|Release Date||November 12, 2021|
The world has ended. But that’s nothing new in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Progenitor to the Persona series and the inventor of jazz, Shin Megami Tensei V (SMTV) descends with a new challenge for the hardcore JRPG fanatic. But it’s not all sunshine and social links.
Religious Content: The SMT series has always had a strongly negative representation of Christianity, though it’s mainly a concept from the Dungeons & Dragons alignment system. All religious deities are represented in the game. Certain gods are fighting for the opportunity to recreate the world how they see fit.
Sexual Content: Several female demons are designed scantily clad. In negotiation, some of them have sexually-natured conversations with the protagonist character.
Mature Language: There are several swear words in the story and dialogue such as a**, da**, and sh**. Some demons, if you fail in negotiation, will respond with vulgar insults.
Strong Violence: Though there is no explicitly graphic violence, there are depictions of spilled blood in some areas as well as corpses during parts of the story. There are a few scenes to watch out for; one where two girls are stabbed through the abdomen by a large tentacle, another where a prominent character’s face is split in half as they transform. In negotiation, some demons will describe how they will enjoy eating your flesh.
Disclaimer: Shin Megami Tensei V has multiple endings. While there is only one true ending, there are small details revealed in each ending. At the time of writing this article, I have only finished one ending, so there may be a few story details I missed. Also, while I am a big fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series, I strongly recommend avoiding playing if you’re uncomfortable with what will feel like attacks on Christian faith. While mostly based on the Catholic, Judeo-Christian, and Gnostic forms, there are connections to Christianity that can be drawn from the actions and ideals of Law-aligned characters in the game. It’s important to distinguish what’s used for a story and what can be seen as actual commentary.
Shin Megami Tensei V feels right at home with the likes of the original NES/SNES titles and SMT III: Nocturne. Unlike SMT IV & SMT IV: Apocalypse, which had a larger focus on story, SMTV returns to a focus on gameplay and plays with the modern open-world design. SMTV may not be as appealing as Persona 5, but I believe this game is the best JRPG I’ve played this year. There are some caveats to the devilish disaster piece, so let’s face forward towards death and destruction.
A Destroyed But Beautiful World
SMTV expands on everything that SMTIV sets up. The music, the environments, and the battles all serve to sell the player on the feeling of oppression of post-apocalyptic Tokyo. Atlus added open-world exploration, similar to Breath of the Wild, and contextualized the random battles in a manner similar to Xenoblade Chronicles. All enemies are viewable in the overworld with giant enemies being optional mini-bosses. Moving around the overworld is a lot more fun than I was expecting; running with your arms behind you like an anime ninja and surfing down sand hills as you cruise past dilapidated buildings and wonderfully rendered demons was like seeing my dream vision of SMT & SMTII being brought to the modern gaming age.
It’s unfortunate, however, that the Switch’s technical performance brings down my appreciation of the visual landscape. Compensation can be seen almost immediately in overworld areas, as an NPC’s idle framerate nosedives when you take two or three steps away from them. It’s kind of insane how good the game can look when you’re just looking around and seeing the detailed demon models walking around, many of them having their own idle animations. The unique spells for your character and specific demons look incredible too. The artistry sells me on the aesthetic so much.
SMT‘s narrative in every game has always had this great balance of multiple players in its key narrative, even if they aren’t part of the story. In SMTV, there are several deities who are fighting for the ability to recreate the world. Your character is the only one with the power and fabulous hair to give humanity a fighting chance. There are also side quests where you run into other major deities and demons who are attempting to do the same. The demons have always stolen the spotlight for their…”colorful” dialogue and observations of human behavior.
However, while the inclusion of demons as part of side quests adds to the world building, there is a lack of further character establishment for the human characters. Aside from main story cutscenes, you don’t get many encounters with your human compatriots. Not to say they aren’t well established, but I would’ve liked more moments to talk to them. Their motivations are very interesting, but they aren’t explored often enough to see how they mingle with the other characters. This is actually a departure from SMTIV and how characters had more agency in the story. Aogami, your sole protector in Da’at, stands in as a moral compass of sorts, questioning your thoughts on key story beats. It’s cool to see such a dialogue mechanic that is usually only in western RPGs.
Deadly Deeds Done Right
In terms of gameplay, SMTV has the best introduction to all of its systems so far. The tutorials explain the basic controls and, more importantly, the combat mechanics. One significant change that was made is that passing a turn doesn’t take a full turn in the Press Turn system. It now takes half a turn, similar to how hitting an enemy’s weakness takes half a turn. You can also set your turn order by organizing your team. These two functions allow some room for recovery if you’re not running a strong team or find yourself at a disadvantage in some fights.
The Magatsuhi skill is similar to the fusion spells from the Persona series or Digital Devil Saga. They are incredibly powerful skills sorted by race. While many of them are not damage spells, they are extremely useful, especially at the beginning when you may not have a lot of support spells available. Some skills range from max buffs/debuffs, guaranteed critical hits, or a full. team. revive.
Negotiation is pretty much the same: make the demon like you enough to not kill you, and hopefully even join you! But if you want to flex your mythology noggin a little, there are unique conversations with specific demons if you negotiate with them in your party. There are even some extremely rare conversations that seem to happen; unfortunately I have no source to back myself up about this. So I might be crazy.
SMTV isn’t as appealing as Persona 5 due to its execution, but I still love this game. I’ll admit I have a strong bias towards the mainline series, but I enjoyed my time with the game. SMTV rewards you for testing your limits and perseverance to struggle against its challenges. I loved how the story unfolded. The changes to sidequests and adapting it to the open-world format made exploring fun. The SMT team always knocks it out of the park with every entry, and I hope we get to see them do more with this game with some future DLC campaign or the next crazy title they come up with.
The Bottom Line
A destructively beautiful masterpiece, SMTV challenges the player through combat and narrative.