Saturday, 15 March 2014

Good News! Tokyo is Saved! Shin Megami Tensei IV Finished!

Hunter Nozomi
One of the few side quests I needed to complete involved
helping Nozomi once more.
Well, that didn't take very long. Here I was wondering how much longer I'd be plugging away on side quests in order to fill the Chalice of Hope for Masakado, and not only did I get all of that sorted out, but I also steam rolled through the rest of the game. I think that when the finish line started to come into sight I just broke into a sprint and decided to finish the game.

There actually weren't very many quests left that I had to do. The only one from the Hunter's Association that I needed to get sorted out was one where we had to help Nozomi protect some fairies. They were trying to bring their queen back into the world, and Nozomi had the ability to do it via her demon summoning program, but we needed to protect her while she went about that. It was an easy fight and after it was over, Nozomi was able to summon the demon in question. However, the creature had new responsibilities that she could not abandon, so asked Nozomi to become the fairies' new queen. It was an important task, and I had Flynn encourage her to give it a shot, after which Nozomi accepted the job.

That out of the way, there wasn't any other quests coming up at the bar, and Flynn was still number two in the rankings, so I got to wandering around, checking if I missed any one-off quests somewhere along the line. I'd met a hunter once outside Shinjuku who asked Flynn to take some pictures in Ikebukuro as a quest, so I wondered if there might be any more like that I had missed.

Sure enough, there was. After checking around all of the major inhabited areas of Tokyo, I came across one girl in the Shinjuku train station that asked Flynn to take a couple of pictures of the Counter Demon Force base in Kasumigaseki. There was also a women in the area just prior to the main city part of Ginza who wanted a picture of a specific store in the area of Ginza that requires a platinum card for access. These were very easy to do, so I got them out of the way real quick and decided to check the leader board at the bar in Shinjuku once more. Finally, Flynn had achieved first place. Everyone there congratulated him on a job well done.

When Flynn headed out, he was quickly mobbed by adoring fans. The stories of his exploits were getting around and people felt that they had a hero they could believe in. It was at that moment that the Chalice of Hope filled up a bit. This got me thinking that I should take Flynn to all of the cities to see if we could get the thing totally full. It was a good assumption to make, as the same scene repeated itself several times. At Ueno, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro, Flynn and Isabeau were greeted by the locals, all excited to see the hero, and cheer him on, thanking him for all of the help he'd given so far. The two places where no one showed up were Ginza and Tennozu, which was understandable given one was the former stronghold of the Ring of Gaea, now rudderless after the death of Lilith, and the other an isolated city with no knowledge of the Hunter's Association.

Archangel Seraph
Seraph had an interesting, color-coded
fight mechanic.
So, filled chalice in hand, it was time to go see Masakado again. When we met him, the deity happily took the contents of the cup and consumed it, partially restoring his strength. Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough to remove the dome over Tokyo. He would still need to become stronger and the only way to do this would be to first march on Mikado. There we would have to destroy God's Chariot, which stored the Spirit of Goodwill. Next we'd have to head to the demon stronghold in Tokyo and kill Lucifer in order to get the Spirit of Spite. Masakado would need to eat these as well in order to return fully to his former self and remove the dome. However, he was now strong enough to join Flynn's party and help fight.

Masakado made a decent addition and I tended to keep him in the front as he's not weak against any sorts of attacks and has some decent almighty and gun abilities. He's also necessary to bring down the barrier in Naraku blocking the way to Mikado, as well as the barrier that keeps anyone from getting into Camp Ichigaya.

Partially restored guardian deity in tow, the first place we headed to was Mikado so we could claim the Spirit of Goodwill. However, when we brought down the barrier in Naraku what we found was not the network of caves that we were expecting. Instead we were transported to a place called Purgatorium, which was like being sent to a different, very surreal dimension.

The place was divided into several floors, each with paths that only formed in front of Flynn as he moved. There were several areas with multiple warp zones that took a little while to figure out. All the while we fought through legions of angels, all quite intent on keeping the filthy humans away from their chariot. It was actually tough to see them sometimes because they're almost the same color as the environment, so on several occasions I found myself getting ambushed. There were also mini boss fights along the way, fighting particularly strong angels and archangels, but this was just a matter of figuring out their weaknesses and exploiting them, as per usual in the game (though Seraph had a neat fight with a color coded barrier).

When we finally got to the end of the dungeon, we found the Chariot, though it was more like a very powerful archangel. It was called Merkabah, and, as it turned out, Jonathan had fused with it so that it could come into existence in this world. He had made a choice too when encountering the White, opting to align with the forces of order, and this was the result of that decision. His body was now a vessel for Merkabah.

Merkabah, God's Chariot
Merkabah is pretty tough. Get ready to
cast Debilitate a lot.
After a brief chat, the fight was on, and this was a tough battle. In terms of strategy, I found it was kind of similar to how I dealt with Beelzebub. Merkabah had no weaknesses, so we weren't going to be getting many extra turns outside of from landing critical blows. So the offensive side of things would be a bit of a slog as my team wore him down. That was simple enough, as the real challenge came from mounting a defense. The angel hits quite hard and likes to use almighty attacks, so in order to mitigate this we needed to bring down his stats as much as possible with Debilitate. This helped a lot in containing his offensive output. On top of this, I made a point of using Makarakarn to reflect the occasional lightning spell he would cast since my Rangda was weak against it. This wound up adding to the damage we were dumping on Merkabah, which was nice. Of course, there were also pauses for chit chat, and depending on the answers one chose Flynn would either get a boost or a penalty.

In the end, it was a long, hard fought battle, but we finally beat Merkabah. Before disappearing, he acknowledged that Flynn had won the day but said that one day the angels would be back, as there would eventually be humans who could not live without the beings and would begin praying to them.

Chariot defeated, we entered Mikado and were able to claim the Spirit of Goodwill. At this point, Isabeau left the party as she wanted to warn everyone that soon Masakado would be removing the dome from Tokyo, and Mikado would be destroyed in the process, so she headed off to arrange the evacuation of the kingdom to Tokyo with the help of Hope and Hugo.

Now all that was left was to defeat Lucifer and get the Spirit of Spite. This required us to return once more to Camp Ichigaya, where the Yamato Reactor had opened a rift to the Expanse, allowing the demon armies to pour into Tokyo. Just like in Naraku, there was a barrier here, and again Masakado brought it down.

General Lucifuge
Lucifuge, one of Lucifer's generals.
Confusing name choices, ahoy!
Going through this portal brought us to another unusual realm. This time it was an opulent palace with marble, pillars, chandeliers, and the like. There wasn't a winding maze before us this time. Instead there were just doors situated in certain areas of the room that would take Flynn to other rooms that looked almost identical save for a different layout of treasure chests in them. It was actually a very confusing place to get around and took a good deal of trial and error, as well as luck, to navigate.

In time, we came across Lucifer's generals that were defending the place and defeated them, which caused a pillar of light to appear in the main hall. Walking into it transported Flynn to another area of the palace that was far easier to get around. Along the way we also found the last of the teleporation terminals in Tokyo and were able to complete the quest to find and activate all ten of them, which was nice.

After exploring the palace a bit more, we finally came upon the room where Lucifer was waiting for Flynn. Just as Jonathan had thrown his lot in with the angels, we found Walter here, who was supporting the demons, and like Jonathan, Walter was willing to give up his body to help his side. In this case, Walter gave his body to Lucifer. So, sad chat out of the way it was time for another epic showdown.

Just like our fight with Merkabah, Debilitate played a heavy role here. We also needed to use quite a bit of Makarakarn to reflect some of Lucifer's spells back at him. This fight we were able to do in one go, but it did take a while since we needed to burn through so many hit points, but in the end we emerged victorious and helped ourselves to the Spirit of Spite. Also, just like when Merkabah was defeated, Lucifer warned that one day the demons would be back. Gotta keep the door open for those sequels after all!

Anyway, final big boss out of the way, it was time to head to the cafe in Shinjuku, and meet up with Isabeau as we'd agreed before parting ways in Mikado.  When Flynn arrived, everyone was there.  Hope was waiting outside, and greeted Flynn.  Inside, Fujiwara, Skins, Huge, K, and Isabeau were all there chatting.

