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True Goddess Metempsychosis II
By: Jeremy, the Duke of Otterland
Back in the 1980s, an RPG series entitled Megami Tensei (Goddess Metempsychosis) began, emphasizing demon capturing and summoning, a feature that would influence the likes of Pokťmon and Dragon Quest V. Few of the franchiseís installments have seen the light of day outside of Japan aside from some installments of the Persona and Devil Children (DemiKids) subseries, not to mention the recent Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. This is the latter gameís predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei II, released in 1994 in Japan two years after the first. While a little less abhorrent than its predecessor, the second Shin Megami Tensei is still a flawed sequel overall, despite some very small improvements.
The battle system mostly remains the same, despite much better implementation this time around. For one, the encounter rate is much lower, although many battles still have a slight tendency to drop in another set of monsters immediately after the player kills one set. Many elements of the original SMTís battle systemóswords and guns for the human characters, demon negotiation, monster fusion, and so forthóreturn, although aside from being Law, Neutral, or Chaos, enemies are also Light, Neutral, or Dark. The latter characteristic didnít seem to affect much in my experience, although players aligned with Law canít capture or summon Chaos monsters and vice versa. Auto-battle returns, although the restrictive Magnetite system (where your monsters gradually take damage if you run out) does, as well, which restrained me from using my monsters commonly until late into the game. Combat is still unbalanced at times, as well, especially with respect to boss difficulty, which constantly fluctuated throughout the game. Some boss fights quickly ended, while others seemed to take an eternity. Mainly, the pros and cons of combat largely balance out this time around.
The interface, next, is slightly better, yet far from perfect. The menus feel less like surfing the web over a slow connection, and shortcut buttons can now let the player instantly access the auto-heal function and automaps (which thankfully donít rotate annoyingly unless the player turns off the fixed map option). This time, moreover, the player can view the effects of itemsóby paying a fee at an appraiserís store; a computer enhancement the hero receives eventually lets the player see both item and spell effects by selecting a separate option, although being able to see item and spell effects in their respective menus wouldíve been far more preferable. Moreover, the player still canít see how weapons and armor affect character stats before buying them, and overall, despite some minor enhancements, the interface couldíve used far more polish.
Despite the minor enhancements, originality is in the pits. Shin Megami Tensei II doesnít have any significant new features, and the Light/Neutral/Dark system in no way affected my gameplay, so as far as Iím concerned, SMT2, except for the inclusion of a moderately-enjoyable code-guessing minigame and casinos, is more of the same thing.
As with before, moreover, the story contains some excellent concepts, though poor execution. Decades after the events in the original Shin Megami Tensei, the Messian Church has constructed the Tokyo Millennium over the ruins of Old Tokyo. The game stars an amnesiac gladiator named Hawk, who, along with some other human characters, will be involved in another series of events involving the conflicting forces of Law and Chaos. Most of the events throughout the game just seemed to happen suddenly, and the player, as with many other RPGs, must embark upon endless fetch quests that do little but divert the storyline off track, whether working for Law, Chaos, or neither. Again, nice story concepts, but poor execution.
Like its predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei II is reliant upon techno, churchy, and choral tunes to keep the player awake, most of which are okay, yet cycle after a few seconds and become horribly redundant throughout the game. The sound effects are nothing special, at that, largely lacking in variety. Overall, mediocre aurals.
The same goes for the visuals. While a little better than those in the original SMT, they barely push 16-bit graphics to their limits. Everything remains in first-person perspective, although the 3-D dungeon scenery is more diverse. Still, human and monster art is still on the evil side of sloppy, and in the end, the graphics are by no means excellent.
As with its predecessor, Shin Megami Tensei IIís difficulty constantly fluctuates, accounting for a grossly unbalanced game. Playing time, moreover, ranges anywhere from forty to fifty hours.
In conclusion, the sequel that couldíve been just wasnít. The minor modifications in Shin Megami Tensei II did little, if nothing, to get the series back on track, and given its flaws, Iím thankful this and its predecessor werenít candidates for introducing the American public to the Goddess Metempsychosis franchise. I sincerely hope that Atlus wonít mimic its flawed formula again in future installments of its diverse series.
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