Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Shin Megami Tensei 4-1's Fiend Hunting

Remember the third rant I ever posted, way, way back years ago, on Rare Item Drops? Of course you don’t. None of you read my rants when I first started; it was the only time in the history of this rant blog that I’ve had fewer readers than...well, all the rest of the time. But 8 years ago, I ranted about how frustrating and utterly idiotic RPGs can be with items (and other occurrences) that only have a teeny-tiny statistically infinitesimal chance of showing up. It’s one of the few of my really early rants that I stand by 100% today and have not in any way changed or advanced my opinion on.

Well as it turns out, I jumped the gun on that rant by about 7 and a half years. I apparently should have waited until the latter half of Summer 2013 to write that one, because holy shit guys, Shin Megami Tensei 4’s Fiend encounter rates.

I’ll note right off the bat that SMT4 already has a few Random Number Generator transgressions before the Fiend business. The Incense drop rate is slightly annoying at times, although I suppose that’s not necessarily a big deal--if you’re farming Incense (or anything else in an RPG), you’ve pretty much got to have resigned yourself to wasting a lot of time on nothing important. More than that, there’s an entire line of demons in SMT4 that you can ONLY get from an accident during demon fusion, the Hero line. That’s annoying to any completionist who wants to get a full bestiary, and even annoying to someone who plays more casually like me, because Jeanne D’Arc is in the Hero line and I’ll be DAMNED if I’m going to play an RPG with a recruitable Joan of Arc and NOT have her on my team. The chances of a Fusion accident are tiny, the chances of that accident making one of the Hero demons instead of some random other one is small again (and the only way to feasibly make it happen (fusing dead and Foul-line demons) is not made known to the player), and the chances that the abilities the Hero demon inherits are ones you’d want them to have are random, too.*

Sigh. At least Atlus has finally done away with randomized skill inheritance in normal fusion, anyway. Maybe somebody in the company read my old rant about that. Or just turned on their fucking brain.

So anyway, SMT4 already has some moments where you’ll be cursing the Random Number Generator gods with some venom. But that’s child’s play compared to the ultimate of horrible randomized rate situations...the Fiend Encounter Rate. Capitalized because I think I might make that a thing, one of my special terms in this blog, like Sailing.

So here’s the deal. There are a small group of demons known as the Fiends. They are David, Chemtrail, Plasma, the Matador, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse (The Red, Pale, Black, and White Riders, aka the infamous Famine, Pestilence, War, and Death), the Trumpeter, and Mother Harlot. They’re pretty cool because, vaguely, they kind of all represent Death in all its forms as we know it--more on that in a later, more interesting rant. In Shin Megami Tensei 4, you can encounter, defeat, and gain the ability to create and recruit David and (in the Chaos path) Mother Harlot from a couple of sidequests. If you purchase one of the especially pointless DLCs, Death has its Applications, you can also encounter, defeat, and then create and recruit Plasma. The rest (Matador, Chemtrail, the 4 Riders, and the Trumpeter) can all be just be encountered by passing by certain spots in the game and getting into a random encounter with them, and after defeating them, you can create and recruit them.

Simple, right? Yeah, ha ha ha ha, fucking no.

See, it’s like this. Let’s say you want to run into the Trumpeter. He is a super cool concept, the angel of death who announces the end of all things by the notes of his trumpet. It is he who sounds the coming of Judgment Day. Who the hell WOULDN’T want him in their mythological dream team roster? So you find out where he’s supposed to show up by looking online (because you will NEVER find out otherwise, my friend). It’s a certain spot between some trees in a certain forest. Cool. You go there (assuming you’re on the Neutral or Law path, that is; can’t get’im on the Chaos path, I think), and go to the spot. And...nothing happens.

Hm. Odd. You leave the forest and come back to it, and go over the same spot. Still nothing. Well, that’s just weird. Time to look online to see what’s wrong. Lessee...Google, GameFAQs, SMT4, Discussion, then one of the countless topics about the Fiends. Alright, let’s see...oh, here’s the problem!

You only have a 1 out of 256 encounter rate chance.

