Shin Megami Tensei is a long-running franchise. It saw a big win with the success of the spin-off title Persona. What most people don’t know is that it’s a Spin-off of a Spin-off. But this isn’t about Persona – It’s time to duel with Shin Megami Tensei V.
5ive Will Make You Get Down
Despite being the fifth title in the main series, it doesn’t follow on from any of the previous titles. Instead, it only shares themes with them much like Final Fantasy titles tend to do.
Set in modern-day Tokyo, you’re introduced to a cast of school kids and told to pair up to walk back to your dorm due to mysterious incidents happening as of late. Following a slight detour through a tunnel, you miss the end of the world. A new world greets you with your friend being kidnapped by angels and your fusing with a “Demon”.
The fusion turns our nameless hero into a being called Nahobino, who carries a laser sword and the swishiest blue hair known to man. Thrust into the middle of a civil war between deity leaders with differentiating ideals, it’s down to you to figure out exactly what has just happened.
See God. Punch God
Shin Megami Tensei V takes much broader swings with its narrative and harkens back to days of old when JRPG games focused more on fighting God and less on character development. This does mean that the story is incredibly bare, which is particularly evident in the first ten hours or so. While there is little world-building and comments from NPCs, it’s at a much slower pace than other games associated with the series.
When the story kicks off though it manages to stand tall with some of the best the series has to offer. While I didn’t find it quite as gripping as IV, it still had plenty on offer to keep me engaged and cement its name as Shin Megami Tensei.
Deus Ex Machina
On the gameplay front, Shin Megami Tensei V has changed stuff for the better and worse. It isn’t a huge departure though, still holding firm on many aspects of the series.
Starting with something new, the world is now much more open than previous titles. The world is much more open and it feels like giant dungeons peppered with little dungeons every few hours or so.
The map is also mostly obscured in the “fog of war” until you defeat an “Abscess” in an area. Consider these skill checkpoints; they will throw demons at you that you can go through or go round until you fight the main demons at the Abscess. Destroy them and you unlock a bunch of new attributes to purchase.
Enemies are all visible on the field which makes it much easier to run away should you not want to fight. You can also initiate combat by attacking the enemies and hopefully landing that all-important first round. That said, sometimes it still felt that I got that strike in and still got “surprised” myself.
There is a much larger focus on side content here than in previous titles, seemingly due to the shift to larger open areas. You can find side quests on the minimap, hidden chests, unique demons to face, plenty of hidden NPC’s to find with rewards, and even statues to boost all your team by 1 level.
While these factors all bring the world a little more together it does tend to drag, again especially in the first 10 hours. These can feel like a real slog compared to previous titles in the series such as Nocturne. By that point, the player would have seen several different locales.
Your main character can take on the attributes of the game’s many Angels and Demons. This makes them somewhat of a blank canvas in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
You do this by acquiring spirits usually handed to you by the creatures after you’ve leveled them up. They can also be found or bought in locations across the game. These contain moves that can be transferred across, as well as elemental affiliations. You’ll learn very early on to take advantage of this as much as possible.
New to Shin Megami Tensei V is a meter that collects an energy known as Magatshui. It builds throughout battles and other situations, eventually allowing you to unleash stronger attacks or put yourself in a better situation. It only allows you to release it when the meter is full – it’s essentially the same as a limit break for the Final Fantasy players.
Another way you can improve your character is by spending Glory which can be found in the side content mentioned before. These are additional stat boosts, demon inventory boosts, and extras which means you can get in and customize your character the way you want.
Shout at the Devil
One of the things that separated Shin Megami Tensei from its peers originally was “Demon Negotiation”. It’s conversing with enemies, learning their personalities, and convincing them to join your cause.
This system has once again returned in Shin Megami Tensei V and thankfully isn’t quite as obtuse as it was in previous titles. You’ll have to pick from answers to strange questions, offer MP/HP, or even money to have the Demons join you. Discovering how to converse with them successfully is a whole bunch of fun!