Hugo seemed pretty excited to be in Tokyo since there were so many relics for him to learn about. He was particularly eager to learn all about wine, and Fujiwara offered to share a bottle with him sometime. Everyone was in a festive mood, with both the angels and demons defeated. K was getting food ready, and was happy to be in Tokyo despite Mikado's legends of it being a terrible place. He mentioned that it almost felt like he'd been to the city before. This got me thinking that maybe 25 years ago when angels took some humans from Tokyo to what would become Mikado, the adults had their memories altered so that they thought their kingdom was ancient when it actually wasn't. It would help explain the timeline issues I was having with the game.

Lucifer the demon lord
I found Lucifer's
design to be kind of
creepy.
With that, Isabeau joined up with Flynn once more and the two went to meet up with Masakado to give him the Spirits of Goodwill and Spite. When the deity appeared he congratulated them on a job well done and ate the spirits. Finally, he was restored to his former self, transforming into an absolutely massive figure. He was now big enough to remove the bedrock dome over Tokyo. At first it crumbled slowly, large pieces of stone falling from the sky. Finally, the dome was gone, and for the first time in a quarter of a century the sun shone on Tokyo again.

At that moment, Flynn was teleported to a beach with a table and chairs there. In front of him was a small girl who transformed into a woman. It was the Goddess of Tokyo. She too was now restored, and very grateful to Flynn for all he had done. And with that, the game was finished.

On the whole, I very much enjoyed this game. It's the first Shin Megami Tensei game that I've managed to finish. Usually I'm not into monster breeding games, never having gotten into stuff like Pokemon, but this one was fun. Maybe it was the art direction? Battles were fun, with a nice bit of learning, trying to figure out what worked, especially on bosses like Beelzebub, Lucifer, and Merkabah. Several of the dungeons were nicely designed and felt like proper buildings to be explored, not just a random network of winding paths. About the only thing I didn't enjoy about SMT IV was when I was doing low level side quests to complete the neutral path. Those were a bit of a drag because of the lack of challenge, being so much stronger than the demons we encountered then. On the whole, though, I had a lot of fun. Shin Megami Tensei IV is certainly one of the better RPGs to come out in recent years that I've played, and I'd highly recommend it to any fan of the genre that has a 3DS.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Embarking on the Neutral Path (Shin Megami Tensei IV)

Huge the White
We had to fight manifestations of people from the real
world in the Monochrome Forest.
It's been a few days since my last post and with good reason. There is a lot of stuff one has to do once they've locked themselves into the neutral ending path in Shin Megami Tensei IV. Most notably, one has to plough through just about every side quest in the game, which can be very time consuming.

Before I could do that, though, Flynn needed to get himself out of the Monochrome Forest, where The White had trapped him. It was quite a large place, divided into several smaller sub sections. Mapping out and navigating the area took some time as I figured out which areas connected where, as well as learning the hard way which exits actually warped Flynn right back to the starting area of the zone.

In order to get out of this maze, Flynn had to track down for manifestations of The White and defeat them in battle. At first, I thought this was going to be pretty tough, but it turned out to be quite simple since the fights can be won quickly with smart use of spells that reflect physical / gun attack, magic, and light / dark abilities. So, what could have been epic wound up being fairly mundane.

All the while as we fought these creatures, each taking the form of someone Flynn knew from the real world, the White made their disapproval of Flynn's choice to follow the path of neutrality known. It sounds like this has played out several times, and Flynn may well have reincarnated on several occasions, as the White referred to him as their fifth son.

In any case, each of these enemies was beaten, and with that we met up with Stephen once more who further explained that he had to resurrect the Goddess of Tokyo in order to save humans from both the demons and the angels. The first thing that needed to be done would be to track down a deity named Masakado, who was the defender of Tokyo, and a powerful being that would be able to help.

The demon Cernunnos
Cernunnos was a demon we dealt
with a few times during side quests.
With that, Stephen sent Flynn back to his own world and the next thing we knew, Flynn was in the Counter Demon Force operations room again, with Isabeau hovering over him trying to wake him up. She was very distraught, almost on the verge of tears. Since Flynn, Walter, and Jonathan were sent to those other realities by The White things had gotten much, much worse in both Tokyo and Mikado. In Tokyo, demons were pouring into the city en masse thanks to the Yamato Reactor opening a rift into the Expanse. Moreover, the creatures had resurrected their king, Lucifer. Meanwhile, angels had taken over and locked down Mikado, wiping out those they felt unworthy and amassing a huge army with the intention of marching on Tokyo to fight the demons. The world was barreling towards war and things were looking grim indeed.

Looking around, Jonathan and Walter were nowhere to be found. Were they somewhere else? Dead? Did they make different choices and get sent to different realities? Who knows. For now, Flynn and Isabeau teamed up and decided to find a way to deal with the crisis. With no way of getting to Mikado, they wouldn't be able to talk to Hugo or Hope for advice, so the only logical solution left was to head over to Shinjuku and talk with Fujiwara and Skins. They seemed to be the most in the know people in Tokyo, especially now that both Lilith and Tayama were dead. Perhaps they had some ideas of how to deal with the situation.

Arriving back at the Cafe, Fujiwara confirmed that everything was pretty terrible, but when Flynn mentioned looking for the guardian of Tokyo, suddenly Skins was very interested. He asked what the guardian's name was and we confirmed that it was Masakado. This was when Skins explained a lot more about Tokyo's past. 25 years ago, when the demons came, things were looking grim, and I guess somewhere along the way some of the world's governments decided the only way to stop them was to order a missile strike on Tokyo in hopes of obliterating the beasts. However, someone from the Counter Demon Force met Masakado and convinced the deity to fuse with him, forming the huge stone barrier now encasing the city, thus blocking the missiles.

Before doing so, this human entrusted his sword with Skins, seeing as both of them served in the same unit at the CDF. The sword would remain stuck in its sheath until the right person came along. It was understood that one day this hero would be resurrected and be able to remove the sword in a vaguely Arthurian fashion. Skins handed the sword to Flynn, and asked him to unsheath it, and sure enough Flynn was able to do this, confirming that he was the reincarnation of the hero.

Guardian deity Masakado
Masakado can help Flynn but first he needs his powers back.
With that, Skins told Flynn to go to Ginza and look for a large stone in an intersection there. This was the remains of Masakado, and bringing the sword there would awaken him. So that's what we did. Unfortunately, the deity's powers were greatly diminished and it would take a lot of work in order to return him to his former self. In order to do this, he handed Flynn a chalice and asked him to fill it with the hopes of all the people of Tokyo after which the deity was dormant once more.

Popping by one of the hunter bars to heal up and figure out what to do next, the guy running the place informed us that the bars were changing the way the rankings board worked. Instead of dividing it into categories, there would just be one for best overall hunter. It was meant to be a way of promoting a hero for the city that everyone could look up to. The more quests that someone did for the Hunters Association and other people of the city, the higher their rank would be on the board. Hearing this, Flynn and Isabeau thought it would be a good way of filling the chalice for Masakado as well. They'd just have to do all of the quests, get to the number one position on the board, and hopefully they'd become Tokyo's heroes.

Beelzebub lord of the flies
Beelzebub was a right pain in the ass with his
Megidolaon spam.
So, that's what I've been doing, and why it's taken so long to post anything. There are a ton of side quests in Shin Megami Tensei IV, and getting through them all takes quite a bit of time. Some of them were actually very tedious, especially the lower level ones where the enemies were no challenge at all. It actually tried my patience trudging through many of them.

There have been some nice rewards to come out of doing all these, not so much in a direct monetary sense, or through items and equipment received, but in other ways. One quest involved helping to resurrect the goddess Amaterasu who was so grateful for our help that she gave us use of her airship and now we're actually able to fly around Tokyo quickly, which complements the city's network of teleporters nicely as a means of transportation. Another quest gave us access to the most exclusive areas of Ginza, which is helpful for a couple of reasons. First, these places store a lot of valuable relics that can be farmed for big money. Second, there are a couple of shops here with very high end goods that may be useful at some point.

One quest, though, was a real pain in the butt, and I only just managed to complete it. It all revolved around a red knight and a cult trying to revive a dead god. I'd dealt with them once before but the knight got away. This time, his god appeared after we defeated him and we found ourselves fighting Beelzebub. As it turned out, the red knight was the king of Mikado, who had been ousted when the angels came. He was seeking Beelzebub's help in order to get revenge. This Demon was tough.

Rangda demon
I made a Rangda specifically
for Debilitate.
I actually had to make an entirely new team just for dealing with this him. He hits hard, attacks everyone, puts out a lot of status ailments, and has a very powerful almighty attack that he spams three times per turn when he's near death. Basically, there's no way to reflect this type of spell. So, I needed one demon in my group who could cast Debilitate to take down Beelzebub's offensive output (and, as luck would have it, Flynn was able to learn the spell as well via whispers), then, I needed everyone to have as many resists and nulls as possible to limit the demon's moves per turn by negating some attacks. On top of all this, Beelzebub has no weaknesses. So, it was a very challenging fight.

