Saturday, 1 March 2014

We've Entered the City of the Unclean (Shin Megami Tensei IV)

Tokyo skyline

With the Minotaur defeated it was time to continue on with our journey to the City of the Unclean. As we made our way through the cavern we reached another ladder leading to a lower level of Naraku. Taking it down, things changed significantly in the next area that Flynn and company found themselves in.

It still looked like a cave but there was metal doors and steel plates on the ground, all looking heavily processed as if from a factory. There were locker rooms and lock boxes strewn about as well. Everything appeared far more modern than what one would think the blacksmiths of Mikado could be capable of.

Entering one room in particular, we could see that this was a very different world from the one we had left. There were supplies everywhere. Worn out electronics, oxygen tanks, and one item in particularly that caught everyone's attention. A pistol. No one had seen one of these before, so Burroughs had to scan it and explain what guns were. This all got me thinking that there were greater connections between Earth and this world than just the manga Isabeau was reading. Flynn quickly packed the gun away along with some ammo, so now he can use a gun in battle. I haven't used it much, and when I have it's not been terribly helpful, but a new addition to our arsenal is always welcome.

Terminal room
We're starting to find teleporters that will be quite helpful
for getting around to different areas of the game quickly.
Venturing a bit further we continued to raid supplies from chests we came across. Nothing so exotic as more firearms, but some healing aids and the like. Finally, we came to another room of interest, housing what was possibly the most important discover the team had made yet. It was a massive, fairly nondescript chamber with stairs leading to a terminal at its center. Monk Hugo contacted everyone via their gauntlets at this time to explain that they had found a teleportation room. These provided instantaneous access with other such rooms once a link was established. As it turned out, there was another such device in Mikado Castle so now everyone would be able to travel instantly between the castle and this region deep in Naraku. Hugo also informed them that there were more such terminals throughout the City of the Unclean and encouraged them to discover their whereabouts.

Handy dandy teleporter discovered, it was time to press on. The next area left no doubt in my mind that we were heading into a very different land. It was all modern construction with scaffolding everywhere. The place looked like an abandoned construction site, not the caves of Naraku. Signs everywhere with workplace safety messages just reaffirmed this.

Following the scaffolding downward, Flynn and company eventually came upon a set of doors. Passing through them, everyone was in for a bit of a shock. It was a large observation room like one would find atop a skyscraper. Gazing through the windows there, the site before them was startling. It was a booming modern metropolis with massive buildings everywhere, all lit up at night. They'd never seen anything like it. At first it looked like it was night time, but Walter noticed bedrock high above the city so the place was either subterranean or there was a massive stone ceiling there. I'm more inclined to think the latter, as it looks like the tower everyone is in stretches high above the city and it's as if it has been fused with stone, transitioning from it's man made roots to more natural stone formations the higher up one goes. So perhaps the rock ceiling is being suspended by the tower.

Fighting Medusa
A medusa was blocking our way to
the bottom of the tower.
After having a good look at the City of the Unclean, it was time to move on. In order to do so, they'd need to take an elevator, another device Flynn et al had never seen before. After another brief explanation from Burroughs, they were on their way.

The next floor of the tower was a bit spooky. It looked like more unfinished construction mixed with a partial demon domain. However, what was particularly unsettling was that there were what appeared to be stone statues of humans everywhere, all looking terrified. Heading to the next elevator we quickly found out why this was, as Flynn and his party were jumped by a Medusa. She seemed quite the sadist and was rather intent on making everyone the newest additions to her collection of statues.

Fighting her proved reasonably challenging, and the first go was a bust, so I tried a roster change and things went a lot better. My Leanan Sidhe was still in the party, however the Gremlin had evolved into a Raiju making him quite a bit stronger. Also, I decided to swap out Strigoii for Fortuna. She had spells that could buff evasion and attack power as well as Zan, which Medusa was weak against, so the switch made a lot of sense. This time I also went nuts with -kaja spells. Rakukaja, Sukukaja, and Tarukaja were in heavy rotation early on. It was here that I learned the spells could be stacked a few times, as I kept casting them each round until the game wouldn't let me anymore.

