Shin Megami Tensei V was first announced during the Nintendo Switch’s launch at the beginning of 2017, and fans have been waiting for it ever since. This franchise, which began in 1992, has launched plenty of spin-offs that take the game’s style in dramatically diverse directions, the most notable of which being Persona, which has considerably eclipsed its origins.
That’s not to say the main games don’t deviate from the model, with each one putting a unique take on its RPG roots. So, what would Shin Megami Tensei V, the first SMT game produced on the Unreal Engine, have to offer? I was eager to find out.
Shin Megami Tensei V Trailer
It wouldn’t be a Shin Megami Tensei game if Tokyo wasn’t ruined in some way, but this time it’s a little strange. You start out as a completely ordinary high school student, similar to Nocturne’s Demi-fiend, a Persona protagonist, or the protagonist from If… You’re walking home with some student friends one day because there had been a series of monster attacks of unknown origin, and traveling home alone is too hazardous.
One of these acquaintances slips off to take a phone call while the gang’s way is impeded by investigations into one of these attacks. It’s too dangerous to walk alone, so you pursue them, enter a tunnel, and collide with a handful of other classmates who are filming a horror vlog. Then everything starts to go wrong.
You’re all sent into another dimension, the Netherworld, which also happens to be a wrecked Tokyo, before the robotic Aogami saves you from becoming demon food. You make a bargain with him, becoming a Nahobino (whatever that means), and gaining horrible demon abilities. Finally, you set out on a mission to figure out what is going on.
The navigation in the first four main series entries has a particular feel to it. You were in charge of a small symbol that allowed you to enter places where you may explore in first person (for I and II) or third person (for III) (in III and IV). Due to the fact that they were early PS2 and 3DS releases, III and IV forced you to explore more constricted and maze-like environments that were a little boxed in.
On Switch, the Nahobino has no such limitations because to Aogami’s improved physical abilities. Through the ruins of Tokyo, you’ll be sliding, dashing, and vaulting your way through. There are a lot of really nice locales in the game that remind me of liminal spaces. There’s some great delight to be had sprinting through the ruins of the city, especially when paired with a really atmospheric or calm backing track. There’s plenty of incentive to investigate each place thoroughly, especially with all the objects you can take and the Miman collect-a-thon, which can win you Glory, a resource you can swap for passive skills.
However, you won’t get very far without encountering hostile demons, and since they’ve appeared on the field, random encounters are no longer an option. Of course, you can use your increased mobility to sneak past your opponents, but this is Shin Megami Tensei. Avoiding combat when entering new areas is the last thing you want to do, or you’ll end yourself like me, facing a miniboss who offers you a way out in exchange for a chunk of cash. You’ll giggle at the prospect, obviously confident in your talents, only to be shot by a medium-level fire spell if you decline.
Battles use the series’ well-known ‘Press Turn’ system, in which you have an equal number of turn icons as there are party members. One icon is consumed with each action, however if you pass your turn, crit an enemy, or exploit their weakness, one of the icons will pulsate and last for an extra action. Any activity that causes your emblem to pulsate will lead it to evaporate, but it does imply that with proper preparation, you can squeeze in an extra four moves throughout your turn. It’s worth noting that you’ll lose at least two icons if you miss outright or strike an element they nullify, drain, or reflect.
This method works both ways, which means that with proper planning, you can effectively quadruple your turn rate while minimizing adversary actions. It does imply that a few unfortunate critical hits can knock out your entire party, but it’s up to you to use buffs, debuffs, and diseases to limit the probability of bad luck.
You won’t have to worry about an unlucky strike if you can tank them, kill them before they can act, or prevent them from attacking you at all. All of this is backed up by some fantastic combat themes. They’re almost all fantastic, and some of the more unusual ones really captured the spirit of the occasion. It’s a fun and gratifying battle system, especially when you consider the difficulty.
Even if you have super demon abilities, you’ll still need to use big brain strategies to win battles, even on the easier difficulty levels. If that’s not your style, there’s a free DLC difficulty option called Safety Mode that will make things simpler. Demon bargaining follows in the footsteps of Shin Megami Tensei IV and Apocalypse, making demons more defined and feel like calculated bets if you know what you’re doing. My main gripe is that the bartering system isn’t as detailed as SMTIV’s, and I miss being able to routinely extort money from demons.
Demon Fusion, the wicked art of smooshing your demons together to create new ones, has returned with a new option called ‘Reverse Fusion.’ This mechanism allows you to test any demon you might be able to summon at any given time, even ones you’ve already listed in Compendium. The new “Essence” system in Shin Megami Tensei V allows you to adjust your elemental affinities or instill new skills in yourself and your demons. This is a fantastic feature that reduces the amount of fusion chaining required and is one of many tiny changes that enable for quick and extensive customization.
The visuals are stunning, especially in cutscenes. They aren’t common, but they all look fantastic, and some of them tease exciting moments and boss battles. There are other skills that are one-of-a-kind and have a fantastic visual style. Because it looks so dang cool, I kept Aramasa in my moveset until close the endgame.
The plot, on the other hand, is pretty thin. It’s normal to feel lost or indifferent after the first arc because, after the first 20 minutes, it takes about 10 hours for the rest of the story to begin. The cast was essentially unchanged and attracted little attention, with a couple of intriguing characters being overlooked.
Although it was a step down from IV, I enjoyed the innovative twists on the traditional alignment method. I’d compare it to Devil Survivor 2 if the characters weren’t so weak. Even yet, the quality of the cutscenes compensates for part of it. Aside from IV and Apocalypse, the mainline Shin Megami Tensei isn’t exactly known for its story. The plots in these books are usually just window dressing to capture a certain vibe of personal struggle, and I think V nails it.
Shin Megami Tensei V is a compelling experience for the entire 60+ hour journey, even without a strong narrative. The game excels in its amazing settings, combat mechanics, and immaculate soundtrack while still providing the player with basic characteristics that the franchise is known for. Shin Megami Tensei V is a must-play RPG and a natural extension of the series.
On a side note, when the Demi-fiend DLC comes out, I’ll have to try to take it down. I might have a chance now that my devils can learn Freikugel as well.
Shin Megami Tensei VShin Megami Tensei V
- Powerful story
- Tons of party customization
- Immersive world
- Fun exploration
- Great visuals
- A bit of an entry barrier
- Tough difficulty spikes that may turn off some players