It came down to the wire too. Even fully debilitated, he put out a lot of damage. One demon went down and we were running low on mana from the huge cost of all the spells we were casting. Looking at my resources, I knew we'd only make it another round or two before we were toast, and I'd already restarted the battle so many times because we ran into trouble that I was just hoping and praying that somehow we'd win.

Thankfully, we did manage to get him down that time and the quest was over. It was such a huge relief to be able to move one. Flynn even got a nice sword out of the deal. Returning to the bar to check the leader boards, I'd hoped that Flynn would finally be in the top position, but he's still only number two, so he's got a little more work to do. There aren't that many more quests left on my list, though, so hopefully he'll finish them soon and we can get down to reviving Masakado.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Killing Lilith, Doomsday Reactors, and Alternate Dimensions (Shin Megami Tensei IV)

The Yamato Reactor
The Yamato Reactor
So, the decision has been made. For now, we're taking the side of Order. Flynn and Jonathan are returning to Ginza and will kill the demon Lilith, putting a stop to her plans.

A quick trip in the teleporter, and a walk down the street and we were back in front of The Ring of Gaea's temple. Outside we came across one of Tayama's men, badly beaten up and on the verge of death. Tayama was getting impatient waiting for Flynn, and sent his own men to take care of business. That didn't work out so well. Before dying, the guy told us not to take the main entrance, as it was too heavily guarded, and instead enter via the sewers.

We did this, navigating a small underground area before coming upon a rather large demon domain. The monsters inside were quite strong, but identifying their weaknesses and exploiting them made it easy to plow through them. There were a couple of Ring of Gaea higher ups that tried to stop us along the way as well, but they weren't much of a challenge, and before too long we were outside of the room that Lilith was holed up in.

This proved to be quite a challenging fight, and took a while to figure out a good strategy for beating her. Her regular attacks hit hard, she has a strong lightning attack, and could remove buffs from my party. It took a fair bit of roster tweaking in order to take her down. She's actually weak against gun attacks so I kept my Titan in there since he had Tathlum Shot, so he and Flynn could focus on that to bring down her hit points and get extra moves per turn. Meanwhile, I also brought in Minotaur mostly as a meat tank with decent physical attacks. He was useful since he wasn't weak against lightning and had lots of counterattack abilities. He wasn't going to get huge damage, but he was consistent and his large health pool meant it would take a while for him to die. For healing, I took Clotho, a Femme with very powerful spells. She could resurrect people and had both Mediarama and Diarama. The former was incredibly useful as a massive group heal during the fight. The big problem with her is her hit points are pretty low, so she could go down in an unlucky round. To help mitigate this, I did have Flynn cast Tetrakarn now and then to at least reflect some physical damage. Sometimes Lilith would counteract it with Silent Prayer, but even then that took away one move per battle as she focused on that.

Kiyoharu and Akira
Kiyoharu is a bit eccentric, but overall pretty okay.
The fight still took a bit of luck, but there were opportunities to make it easier since Lilith would stop to talk sometimes, and depending on Flynn's response, her defense would go down. Thanks to some rather fortuitous rounds, we finally defeated her. The demon wasn't ready to give up yet, informing us that Walter was on his way to Tayama's reactor to activate it. Doing so would open a rift to the Expanse, allowing legions of demons to pour into Tokyo. After informing us of this, Lilith died.

With no time to lose, Flynn and Jonathan needed to get to that reactor to stop Walter. On the way we popped by Roppongi in hopes of gaining some intel on what we needed to do. Tayama was gone, having headed to the reactor himself to take care of things. The captured samurai was still there, but he was unguarded. The man told us where we needed to go (head north!), and also gave us all of the security key cards for the lab below Roppongi.

Passing through a tunnel, we came upon the building where the reactor was stored. Along the way, we'd stumbled across some of Tayama's men, all beaten up and close to death. They told us of a young man marching in with his demons, destroying anyone in his path. Walter, presumably.

The reactor was stored in a place called Camp Ichigaya. It was a large facility that took a while to get around because of several doors that could only be opened from one side. This resulted in Flynn going around in circles for a while as we got a lay of the land. Thankfully, XP was plentiful and we got some very nice demons, which made for some great fusion fodder.

After wandering around the place for a while we finally came to an area in the third basement with a massive steel door like one would expect in a vault. Stepping through, we found a nondescript metallic room with a strange device in the center. Laying on the floor before the machine was Tayama, dead. There was a demon hovering over him who mocked the man before disappearing.

Akira the demon
Akira: Adorably not tough.
At that moment, Walter appeared. He was about to activate the reactor, but Jonathan stopped him so that they could talk. Walter reiterated that he thought Lilith's vision of the future was better because it was more meritocratic, so anyone could rise to the top if they worked hard enough. He asked Flynn once more what he thought of it, and I chose to respond by saying that Flynn could see where Walter was coming from, what with both men being Casualries. Jonathan was shocked by this.

Finally, Walter hit the switch and activated the reactor. As it fired up, a portal started to form with what must have been demons gathering on the other side. Slowly everything went black, but then Flynn found himself talking to these strange creatures taking the form of humans he had met. They were The White, and were explaining that the world can work in funny ways and wanted to show Flynn some possible realities.

Then Flynn woke up with Walter and Jonathan nearby. Everyone was in the old Counter Demon Force headquarters in Kasmuigaseki, and all of them had an encounter with The White. After a brief chat, Walter went outside for some air, as did Jonathan. I had Flynn take a look around once more, double checking all of the rooms. Most were still empty with the occasional item to grab, but the teleporation terminal's door was looked. Unable to check anything else, Flynn went outside to see what Walter and Jonathan were up to.

What was waiting for him there was disturbing. There were no buildings, only sand and rubble. It was like Tokyo had been pummeled by several nuclear bombs and they were in some sort of Mad Max future. Walter and Jonathan could hardly believe their eyes.

There was nothing to be done for it, though. The samurai would just have to take a look around and see if they could learn anything. The landscape was one crater after the next, most with nothing in them. Eventually, we did find one with a point of interest, so we decided to check it out. It was another underground city, but as soon as we entered, a large group of humans surrounded the samurai and took them prisoner.

These humans had noticed the gauntlets they were wearing, though, and offered to let them go if the samurai showed the devices to them. A very eccentric man named Kiyoharu was fascinated by them, and had been searching for such devices for a very long time. Eventually, he agreed to let Flynn and the others go if they agreed to help the people of this settlement with a problem.

Pluto
Pluto made life miserable for the humans of Blasted Tokyo.
As it turned out, the whole situation was very complicated. The city that the samurai found themselves in was Shinjuku. Flynn was still in Tokyo, however it appeared to be some sort of alternate reality. The demon invasion still happened 25 years ago, and the Counter Demon Force still got annihilated fighting them. However, there was no stone dome over top of the city. Instead, Tokyo got obliterated, hence the desolate landscape. The surface had highly poisonous air, forcing everyone to live underground (though Flynn and his friends seemed unaffected), and there were demons milling around everywhere. Also, there were very few smart phones or other devices around that could be used to run the devil summoning program, unlike the Tokyo that Flynn had just left where people like the Ashura-kai and Ring of Gaea had salvaged them and had demons of their own.

The only major human settlement in the area was this crumbled remnant of Shinjuku with Kiyoharu and his friend Akira as the place's leaders. Akira was the person who actually called the shots as he was the more level-headed of the two. Interestingly, he too had been visited by The White, but in a dream. They foretold of people from another world coming to save the humans of this Tokyo. So, when Flynn and his friends showed up, Akira assumed these were the people he was told about. He offered them a remote that would allow them to activate the Yamato Reactor of this world, and presumably they'd be able to return to their own Tokyo. There was a catch, though.

Kenji the king of Tokyo
Kenji, king of Infernal Tokyo.
A particularly powerful demon in this version of Tokyo that was suppressing the humans and was also responsible for the poison. It's name was Pluto, and he lived in a "castle" far to the east of Shinjuku. Kiyoharu and Akira wanted the samurai to go there and defeat the beast, thus freeing the humans here, allowing them to return to the surface. If Flynn did this, he'd be given the remote to the reactor.