An Ippon Datara
The Ippon Datara has become
a very useful demon to have
on reserve.
Buffed up to the high heavens, everyone was able to mitigate quite a lot of the damage that Medusa was trying to deal. Often she would miss and even when she did manage to land a blow it wasn't enough to completely wreck anyone and could be healed in the next turn with Media. All the while Flynn and Fortuna unloaded with Zan which hit for a ton of damage considering that Medusa was weak against it and we had Tarukaja up. Flynn's Zan also has a +4 rating which helped a lot when taken into consideration with his huge magic stats. He was regularly hitting for over 300 damage. Just like the other boss fights, Medusa tried to talk with us as we fought. This time I just ignored her because the options seemed to play to or against her narcissism, and I wasn't having any of that. Finally, we managed to defeat her and could continue to the lower levels of the tower.

When we emerged from the elevator once more we were in the main entrance to the building where we were greeted by two men who happened to be there. At first they were acting like tough guys, trying to intimidate us, but when we told them that we came from above they panicked and ran away saying something about angels coming to kill everyone. A bit confused, everyone just shrugged it off and headed outside.

Seeing the city from the ground, Flynn and all were again shocked by what stretched out before them. Coming from a medieval-like world, everything was so foreign to them, skyscrapers reaching high above them, roads everywhere, wrecked cars, the soft glow of lights inside buildings. It was like nothing they'd seen before.

It was at this moment that Brother Hugo once again contacted them via their gauntlets. He explained that the actual name of the city they were in was called Tokyo. So they were on Earth! Given that they'd just entered one of the largest cities in the world, he said that it wouldn't do much good to simply wander around aimlessly, so he set out their next objective: find the military base for the Counter Demon Force, a paramilitary unit that used to fight demons in the city.

As we wandered around, this was the first time that anything resembling a world map came into play in the game. We could wander down streets and visit points of interest. Some places were just areas to loot stuff, others would be smaller structures with humans or demons inhabiting them that we could talk to, and in another case, one was an actual small city: Ueno. Obviously the real Ueno is just a district in Tokyo, but given the state of the city, having been overrun by demons, it's become one of the few strongholds where humans can live in at least some degree of safety from the creatures.

Another view of Tokyo
Flynn and company getting their first close look at Tokyo.
Ueno was actually quite a large place divided into several zones. There were many outdoor areas where we could rummage around for relics to sell later as well as a number of interesting new demons to fight.

Since heading down the tower, the sorts of baddies that the game has been throwing at me have gotten progressively stronger, and they've had some interesting abilities. In a few cases I've recruited some just for kicks, but they've largely been brought on board as fusion fodder for later. Even the fused demons haven't gotten much play time as I'm quite pleased with my current line up. About the only one I've brought up from time to time is Ippon Datara since he has high health, can cast a decent buff, hits twice per attack usually, and one of his attacks can actually debuff the target, reducing its attack power as a result. A pretty handy demon to have on standby for certain fights.

The areas beneath Ueno are safe for the most part, as this is where the humans live. Walking around here I chatted with several of them and was able to learn a little bit about the situation in Tokyo. Demons were everywhere and most places were dangerous. There were ad hoc towns like Ueno for people to live, and there were folks that banded together to fight the demons, most notable demon hunters (basically mercenaries that do odd jobs from a blackboard similar to the samurai of Mikado) and another group called the Ashura-kai, which seem more like remnants of the yakuza that may fight the demons, but also shake down humans for protection money and generally aren't all that nice.

Running around Ueno Park
Ueno Park was a pretty fun area to run around in. =)
One room that I came across in the underground area of Ueno had been converted into a demon's domain. It was a very small one with just a single group of demons to fight. There was a human there, though, and he seemed intent on protecting the room, not allowing anyone in. He was the one to summon the demons to stop me from progressing. He mentioned it was a terminal room, so presumably it was similar to that which we found in the depths of Naraku and the one situated in Mikado Castle. The demons he summoned were tengu, and they weren't too terribly difficult. One of my demons went down during the fight, but that was about it. After beating them and shooing away the human, we had access to one more teleportation terminal for easy access back to Mikado.

