Japanese Role-Playing Games are well known for a handful of elements; turn-based combat, elemental affinities, bending genres, and deep customization. This is true in two of the more memorable series in the genre, Final Fantasy, and Pokémon. Released November 2021, Shin Megami Tensei V hits every single one of these boxes.
A Little History
Most people know of the series by its sibling series, the Persona games. Arguably the release of Persona 4 in 2008 sparked the rise of the series’ popularity in general gaming circles. The series found its fans with a fun blend of high school simulator, dungeon crawling, and sprawling mysteries set to the backdrop of supernatural events.
Most know Atlus’ iconic characters from these games. However, the core Shin Megami Tensei line is still woefully underrepresented. The series has not had a home console release since Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne released in 2003. The fourth game in the series was relatively successful on the Nintendo DS, but still does not even come close to the success of the Persona series.
This brings us to 2017 when we were treated to a teaser for the next game in the mainline series. Shin Megami Tensei V was revealed to be a Switch exclusive title, less than a year after the release of Persona 5.
What Is Shin Megami Tensei?
At its core, Shin Megami Tensei V is a JRPG (Japanese Roleplaying Game) with its roots firmly grounded in the real world. The games in the series almost exclusively take place in Tokyo or a version of it. While the backdrop is our own world, normally there has been a kind of apocalypse as well. The world ended usually by a mixture of the machinations of man, and the supernatural.
Usually, you play an unassuming youth, swept up in the big events. During gameplay, you adventure across the blasted city, fighting powerful factions, and often play a part in making a new, hopefully, better world.
You’re not in this alone though, far from it. The enemies you fight can be recruited as well. You build your team by chatting up demons, complimenting, cowing, or bribing them into helping you. These demons come from mythological and historical sources of our world. The designs of these demons vary wildly from cutesy to highly stylized.
Pictured above are Jack Frost, Odin, Lucifer, and Zeus. Guess who’s who!
Each demon has its own affinities, attacks, and abilities, allowing you to customize your tactics in combat. Further, you can fuse demons together to make new demons, and pass on inherited abilities from the demons you fused together. This allows you to make more powerful demons with your favorite abilities from previous ones.
You, your team of demons, and a select group of survivors and friends battle for the very soul of the world. It is a philosophical and mythological slugfest for the future trying to make the most out of what’s left.
Now To The Game
So, this brings us to Shin Megami Tensei V itself. The game is beautiful, with great lighting and graphic effects, and a smooth and cool aesthetic. The atmosphere is full of dread and intensity, even when dealing with cutesy or comedic elements of the game. The sound audio is stellar as well. The demons are all voiced in one way or another, some in English, others are in Japanese. Whether they be boss demons or your run-of-the-mill recruitable demons, they all have something to say. The music is always amazing, jumping between slick electronica, pulse-pounding boss-music tracks, and strong guitar-heavy beats.
Mechanically the game is clean, combat functions on the Press Turn system, introduced in Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. The system grants your party extra actions when making smart or lucky tactical decisions, like landing critical hits or exploiting weaknesses. The enemy, however, can benefit from the system as well. If they make the same smart moves, they can gain extra actions on their turn as well.
Learning weaknesses or optimizing your ability in combat can also save you from losing actions. Each missed attack, or hitting an enemy’s immunity, can cause you to lose your base allotment of actions. Learning your enemy’s weaknesses, protecting your own weaknesses, and making smart decisions in combat can keep the tide of battle from turning against you.
Fusion is one of the core elements of the Shin Megami Tensei games. For those familiar with the Persona series, the concepts are stunningly similar. You take two or more demons and fuse them together to make a new one. The fusion interface is easy to use for new players and features new visual aids for players familiar with the games.
The fusion system allows you to build a wide variety of demonic team members, with a wide variety of skills and abilities. However you wish to build your team, the options are there. To get the most out of your demons, utilizing the fusion system will allow you not only to fill your roster but gain powerful unique demons as well, each with their own special abilities.
New to the series is the Glory and Miracles system. To further customize your main character you acquire a resource called Glory, which allows you to acquire special Miracles. These Miracles range from allowing you and your demons to learn new skills, to giving you better proficiency with your skills. Unlocking Miracles takes some exploration, combat, and finding all the little collectible Miman.
Overall, Shin Megami Tensei V is a fantastic entry into the series, but not without its issues. For a world with such a rich and vivid cast of characters and history, the story is a little dry. This is not because the premise isn’t interesting, but much like I feel about Dragon Age 2, the overall story is told exceedingly plainly. Though they are different game series, we’ve had some amazing storytelling success from the Persona series, and that depth of writing could have been given a little more attention here.
While the game is gorgeous and doesn’t try to push visual limits, there are times where the graphics still pushes what the Switch is capable of. The framerate can drop dramatically when viewing objects or subjects from a distance. It’s never really enough to be a problem, but it is noticeable. The locations can feel very similar as well, of the six locations in-game to frequently visited, the four open-world locations are just blasted cities, filled with sand.
I loved this game. While it has its slower moments, the gameplay in combat and exploration is spectacular. While not dealing with the dark questions and ideas their sister series often deal with, Shin Megami Tensei V still broaches deep philosophical concepts.
If you’re taking a game that mixes Pokemon, Megaman, and entry-level Philosophy courses, liberally sprinkled with religious and mythological fanfiction, pick up Shin Megami Tensei V today!
My favorite demon in the series, or at least this entry is Alice, a dark take on Lewis Carroll’s character. Though she has powerful instant-death attacks, I would imagine inspired by the Vorpal Blade.
Are you looking forward to Shin Megami Tensei V? What are some of your favorite JRPGs?