As everyone was about to leave, another group of humans came up to them and asked for their help. These people were all that remained of Shibuya, having fled to Shinjuku some time ago. Unfortunately, there was still a demon in their old home that had turned the people there into spirits, and the survivors asked Flynn to go there quickly and kill the creature, freeing the spirits. They then handed over a key that would open up the teleportation terminal door in Kasumigaseki so we could get to the remains of Shibuya.

We wound up taking them up on their request. Walter was in a bit of a hurry to deal with Pluto, but Jonathan was alright with the detour, hoping to be of help. It was a quick trip, and it didn't take long to defeat the demon, but it further emphasized just how bleak the situation was in this version of Tokyo. This Shibuya had no power, it was dark, not a living soul to be seen. Everything just felt so abandoned and empty. Kill the demon we did, though, and after that it was time to head to Pluto's Castle.

Surprisingly, this castle looked exactly like the cocoon in Shene Duque. Upon entering we were jumped by strange mechanical spider things. They were machines made by Pluto to help defend the area, often attacking in hordes. It was easy to dispatch them, though. Heading further into the "castle" everywhere we looked had a vaguely bio mechanical look to it, being not quite man made and not quite natural in composition. The place was really big, too. Flynn had to take a number of passageways and elevators before finally getting to Pluto, not to mention there were tons of demons and mechanical minions that they had to fight past along the way.

When they finally got to Pluto, what they saw was rather unexpected. This wasn't a demon but a robot / computer of some sort. It was programmed to keep down humans by attacking and poisoning them. In fact, it was God who put it there in the first place, so this was the doing of the angels' faction's leader. It was very unnerving for the samurai to learn this.

Girimehkala demon
Girimehkala have a lot of
weaknesses, but can still be useful
in a fight.
Fighting this guy was actually pretty easy thanks to the combination of demons I brought with me. Pluto is weak against ice attacks, so a key part of the fight was to make sure most people had something Bufu-related to cast. I started the fight with Lorelei, Clotho, and Pallas Athena in my group. Lorelei, Clotho, and Flynn had good ice spells in their repertoire, so focused on that to bring down Pluto's health and get extra attacks. Pallas Athena had a ton of support spells, most notably Makarakarn, so I had her cast that each round to reflect Pluto's spells back at him. When Athena ran out of mana I swapped her out for Minotaur who once again acted as a meat tank while using Damascus Claw to whittle down the enemy's health. Any damage that did make it onto the party was quickly healed by Clotho's Mediarama spell. The strategy worked great and it didn't take very long to beat Pluto.

Tyrannical God-bot defeated, it was time to return to Shinjuku and give Kiyoharu and Akira the good news. They were overjoyed and Akira gave Flynn the Yamato remote as agreed upon. Before leaving, Akira thanked everyone and said he'd lead his people above ground again since it was safe now that Pluto was dead. He'd use the demon summoning program to subjugate the remaining demons and build a new land for the humans. In honor of Flynn and his friends, Akira would name the land after their own homeland, and name the new human domain The Eastern Kingdom of Mikado instead of just sticking with Tokyo.

It was then that it dawned on Jonathan and others that they may have actually traveled to the distant past, as the founder of Mikado was actually named Akira. Was this the legendary first king of Mikado? It certainly begs a lot more questions. Was there some sort of time rift that occurred in Tokyo after the demon calamity, sending Akira and everyone far into the past? I'd always wondered how the timelines worked between Mikado and Tokyo because it seemed like the former was centuries old, but Tokyo only suffered its demon invasion 25 years earlier when Flynn first came to the city. The passage of time wasn't adding up. Now, for Flynn and his friends to have possibly met Akira, I find myself even more confused about how the two lands are connected in a temporal sense. Then again, this could just be a possible reality not connected to Flynn's world, as the White had wanted to show him.

There was no time for that now, though. The samurai had to hustle to this world's Camp Ichigaya to use the Yamato Reactor and return home.

Traveling through this version of the facility was a lot easier than the first time around, and it didn't take long to find the reactor and activate it. Unfortunately, the White weren't quite ready to send Flynn home. They wanted to show him one more possible world. Once again the samurai awoke in the Counter Demon Force base in Kasumigaseki. This time, there were demons here, but they weren't aggressive. One actually asked the Flynn to come talk with the place's leader, another person named Akira.

Pallas Athena
My Pallas Athena is a lean, mean
reflection spell casting machine.
Stepping out, we explored every room in the base, and it was far from empty this time. Demons were living here and they had pet humans called Neurishers. The humans were being kept as a form of cattle with a place where demons could insert a straw and drink from their brains. It seemed they were going after similar chemicals as were used in the Red Pills that Tayama was manufacturing. It was a grotesque scene.

Eventually we found Akira, who was the top demon in the base. He gave us the low down on what was happening. Flynn was in yet another version of Tokyo, and it was invaded by demons as well. However, here they kept humans around as food and some humans were even given the option to become demons themselves if they were interested. The top dog in this Tokyo was a demon named Kenji, but he was worried because the White had visited him in a dream, foretelling of humans coming to this world that would kill him. Akira assumed these were the humans in question, which was most fortuitous, as Akira had aspirations of running Tokyo himself. He wanted Flynn et al to kill Keiji, and if they did so this world's Yamato Reactor remote would be theirs. So, if the samurai wanted to go home, they were going to have to play ball with Akira.

Stepping onto the surface of this version of Tokyo was once again a shock for everyone. Instead of the blasted, desert-like wasteland of where they'd just left, the samurai saw a burning Tokyo that looked like a perpetual war zone with fires raging everywhere. It was a world where chaos reigned, and the strong wielded power by defeating those weaker than themselves.

Before facing Keiji directly, Akira wanted to go to Shinjuku in order to take over that region. So we headed over there first (as if we had a choice =p ). Getting there took a while because the world map was different, so the roads were blocked in some areas by rubble. There were also a lot of enemies in the way that we had to fight through, slowing us down further. It wouldn't have been so bad if the demons gave decent XP, but the groups that we encountered were fairly inconsistent, being comprised of both high and mid-level demons. So, some of the battles felt like a waste of time given the relative lack of compensation at the end of them. A few demons begged for mercy, and happily joined our group instead of dying, making for some useful fusion fodder, so I guess that's something, but on the whole the constant fighting on the way to Shinjuku was pretty annoying.

When we finally got to our destination, we saw Akira's true colors. He's a weakling and a coward. He'd never be able to fight demons and survive on his own in Keiji's Tokyo, and he needs the samurai to do the fighting for him. The current leader of Shinjuku had guards there waiting for us, so we needed to fight our way through them if we wanted to enter the city proper. It was a simple enough task, but funny to see Akira talking tough while hiding behind Flynn and his friends.

Femme Clotho
Clotho make for decent
healers mid-game.
The city area of Shinjuku was no different than that of the Tokyo Flynn knew in his own universe: underground, well-lit, with a weapons and items shop, and even a bar. There were areas where we could talk with demons who lived there, and the general layout of the city was about the same as well. There was even a functioning teleporter for easy travel back to Kasumigaseki. Where we needed to go was a large demon's domain in one area of the city. Here was where the current leader of Shinjuku resided and if Akira wanted the city for himself we'd have to go in there and defeat the demon.

Mahamayuri was the name of the demon ruling over Shinjuku, and he was mildly perturbed that Akira and the samurai dared challenge him. This was a world where the strong survived and the weak perished. Mahamayuri felt quite confident that he was on the strong side, so we would have to show him otherwise.

Before facing the demon directly, he summoned a horde of Yaksha that we had to plow through. These things were weak to force attacks, so I had Flynn and Clotho use Zan-related attacks while my Valkyrie and Lorelei attacked as best they could. It didn't take long to beat these guys, after which Mahamayuri attacked us. At this point we had to change tact, as he's weak against lightning. Here, Flynn and Lorelei focused on Zio-type spells while Valkyrie would bounce between various attacks and Tetrakarn to reflect physical attacks back at Mahamayuri. Clotho alternated between healing and casting Tetraja as Mahamayuri likes to cast Hamaon, a light-based instant death spell, and Tetraja completely negates its effects for one turn. This strategy worked well, and before long we were victorious. Before dying, Mahamayuri even congratulated us on a job well done, reflecting the survival of the fittest mentality that dominates this world.

With that out of the way, Akira was happy, and thanked Flynn for the help. He would tell his demon buddies in Kasumigaseki the good news so they could come to Shinjuku now. Also, he would help the samurai get to Camp Ichigaya where they would need to fight Kenji and get the Yamato Reactor remote in order to go home.

