC. The facts remain that it has too little story and play time, the story isn’t done well, and it is WAY overpriced for what it is. Considering how little you get from this DLC, I’d say paying even a single dollar would have been an unfair price.

Ancient One of the Sun: This one is a little better. It actually relates to the main plot of the game without mucking about with time travel (granted, it uses dimension travel, which isn’t much better, but at least that’s an established part of the game already), and furthers one of the main plot’s story arcs. In this DLC, you’re brought back to Blasted Tokyo to defend its citizens from God’s wrath once more, this time by defeating an actual piece of God, the Ancient of Days. Essentially, it’s pretty similar to Clipped Wings in that it’s short, doesn’t have an actual gameplay area, and is just a battle with some dialogue before and after it, but at least it seems somewhat relevant to the game. It develops a little further the fate of the Blasted Tokyo survivors, and ends with a little better closure for them, with uncertainty but hope that they’ll be able to greet the new culture of Genesis and live with them peacefully. I kind of wish poor Kiyoharu didn’t have to be disillusioned during the battle, since he would probably have been able to quite happily embrace these new people of God and easily maintain his fanatical faith, but ah well. So is this DLC worth it? Well...more than Clipped Wings was, but overall, no. Again, even if $2.50 isn’t much to spend, we’re talking about 15 to 30 minutes of game time total. To me, a dollar should equal at least 1 hour of play time in a DLC. If Atlus lowers the price of this one to 50 cents, I’ll buy it, but I’m sure as hell not paying any more for it.

The Eternal Youth: Meh. Since Sanat kind of comes out of nowhere with no background to precede him, this DLC, which is again just some dialogue, a fight, and final dialogue, feels contrived and doesn’t particularly draw one in. It’s nice to help Infernal Tokyo’s Akira again, I guess, but it doesn’t feel like any particular step has been taken by the end of it. I guess the idea is that now that Akira has supposedly beaten Sanat, all the demons think he’s hot shit and awesome and all that, but why the hell didn’t they already think that? The events of the main game have Akira taking the credit for beating Kenji, the guy who was previously the strongest individual in Infernal Tokyo, so this is one of those annoying cases of characters forgetting what they’ve learned solely so they can re-learn it. Sanat’s story and powers and role and motives and whatnot are too vague and mysterious, Akira’s side of things is too much a repetition of before, and nothing seems to have really been accomplished by the DLC’s end. Even if this one were long enough that the cost ($2.50, again) were tolerable, it wouldn’t be worth it. Pass.

For the Past...For the Future: Now see, this is the kind of DLC I hate the very, very most. In this DLC, you’re transported once again back in time, this time to the day that the land above Tokyo was created that would later be the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado. You get a bit of dialogue beforehand, which explains a fair bit about several important parts of SMT4’s past history, including the disaster whose results separated the 3 dimensions we see during SMT4 (the home dimension, Blasted Tokyo, and Infernal Tokyo), a little background for the Yamato Reactor, how things went down with Masakado, of course part of the origin story of the Eastern Kingdom of Mikado, and we even see that the whole day of fate relates very strongly to similar cataclysms in other SMT games (the missile strike is just like the one from SMT1, and the conflict of angels and demons and humans in the streets of Tokyo is similar to the events of SMT Devil Survivor 1), which is a nice touch. Admittedly, Masakado is stupidly overpowered during your fight with him which doesn’t really fit the SMT lore,* and this DLC once again brings in time travel where it’s not wanted and REALLY opens a can of worms as far as cyclical event time paradoxes, but overall, this DLC has a lot of really good, really critical backstory for the setting and history of SMT4.

And that’s the damn problem. Why the HELL is such a critical part of understanding how events led to the current situation of SMT4 a Downloadable Content package!? There is just absolutely no denying that this is important, story-relevant narrative that absolutely without a shadow of a doubt should have been in the main game! This is important backstory that is just outright missing from the game, and whose absence is most definitely felt! At most the main game gives you vague hints and impressions of the things this DLC shows us, things that are incredibly relevant to understanding and appreciating the major plot events of Shin Megami Tensei 4! Holy hyper hell in a hamper, I hate it when a game has content in its add-on that obviously belonged in the main game. You wanna sell me Downloadable Content, then give me additional, unrelated aventures, give me character side stories, give me special epilogues and ending adjustments, give me expanded stories on minor things I’ve heard about in the game...but you sure as hell better not give me significant parts of the main plot that you just messily ripped from the game so you could charge me more money! If I want to understand the primary plot, the core story, of a game to the fullest possible extent, I should NOT have to pay extra! I paid for a full, complete story when I purchased the game, Goddammit!

