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
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!)