Shin Megami Tensei V is finally here and with it comes changes to the series, bringing it more in line with its popular sibling, Persona. It’s been almost a decade since the last mainline Shin Megami Game and given the series has been usurped by Persona for some time now, the mainline franchise needed to deliver a game that can stand toe to toe against its stylish offspring. Seeing Atlus experimenting with the formula this time is one of the most important things the studio could do and thankfully, it comes off as a fresh take on the series and easily one of the best games we’ve seen from Atlus.
While Persona is all about style and being cool, Shin Megami Tensei is edgy and much more serious, it is the end of the world after all. Does Shin Megami Tensei V begin as its predecessors do? A teenager on his way to school is suddenly thrust into an apocalypse scenario, which is usually how the series kicks off each game. Awakening in Da’at, the netherworld beckons and bears dangerous you’ve never seen before. Within minutes, demons set their gaze upon your character, who before long gains the ability to battle them. Paired with the supernatural phenomenon Aogami, together you fuse into a Nahobino, a figure capable of decimating the demons plaguing Tokyo.
The fight for Humanity’s Soul
Together, you’ll explore the netherworld regions that have assimilated Tokyo into one sprawling, twisted reality. From deserts around Tokyo Tower to the wastelands of Shinagawa, you’ll explore the remnants of society. As the protagonist eventually finds his way home, things quickly take a turn for the worst. You now find demons have made their way to your reality and you’ll explore four sizeable semi-open world areas teeming with things to discover, including nearly 200 Miman devils to be redeemed with Glory. Finding and defeating Abscess nests reward players with new Miracles and even clears the map, and sprinkled throughout each area are orbs that fill health, MP, and your Magatsuhi gauge.
Shin Megami Tensei V is at its core a hardcore RPG and from the earliest moments will challenge you. A lot of the game’s DNA is shared with the Persona series, but the difficulty is where you can see the vast differences between the two series. The Press Turn System returns giving players the chance to learn and exploit enemy weaknesses to garner an extra turn to turn the tide. What makes the series so engaging is never letting your guard down or risking losing your life. Battles are difficult and you can easily go from a healthy party to dead in an instant. Every encounter requires your attention to ensure the enemy never gets a turn.
Fighting alongside various demons, you can negotiate your opponents to join you through conversing with them. Some may want items, Macca, or answering a riddle or puzzle and is a crucial part of building your team and ensuring your survival If you’ve played Pokémon, the idea of “gotta catch ‘em all” is nearly the same. However, what I found doesn’t work is how much guesswork you must do to bring the enemy to your side. When negotiations do go south and you’re no longer able to recruit your enemy, I can only recommend preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
Essence at your Service
The game introduces a new mechanic this entry in the form of Magatsuhi Skills, moves that build up over time. Whenever you select an action in battle, you build the Magatsuhi gauge before unleashing powerful attacks against your opponent that waste no MP and don’t take up a turn. Miracles are also new, granting the player and party passive bonuses, adding a layer of customization missing from earlier titles. Be warned, however, enemies also use Magatsuhi and they will absolutely devastate you in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful. For newcomers, I would recommend never taking any encounter for granted because you will end up paying for your mistakes and it will sting.
When you include the Essence system, the game begins to ramp up allowing you to teach skills from one demon to another, even adding inherent resistances and weaknesses. Fusion returns and continues to play a crucial aspect in survival, and you can pick and choose what demons will be fused together from your stockpile. Of course, there’s also the registered demons you add to the compendium and once you meet Sophia — you’ll work with her to summon and fuse demons.
Good, Evil, It’s all the Same
Without diving into the narrative too much and keeping the excitement down to a minimum. The first hours are vague and have you continually out of the loop of what is happening and what has happened. I don’t believe everyone will enjoy the pacing in Shin Megami Tensei V given it is a slow burn, but when shit hits the fan, it hits it hard.
Atlus has always been consistent with its art direction and that trend continues here. Both the main character and the demons are stunningly designed and yes, while we’ve seen many of these designs before, they look and sound awesome. It’s clear the developer paid attention and added neat flourishes to their attacks in battle. As for the main character, the design is one of my personal favourites, and the neon blue and white colour scheme make a great case for owning the Switch OLED Model. I did notice pop in throughout my time and it is clear the Switch is hitting its limits running this game. Pair this with a soundtrack pushing for the end of the world, it’ll pull you in and won’t let go, even if it never matches the highs of the Persona series.
Shin Megami Tensei V elevates the mainline series in such a satisfying way thanks to brilliant combat, a satisfying story and tons of customization. If you’re looking for a challenge that will reward you, look no further. Atlus has given the series a facelift and it has paid off spectacularly thanks to the semi-open world sections and expansive customization that’ll keep you invested. Even with the difficulty level, Shin Megami Tensei V is the most accessible game yet and you’ll feel lost, even at the end of the world. Those who stick with it will find one of the best JRPGs this year and you’ll be rewarded with a gratifying sense of satisfaction.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]