Fans of the Shin Megami Tensei series have been hoping for a new game for quite some time as the last full release was five years ago with the last actual numbered release being three years prior to that. As such when Atlus announced Shin Megami Tensei V alongside the reveal for the Switch back in 2017 many were delighted only to be left waiting with no information until last year when it was finally set for a 2021 release. Now that the wait for Shin Megami Tensei V is over has the series’ latest entry taken it to news heights?
Players step into the shoes of a nameable high school student who is leaving school for the day. The only problem is, strange violent attacks have been happening around Tokyo so students are warned of traveling alone and are instead recommended to travel in pairs. With no other details to go on and no one willing to join the player, they venture back to the student dorms only to find themselves traveling through a tiny pedestrian tunnel and emerging in a desolate wasteland with the ruins of Tokyo as far as the eye can see.
With the brief appearance of an angelic looking being carrying away a fellow classmate, players are left to wander into the never-ending desert on their own and die to the hands of the demons roaming the land. Or at least they would until the friendly being known as Aogami appears and fuses with the player, turning them into what is called the Nahobino and giving them not only the power to fight and survive in this dangerous new area but also transforming them into something beyond just a demon or angel. The Nahobino is now standing in what is left of Tokyo as the real land was destroyed twenty years prior and still to this day demons and angels continue to do battle while humanity is kept afloat by Bethel, who works to disguise the damage done by the war and keep humanity alive.
Going into too much detail about what happens throughout Shin Megami Tensei V would be spoiling quite a few events, especially since once again Atlus has managed to write an engrossing tale that players will eagerly want to learn more of as they progress through the game. It is a bit unfortunate though that, outside of some heavy bits of lore being dropped at the beginning of the game and scattered throughout, the pacing of the actual plot is rather poorly handled. Even for a Shin Megami Tensei game the title takes an excessively long time to develop many of the key factors that players will need to deal with, to the point that even one of the game’s massive dungeons features very little in the way of development outside of the final moments. This leads to many hours being spent simply following a very shallow explanation of events with the biggest bright spots being the interactions with the countless demons and angels that cross the Nahobino’s path.
That being said, once the game does begin to develop itself the team has handled the game incredibly well, leaving the slow start behind and settling into a solid pace. There are plenty of moral quandaries that appear throughout the story, a signature element of the series, and there is also a bit more focus on characters as well. Once certain developments take place Shin Megami Tensei V finds its footing and begins to deliver a highly satisfying tale that isn’t afraid to wildly swing in tone depending on what is happening at any given time. One moment a devastating event may happen the next the Nahobino is arm-wrestling Berith, outwitting Jack Frost, or bribing Lamia to recruit them to their team.
It is also interesting to note that the demons have more personality than ever. Not only do most side quests in the game come from demons or angels but numerous non-hostile ones will simply be available for small conversations throughout a map. Combine this with a certain charismatic assistant that often join the Nahobino while traveling around and the fact that, from time to time, demons from similar lore on the player’s team may talk to an enemy demon with unique dialogue and we have some of the most interesting demons in series history alongside a strong cast of characters… eventually.
After becoming the Nahobino players will find themselves immediately facing one of Shin Megami Tensei V‘s newly designed open styled dungeons. Unlike a standard dungeon crawler players will find that every dungeon in the game is set in a sprawling multi-layer landscape with numerous side-paths to explore and quite a few treasures hidden away in chests and as well as 200 collectible “Miman” that not only immediately reward the player with “Glory” but also item rewards everytime five are gathered. That being said, despite the dungeons now featuring a massive layout there is rarely a chance to actually end up lost. Not only are players always shown the location of where they need to go next, but even side-quest objectives are often pointed out as well. It is also worth noting that there is only one true path forward through a dungeon even if it means jumping around hills or decayed buildings to advance.
To help assist players even further when it comes to navigating the landscape the game now features a very handy fast travel system in the form of the “Leyline Founts” that work as multipurpose locations scattered throughout every map. Leyline Founts serve as save points, the item shop, the location that fusions and miracles can be performed, healing, and of course fast traveling to any other fount that has been found so far. Shortly after beginning the game players will also unlock the ability to immediately return to their last accessed fount at no cost, allowing for quick saves or healing should players find themselves desperate. In many ways not only does this remove the need to constantly navigate more troublesome locations but also revisit areas that may have featured a powerful field boss, of which there are many per dungeon, that may have stomped the Nahobino and their party the first time around but can be challenged after getting stronger.
As the Nahobino travels through a dungeon they will no longer need to worry about random encounters as all foes are shown openly exploring a field. They can be surprise attacked for a potential advantage or will chase after the player and actively seek combat most of the time, though it is a nice touch that foes far weaker than the Nahobino will often flee from him instead. Once combat is entered players will be treated to the very familiar Press Turn system that the series has used through the last few entries.