So, we made our way to the camp and met Akira at the door. The barriers that were blocking access to most of the facility were down and he wished us luck on our journey. Everyone was a bit worried about what would happen to him after the samurai left. He was obviously not all that strong, something that got people killed in this world. How would he survive after? Akira hoped that he would be able to make the world one where the weak and the strong could happily coexist. Walter wasn't so sure that would be possible, but I had Flynn say it was doable. Jonathan didn't really chime in on the matter, but I could see him smiling in the background when Flynn lent Akira his support.

Touching moment out of the way, it was time to assault Ichigaya, and defeat Kenji. As always, getting through the camp took some work. The layout was more or less the same, but in order to get to the third basement we needed to go upstairs first, and get some administrative demons there to give us access. It was more a matter of navigating the building and talking to some specific people than anything else, but this did help to shed more light on how this world worked. By the looks of things humans here willingly became demons or neurishers, and Camp Ichigaya was where they went to make it happen. I could sort of understand becoming a demon, but the appeal of being a neurisher was beyond me. It seemed like some humans were okay with more or less becoming livestock.

Lorelei demon
Lorelei has been working out well as a mage in the group.
In any case, eventually we found ourselves outside the massive vault doors once more. Passing through them we were standing below the Yamato Reactor again, the remote next to it. As we were about to pick it up, Kenji appeared and said we'd have to fight him for it, and fight him we did.

He was the demon who established the whole order of things in this world where the strong ruled. Kenji is weak to both fire and force spells, so I had to make a minor roster change early on in the fight, swapping out Lorelei for Girimehkala. Valkyrie stayed on for the first half of the fight in order to cast Tetrakarn since Kenji has a lot of physical attacks, and this allowed me to reflect them back at him. Meanwhile Clotho cast her Zan-type spell while occasionally healing. She also did a good job of resisting Ancient Curse (a nasty status ailment spell) later in the fight, which was nice. Once Valkyrie ran out of mana, I swapped her out for Pallas Athena and had her continue casting Tetrakarn for a few rounds. This reflection spell really helped both on defense by heavily reducing incoming damage, as well as offense since it resulted in a bunch of free damage being inflicted on Kenji.

The fight still took a little while to get through, and there were moments where we could talk with him. It was the usual stuff that could either make the boss stronger or weaker, and we did make him weaker. I chuckled a bit when Kenji tried playing possum and realized we weren't falling for it. Finally, though, we beat him and could fire up the reactor.

Once again Flynn found himself in the realm of The White.  Now that he'd seen the two worlds that they wanted to show him, one ruled by order, the other chaos, he had a choice to make.  Would he side with order, chaos, or simply return the world to nothing, thereby preventing either of these other worlds from existing?  The choice was worded to preserve the status quo, destroy it, or return to nothingness.

I chose to destroy the status quo, which made the White angry. This made it difficult for them to place Flynn, and they said as far as they were concerned he could stay in the realm of the White forever. The next thing I knew, Flynn was in a monochrome forest and Stephen appeared before him (I'd been wondering what happened to that guy). He told Flynn that the choices he'd made up to this point were balanced, not siding fully with either order or chaos, and that Flynn had chosen his own path. Now he wanted Flynn to make his way out of this forest, return to his world, and revive the Goddess of Tokyo.

It would appear that I was successful in unlocking the neutral ending path in SMT IV, so I'm pretty happy about that. So next thing on the agenda is finding a way out of this forest and going home.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

What's Going on Beneath Roppongi? (Shin Megami Tensei IV)

Tenkai - Tokyo Midtown boss
Tenkai, guardian of Tokyo's Midtown.
After the shock of finding out Lilith was the leader of The Ring of Gaea, Flynn and his friends have to make their way back to Shibuya in order to find out what's going on beneath Roppongi. Lilith told them to check out the area, as Tayama was apparently up to something truly evil there. She told the samurai to take a look with their own eyes, and then decide whether or not they wanted to kill her.

Before we could do this, we needed to figure out a way into the place. Walter was so eager to find out that he ran off ahead, leaving the group. He also seemed to be very sympathetic to Lilith and her ideals, which worried Jonathan quite a bit. Heading back to Ginza, we ran into Hikari, the girl we'd met when first coming to Shinjuku. She was there with Walter, and recommended going to Shinjuku to speak with someone named Fuijiwara who may be able to help with getting under Roppongi. Walter didn't waste much time running off to talk to the guy, but he should have stuck around a while. Hikari explained that Fujiwara hung out at a fairly exclusive cafe that was members only. In order to get in, Flynn would need to show the doorman a special book of matches, which she passed along.

Fujiwara
Fujiwara strikes me as a genuinely
nice guy. =)
So it was back to Shinjuku. We had to pass through the underground city, and head back above ground to one of the more removed areas of the region. I'd passed there before and come across a hunter guarding a cafe, asking if we were members before shooing everyone away. I'd been wondering what that place was, and now I know! When we got there, Walter was outside arguing with the guard, trying to get in, but he didn't have the matches so that just wasn't going to happen. Flynn showed his match book, and everyone, including Walter, were granted entry.

Inside, the place was a nice, cozy cafe with a warm, wood paneling sort of ambiance to it. There we met two older gentlemen: Fujiwara and his friend Skins. Hikari was also there waiting. It was a nice chat and the two guys seemed really nice, middle-aged folks. I imagine that they were probably college students, or around that age anyway, when the demons started spilling into Tokyo. Fujiwara was certainly dressed the part. They explained that life in Tokyo was hard, and asked the samurai what they thought if everyone left Tokyo to live in Mikado since it was so much nicer there. Walter was for it while Jonathan was not. When Fujiwara asked Flynn his thoughts, I selected that it would be fine if they came.

Fujiwara and Skins seemed pretty happy about that. A short time later, they told us how to get to Tayama's base under Roppongi. We'd need to go to a nearby building in Midtown (presumably Tokyo Midtown?), and take an underground passage that connected the two places.

It was a bit of a hike getting there but we finally made it. Right as everyone entered the building, they found themselves face to face with a huge demon named Tenkai. It was his duty to stop anyone from entering the building, so a battle ensued.

He was pretty easy despite pummeling everyone with Megido. My party had enough hit points and healing power to get past that and focus on hammering him with gun-related attacks. During the fight, Tenkai asked Flynn a few questions very obviously directed towards his alignment between order and chaos. Surprisingly, there were very neutral-sounding answers that could be selected, as opposed to the solid division towards one side of the spectrum or the other, which I was more used to getting. I pushed ahead with neutral answers and before long the demon was defeated and turned into stone.

Skins
Skins is pretty nice too.
Tenkai out of the way, Flynn had a lengthy trek ahead of him. There were barriers blocking the way, so that meant there must be another demon somewhere in the building that was keeping them up, and we'd need to deal with it if we wanted to proceed. This required going up several elevators while weaving through a mess of ransacked offices, beating the tar out of demons along the way. It took a while to get to the top of the skyscraper, but it was a good opportunity to earn some experience points and recruit a few demons along the way.

Eventually we did make it to the top of the building and came across what looked like some sort of control center with computers and monitors everywhere. Here there was what seemed to be another demon to face, but talking with him revealed that he was actually the angel Mastema. For a moment it looked like we might actually have to fight him, but he then said that he was joking and had no wish to find himself dead like Tenkai. Jonathan asked the angel to join them but Mastema refused, saying that his duty was to stay in Midtown and limit access to Roppongi. He did lower the barriers on the first floor of the building, though, so we could proceed to Roppongi ourselves. I guess he liked the cut of Flynn's jib or something. =p

After the meeting, we headed back to the first floor of Midtown and proceeded into the area that was previously blocked. A short ways in we came upon a ladder leading down. Taking this brought us to a small, abandoned military passage.  There were a few demons here, mostly crab-like ones, and they were easy enough to defeat, but it was only a short job down a few halls before coming upon another passage leading down.

Getting to the next level, everyone was quite surprised. They'd arrived at their destination and it was the Roppongi Hills building except that it was underground and upside down. Very strange. In any case, if Flynn wanted to see what all this evil Lilith was going on about actually was he'd need to head inside.

What they found there was truly disturbing. The place was like a high tech lab with several small rooms. Each of them had an operating chair in it. Some rooms were empty while others had comatose humans sitting in them. Others had humans in them with a lab technician extracting fluids from the person's brain (surprisingly, most of these technicians thought Flynn and his friends were the next shift, not intruders). Most disturbing was that there were children here. Earlier Tayama had shown the samurai a video with happy kids saying what they wanted to be when they grew up, and here they were being taught those lines. However, upon coming upon another room there was a semiconscious man saying the exact same quote. Had this facility been in operation so long that the kids became adults and were then held there to have their bodies used for something?