I do not take kindly to being swindled, and that’s what this DLC is. At $3 for 20 to 35 minutes of play time, it’s not worth it anyways, but since its content is relevant enough to the game proper that keeping it separate is obviously a ploy to take advantage of you to make a quick buck, I wouldn’t pay for this thing if it only cost a single cent. Definitely go find a Let’s Play video of this add-on, because it’s certainly content that you should experience if you’re playing SMT4, but don’t waste your money supporting this kind of disingenuous scam. Shame on you, Atlus. I thought you were better human beings than Bioware. Perhaps I misjudged you.

So what’s the verdict for my first true foray into JRPG add-ons? Not good. Only a couple of SMT4’s DLCs have any plot content worth your time, they’re all way overpriced for the piddly amount of game time they add, and the last one is a classic example of how disgustingly dishonest the add-on business can be. If Atlus does another set of DLCs with its next SMT game, I sure hope they’re better than this.

* He’s supposed to be the ultimate demon of Neutrality in the SMT series, but as such he is, power-wise, way below the high iconic demons of Chaos and Law. That’s how it should be, because Neutrality is supposed to be all about humans finding their own way through their own strength, so it makes sense thematically for Masakado to be less powerful than Lucifer, Merkabah, Ancient of Days, even perhaps the Archangels, because that way the hero who chooses the path of Neutrality must compensate for the lesser power he receives by using his own abilities to see himself through--a human being’s abilities. Making Masakado into clearly the most powerful boss in the entire game just tosses all that thematic consistency out the window.


  1. I can't comment on SMT4's DLC since I'm in Europe, but the DLC doesn't sound too good of an idea. Have you tried DLC for other 3DS games, like Fire Emblem Awakening? What were your thoughts on it if so?

    1. Haven't played Fire Emblem Awakening yet--I'm torn on that game. On the one hand, it's a Nintendo title, and I really like supporting Nintendo because they're a shining beacon of genuine artistic quality and honest, noble business practices in a world of pandering and greed. On the other hand...it's a game where romantic options are supposed to be a fairly significant selling point, yet of all the many possibilities, ALL are strictly heterosexual. It's one thing for Fire Emblem 4 to have pulled that back in the 1990s (especially since that was a multi-generational game, so having kids to be major characters in the second half sort of necessitated a focus on heterosexual relationships), but it is the 2010s, for Buddha's sake! It's no longer a daring statement to include homosexuality in a game as it was 20 years ago, it's no longer a mildly notable action as it was 10 years ago. Europe, America, Japan, all of these major cultural markets for games have reached the point where it is no significant financial risk to acknowledge the existence of homosexuality in a video game, so there is no excuse at all to have a game in which romance is a significant aspect and in which that romance has a lot of variety in pairing options, and to NOT put in some gay male and female options (and I do mean "and" there; I'm tiring mightily of cases where lesbians are included in a game/movie/show/whatever, but not gay men, because lesbians are more marketable for being omg hawt lolz. Ugh).

      Aaaaaanyway, that's why I still haven't checked that Fire Emblem out yet. But to answer your actual question, I have played the DLC for Dragon Quest 9 before this. It was boring, like the game. Too boring to bother ranting about. Still, that and the SMT4 DLC don't inspire much optimism in me regarding 3DS DLC. But I suppose I'll still be checking it out as it comes, anyway.

    2. I can't say I could blame Nintendo for not including those things as it might've caused a controversy and, well,kids play a significant role in Awakening too (especially in Chrom's case, but talking about that would be treading into spoiler territory).. I agree with you that it shouldn't be a problem for the other characters in the game, though.
      And yeah, I haven't gotten much DLC for the 3DS yet (I'm kind of against it since the ones worth getting tend to be cases like "For the past... For the future".. I'd say the bad quality of SMT 4's DLC says more about how Atlus handles DLC rather than how well the 3DS can take it, but bad DLC from one company might beget bad DLC from other companies too.