That’s right. 1 out of 256. 1. Out of. 256. Any time you cross over the one single spot where the Trumpeter, or any of the other Fiends I mentioned, is supposed to show up, the game is gonna pull up a list of 255 boxes saying NO and 1 box saying YES, and pick a single box from that list at random to decide if the guy you’re looking for is there. 1 out of 256. I would like to remind you that the Final Fantasy 4 Pink Puff enemies, those elusive fuckers who can drop the Pink Tail, are famous for how low their encounter rate is, and their encounter rate is 1 out of 64.

Now I think most of you know what I’m getting at here, but for those of my readers who are, I dunno, SquareEnix Executive-level morons, allow me to make my point clear: 64? It’s a LOT LOWER than 256. It is, in fact, 4 times less than 256. Meaning that the Pink Puffs, held up as the standard of stupidly rare enemy encounters in RPGs, mentioned in my own Rare Item Drop rant so long ago, are actually 4 times more likely to appear than one of the Fiends in Shin Megami Tensei 4.

Not fun. But not the end of the story, either. Remember what I said about that single spot that the Trumpeter might show up in? Well, you can’t just run over it back and forth for an hour or two to get him to show up. See, the chance of his showing up there is generated when you enter the area of the forest in which that spot resides. Meaning that if he’s not there the first time, that’s not going to change until you turn around and leave the area altogether, then come back to try again. So you’re not just wasting time going over this spot a few hundred times--you’re wasting time getting to the spot, going over it, then turning around and running all the way out of the area so you can do it again.** Over and over and over again.

And one more thing about the whole shows-up-on-a-single-specific-spot thing. It’s a small spot. So let me tell you something. When you’ve run over the same spot over 200 times and have yet to see results, you start to wonder. To doubt. You start to ask yourself, “Am I even running over the right place? This internet picture and map diagram is specific, but not absolutely perfect. Could I have been going over the wrong spot all this time?” You torment yourself with this doubt, making it worse with every screen reload, thinking each time louder and louder with ever growing horror, “Have I perhaps been going over the wrong spot for the last hour?! Have I actually been wasting my time this whole while!?”

(The answer is yes, yes you have, whether or not you have the right spot).

And we’re still not done. Let’s say, amazement of amazements, you run into the Trumpeter at long last. He probably kills you, but that’s okay--hell, it’s almost a GOOD thing. If you have Charon bring you back to life where you were, you’ll be right beside the encounter spot and Trumpeter is guaranteed to be waiting for you to walk over it. Just save, and you can fight him at your leisure. So you save, you get your team better prepared for the attacks that you now know he has since you fought him once already, and you try again. You beat him this time! THANK. GOD. Phew. Okay, FINALLY, since you have beaten him, you have unlocked him and can now fuse him and put him in your team. Alright, open up the menu, go to the fusion part, check out the Special Fusions...

...Um. Hm. Where is he?

Did you miss him? Go back. Back, back, yup, further, and...no, you’re at the beginning of the list. He’s not there. What the hell. Back to the internet! Google, SMT Wiki, look up the Trumpeter, find his game-specific information...here it is, his fusion requirements...oh, THAT’S why he hasn’t shown up on your list! In order to fuse Trumpeter, you’ll have to have the 4 Rider Fiends available to you, and since you haven’t encountered any of them, he’s not on the list. Well that’s simple enough, you’ll just have to go find them and beat them so you can...can...


Oh right. THEY’RE all Fiends, too! Yes, that’s right, reader peeps. If you want to fuse the Trumpeter, the best of the bunch, you will have to encounter ALL 4 FIEND RIDERS as well. You will have to repeat this agonizing 1/256-chance-per-screen-load-in-a-tiny-spot all over again. And you will do it 4 times.

And by the way, this does not get much better if you’re not that interested in the Trumpeter, so long as you have an interest in almost ANY of the Fiends. Yes, Chemtrail and Matador can be fused from demons you regularly have access to, so once you (finally) encounter and defeat either of them, you can immediately fuse them. BUT, the Pale Rider, White Rider, Black Rider, and Red Rider ALL have fusion requirements that require previous Fiends. One basically leads to the next in order to fuse it--in order to fuse the Pale Rider, you must have a Black Rider, in order to fuse the Black Rider, you must have a Red Rider, in order to have him, you must first have a White Rider, and to fuse a White Rider, you must have a Matador. All of them require you to have encountered and defeated them to unlock them. So actually, if you want the Trumpeter (and Mother Harlot, for that matter, since her fusion needs a Trumpeter), you’re not doing the horrible process only 5 times (1 for him, 4 for the Riders), you’re doing it 6 times, because you need that initial Matador to start the whole thing off. That’s struggling 6 times against odds of 1/256. Finding the spots, and going over them again and again hundreds, thousands of times, waiting for something to happen.