Mastema
Mastema strikes me as being pretty
interesting as far as angels go.
As it turns out, this was the place where the Ashura-kai made their Red Pills. While the things kept demons from eating humans, it looks like there were still human costs. The pills were made from various components that grew inside human brains, so people were being harvested here to create the stuff. It was truly macabre.

After getting to the lowest floor of the facility, Flynn crossed paths with a strange demon named Yaso Magatsuhi. We couldn't fight him, as he had an ability that made everyone go crazy and lose consciousness. When Flynn came to he was with everyone in a suite in the above ground section of Roppongi Hills. Apparently he'd been rather silly before passing out. Something running around with no pants on, much to Isabeau's embarrassment.

At that moment, Tayama came in and explained that his project was a necessary evil to keep most humans safe in Tokyo. The alternative in his view was total anarchy, which may have been how things were before the Red Pills went into circulation. He then reminded the samurai that he wanted Yuriko of The Ring of Gaea dead, and told them to get on it.  He was surprised to find out the woman was actually a demon, but the fact remained that she and her group were serious competition to the Ashura-kai and needed to be dealt with.

So, with that we left Roppongi again with a decision to make: should we kill Lilith? At this point, Jonathan was still all for it, and Walter's doubts remained. Before we could make up our mind, Sister Gabby contacted them on their gauntlets and asked them to return to Mikado briefly. They were to head to Shene Duque, an important holy land, to meet some VIPs.

When they arrived, they came upon a large cocoon-like structure, which was actually the cocoon that escaped Tokyo before it was covered in stone. Upon entering, everyone was shocked. The people they were meeting were archangels. The prisoners they had earlier rescued from Kagome Tower were actually these beings. Also, Gabby wasn't human but an archangel herself.

Their plan was to become the new leaders of Mikado, as they felt there was a certain level of corruption working its way into the kingdom. They would purge that and rule themselves, keeping people in line along the path of order. This meant that they also wanted Lilith dead, as she was a problematic obstacle in achieving this goal. They also have a very low opinion of the humans of Tokyo, viewing them as tainted, and absolutely being Unclean Ones. Walter asked what would happen if the humans there tried to come to Mikado, and the archangels said they'd be destroyed as these humans were filth that had no right to enter the kingdom. This didn't sit all that well with the samurai, and they were even a little worried about what would happen to Fujiwara and Skins if they tried to come over.

After this meeting, a major rift formed in the group. Jonathan wanted to side with the archangels, as he felt it was his duty as samurai to preserve order. Meanwhile Walter wanted to save Lilith. He felt that the archangels were going to far, and much preferred Lilith's idea of freewill, and survival of the fittest.

The Archangel Michael
The archangels in SMT IV actually look kind of
scary.
From here I had to make a choice in who Flynn would side with. Go with Walter and save Lilith, following the path of chaos, or side with Jonathan, kill Lilith, and choose order instead? To be honest, my decision came down to my desire to try and go neutral. As far as I could tell, Flynn was still neutral up until this point, but I knew going forward that I may need to push his alignment more one way, then swing it the other to stay neutral. So I opted to help Jonathan as I had a feeling Flynn was probably leaning ever so slightly towards chaos in reality. I'd need to go order, then push back to chaos again and hope I was able to pull off neutrality. If I fail, oh well, I'll just look up the other endings on the internet or something. =p

To team up with Jonathan, I had Flynn go to the entrance of Naraku to meet him. There we had a little chat and he was really happy that Flynn sided with him. During that time, Isabeau popped by for a visit saying she understood Flynn's decision. However, she had her own stuff to sort out in her head, and opted not to join them.

So, next stop is back in Ginza for a showdown with Lilith. Personally, I'd rather have sided with her, as my personal beliefs tend to align more with hers, but in the name of game mechanics and trying to get the neutral ending, I'm forced to fight the demon.  Such is life, I suppose.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Doing Tasks for Tayama (Shin Megami Tensei IV)

Tayama of the Ashura-kai
Tayama is a very bad man.
Making our way back to Tokyo after rescuing the mystery men from Kagome Tower, it was time to see what the leader of the Ashura-kai, Tayama, wanted. He didn't waste any time showing his true colors, as he had kidnapped another samurai who was on a mission in the city, and was now holding the guy hostage to force Flynn and friends to do his bidding. Tayama wanted everyone to head to Shibuya to talk with one of his men for details on what needed to be done.

It took a little while to get there, first passing through a tunnel that connected with Ikebukuro. Earlier the way was blocked by Ashura-kai members, but now they granted us access. When we got to the other side, there were a few other places we could visit as well, mostly small buildings and a demon domain, but for the time being I wanted to focus on getting to Shibuya.

Upon arriving, it was surprising just how big the area was. It's even bigger than Shinjuku, and that was quite large. There were a number of sprawling outdoor areas with relics to be discovered, and the iconic Shibuya 109 looming in the distance, but the underground city itself was truly impressive. The place consisted of four subsections divided from A-D with shops, relics, a hunter's bar, and citizens to talk to. Of course, there was a teleportation terminal here too, and of course it was being guarded. It was another fairly easy fight, so I won't go into details. We simply reclaimed it, established a link to the network, and continued on our way.

In order to find out what, exactly, Tayama wanted us to do, we needed to find a place called Club Milton. Here an Ashura-kai henchman would fill us in on the details. Heading through another outdoor area connected to a different part of the Shibuya underground, we eventually found the guy down a long, narrow alley. Apparently a particularly strong demon had taken over the club, and was preventing the spread of Red Pills in the neighborhood, so Tayama wanted the thing dead.

The demon in question was Koga Saburo. When we engaged him, Walter and Flynn informed him that there were no hard feelings as they were in a bind given Tayama's tactics. Koga didn't seem to care and locked swords with the samurai. I was probably a bit under leveled entering the fight, Flynn only being in his low 30s and everyone else in their 20s to low 30s as well, so the battle was a wash. If I wanted to beat the demon everyone would need to get stronger, and we'd need to think about creating some better demons.

A vouvire demon
Vouivre has been shaping up as a decent offensive caster.
For the next while we fought all sorts of baddies, and traveled around Tokyo to recruit specific demons necessary for some special fusions I had my eyes on. This resulted in Flynn getting to around level 37 or so as well as filling up his demon roster with some impressive additions including a Minotaur, a Vouivre, and an Undine.

Satisfied, I decided it was time to take another crack at Koga. My party consisted of Ippon Datara for Fang Breaker, Vouivre for her Bufu spell (Koga is weak against it), and Undine for healing and because she has Bufala with both High Pleroma and regular Pleroma for ice attacks, making for some massive attacks. This set up worked pretty well. Flynn focused on Rakukaja stacking for the first few rounds while Ippon Datara brought down Koga's physical attacks. Meanwhile Vouivre softened him up with Bufu, giving us extra moves per turn in the process, and I have Undine alternate between Media and Bufala depending on how much damage the group had coming in.

Eventually, Koga went down, all the while saying he was trying to make things better in Tokyo. After the fight, the Ashura-kai henchman showed up again, and he was being a complete dick until Jonathan grabbed him by the collar demanding to know where the kidnapped samurai was. It was quite unusual to see Jonathan so upset! =O Anyway, Tayama's crony told them to go to Roppongi, as the Ashura-kai leader wanted to have a face to face meeting with Flynn and company.

When everyone arrived, it was the massive tower at Roppongi Hills that Tayama had staked as his headquarters.  A huge 50 story building, fully powered, and functioning normally.  Arriving at his suite, we could see that the samurai was still okay.  However, before Tayama would release him, there was one more task that he had for everyone much to their chagrin.  He wanted Flynn to infiltrate the Ring of Gaea and kill their leader, Yuriko.  The Ring were the Ashura-kai's biggest rival in Tokyo and Tayama worried that the group would try and steal the generator providing power to his headquarters.

Flynn begrudgingly accepted the assignment and everyone made their way to the Ring of Gaea's turf.  There was an area not far from Kasumigaseki that had an underground city that I'd visited a while ago.  At the time, I couldn't make much progress into the place as one of the passages was guarded by members of the Ring.  Now, though, we could say we were interested in joining their group, and they would let us pass, instructing everyone to head for the main temple and take the entrance exam.

