Shin Megami Tensei V: An Introduction | Big Daddy Digest

A few years ago a friend told me about this game I’d never heard of. “But I don’t want to play the 4th one” was my initial reply. A few years later and I’m eagerly anticipating the release of the next installment in the Shin Megami Tensei series of games. I’d say the 5th installment, but as we will see later… the series has a naming convention that rivals the Kingdom Hearts Series.

With the release of Shin Megami Tensei V on Switch, there are potentially a huge number of uninitiated fans to a franchise that spawned a currently more popular spin off title. With the last home console release being two generations ago, there’s clearly lot of ground to tread. There’s also the age old question of “Do I need to play 4 to enjoy 5” will ultimately be asked.

So, for the uninitiated, sit back and let Big Daddy Gaming talk you through the world of Shin Megami Tensei.

What does Shin Megami Tensei actually mean?!

This is probably the easiest question to answer in this article. The literal translation is true (or real) reincarnation of the Goddess. With the use of true (or real) being used in a similar fashion to how we differentiate Mario Bros. from Super Mario Bros. The original titles having a similar moniker of “megami tensei”.

In fact, the moniker “Shin” wasnt added until the third game in the series. The first two titles in the Megami Tensei series being called “Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei” for the Famicom / NES and PC. Eventually the team at Atlas saw a chance to create a brand to rally behind. Long before the MCU, companies were crying out for that extended universe!

So in 1992, Shin Megami Tensei was released on the Super Famicom. Seen internally as a remake of the originals, the title challenged for Famitsu’s highest rated game of the year. Losing out to Dragon Quest V and World of Illusion with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Anyone whos played either title can see they were worthy adversaries to compete against! Quickly a sequel followed in 1994 and then….. well.

The wilderness, and eventual 3rd title

Nine years! The Shin Megami Tensei series was clearly the inspiration behind releasing Metroid titles! The third game in the SMT series was the 10th game in the series by this point. There were some spin-off titles and rereleases on the way but sticking with main series titles (for now) we’re already encroaching on Kingdom Hearts’s number of titles. All we need now are confusing subtitles…

Cue the two titles released at roughly the same time. Shin Megami Tensei: NINE…. and Shin Megami Tensei 3. Nine is not the reference to it’s place in the timeline, but certainly is a pain in the naming conventions! Instead it is a reference to the different alignments a player could take. Unfortunately confusing tactics of splitting into single campaign and MMO was just one reason the title became a commercial failure. All hopes were now pinned on “Nocturne”.

Our second contender for complicated names came from our third title in the main series. Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne. Or is it Shin Megami Tensei 3: Lucifer’s Call? Or is it just Shin Megami Tensei 3?! Ok, it doesn’t involve dividing 358 by 2, but still! This was all to do with a big change in strategy at Atlus, releasing into the west! Until now Europe and the US had missed out, creating another Final Fantasy-like situation where the 3rd title was technically the….first?

Making a home for itself

Power Rangers – Mikado Style!

Most of the titles had released on Nintendo platforms up until Shin Megami Tensei 3. With the shift many developers at the time were making, choosing the greater storage capacity of optical media over cartridges and the benefits it offered for a more complete experience, Atlus were no exception, wanting to push the title to a wider audience with their first foray into 3D graphics.

Following the success of 3, we had the pleasure of waiting TEN years for the next installment! Granted, during this time more side projects and spin-offs were released. One particular series that took up a lot of Atlus’ efforts at the time is one you might have heard of. Originally a Spin off from 1994’s spin off “Shin Megami Tensei If….”, the team ran with the popularity of the school setting to create the highly popular Persona series, incorporating ideas that weren’t present in the SMT series, such as social interaction methods.

Finally though, we were treated to Shin Megami Tensei IV. A title that was delayed for so many reasons but well received, and back on Nintendo consoles! With the release of Shin Megami Tensei IV on the 3DS the team incorporated contrasting environments, interactions in the demon slaying Kingdom of Mikado and demon controlled land below. Once again, the release was marred in issues of it’s own.

Such Difficulty…

In Japan, Shin Megami Tensei IV released as normal, physical and digital, no issues! Two months later, the Unites States market got a digital and physical release, with a gorgeous collector’s edition, something Atlus have been doing well for a while now. In Europe? Well, we were waiting until October the following year! That’s not all though. We were only allowed digital copies of the games! Don’t forget, this was in a time where region locking consoles was a thing, creating so many issues for fans. But it was certainly worth the wait!

The combination of the two kingdoms and the improvements made on the game mechanics were more than enough to make this title compete with Persona 4 as one of Atlus’s best selling titles. The introduction of multiple characters was a great way of giving players a moral compass to rally behind, but was controversial at the time. None of that stopped a quickly made (by comparison) sequel a few years later!

Apocalypse was chosen as the western tagline to coincide with the Japanese release of “Final”. Like Zack Snyder, Atlus wanted a new cut to show off improvements to the gameplay! Using an alternate timeline, the game changes focus in its theme, but loses nothing compared to its predecessor! In fact, whilst some criticised it as “more of the same” I personally felt this was one of its best features, improving on a great title with a different look is never a bad thing and certainly more enjoyable than repeated ports!

Now onto SMT V

In true Atlus fashion… announced in 2017!