The player’s party will feature the Nahobino and up to three demons with each fighter given one action per turn. Hitting an enemy’s weakness or getting a critical hit will reward the player with an extra turn though missing an enemy or having an attack blocked entirely will not only waste that turn but an extra one as well. With every character in the game having a weakness to various elements or physical attacks players will always need to keep an eye on things as enemies can take just as much advantage of the Press Turn system that the player can. This can lead to even some basic encounters turning into close calls should an enemy have the player’s weakness or nails a lucky critical, meaning that the difficulty that the Shin Megami Tensei series is known for is still alive on Normal, though there is the option to make things easier or even harder should the player choose. That being said, Shin Megami Tensei V’s fights and challenges are far more manageable than before thanks to a few quality of life additions.
One of these happens to be a new combat mechanic in the form of the Magatsuhi Gauge. As players fight, and eventually through a large number of actions after unlocking them, the gauge will fill and when it is filled, players can use a powerful skill to help their team in combat. These skills do not use up a turn and can provide a wide variety of effects depending on who uses it, ranging from making every attack in one turn a critical, unleashing a devastating blow, or even making every skill only take 1 MP. On the flip side, enemy demons can also use Magatsuhi skills though they tend to only feature a single type of buff and players will immediately know when it is coming and can act accordingly to try and protect themselves.
As the Nahobino ventures through the dungeons they will encounter a wide array of demons and occasionally angels as there is a fairly massive amount of variety of foes in this game but the player won’t be alone either. Similar to past games players will be able to talk to nearly every demon in the game, outside of bosses and mini-bosses, and potentially recruit them to your team. This negotiation usually involves a few questions followed by having to bribe the demon with either items, Macca (money), or some health or MP. If successful the demon will immediately join the player’s party though they can only have a limited number with them at a time with the limit being expanded through Miracles.
Once they are part of the team, a demon will earn XP similar to the player and can even be registered into the Compendium in case the player needs to re-summon a certain demon later. This may arise thanks to the necessity of demon fusions and how much easier Shin Megami Tensei V has made it to fuse every possible demon available. While before players could only see possible demon fusion results for the demons they have in their party, there is now an option to see what demons are available for fusion using everything in the Compendium as well. This often expands the fusion pool greatly though this method does require any missing demon be summoned for Macca and it is surprisingly difficult to earn money this time around.
Another type of fusion has also been included in Shin Megami Tensei V in the form of Essences. Essences can be obtained from defeating demons, found in the field, or from training an ally demon enough and these contain many of the base skills of the demon it came from. This means that Essences can be used to teach demons a useful skill that the player may be missing, or needed to conquer a difficult boss, and also teach the Nahobino skills. The player’s character no longer learns any skills from leveling up and instead learns them from Essences, giving players a massive level of control over how they want to build their Nahobino. In fact, there is even the ability to alter the Nahobino’s strengths and weaknesses to various elements using an Essence which can really help adjust the difficulty of certain encounters.
As mentioned before, Miracles are a new element introduced in this release and these are obtained through defeating miniboss style Abscesses in the overworld. Miracles range from increasing the amount of demons the player can have, increasing the amount of skills of demons or the Nahobino, make recruitment easier, and even buff elemental damage. These Miracles can only be purchased using Glory then which can be found through collecting the aforementioned Miman, items found in the field, and special chests. This addition along with many of the other quality of life improvements have made Shin Megami Tensei V feel far more accessible in a number of areas but still just as challenging as always as combat remains as tough as ever should the player run into an encounter unprepared or even come down with some bad luck.
Visuals & Audio
In many ways Shin Megami Tensei V finds itself in a strange position on the Switch. The release is certainly the best that the series has seen so far and has taken the appearance of many of the franchise’s signature demon models and have really made them stand out on the console, even matching a certain similar series from the developer. This is especially true when in combat as many stronger demons at various levels have special unique attacks featuring their own animations that really are a delight. That being said, it is quite evident that the game struggles often when exploring the game’s large open dungeons as pop-in is frequent, often many textures can appear a bit muddled, and anything that is a bit distant from the Nahobino immediately starts dropping frames and making jerking motions. These issues aren’t too problematic as they resolve as players grow close to them but it is a noticeable limitation.
With Atlus’ release of Shin Megami Tensei V players have the option to either use the English voice track that is performed exceptionally well with the humanoid characters sounding great and the familiar demon noises all coming across well though the option to download the Japanese dub and use it is always available. The soundtrack features some exceptionally great sounding tracks that work great for some of the intense battles that players will enter into and there is even a nice mix of calmer music that works well when simply exploring the world or even during the few moments of respite found between dungeons.
With the amount of quality of life upgrades made to the game and the excellent combat system, Shin Megami Tensei V feels like a true advancement for the franchise as not only are there more options than ever before for the player but the level of customization for both the main character and demons they can summon make combat a truly enjoyable thing even if it remains entirely possible to be overwhelmed. The story does take an unfortunately long time to get going and there are some noticeable performance issues due to the Switch’s limitations but once the story’s pace picks up Shin Megami Tensei V‘s writing is a real treat, resulting in an RPG that shouldn’t be missed.
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