Koga Saburo
Koga Saburo's weakness is ice attacks. Watch out for his force and
lightning abilities.
The Ring of Gaea actually operates out of the remains of Ginza. The area isn't as big as Shinjuku or Shibuya, but there are a decent number of people there. More interesting was the fact that there were also some demons living there. A few were purebred, while others were humans who had consumed Red Pills. The humans and demons here seemed to be able to coexist. Also of note was that the Ring seemed to have a very Darminian survival of the fittest mentality where they only wanted the strong in their ranks and seemed to view it as the natural order of things for the strong to dominate in a society.

There was also a teleportation terminal in Ginza. Unexpectedly, the Ring didn't feel it necessary to guard it, unlike all of the other terminals where Tayama's men stopped anyone trying to gain access. There was a Ring of Gaea member by the entrance to the room who said to go ahead and use it as we liked and that was that.

In order to get to the Ring of Gaea's main temple we needed to run full across Ginza, then take an underground passage, before finally emerging again above ground. From here it was a short trip down the street and we were at the temple.

Upon entering we were greeted by a member of the Ring who told us what we'd need to do in order to pass the test. He gave each samurai a candle and lit it. They would have until the candle went out to make their way through the maze-like temple and find the central chamber. The candle would slowly go down over time, and if demons attacked it during battle they could whittle it down as well. Moreover, each samurai had to take the test individually.

With that, Flynn headed on his way, demons in tow. I'd made one minor roster change at this point in the game as I had been doing a fair bit of fusion prior to this and it netted me a Jirae Titan. He was focused mostly toward physical attacks, but he also had Megido. This was a hand me down from one of the demons that was used to make him. That demon had whispered the spell to Flynn, and I was mostly having the Titan hold onto it for future whisper opportunities so I could jack up its power as much as possible.

Roppongi Hills
Roppongi Hills, where Tayama calls
home.
With two people in the party that could cast Megido, it made the fights that laid before us a lot easier. There are set battles that players need to go through here where the demons look like red outlines when you see them, as opposed to the green ones that randomly spawn. There are usually four demons in a group, and they're extremely strong. You really want to kill them all in the first round or they can make life very difficult. I just went and annihilated them with Megido for the most part. Granted, it's a fairly mana-intensive spell to be using but Flynn has a deep MP pool, and to take some of the pressure off of Titan I would sometimes have him do regular attacks while Vouivre cast Blight as the secondary "attack all the baddies" spell. I just needed to be mindful of poison resistant demons when doing that.

It took a while to navigate the temple, which was really just a very big government building or old mansion. There are a lot of winding paths and doors that teleport Flynn all over the place so making a mental map of what takes you to where can be a bit time consuming. Finally, we got to the last door before the central chamber. Here we met one more Ring of Gaea member who summoned a powerful demon to fight us. We beat it, though Undine didn't survive the battle and needed to be revived after. With that, the test was completed, Flynn passed, and was granted access to the main room of the temple.

When he got inside, Walter, Jonathan, and Isabeau were waiting for him. After a brief chat, though, a trap door suddenly opened up beneath them and the samurai found themselves in what looked like a medieval dungeon, a path stretching before them into the distance. It was a place called the Passage of Ethics. Yuriko and the Ring of Gaea were actually aware that Flynn was working for Tayama. Instead of just killing them, they've actually been granted a meeting with Yuriko, but will need to walk this path first.

A Jirae Titan
I really like my Titan. He hits
hard and has a lot of HP.
It's actually a tricky and important part of the game. Flynn et al will come to three forks in the road as they walk down the passageway. At each of these, voices will call out and pose a moral dilemma with two possible solutions. Flynn will be given the choice to take the left or right path, each representing one of the two possible answers. A big part of SMTIV is Flynn deciding what area of the spectrum he'll fall under between Order and Chaos. He can lean hard one way or the other, or he can be somewhere in the middle, thus siding with the forces of neutrality.

The latter is actually what I'm aiming for, though I don't know if I'll be able to pull it off. Flynn has had a few similar situations already just by going through the main story as well as having to make a choice after fighting the dragon at Lake Mikado. There was also a woman that we'd met in Ikebukuro who said she'd done many bad things in the past and asked whether she should just die or live and not feel bad. So, Flynn has had a lot of opportunities to weigh in on where he stands on a number of issues. I've tried to keep it balanced, and so far it seems I've succeeded at this (or so says the Cynical Man at some of the hunter bars I've visited).

Anyway, the Passage of Ethics struck me as a long, drawn out, and rather pronounced gauntlet of questions that could seriously impact my attempt to finish the game with the neutral ending (some say it's the best of the bunch, and it adds 10-15 hours to the game going this route). They were tricky questions, but since there were an odd number of them I couldn't really balance them perfectly between Order and Chaos when I responded. It's made all the more tricky because, as I understand it, most of the moral questions in the game have numeric values behind the scene that are tallied and can push Flynn to one side of the spectrum or the other. Even if I'm making an effort to be balanced, I don't know what value each question has, so could be way off the mark on dialing in neutrality despite my best efforts.

I tried my best, though, and after making our way to the passage we came to one more room, and it was here that we met Yuriko. To everyone's surprise, she was actually the Black Samurai. Shocking! (I mean that seriously. It was a nice plot twist.) She talked for a bit and explained what she was doing with the Ring of Gaea. Yuriko also revealed that she was a demon, Lilith. Double shock! Basically, she took a very meritocratic view of things and felt that those who worked hard and succeeded deserved to be at the top of society, hence why members of the Ring placed so much importance on strength. This actually caught Walter's attention and he wondered if this meant that in Lilith's world even if a Casualry from Mikado like himself could rise to the top if he worked hard enough. This would never have happened back home given the rigid structure of society in Mikado, so Walter was very interested in all of this; so much so that he even drew his sword and stopped Jonathan when he tried to attack Lilith.

Yuriko aka the Black Samurai
Yuriko is the Black Samurai! =O
Seeing this, Lilith offered Flynn and his friends one more quest. She asked them to find a way beneath Tayama's headquarters in Roppongi. That's where his generator was, and there was also apparently something truly evil there that he was hiding. Lilith wanted the samurai to check it out and make up their own minds what to do. After that, if they really wanted to fight her, she would happily face them. Walter was so eager that he ran off ahead, leaving the party.

So that's where we're at now. Some serious revelations came along and now we need to find what Tayama is hiding. It feels like we're heading toward a possible climax right now.  I can hardly wait to see what happens next! (By the way, I checked with the Cynical Man after leaving Lilith, and it looks like Flynn is still neutral.  Phew!)

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Ikebukuro, the Ring of Gaea, and Kagome Tower (Shin Megami Tensei IV)

Kaga of The Ring of Gaea
Kaga of the Ring
of Gaea.
Flynn and his samurai buddies have been busy since last we met them. Having finished things up in Shinjuku, they made their way to Ikebukuro so they could bring down the barrier in place there. The first time visiting the region, there were a bunch of people from the Ring of Gaea milling about. Their leader, an intimidating lady named Kaga, informed us that a powerful demon was living there and had created the barriers. If anyone wanted to get in they would need a powerful talisman in the very least. So, it was a good thing that the Ashura-kai gave us one after we helped them out.

It's worth noting that the whole situation in Ikebukuro is pretty complicated and probably could have been avoided. Up until only a short time previous, it was run under the supervision of the Ashura-kai like so many other areas of Tokyo. However, just like in the rest of the city, people weren't too keen on the thuggish way that the group went about exercising its authority. Eventually, they fought back and ran the Ashura-kai out of town. There was one big problem with that, though. With them gone, so went the supply of Red Pills they were distributing and as such the demons in the area were no longer placated. This caused them to run a muck with one powerful demon in particular marking out the city as its territory, and it was she who put up all of the barriers around there. Moreover, things got so bad that everyone abandoned the underground refuge in Ikebukuro. Unlike other such districts where people would be milling around everywhere, this place was a ghost town. Even the bar where the hunters hung out and took up new quests was empty. Things were actually in a pretty bad state in Ikebukuro.

Coming to the barrier once more, talisman in hand, it was a simple matter to bring the thing down.  After doing so, Kaga once again appeared and begrudgingly gave her thanks before telling us to mind our own business because the demon here was a Ring of Gaea matter before departing.  Of course, we weren't going to take her up on that advice and we made our way deeper into the district.

The zone itself was fairly big, but we did have to watch where we stepped as there were poisonous puddles in some places. The area was actually a bit of a hub with multiple exits granting access to other areas of Ikebukuro. We spent some time wandering around seeing where things were before finally coming to the building where the demon causing all of the problems were. It wasn't hard to miss since there was a member of the Ring of Gaea standing right outside.

