Starting a new Shin Megami Tensei title can be pretty daunting: and even with the tutorial missions in the beginning, the game can end up being horrifyingly difficult if you don’t know what demons to choose, what to spend your (very limited) money on or any other of those weird little tips and tricks that end up making a big difference. Don’t worry, this article won’t spoil anything other than the very beginning–after that, the tips will be more generalized.
After the protagonist officially becomes a Samurai and stops having ominous dreams, he is given a small stipend and five Healing Waters. When I say small stipend, I mean only 300 Macca, which gets you as far as a dollar would for an entire day in real life. At this point, you can purchase weapons and equipment at Q’s Blacksmith, which is to say you’ll be window shopping there like you were at Michael Kors because there is nothing you can remotely afford at this point.
You can also pick up some supplies at B’s Apothecary such as more Healing Water, Holy Fruit (out of your price range for now), Revival Bead and Detox Solution. Don’t bother with the Detox Solution since enemies won’t cast status ailments right now. Buying a Revival Bead might seem like a good back-up but you can only afford a single one before your money is completely drained. I would personally recommend buying a few more Healing Waters since it will improve the chances of your character and party’s survival in the first place. Now head into Naraku and begin your training.
Your first mission is to slay a demon, which luckily for you is a tutorial section. Here’s some handy information about getting the initiative on an enemy. When you see the blue enemy unit on the field, go close enough to get its attention and force it to come toward you. The trick is to strike the enemy with your sword right before it reaches you. Use this level to practice the timing of your sword swing because getting ambushed this early in the game will definitely get you killed. Here’s another tip–pay attention to the sounds around you. If you hear a demon is really close by but can’t see it, it’s probably behind you. Calmly but quickly turn the camera around, then strike quickly to get the upper hand.
Now, back to the mission. When you enter your first battle, the enemies here will always get the first hit but don’t worry since they deal very little damage right now. Attack the Slime enemy first because it’s weak to physicals, which will give you an extra turn. Two hits should dispatch the Slime and after that, switch focus to Lham Dearg, making sure to heal as needed. After that battle, you’ll receive a Revival Bead and a Life Stone, as well as a level up and 150 Macca, which you can put toward another Revivial Bead if you’d like. Additionally you can save your money for demon negotiations, which I’ll explain shortly.
Leveling up nets you five stat points, which you can apply to any one of your character’s stats. Increasing the St (strength) and Ma (magic) stats are vital, since you’ll need a stronger physical attack now and you’ll want to invest in a strong magic stat when you starting getting skills. Dx (technique) affects gun attack strength, however, guns won’t be acquired for a while. Investing in Ag (agility) is not a bad bet since a high enough stat allows you to almost always have turn priority in battle. Lu (luck) is not very useful, especially at this point. I would recommend putting your points toward St, Ma and Ag for now–you can always equalize it later.
Now here comes the juicy part–demon negotiations. Your next mission is to recruit demons as party members, which you’ll want to accomplish as quickly as possible because the kiddie gloves come off now. Burroughs will guide you through the purchase of an App called Scout that actually lets you talk to demons.
When you encounter an enemy after this sequence, it will most likely be the demon Centaur. If he asks you to massage his shoulders, say “No thanks.” Then you can negotiate with him normally. Do not choose the first option “Massage his shoulders” because it will cause you to lose your turn(s) and give him the initiative.
Demon negotiations are very fun but can be daunting because not only must you know how to answer general questions (such as the one with the Centaur) but also the specific ones that hinge on each demon’s unique personality. Pay attention to how the demon speaks, since this will determine personality types, and memorize the correct responses that correspond with these personalities. The other piece of advice is to not get discouraged and just keep trying. While other Megaten titles only give you one shot to recruit each demon during battle, SMT IV gives you unlimited tries per battle so if the first conversation falls through, try speaking with the demon again.
Demons will usually ask for items and money to join your party, so make sure to always have Macca on hand. As for items, the golden rule is if you can part with it, then give it up but if you need it, don’t be afraid to refuse. The first time you decline won’t hurt your negotiations but if the demon does eventually leave (after repeated refusals), you can always find more of the same type later.