What may catch some off guard is the Moon System, which has 12 stages and goes from New Moon to Full Moon. These affect the mood of the Demon amongst other factors.
Push it Real Good
The Push Combat system is back from Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne forgoing the Spark system of IV & Apocalypse. Now if you aren’t versed in this system it’s essentially your standard turn-based system with more focus on Strengths and Weaknesses.
You start with 4 moves. Each action uses 1 move unless you choose to pass which takes half a move. If you hit either a Critical or an elemental weakness then you gain an extra move, up to 4 extra moves. On the other hand, a miss or block, caused by your elemental alignment then you lose 2 moves.
It’s a basic yet effective system that forces you to plan your team synergy to cover as many bases as you can. Or if you know a tough foe and its attributes, it lets you tune your set-up to score maximum moves and reduce your foes.
Use and Abuse
Demon Fusion is back and is just as addictive and essential as ever. If you don’t know what it’s about, you befriend a demon, befriend at least 1 more, and then you can smoosh them together to create a different potentially stronger demon! Special fusions and the Register book allow you to save and purchase previously-stored Demons if you feel you need them again.
The mix of new and old can be quite exciting, then jarring over those now frequently mentioned opening 10 hours. As cliché as it sounds, it does get better but my god those initial hours are a slog.
The famous difficulty level is alive and well here. I do have to wonder if they have ramped it up a little more than usual to force you into exploring more of the site content.
Clever use of the many systems available should see you ruling the wasteland at around 40 hours. It’ll take you much longer if you want to see and do everything. There’s even a bunch of DLC available should you want even more time with the Nahobino.
The Devil is in the Detail
On the visual side of things, as nice as it is to get even more classic SMT demons in glorious HD, the game looks older and performs worse than the previous game Atlus released; Persona 5.
I feel this is due to the weaker art direction the SMT franchise has taken on since the departure of Kazuma Kaneko, who created a unique style for the franchise. Leaning more on the anime side of things, it’s presented much like an anime forced through the Unreal 4 engine. Frankly, this has led to mixed results.
The lack of this visual identity hurt the experience somewhat for me and exposed what I felt were the shortcomings of the game visually. The main character’s style is anime tropes turned up to 10 and everything from character designs to areas just lacked that spark Persona seems to have overtaken it with. This is a movement that began in Shin Megami Tensei: Apocalypse on 3DS, but the identity loss is quite apparent here.
There is also the aspect of iffy performance I should mention. The frame rate in the bigger areas can get rough. While not a massive deal-breaker for me, it can grate somewhat and shows that the Switch is struggling to match its peers nowadays.
Symphony for the Devil
The voice acting here is fine but nothing really screamed out at me. Shin Megami Tensei V isn’t the most dialogue-heavy, so you’ll often hear the same lines in the field repeated, either by your companion demon who follows at certain points or when you befriend or fuse a demon.
Conversely, the fact that all demons now have voice acting instead of grunts and noises caught me off guard. I’m not sure why they made that decision but rather than demonic noises they speak fluent English.
I did enjoy the music, especially the battle music which was quiet and somber until you choose to engage in the battle. It then kicks up to around 11 and sounds like something borrowed from a Suda 51 game.
I enjoyed and continue to enjoy my time with Shin Megami Tensei V, but it isn’t the title I envisioned when it was announced a few years back. It’s a top-shelf JRPG with a lot of content, charm, and game time to keep the most engrossed of players demon negotiating until the wee hours.
For me sadly the game lacks the identity I’ve come to expect from the main Shin Megami Tensei series. That alongside some performance issues, the weighty day one DLC, and the draining pace issues means this is one title that has strayed further from God than I would have liked.
SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI V IS RECOMMENDED
If you would like to see more JRPGs, you may be interested in our review of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster or Persona 5 Royal. Want to hear another view on this game? You can see what Adam Carr thought of it here.
Many thanks go to Atlus for a Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Pride of utopia & greatest thing ever, I found the One Piece, Collected the Dragon Balls & won the Mortal Kombat Tournament in one night, it was quiet for me that night! Follow me on Twitter @powahdunk