Looting relics in Ikebukuro
Searching for relics in Ikebukuro.
When we entered we met an elaborately clothed demon named Xi Wangmu. She had quite the appetite and had been feasting on humans since the Ashura-kai left the area. Fresh young samurai in her presence, the demon was rather keen on devouring them as well. With that the fight was on.

I should note that there has been some roster changes of late in my party. Thanks to some fusions I've been able to do I managed to get an Archangel who has since evolve into a Principality. He has a really nice mix of buffs and heals in his repertoire as a deep mana pool, so I've had him replace my Leanan Sidhe on the healing front. Meanwhile, I was also able to get a Bai Suzhen, again via fusion, who has replaced Fortuna. She has a very good selection of offensive spells and I've been using her as a sort of mage in my party. Raiju has stayed put, though. He has a good mix of attack abilities as well as Endure, which makes for a handy free resurrection during battle if things go awry.

The fight itself was pretty interesting, and it took a few times to get a handle on Xi Wangmu. Early on she can't be hurt as she casts a warding spell and all incoming damage only takes off a single hit point at a time. After a couple of turns, she'll starting talking smack as the room fills up with members of the Ring of Gaea. She eats them all and then Kaga shows up and tries to fight her too. For all of Kaga's efforts, she doesn't inflict much damage on Xi before the demon eats her as well. However, despite being devoured, Kaga starts attacking Xi Wangmu from the inside, weakening her and giving Flynn and company a chance to attack and actually inflict a decent amount of damage, hopefully defeating her.

My problem was that her physical attacks were clobbering us. The amount of damage coming in was difficult to deal with. The only time her attacks weren't too terrible was when she did anything Zio-related since those spells didn't hit too hard and Raiju actually regained health from them. Eventually what I did was just have Flynn spam Rakukaja +3 every round to bring up everyone's defense until the scripted sequence with the Ring of Gaea. Meanwhile, Raiju was casting Sakukaja during this period to help boost evasion, and Principality was on Media duty to keep everyone's health up. I had to swap out Bai Suzhen for Ippon Datara during this fight so that we could use Fang Breaker and reduce Xi Wangmu's physical attack damage as much as possible.

Xi Wangmu
The best strategy I've come up with for Xi Wangmu is to use defensive
buffs and bring down her attack power early on, then hammer her with Zan.
This strategy wound up working well. During the opening rounds of the fight everyone's defense got maxxed out as did their evasion. Meanwhile, Xi Wangmu's attacks were greatly diminished due to Fang Breaker being cast on her so often. As such, the amount of damage coming in was a lot less. She wasn't hitting anyone for more than 60 damage usually with her physical attacks, and her electric spells often wound up hitting Raiju which automatically ended her turn since he just drained them. As far as offense was concerned, the demon was weak against Zan, which made things easy since Flynn could just unload with Zan +4, usually hitting for around 400 damage with each cast.

Before long, Xi Wangmu was dead and as a result the remainder of the barriers in Ikebukuro came down. Everyone was eager to head to that bookstore Hikari had told them about, but they couldn't help but feel a little bit sad about Kaga dying. The samurai were also starting to empathize more with the plight of the people in Tokyo, looking at them as humans in a difficult situation and not as the "Unclean Ones" that the clergy of Mikado labeled them as.

One more demon behind us, it was time to return to the abandoned underground district in Ikebukuro where the barrier blocking our way should now have been gone. Sure enough it was, but before pressing on I had everyone hop in the teleportation terminal there for a quick trip back to Mikado to rest and sell off relics we'd gathered. I didn't bother mentioning the fight for this terminal earlier as it was a very easy one that I was able to beat on the first try.

Healed and stocked up on provisions, it was time to head to that bookstore. The area in Ikebukuro where it was located was pretty big and it took a bit of exploring in order to get a lay of the land. Finally we came to the place's entrance. Upon entering, we discovered that there was a fairly large demon domain in place. The enemies here weren't very difficult, though. It was mostly a good chance to score some XP while navigating the labyrinth. Finally we came to a room deep inside where we found the Black Samurai.

Principality
Principality was a nice
addition to the team but he's
since evolved into Power,
who I'm not keen on.
For a time, she talked with the samurai, still suggesting that they didn't understand the situation. When she was finished, the Black Samurai said she was fine with being arrested if that's what the others wanted. However, she also seemed okay with telling them more about the world if they were interested. This gave me a choice between arresting her on the spot and refusing to do so. I chose the latter in the hopes that she would indeed give us more information. Unfortunately, Jonathan slapped handcuffs on her immediately so that she could be taken back to Mikado, shooting an angry glance in Flynn's direction while he did so.

When we returned to the castle, Hugo was most pleased by the arrest as was the king. Flynn and his friends were welcomed back as heroes and given medals. It was also decided that the Black Samurai would be executed. The extreme decision surprised everyone but there was nothing that they could do about it. When the time came for the execution, the Black Samurai was given a chance to speak to the crowd there. She told them that the people of Mikado were living a lie and they had no idea of the truth of their situation. Finally, her mask was removed and her face was exactly the same as Sister Gabby's, one of the ranking nuns of the clergy. The crowd was shocked. Here the Black Samurai said she was fine with being executed because she would be resurrected to continue spreading knowledge in Mikado. Hugo was outraged and ordered her killed immediately. After this, while the kingdom felt they should be celebrating the death of this woman, there was an uncomfortable feeling in the air.

A few days later, Gabby asked Flynn and his friends to come to the monastery, as she had a request to make of them. She wanted them to return to Tokyo and go to the park near Shinjuku on a secret rescue mission. There were some people there that had been captured by demons who were useful to the church. I'd visited the park early and figured there was something there because of a magical barrier along one of the paths. Gabby gave us a trinket that would bring down the barrier and we were on our way.

Arriving in the park, we quickly got past the barrier and continued further in. A short while later we came upon a path that led deeper but it was guarded by a member of the Ashura-kai. He didn't want us passing as the demons preferred this area left alone. If we wanted to get through, we'd need to fight. The guy summoned a very powerful demon before heading off. The thing hit really hard, and even using damage mitigating abilities wasn't a huge help. We just had to figure out it's weakness, exploit it, and hope he didn't get lucky on his more powerful attacks.

Sister Gabby
Been doing quests for Sister Gabby,
but I don't really trust her.
After beating the demon, we headed down the path and found ourselves in an odd looking structure called Kagome Tower. Its walls were a nondescript, glowing red, appearing more like something from a virtual reality room. The demons here could get pretty challenging at times, so I had to make sure to save often.

As the party worked their way up the flights of stairs before them, they came upon a few rooms. In each of them was a human in a cage being guarded by a particularly powerful demon. The first two were pretty easy to beat. Just pummel them with Bufu spells. The third, Asmodeus, was pretty tough, though. He cast a lot of fire spells that hit hard and I didn't have anyone who could resist, nullify, or drain them, so stuff like Hell's Torment proved problematic. Eventually I went with Bai Suzhen since she had a Zan spell (which Asmodeus was weak against), Raiju stacked Sakukaja, and I brought Leanan Sidhe back into the fold for healing. She had an ability that boosted heals and her mana pool was quite deep. Principality had evolved into Power and while he had a ton of hit points now as well as Megido, his mana pool was pretty low, so if he got hit by Spirit Drain he became useless pretty fast. So it was all about stacking defensive buffs while Flynn and Bai Suzhen unloaded with their Zan spells. It was a big relief when Asmodeus finally went down.

With the three people rescued from Kagome Tower it was time to return to the monastery in Mikado. The men all had weird masks on them, blocking their memories and they could only be removed by "kindred spirits" but Sister Gabby seemed to have it under control. She thanked Flynn for the help.

Just like that, though, they had a new mission. It would seem that the Black Samurai wasn't kidding about resurrecting to continue her work. While Flynn was away she did just that, killed her guards, and escaped. The young samurai's new mission would be to hunt her down and kill her, as the clergy didn't want her running around causing trouble anymore. This made everyone very uncomfortable as it totally violated the samurai code, but for now an order is an order and it's back to Tokyo.

Upon arriving in the city again, Flynn was contacted on his gauntlet by Tayama of all people, the leader of the Ashura-kai. He wanted to meet with Flynn to discuss something and said to meet in Shibuya, so that's where we're off to next. There are certainly a lot of factions in play now, and I'm curious who those three people we rescued actually are. For now, though, it's time to see what Tayama wants. TTFN! =)