They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Atlus is actually making its players crazy.

Okay okay OKAY, yes, obviously this is pretty clearly self-inflicted frustration for any gamer who goes into it. All the Fiends are entirely optional to encounter (even the ones who are a simple matter of going on a side quest), and though they’re very powerful, it’s not like you can’t make a huge, powerful team without them just fine (in fact, if you work the system properly, pretty much ANY demon can be a titan of pure unbridled power--when I was done with the game, my Pixie was tearing through Hard Mode’s shit like if you dropped Pinkie Pie in Sugar Rush). The only reason you’d need to go through all this bullshit for the Fiends would only be your own misguided need for completionism, or if you just really, really like 1 Fiend in particular.*** This isn’t really a case of a company outright abusing its audience, like a disturbing number of other creators do nowadays (by this point, I think you might actually be able to diagnose fans of Bioware or Spider-Man with Battered Person Syndrome--and you may think that’s just a joke made in bad taste, and it mostly is, but I’ve read some of the things fans have said on Bioware’s forums, and it’s actually kind of creepy how close some statements can sound to the BPS mentality). This is just them going too far with something that’s ultimately very unimportant. Like Game Freak does with the whole Shiny Pokemon thing--although to be fair, at least with the Shiny Pokemon, the regular, non-rare version of the damn thing is readily available to capture and recruit, while this Fiend Encounter Rate nonsense is the ONLY way to get these demons. Ultimately, I can’t hold too much of a grudge against the folks at Atlus for this nonsense; the person who decided to waste my time with getting the Trumpeter is me, not them.

But all the same...Atlus, please, for the love of everything good and just in the universe, don’t ever do anything like this ever again.

* SORT OF random. Technically speaking, you can rig it--figure out what the Hero demon is automatically going to have (their starter moves, essentially), then, using creative fusion skill inheritance, make sure that the demons you’re fusing to make the accident to create the Hero demon ONLY have the skills you want the Hero to have and that there are EXACTLY as many of those skills between the 2 parent demons together as there are free skill slots for the resulting Hero demon (FREE skill slots, as in, not the ones that will be used for the natural skills the Hero starts with anyway). This at least takes the randomization out of the skill inheritance aspect of Hero demon fusion accidents. By replacing it with tedious planning and executing of long chains of parent fusions. Joy.

** There’s a slight work around for this. If you own one of the stupid DLCs that take you to an Experience/Money/App farming area, you can stand in front of the Fiend’s encounter spot, open the DLC and go into it, quit it and come back, and that will re-generate the Fiend’s encounter area. This is incredibly tedious to do 400 times in a row, but still faster in most cases than turning around and leaving the area and then coming back again that same 400 times, particularly since you can add a complex save-reload trick to this process to shave a few more seconds off, a trick that is way more work to explain than I really think is necessary at the moment (but if you really want to know, say so). This is, however, obviously not a good enough solution that it makes the situation any more excusable, especially since not everyone wants to waste money on meaningless DLC nonsense.

*** Why oh why must I be such a sucker for the Trumpeter?


  1. God damn.

    I'm one of those grizzled Pink Puff veterans. Soft Reset RNG manipulation to fight Puffs every fight, and 512(!!!) of them later, not one Tail. Oh, I got three Fuma Shurikens, but that's it. The Tail at least has the excuse of being an optional quest* for some idiotically good armor you won't need thanks to all that grinding you just did. Never again. Nope.

    *Trumpeter and Joan of Arc are not what I consider optional.

    ***Because the Herald of the Apocalypse and the death of like 1/3 of the universe is a badass.

    Describing that reload trick would probably be an amazing punchline to the sick joke that is the above scenario.

    My Lv62 Four Element Lilim would wreck your pitiful Pixie.