I’m just getting this out there now. This was technically announced as a launch title for the Nintendo Switch! In 2017 when we finally learnt the name of the elusive “NX”, and found out that most of the rumours were complete Donkey Kong, we were treated to a list of titles, including a teaser trailer featuring an office backdrop that looked strangely like something from SMT IV….

So…. 4 years later and SMT V finally releases. With initial feedback (including my own first impressions) being massively positive! Rumours are already spreading that the game could be coming to PC soon. Though it would seem hard to believe that any exclusivity would be broken this early, the fact it is being mentioned is a clear sign of the games popularity.

So now we have reached the end of what was a “hyperloop-esque” tour of the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Why do players even care? Well, dear reader, many (and until SMT IV this included me, don’t forget) can often overlook the series because of it’s strange release practices and naming conventions. So, what can someone new to the franchise expect to see? What makes a Shin Megami Tensei game? And more importantly, does what makes the game actually interest me?

What to expect – Post Apocalyptic Worlds

One of the main themes in SMT games is that you are thrown into a post-apocalyptic world, usually an alternate version of Tokyo. How the protagonist ends up there is different in each story and often creates spoilers, which we all hate and wont be talked about here. No sir!

With the game’s other themes, it is often a given that demons and angels are a key component of the games, but unlike some games, the alignment doesn’t always go as planned! The great thing is that quite often you will see names and themes that play homage to mythology and folklore that you will recognise and connect with, which adds to the story and gameplay experiences.

The morality in-game often gives players choice. However, rather than red, green, or blue (if you know, you know) the morality presented to the player can often put them in situations they may actually feel uncomfortable with. Let it be known now that decisions can sometimes present “the lesser of two evils” and you might be asking questions of yourself before the game is through!

What to Expect – Turn Based Combat

The height of Metroid, to the point developers were made to play it if they delivered something less than perfect later on

Like most JRPGs, the main combat mechanic follows a turn based system. Even here Shin Megami Tensei games have their own personal spin that sets them apart, but can be surprising to new players. The addition of a press turn system means knowing when each side is going to attack is just as crucial as knowing which attack to use.

Characters can also gain extra attacks by exploiting the weaknesses of their opponent. Whether having encountered the enemy before, making a successful guess or *cough* using the internet *cough* (Definitely not a practice condoned here!), sing a correct attack can give you the opportunity to kick them when they’re down or deliver that sweet coup de grace!

Obviously, this isn’t a mechanic exclusive to Shin Megami Tensei games, but the addition has been part of the series since its introduction to the west and is not always a mechanic that players encounter. The great thing though is that this makes combat a much more interactive and strategic experience than some RPGs.

What to Expect – Demon Negotiation

One way many players try to “sell” Shin Megami Tensei games to their friends (and indeed how it was originally sold to me) is by comparing the demon hunting to Pokémon. Whilst there are parallels, this really isn’t the case at all! Yes, you can collect demons much like Nintendo’s massively popular franchise, but that is where the comparison ends.

When encountering demons, you have the option to talk to them. You might even get lucky and they beg for parlé! What will follow is a series of demands for you to respond to. Maybe the demon wants to steal some health, or MP, or even your money! Point is, you can either accept their demands, try and persuade them against, or just flat out refuse. Your decisions will influence theirs to the point where negotiating can almost be considered completely random!

There’s nothing more frustrating than giving a demon what they want, only for them to turn round and consider you weak for doing so. But just as it is frustrating, the sheer satisfaction of refusing, negotiating, and persuading to gain the support of that one demon you’ve been after for hours makes up for everything.

What to Expect – Demon Fusion

Once you have your minions, you might discover they’re a little weak. Whilst you can level them up, there’s often only so far they can go. You need fusion, my friend! No not the device used to power the DeLorean, and no, not that nuclear thing either! Honestly, just let me finish…..

Demon fusion is exactly as it sounds. Take demon A with skills you want, add a dash of demon B with skills you’d like to fuse. A few clicks, dash of vanilla, cinnamon, and bake for 30 minutes at 190 Celsius and….. boom! You now have a different demon, with new properties and abilities, usually of both that were fused into it.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. There are rules of what can be fused and when, and there is a compendium to complete. Often this allows you to summon demons you may have already used in fusion to use again (for a cost…) but don’t expect to make your way through a SMT game without spending some time in the Cathedral of Shadows!

Final Thoughts

It’s Metroid Jim, but not as we know it!

The Shin Megami Tensei games are cult favorites for a reason, make no mistake! Thankfully, with the popularity of the switch, even the one title that wasn’t available on a Nintendo console now is. But one thing that is clear is that no title needs to be played before another.

Players can feel confident that, while there are similar tropes, they can happily pick up and run with whatever title they want to. Hopefully this guide has given you an insight into what you can expect to see and maybe it’s helped you to make a decision about whether to dive into the series. Hopefully I’ve managed to convince you to.

For fans of RPGs, if you’ve read this far, thanks, and hopefully you enjoyed it. If you are a reader who was unsure what all the hype was about, wondered whether the “5” was more restrictive than it sounds and wanted to know more, I hope I helped to lay out the stall for you, give you a taste, and leave you wanting more! Regardless of your choice, I hope you enjoy whatever you pick up and play next!