    3. How much controversy would there really have been? If anime is anything to go by (granted it might not be, but it's still close enough to video game culture), Japanese media is saturated with homosexual characters, and there are plenty of them even in other RPGs. The most controversy there would probably have been including a homosexual character seriously, instead of just being an insulting transgender joke stereotype as usual. And even if Nintendo were worried about controversy overseas--which seems doubtful; Japanese game developers supposedly have a very narrow, Japan-only view of the audience they develop for--it's not like there aren't plenty of other RPGs with significant romantic options that include at least a token gay possibility. The last time I saw any actual controversy over that was back in the time of Mass Effect 1, and even that was just an obvious ploy for attention by the media that cleared up quickly. And European markets are even more accepting. Sorry, but I don't accept the BS of avoiding controversy as a legitimate excuse.

      However, now that you have brought up the other point, that being kids, I'm willing to entertain changing my stance. I was not aware of how important kids were to the story. Would the main character not having a child cause the narrative to fall apart? Is this a multi-generation game or something? If there's a legitimate reason plot-wise for why having no heir would be a problem, then I can lay my complaint to rest.

    4. You're probably right in how there wouldn't be much of a controversy nowadays, though Nintendo are old fashioned in their business practices (which could be considered a good thing) and might still have the mindset that elements like homosexuality would still have bad consequences. I do find it slightly annoying, but better to have an old mindset like that rather than axing jobs like EA and Sony have done so many times.

      As for the children, the main character's child is vital to the game's story, and even the first half of wouldn't make sense if the main character had no child.

      I'm not sure if you know, but the player has control of all
      marriages in the game, beyond the main characters'. That said, I don't recall other character's children being important to the plot so your complaint is still valid to some extent (although I think if same-gender marriages were possible and the player chose them, it would have bad consequences on enjoyability since there are a lot of side quests that involve recruiting children and they could make some of the strongest characters in the game.
      Sorry if this isn't entirely coherent, slightly sleep deprived.

    5. Well...I suppose I'll have to retract my complaint, then. In the case of the main character, having an heir is plot-important, so that's covered, and even if the other characters' unions producing children is not plot-important, the children still sound like a significant feature of the game (as with FE4), so that has to get a free pass, too. I mean, if they had included homosexual relationships in that case, I'd probably then be angry that the player would be rewarded for heterosexual ones with the strong children characters and not have any such reward for the homosexual ones. It might have been nice if there had been a workaround or something to at least include 1 possible homosexual pairing, but...eh, I'll let it go. I acquiesce to your eloquence and logic, sir/madam, the day is yours!

      Hm. Suppose I might as well go out and buy it now.

  2. Well, that's a bit of a downer.

    This is exactly why I appreciates the intent behind the DLC of Borderlands 1, even if the application of the concept was a little lukewarm. Unrelated side campaigns. Give me lots of them, and give me more. No worries of overly significant revelations, and less worry of thematic/consistency fudgery. No amount of insanity in that Zombie DLC makes the main game make less sense, or hides any critical tidbits. Atlus was my refuge from some of the things they've been doing these last several years*. I can only hope it's going to go uphill from here in those regards.

    I'll respond to your Xenosaga 3 rant when my brain finishes processing all the nonsense. It takes a lot to make less sense than planetary insemination.

    *I don't count Persona 4 in that list, believe it or not. Being a pale shadow of P3 doesn't say much about your own merits.

    1. I WAS actually wondering if you'd seen the Xenosaga 3 rant. You seem to like them, God only knows why, heh. I can respect anyone who needs time to process that load of BS, though.

      Yeah, I'll agree with you on Borderlands 1's DLC. Bland though it generally was, I respect it way more than the last SMT4 DLC, or the Exiled Prince DLC of Dragon Age 2, and so on. I'd much rather suffer mild boredom than the rage of being charged extra to complete a product I already paid for in full. I'm kind of just hoping that Atlus goofed on this point, didn't realize what they were doing, and that it wasn't in any way intentional. I'm willing to give'em that leeway, because they've shown over and over again that they respect their craft like few other developers do. Still...I'll be wary of them in the future, all the same.

  3. " Shame on you, Atlus. I thought you were better human beings than Bioware. Perhaps I misjudged you."
    Probably not worth boycotting their games for since, well, the culprits have been arrested, but *shrugs*

    1. Interesting to know. Although I wouldn't have boycotted Atlus over this alone. They've built up a lot of good will in me towards them, so it'll take a huge transgression against their customers, or at least a great many smaller but substantial offenses, to wear it out.