There was also a bar down here where we could talk to some of the local hunters, heal up by dining on some of the local, albeit nasty, cuisine (well, maybe not that bad, it was croquettes, which I'm rather fond of myself, but I have no idea what state they were in, and Jonathan didn't seem to like them), and there was also a blackboard just like in K's Tavern where we could get new quests. We grabbed a couple and talking with one of the local hunters he told us about this one demon that was hanging out in Ueno Park, Peallaidh, and was making a huge nuisance of himself there. I was already aware of the thing having run into some horse demons earlier while wandering around Tokyo. They'd originally been living in the park but this new demon was a huge jerk and chased them off. The horse guys would like nothing better than to see this thing dead.

With that, it seemed the next order of business would be to head to the park and deal with the demon. It's a pretty big zone with lots of relics and some decent treasure including a spear that can hit up to three times with a chance of inducing a sleep effect on the target. I've equipped Flynn with it and the thing has worked fairly well so far. The area is mostly sidewalks around the perimeter with a large pond and pagoda in the middle. It's fun to run around because demons spawn along the walkways, but you can hop across large stones in the pond, and avoid battles if you like. So, it can be a bit of a cat and mouse game zipping around the outside of the zone, then dashing to the pond when you have a demon on your tail.

Peallaidh
Peallaidh was pretty easy if a bit
stinky.
After making the rounds of Ueno Park we came to a small dock with some boats on it. As we approached, Peallaidh appeared. He looked like a pile of seaweed and sewage with a stack of upside down masks as a face. He seemed a bit of a dick, arrogantly proclaiming the park was now his and how he was going to kill Flynn and his friends. At that point, he summoned a horde of demons to fight for him. They were a bit of a pain in the ass, getting a couple of lucky Mudo casts in, which threw a big 'ol wrench in the fight. I reset and tried again, making a quick roster change to swap in Ippon Datara for Fortuna. I had Raiju cast Sukukaja and Leanan Sidhe cast Rakukaja in order to improve everyone's defense. Meanwhile, Flynn unloaded with Zan and Ippon Datara mostly stuck with regular attacks after opening with Fang Breaker to bring down their offense. This time the fight went a lot better, and any time Mudo was cast it missed.

Eventually we beat the horde of demons and Peallaidh took the field himself. He was actually pretty easy since he only had two moves per turn, and the guy seemed obsessed with casting this one spell that removes all buffs on the party. Because of this, it was easy to get him to waste one of his moves constantly using that ability. I'd just have Leanan Sidhe cast Rakukaja every turn knowing full well it would get removed after since she had a lot of mana left and we had alternate people who could heal in a pinch. Heals weren't really necessary, though, since this strategy hamstrung the demon's ability to attack so much.

When we killed the jerk, we needed to collect his head to present to the horse demons as proof of Peallaidh's death. This made for a funny exchange as the thing reeked and no one was too keen on holding the thing for very long. First Isabeau tried and the stench was unbearable, so she passed it along to Jonathan. He did last too long with it before foisting the thing on Walter. For a moment, it looked like he was going to be alright, but then he got a whiff of it, almost puked, and left it in Flynn's reluctant but capable hands.

Macabre trophy in tow, it was time to go see those horse demons and let them know the guy who bullied them was no more. They were overjoyed by the news, and to show their gratitude they offered to help Flynn and the gang cross the river any time they liked, granting access to more of Tokyo.

A Bifrons
Bifrons were one of the many types of demons I recruited while
wandering Tokyo. He'll be used for fusion fodder at some point.
When we got to the far side of the river, we had a number of places we could go visit. Several of them were smaller structures with demons living there, doing their own thing. They didn't seem too perturbed when some humans popped by, either engaging in a bit of conversation or politely asking them to leave. Really, they were surprisingly civil compared to a lot of the other demons we'd come by in Tokyo. There were also a number of mini city zones similar to Ueno. Talking with one of the locals, it sounded like Shinjuku, Tokyo Station, and Kasumigaseki served similar purposes.

I've not been to Shinjuku yet, but briefly popped by Tokyo Station. There wasn't much to do there other than talk to some of the locals. I wanted to go further, but the area was guarded by a group claiming to be part of The Ring of Gaea, which are apparently another of the stronger factions in Tokyo. Perhaps I can get on there good side at some point and they'll let me pass...

Next I tried heading to Kasumigaseki. Here I found a small elevator leading down, but it was guarded by similar folks to whom I met when first coming down the tower from Naraku. In both these encounters, the people we met looked like yakuza, so it got me thinking that they were all related to the Ashura-kai that I'd learned about in Ueno. These guys weren't scaredy cats like the first pair were and actually summoned a demon to help them. So, the fight was on, but it was an easy one and after the dust settled they too ran away but not before mentioning some guy named Tayama, so I guess that's another important person we'll be meeting later.