    1. *P3 Lilim.

    2. Like hell she would. Pixie's packing 2 games' worth of carefully selected level-up stat bonuses and days' worth of farmed Magic Incense (along with the regular Magic, Agility, and Luck Incenses the game gives you for quests and such--what's the point in wasting them on my protagonist when my demons are the ones whose stats will carry to the next game?). Your Lilim would be crushed, sir!

    3. ...Impressive. My Lilim is just some solo run pivot with Magic in the 80s and Vitality in the 60s. It's a sad day when I'm the filthy casual.

    4. It's such a delightful change of pace for me to be on the up-side of our occasional hardcore rivalries that I couldn't resist firing SMT4 up again to share my Uber Pixie's stats with you. I mean how often do I get to rub this stuff in your face, y'know? Gotta live it up while it lasts.

      St: 95
      Dx: 92
      (The above 2 have been virtually untouched and unenhanced through level up, but they seem high because of the Burroughs App automatically increasing all stats. The only exception is that I think like 2 or 3 times she got a level up that was, like, 1 St/Dx and 4 Ma, and since Ma is ultra-awesome, I did take a couple of those)
      Ma: 251
      Ag: 214
      Lu: 189

      Deadly Wind
      High Force PLeroma
      Force Pleroma
      Healing Knowhow
      Enduring Soul
      Life Surge
      Draconic Reaction

      And yes, I know that limits her against wind-nulling/draining/repellant foes, but I tailored my team to have 2 specialists for every element, so it's not really any weakness--she's one of my Wind specialists, and just happens to be my favorite and most powerful demon (though the rest of the team's selectively leveled and mildly incense-fed, too, so it's not a huge gap). And with Antichthon and the ability to use MP-restoratives, she's never incapable of dealing out the hurt.

    5. Oh, Level 84, I forgot to mention. So she still has a little more growing to do.

    6. Waaaaait, I just noticed you're talking about Persona 3. I was wondering whether you'd mixed up the Vi stat for something else. Drat, we're not even talking about the same game. My dick-measuring is all for naught!

    7. Late reply, this one.

      The investment is apparent, regardless of the game. Knowledge of P3 is enough to know that your Pixie is simply unnecessary, and that's what matters.

  2. The insane encounter rate for these fiends is apparently meant to be a reference to the original SMT's (according to TVTropes anyway) but that's a dumb reference considering the reason they changed it in the first place is because the encounter rate was too high before.

    In a Challenge Quest (Errand for the Apocalypse), you can apparently encounter weaker versions of the Fiends (bar Antichthon) at a Domain in Infernal Tokyo. It doesn't elaborate on whether the encounter rate is any higher, but it probably would be.

    Also, 1/256 to the power of 4 is 1/4294967296. If we assume every encounter takes a second (which it doesn't), that would 1.36 centuries... according to my calculations anyway.

    Will the aforementioned rant focus on the SMT series or is it a more general RPG thing? Quite a few other RPGs use plot elements similar to the Four Horsemen, Lufia's the first that comes to mind, but Final Fantasy 4 (heh) also uses it with the four fiends.

    1. Yeah, I've dont he Errand for the Apocalypse sidequest, but after beating it, you don't get access to fuse the Fiends you defeat, so it's not an alternative to this stupid process.

      Which aforementioned rant are you referring to? The part where I mention them being symbols for different kinds of death? That'll be an SMT-only rant.

    2. That seems pretty annoying then. Persona Q and 5 hopefully won't pull off anything like this (though it's probably good to be cautious regarding the former, since it's not handled by the Persona team, and we know what happened with Devil Survivor 2 when Atlus gave it to the Career soft.)

      And yeah, that's the rant I was referring to. I would've thought it'd be an article about the four horsemen trope being used in RPGs, but this sounds more interesting. ^^;

  3. Ah yes the Fiend rates to be honest I didn't even know you could you fight them randomly till I read it somewhere.

    Then I saw the encounter rate yeah.

  4. that's why I don't play these kind of games. I Play to feel good, having fun and releasing stress from life. not to suffer and build up on stress, masochism and insanity. After finishing dds:megami tensei 1 I've grasped the developer level of madness pretty well.