Anger and the Player

Here is an article on Shin Megami Tensei 4. I am quite disappointed in it for several reasons. A good portion is the heap of factual inaccuracies and omissions. To leave out the fact that you can spend Game Coins to revive (These are the coins you get on the 3DS for walking around. Yes. I completely forgot about them until Charon asked if I wanted to spend them.) is a pretty big deal as it has significant impact on the decision to revive or not which in turn impacts how you play the game.

The biggest offense, however, is the ignoring of the fact that what Shin Megami Tensei 4 is doing here is exactly what distinguishes games that are art from games that are not. Music, graphics, voice acting, stories — these are all very artful things and key elements to any game as we tend to observe them with our senses. The key difference between a game and a movie is our interaction and the ability for a game to make us feel based on our choices.

In every other Shin Megami Tensei mainline game, death was death. Heck, in 3 death to only the Main Character was enough to give you a game over. It made instant death spells extra frustrating. However we died, we simply went to the title screen and reloaded our save (or quit). Now in SMT4 the game does not simply kick us to the title screen but instead offers us two more choices. Instead of rebooting and reloading from that save, which might be pretty far back as Charon is often proud to note, we can give in game money, which would still be there in our save file if we were to reset later, or the aforementioned Game Coins which will be permanently lost if we ever chose to reset. So our choices are our progress, in-game money or 3DS Game coins. These all burn down to different kinds of time, and now we are asked, which kind of time are you willing to part with?

This elevates our choices, which are what differentiate a game to other forms of entertainment, to an entirely different level. Time is essentially all we really have in our mortal lives, and Shin Megami Tensei 4 is asking us which kind are we more willing to part with.

Having Charon mock us upon death is another interesting design choice as now we are not left damning our luck (or our own poor choices, which is often the case in MegaTen games) but instead literally having the game laugh at us. I will not deny that this is sure to evoke a wide range of feelings in all the players of the world, but the fact that the game is actually working to evoke feelings on a player versus the game level is an excellent aspect of what video games can do as an art form.

I do not expect everyone to enjoy Shin Megami Tensei games. They can be brutal. They can be mean. Misrepresentation of gameplay can happen due to player frustration, not paying enough attention, confusion or just rage from the seemingly unfairness of it all. To miss what SMT4 does as a piece of art, however, is just unfortunate.