The bar in Ueno
The bar in Ueno. Another good hub for collecting side quests.
Taking the elevator down, we were in another underground installation similar in appearance to the underground areas of Ueno. However, there were no humans here, just demons running a muck. There were a good amount of relics here, and there was another teleportation terminal as well. Again the room was converted into a small demon domain, and the same guy from Ueno was here too. Once more he was dead set on stopping us from getting access to it, this time summoning a horde of fairies to fight us before he ran off. This fight was very easy and before too long we had access to one more terminal.

There were a couple of rooms down here that were of particular interest. One was a large storage area that gave Walter a bit of a fright when they first entered because he thought they'd found the Black Samurai. In reality, it was just a suit like what she wore and there were a number of them here. It looked like there may have been an entire organization with people of her ilk at some point. Before leaving, the gang helped themselves to a suit, which I later equipped on Flynn, and they also found an ID card to grant them access to the rest of the facility.

This proved useful in opening the doors to the main command center here. There were computers everywhere and it looked more like Mission Control at NASA than anything else. The place had long since been abandoned but it obviously served a very important role in its time. Again, Brother Hugo got in contact with everyone, congratulating them on finding the military base.

From here things opened up again in terms of what we could do. Our main objective was still to capture the Black Samurai and find the teleporters, and Hugo also told us to pop by K's Tavern when we had time since he was assigning some new quests to acquire various technological components from Tokyo. Walter wasn't too keen on that, as he didn't totally trust the monk. Meanwhile, Jonathan seemed to see no reason why Hugo would have any ulterior motives for collecting the relics, and that he only had the people of Mikado's best interests at heart.

Flynn and Isabeau cannot believe their eyes
Flynn and Isabeau when they first saw Tokyo from the
ground.
It was here where the game made me choose a side as to who Flynn agreed with. I had to sit and think about it for a while. I'm not convinced that Hugo is evil. He could well be doing what he thinks is right for his people, and gathering these relics is probably part of that. However, is he planning something intrinsically good or is it just one side of a coin and he's intent on pushing ahead with that agenda no matter the cost?

From talking with some of the people in Tokyo, looking at things in Mikado, and just the progression of the main story, it's led me to believe a few things. The hunters, The Ring of Gaea, and the Ashura-kai all have the ability to summon demons just as the samurai can, although they use old smartphones to do this instead of the gauntlets. They're the only ones left fighting the demons in Tokyo as the Counter Demon Force seems to be gone. Also, it wasn't all that long ago that Tokyo was just a normal, everyday city. Everything went tits up 25 years early when demons suddenly started wrecking havoc there.

So, I wonder if the Kingdom of Mikado is made up of the remnants of the Counter Demon Force. The samurai gauntlets could be modified versions of smartphones, brought with survivors of the force when they arrived. If demons have taken the Earth, maybe the angels (the creatures the men at the bottom of the tower were so scared of) created Mikado, and the first humans to come here allied with them.

Crab demon
We had to fight this guy before
getting access to Kasumigaseki
but it was an easy fight. =)
The appearance of demons and the Black Samurai could have been used as pretense to send an expeditiary force to Tokyo and assess the situation in the area a quarter of a century after the Counter Demon Force left. It makes a lot of sense. Acquire as much tech as possible, gather intel, and try to regain control of all the teleporters, making it easier to send samurai reinforcements to key locations.

This could well be a situation where there are two factions facing off against each other. On one side, the demons and their supporters (not sure who those might be), and angels with the clergy of Mikado on the other. Meanwhile, Flynn and company are just stuck in the middle, being used as pawns. The question is where do the various other parties' priorities lay. Who's side are the Ashura-kai on?  The Ring of Gaea?  Stephen and the mysterious girl?  The Black Samurai?  And while we're at it, who is this Tayama fellow one of the yakuza-looking guys mentioned.

There seems to be some sort of dichotomy of good and evil, law vs. chaos, going on here with the potential for a lot of stuff in between. So the plot is certainly thickening. I can hardly wait to see where things go from here! =D