‘SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI IV’ (M)
If you think about it, “Pokemon” games are actually animal cruelty simulators. First you attack and imprison wild Pokemon, and then you force them to battle on your behalf—oftentimes for nothing but your own amusement or glory. It’s really no different than cockfighting. The “Shin Megami Tensei” system, however, is far more humane and significantly more interesting. The demons that fight for you are recruited rather than captured, and thanks to the wonderfully odd assortment of personalities these creatures exhibit, these recruitments are wildly unpredictable. When confronted by a new demon, you can choose to fight or propose a partnership. Depending on its mood, the demon may request money or a gift or an opportunity to smack you around a bit. The more effectively you judge the demon’s character, the better the negotiation will go. Sometimes refusing a demon’s request will impress it. Other times, a demon will bleed you dry and then split. It’s a turn-based battle of wits.
Once you have a few demons in your stable, the turn-based battles become much more physical, but no less strategic. It’s important to keep a diverse array of talents in your active slots, and you can save room in those slots by fusing certain demons together, thus making them multi-talented. Unfortunately, your human companions are far less complex — frequently functioning as nothing more than broad representations of the game’s thematic dichotomies: rich vs. poor, order vs. chaos, etc. And since it’s the human characters that drive the story, the overarching narrative isn’t nearly as interesting as the various demon interactions. Nevertheless, a few surprising plot twists keep the momentum going, and the consequences of the A or B choices the game forces you to make lead to dramatically different outcomes, warranting a second play-through of what’s already a satisfyingly lengthy RPG.
‘NCAA FOOTBALL 14’
Role-playing game elements have been seeping into a lot of different video game genres of late, but it’s still a bit odd to find experience points and skill trees in a football sim. The better your team performs, the more XP your coach earns, which means that everything from coaching decisions to player recruitment options is limited by the number of experience points you have to spend. It makes the whole process feel less organic. Apart from that, updated player rosters and a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-them gameplay tweaks, this is just “NCAA Football 13.”
‘R.I.P.D. THE GAME’ (T)
Xbox Live Arcade
The “Men in Black” films failed to produce a halfway decent movie tie-in game, so it’s no surprise that “R.I.P.D.” — a cheap knock-off of “Men in Black” — has failed to produce even a halfway decent cheap knock-off of a movie tie-in game. This third-person shooter, featuring the likenesses of the backs of Jeff Bridges’ and Ryan Reynolds’ heads, is nothing but a glorified “Gears of War” “Horde Mode.” Waves of increasingly powerful afterlife lowlifes (after-lowlifes?) descend on you as you blow them away with supernatural firearms, which do little to indicate that they’re even working effectively. CV