As for what your party should include, I would strongly suggest that you acquire the demon Napaea. Her Dia skill, which heals a single target’s HP, is absolutely crucial for surviving long runs in Naraku, since the amount of healing items you can purchase are very limited at this stage. As a bonus, she can also learn Zan, which gives you some elemental coverage. Another good demon to have is Mokoi due to his Zio skills. The last slot can be filled with whatever demon you prefer, although Centaur would be a good choice too since he has Bufu and, after he levels up only once, can teach that and Needle Shot to you. If you want a physical type, pick Gryphon (which are found in the 2nd Stratum) over Lham Dearg since Gryphon is a higher level and has better stats. Try to have a few demons in stock as well–if your party demon faints and you have no revival beads, stock demons can be used as substitutes.
The third quest forces you to learn how to use the map to navigate dungeons while taking you on a hunt to locate an item the Commander tucked away in the second level of Naraku. Use this time to practice battling and garner new demons. I also strongly suggest that you purchase the Demon Analyze App for 20 points as soon as you can–it allows you to analyze demons and find out their weaknesses and skills, after you have fought them once. As a side note, the game doesn’t explain this but when you notice cliffs or wall openings with a grid pattern in front, you can crawl or climb through those areas by pressing the UP or DOWN button on the D-Pad.
Once you’ve explored enough, travel down to the very bottom left of the map until you reach one of those cliffs with the grid pattern. Save first and then hit the UP button to climb. Once you are up, you’ll see an enemy icon glowing red just ahead, which signifies a Horde–a group of enemies that function as one (in a way). The Disaster Horde, as this one is called, is weak to Zan so if you have Napaea she’ll be very useful.
Once you defeat the Horde and grab the item from the chest, the Commander will inform you that the mission is over. This means nothing because you still have to make your way back up. I suggest you grind the protagonist’s level to at least six and acquire the demon Chagrin before you leave the 2nd Stratum. Carefully make your way back out and continue with the story.
Here are some overall tips to help you along the way:
- Do not ignore the Press Turn system. It’s absolutely vital that you learn and master the system as soon as possible. Enemies and bosses will use the system to their advantage, so why not beat them to the punch?
- Save, save, save. You are given the opportunity to save at every junction so take advantage. Save when you level up, find items, before fighting bosses, after defeating them, etc.
- There are many kinds of Apps to choose from, and the game will only force you to purchase two, so it’s up to you to figure out which ones you would like. The protagonist only receives 10 points per level so App purchasing is at a very slow rate. Instead, focus on which App will suit your playing style. Like to do long grinds in dungeons? Then purchase HP and MP regenerating Apps. Find yourself fusing constantly? Then buy Apps that give your demons more skill slots and give you more slots to hold more demons at once. And so forth.
- Expanding on striking enemy icons from earlier, if the protagonist is using a spear, remember that the forward thrust for each strike will cause you to hit the demon sooner, so make sure the enemy is a little farther than normal to hit it properly.
- When trying to figure out what level the protagonist and party should be at, the general rule for RPGs apply here: what level are the enemies and bosses? Are enemy encounters easy or hard? How much damage is being dealt to your party? Answering these questions will help you figure out where you should roughly be at.
- If you find yourself stuck at a boss, the obvious choice would be to level-grind, however, that’s not always the answer. If your demons aren’t up to snuff, you may need to start fusing again. Don’t be afraid to restructure your party, especially if the demon(s) have learned all their possible skills and/or their stats are starting to fall behind.
- Treat the “Recommended Fusions” in Mido as a guide, not a bible. In the beginning of the game, the recommended fusions are incredibly useful but as you go on, it’s important to conduct your own searches and fusions based on your party needs. Experiment and take risks!
- Don’t forget to update the Demon Compendium before fusing; if you want to re-summon a demon already used as a fusion ingredient, you’ll want their strongest iteration.
- Most enemies and bosses have weakness, so having a diverse party with various elemental skills will go a long way in targeting that enemy/boss’s weakness and increasing the amount of turns your party gains.
- Using buffs and debuffs in boss battles are imperative to victory. For those who don”t know, buffs are skills that increase the stats of your party while debuffs decrease the enemy’s stats. Both skill types can be stacked (repeatedly cast) up to three times. Here’s a tip: some bosses will undo debuffs cast on them with a skill called “Dekunda,” which can be used to your advantage (they are using a whole turn to do so, which means they’ll attack you less…).
Shin Megami Tensei IV is an excellent game but has a steep and unforgiving learning curve. Hopefully this beginner’s guide will give you a solid foundation and help you throughout the rest of your journey. Feel free to ask me any questions if you’re having trouble–I’ll do my best to answer them.