- Developer: ATLUS
- Publisher: Sega
- Release Date: 12/11/2021
- Price: £49.99 / $59.99
- Version reviewed: 1.0.2
Introducing: Shin Megami Tensei V Review
My first contact with the Shin Megami Tensei franchise was when Shin Megami Tensei IV came out on the Nintendo 3DS. I was reluctant to shell out full price dosh on a game only available digitally on the eShop, but a good friend of mine compared the games to Pokémon, but for adults. That convincingly opened my digital briefcase and I subsequently spent hours battling, befriending, and fusing demons. I was hooked and after playing Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse, its sequel, for an equal amount of time, I was hungry for the franchise making the jump to Switch. The remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne was a welcome appetizer, but I was hyped for fresh blood! And now, here it is!
Make no mistake, Shin Megami Tensei V is a traditional RPG at its heart. That includes, and is not limited to, only being able to save your progress at certain locations. No need to worry, though, as these locations-which double as quick travel points, healing points, shopping emporiums and access to the World of Shadows-are both easy to find and abundant throughout the various worlds.
A difficulty choice to make
Interestingly, ATLUS offers a wider spread of difficulty options with SMT5: “Casual”, an easy difficulty, is available right from the start without any download (which was necessary in Nocturne) or repeated deaths (like in SMT4). It’s intended for players without previous experience in the franchise. “Normal”, for players with SMT background, provides the intended challenge while “Hard” is for those diehard fans breathing, eating and sleeping SMT. You’ll die pretty easily on this setting if you’re not perfectly prepared.
Shin Megami Tensei V, being an ATLUS RPG, forces you to grind. The harder the difficulty, the harder your grind will have to be. Grind is still necessary on “Casual”, and even on this setting, death is always near if you mess up completely.
For an experience where you one-hit-KO all monsters unless you are seriously underlevelled you need to switch to “Safety”, a difficulty setting only available with a free download from Nintendo’s eShop.
It’s a real treat that you can change the game’s difficulty at any time and that so many options are available!
Wait, what happened here?
You start the game as a normal high school student at a prestigious school in Tokyo. Due to strange incidents happening in the last few days (there are rumours about gruesome monsters attacking citizens) teachers advise you to return to your school’s dormitory immediately after the lessons. As an additional security measure, you are told to travel in a group with fellow students. All that doesn’t help much when you get separated from your friends and lose consciousness in a pedestrian tunnel.
When you come back to your senses, the world around you has changed for the worse. Tokyo lies in ruin and what is left is infested by demons. Luckily, a being named Aogami offers to help you when matters turn life-threatening. By accepting him you fuse into a new being, a Nahobino, now having the power of demons and the knowledge of humans at your beck and call.
With your new-found powers, you discover that there is more than one Tokyo and that humanity got caught up in a long ongoing war between angels and demons. You need to find a way to protect our world from being destroyed by the clash of their armies and ambitions.
Saving the world is no small matter, so your first objective is to get stronger. In traditional RPG manner, getting stronger means gathering experience in battles. But fighting alone is hard, so you need to bolster your ranks by getting demons to join your team. Battles give you the chance to do just that. It is easier said than done, however, because in the Shin Megami Tensei games you don’t simply throw catching devices at your opponents and hope for the best. Instead, you need to talk to each and every demon and convince them to lend you their powers. Being forceful to one class of demons might win them over, but will threaten a different one. The same goes for being friendly. Some demons might value that, while others ridicule you for showing weakness. It’s a tight line to walk and if you anger your prospective teammates they might simply escape, or worse, attack you. You only have the chance to speak to a demon at the beginning of your turn and if you mess this up, your turn ends and the enemy’s turn begins.
While we’re talking about battles, make sure to target your opponents’ weaknesses. Not only will they take a lot more damage this way, but by hitting a weakness you’ll earn another action for your turn. Have your attack blocked or repelled and you lose one of your actions, giving the demons the chance to attack you. Oh, keep in mind that this press turn battle system also works for your enemies. Better not show up to a fire-fight with ice demons!
