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Shin Megami Tensei V Game review

Game review 15 November 2021, 14:30

author: Giancarlo Saldana

Giancarlo Saldana has been covering video games and tech for over a decade for publications like 1UP, GamesRadar, TechRadar, MacLife, Blast Magazine, and more. Twitter: @giansaldana

Shin Megami Tensei V Review: Angels and Demons

Not as popular as its spin-off Persona, Shin Megami Tensei returns to deliver one of the best RPGs on the Switch – even if it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The review is based on the Switch version.

Shin Megami Tensei V was one of the first games revealed for the Switch before the console even came out so it has been a long time coming. In the meantime, its notable spin-off series Persona released a couple of games that continue to borrow on aspects of the Shin Megami Tensei games but differ in that they are much more lively, colorful, and extroverted in their nature. Persona games are about establishing social links with your friends, but SMT is all about saving humanity from utter doom.

PROS:
  1. Fun fusion system
  2. Impressive large-scale world to explore
  3. Combat is intricate, dynamic, and rewarding
CONS:
  1. High difficulty can lead to necessary grinding
  2. Lack of much character development

Darker in nature, SMT games deal with metaphysical themes that revolve around morality and the eternal conflict between angels and demons. SMT V is no exception. It is a game that features a familiar and ever-so brutal combat system, but rewards you with the satisfaction of progressing through a long and tedious journey.

An Apocalyptic Setting

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The beginning of SMT V is actually the most Persona-like opening in the series as it sees your protagonist on his way home from school amid a series of recent murders in Tokyo. Soon enough, he enters a tunnel and comes out to realize the city has turned into a desert-like apocalypse where angels fly free and demons roam the wastelands. Having fused with a foreign entity, he becomes what is known as a Nahobino and can wield new powers that help him explore and survive his new surroundings.

The first few hours of the game establish the game’s setting, but it takes at least ten to twenty hours later for the actual plot to really kick in. The issue with SMT V’s story is that it moves at a snail’s pace. Despite featuring some uniquely weird themes and imagery, it becomes difficult to actually follow it well as you don’t get as many cutscenes or chances for exposition as you’d want. Its story is solid, but it could be better told.

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You also don’t get much in terms of character development as the game’s strength isn’t in its character development. Compared to past games, its cast is more personable and you do get to know them better over time, but they are mere archetypes to say the least and don’t feel that memorable. Despite some similarities with the Persona games, SMT V is more of a dungeon crawler than it is a game about making friends and rewards you for sticking through it.

Helpful Adjustments

Like past titles, the core of SMT V is to travel around the map capturing demons to battle alongside you against even more difficult enemies in order to progress with the story. Compared to past games, some of the adjustments made here make gameplay a lot more approachable and more forgiving than before, but that still doesn’t mean the game is easier. In fact, you could even say it’s more difficult because you have more tools to master.

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The game’s maps give it a semi-linear feel as you always know what your main goal is, but you have more room to explore and take on side-quests for valuable items that help you when you customize your party. You can also find and collect creatures called Miman that reward you with Glory points to unlock helpful skills later on. With a bigger world to explore, there is a lot more to do and it all offers some distraction to the slow-paced story whose objectives can take some time to train for.

SMT V is also kinder when it comes to saving as there are few more save points than in past games and you can also warp to them anytime you want. Using waypoints called Leyline Founts, you can save your game, access a shop to sell trinkets you receive or find, and even warp to where you can customize your party and create new demons. The game doesn’t have an auto-save feature, though, so forgetting to save before a deadly battle can mean losing precious time you just spent leveling up.

Grueling Battles

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Recruiting demons to fight alongside requires you to talk to them to engage in conversation mini-games in hopes of winning them over. Unlike past games where you mainly relied on luck, winning these conversations depends on the demon’s type so it can work in your favor if you know the right thing to say. Brutes want you to show your strength whereas Haunts are more unpredictable and may trick you into giving them too much of your money. It feels good when you can trick a demon into joining you with little effort, but sometimes failing a conversation can leave you with nothing to show for it.

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Combat itself is turn-based and revolves around a classic and familiar Press Turn system. This gives you an advantage during your turn and grants you an extra move if you use an elemental attack the enemy is weak against. Play things right, and you can essentially win battles without giving the enemy the chance to strike. However, this system also applies to enemies so if you are weak to one of their spells, they’ll have another shot at killing you.

New this time around is a Magatsuhi gauge that gradually fills up during battle. Once it is full, you can use it during your turn to enable certain buffs like increasing the potential of your spells working or making all of your attacks critical hits for a set number of turns. This can turn the tide of a battle to some degree, but enemies can also fill their own gauge leading to moments of pure panic if you are on the receiving end.

What ultimately makes combat so difficult is that any encounter with even the most basic demon can becomes a fight for your life if you make the wrong move. SMT V is a game that requires you to take time and plan your moves accordingly if you want to stand a chance of making it through to the end of the game. You also need to go into battles prepared so if you simply rush in with the same group of demons for every fight, you will die miserably.

Character Customization

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A staple in SMT and Persona games, fusing demons lets you combine two monsters to create a more powerful one. Doing so also lets you pass on a set number of skills to the new demon letting you create a party member you need for certain situations. Certain powerful demons can only be acquired by fusion so this system is essential in winning certain battles that require specific elemental abilities. Fusing encourages you to catch as many demons as possible to experiment with different combinations to create the team that works for you. Grinding is inevitable as you play, but if you plan your demon fusions correctly, you can create powerful demons that match your level to save you some time leveling up the rest of your party.

VERDICT

There are a lot of great qualities of Shin Megami Tensei V that make it one of the best RPGs on the Switch by far. Its intricate battle system, fun demon fusion mechanics, and enhanced presentation will lure fans and newcomers alike but its pacing, difficulty, and lack of a gripping story may make you put down the game for a bit before picking it back up. It’s a game that needs to be savored slowly to fully taste its potential. Otherwise it may leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

You can also transfer over skills and affinities to your protagonist through Essences you find throughout the world map or from doing quests. These let you take on a demon’s skills or resistances to further aid you in battle. Because you have full control of your protagonist’s stats each time he levels up, these abilities combined let you create any build you want for him. Though, just like with your party, the game not only encourages you but forces you to constantly change your essences with each boss battle you go into because if you don’t—you guessed it—you’ll die.

Final Thoughts

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Visually, SMT V is one of the best looking games in the series even though it pushes the Switch to its limit at times. Its worlds are massive, demons have their own unique movements and cries, but you will notice how blurry things look overall. There are also some noticeable drops in frame rate during certain busy moments. The soundtrack, however, is flawless and features some catchy tunes that will stick with you after all those hours you put into the game.

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Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.

All of these refined features make SMT V a likeable, more approachable game in nature, but you still need to master all the intricacies during combat such as knowing when to use buffs and when to focus on defending. The downside is that the game can take some players a long time to get moving simply because its difficulty will require spending lots of time battling demons to get stronger. This, in turn, can cause the story to get murky. It is a game that needs to be savored slowly to fully taste its potential. Otherwise it may leave you with a weird taste in your mouth.

Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com

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