Welcome to darkness!
If you are smart, lucky, or persistent, you end up with a nice selection of demons in your arsenal. That’s when the fun of Shin Megami Tensei V really starts. Head off to the World of Shadows to find out about what makes this franchise so special. Instead of evolutions, Shin Megami Tensei lets you fuse your battle partners together into new and stronger demons. Simply select two (or more in special cases) demons and combine them. Fused demons inherit skills from their, well, ‘parents’, but have the characteristic strengths and weaknesses of their type (So a Jack Frost is weak to fire, for example.). But that is not all! By using a demon’s essence, you can teach your demons, or yourself, new skills or inherit their strengths and weaknesses. Want a Jack Frost to have a fire attack? Simply get an Onmoraki’s essence and transfer the Agi skill to your Jack Frost. Playing around with different setups this way is not only fun, but a necessity when you want to survive the tough boss battles this game throws at you. (Just keep in mind that my example was just that, an example and not gameplay advice. You’ll get wiped out if you do that. Seriously!)
Battles, demons and moral choices!
The battle system together with demon befriending and demon fusion is what makes Shin Megami Tensei V such a good game when it comes to game mechanics. It is a pleasure to fine-tune your party with fusions and essences and then engage in battles to test your strategy, but that is only one part of the game. The other part is the story it tells. In case you haven’t guessed it already, or don’t remember it from previous games of the series, it is a story of apocalyptic proportions. Gods, angels, demons, and Lucifer himself clash in an all out war with humanity caught in the maelstrom and set out for extinction. But, as usual in these games, not everything is as it seems at first sight and the story about human choice and greed offers a lot of turns, twists, and decisions for you to take.
Frequently in the course of the game, you have to make a moral choice. In doing so, you align yourself with one or another faction thus influencing what kind of ending you’ll get. I’ll not spoil anything here, but I think this is a great way to tell a story. Especially so when the story is beautifully told with interesting dialogues in a well written narrative.
Speaking of narrative, Shin Megami Tensei V drives forward its story via main and sub-quests. Of course, the sub-quests are one of the many chances to grind for experience, items, or Macca (That’s what the in-game money is called.), but they offer a lot more as well. They flesh out the world by giving you chances to interact with demonfolk and learn about their backgrounds and motivations. Also, you get to recruit demons that you would have missed otherwise. Sure, there are a number of “Slay x number of demon y” and “Go and bring me z”-quests, but they are a staple no RPG can live without. They’re sub-quests for a reason, right?
Not to split hairs here…
… but the game is looking awesome. And I’m not only talking about the wavy flowing blue hair of the protagonist in Nahobino form. It’s delightful to navigate the map-like overworld. It’s even better once you enter one of the places on this map. Your world changes into a highly realistic 3rd person 3D environment, ranging from dankly tunnels over sterile laboratories to hot sandy desert Tokyo (with glittering light, even!). Of course, making a game look that good is a lot of work for Nintendo’s hybrid console and as a result there are some pop-in issues in wide open spaces. Other than that, performance is as fine as the graphics, both handheld and docked.
Our ears can join the feast as well as they are treated to fabulous voice acting in English and, if you use the free download, Japanese. The voices fit the image on screen fine and enrich the gameplay. The music is simply out of this world. Varied, from disturbingly screeching background music to upbeat fighting songs, everything is there giving life to either surroundings or situations.
Shin Megami Tensei V is not only the latest entry of the franchise, but also the best: A great story combined with everything that made the series famous in an accessible and good-looking package. Not even the minor performance issues mar the great experience of playing it.
- traditional RPG goodness
- fabulous battle system
- difficulty settings for every kind of player
- beautiful English and Japanese voice acting
- deep story full of twists and turns
- lots of replayability because of different endings and two choices for a New Game+
- even on the easiest regular difficulty (“Casual”) grinding is necessary
- saving progress is only possible at certain locations, so you might lose progress when a strong enemy picks a fight with you and you get annihilated