Shin Megami Tensei V Hands-On Preview: Hardware Handicap

So about that Switch Pro...

by Diego Perez

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After reviewing the HD remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne earlier this year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the next entry in the series. I got the opportunity to play the opening segment of Shin Megami Tensei V, releasing on November 12 for Nintendo Switch, and I walked away with mixed impressions. The game itself is enjoyable, but the Nintendo Switch is really starting to show its age.

Shin Megami Tensei V is the first mainline SMT game to release on a console since Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne on PlayStation 2. Shin Megami Tensei IV didn’t exactly light the world on fire when it was released for Nintendo 3DS in 2013, and the Persona series feels like it has taken the spotlight in the west as Atlus’ premier RPG. With SMT V being one of the headlining titles for the Nintendo Switch (revealed over four years ago at this point!), it really feels like Shin Megami Tensei is back in a big way.

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With the insane popularity of the Switch, SMT’s brand recognition being higher than ever thanks to Persona’s breakout success, and more and more people craving hardcore RPGs these days, Shin Megami Tensei V could be the game that finally causes the series to break through with the general public and not just RPG fans. All that Atlus needs to deliver is a quality title, and from what I’ve been able to play of SMT V so far, they have.

If you have any experience with the SMT series, then you’ll feel right at home with Shin Megami Tensei V. The game begins in modern-day Tokyo with you taking control of an unassuming student. An unknown catastrophe strikes, and you wake up in a version of Tokyo ravaged by a mysterious apocalypse. It’s unclear what exactly went down, but now, the city is drowning in the sands of a scorching desert and dangerous demons patrol what remains of the streets. You join forces with a strange savior and become a powerful being called a Nahobino, a creature that is neither human nor demon.

In true SMT fashion, you’re thrown straight into the mix and are left with more questions than answers. Shin Megami Tensei V tosses you into gameplay much faster than the other games in the series, which is appreciated.

Although Tokyo is mostly just a desert at this point, it’s hard not to notice Shin Megami Tensei V’s great art direction. The starting area is all sand and destroyed buildings, but the game somehow makes this area visually interesting despite the muted color palette and bland buildings. It’s designed to unsettle, and it does a fantastic job. It’s a hellish landscape sprinkled with once tall skyscrapers now disfigured beyond recognition. Demons roam the overworld with full HD models, and character models are more detailed than ever before as well.

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This is both a blessing and a curse for SMT V. This feels like the jump from Persona 4 to Persona 5. Not only are the models more detailed than ever and the environments the most open they’ve ever been, but the overall presentation has been dramatically improved. This is Shin Megami Tensei with an increased budget running on a system with increased horsepower. Unreal Engine 4 is a huge step up for the franchise.

The problem is, it’s not enough horsepower. Shin Megami Tensei V is one of the best-looking Switch games out there, even just going off of the opening segment. The framerate struggles to keep up. It’s mostly stable during battles, but running around the overworld causes the game to chug heavily. Rotating the camera is almost never a completely smooth process, and coupled with the strong motion blur, it can be unpleasant to look at sometimes. If performance is already an issue in what is essentially the tutorial zone, I’m worried about how the game will fare in other regions down the line.

Thankfully, the game is still playable. Performance isn’t incredibly important for a turn-based RPG such as this, and it’s the price we have to pay for having this game running on a portable system. At least it’s not as bad as something like Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity.

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Gameplay-wise though, Shin Megami Tensei V is just as engaging as its predecessors. Series staples like the press turn system and demon negotiation return, and they’re largely unchanged. During combat, a meter slowly fills up that allows you to unleash devastating attacks called Magatushi Skills. These add an interesting new layer to combat and can help you turn the tide in a losing fight.

When it comes to party building and strategy, there are a few new additions as well. Demon fusion returns, allowing you to create new demons by combining ones in your collection. However, SMT V also allows you to collect demon Essences, which are infused with a demon’s skills. You can use Essences to add new skills to your character or other demons in your party. For example, if you find a Pixie Essence, you can use that to add the healing ability Dia to the protagonist or one of your demons.

Shin Megami Tensei V also features a new special currency called Glory, which can be obtained in the overworld. You can spend Glory on Miracles, which are passive abilities that can help you both in and out of combat. You can raise your character’s maximum demon stock or increase their affinity for a certain damage type by purchasing Miracles, for example. Essences and Miracles allow for even more granularity when it comes to party customization, and they’re both appreciated additions.

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Surprisingly, Shin Megami Tensei V’s movement and exploration are a lot of fun, too. Small colorful orbs are scattered all across the overworld that restore HP, MP, and give you Macca. There are also hidden treasure caches you can find, some of which require creative thinking to access. Your character has a really fast sprint that lets you zoom around the overworld, making traversal a breeze.

Because there’s so much to discover in the overworld and all demons can be seen wandering around (meaning no random encounters), it’s really easy to settle in and grind for a bit. Smashing treasure containers, collecting orbs, and searching for Glory all give you things to do while you’re sprinting around slashing demons or moving to the next story point, which really helps the pacing. Even though Shin Megami Tensei V is definitely a slow burn from the small amount I’ve been able to play, the opening hours don’t drag as much as other JRPGs.

The more I play Shin Megami Tensei V, the more I keep thinking about it. Just like its predecessors, its cryptic approach to storytelling and its bleak, twisted world are immensely captivating. It has a rich atmosphere that only Shin Megami Tensei can deliver on. I really think this is going to be the series’ breakout moment. A deserved breakout moment.

Shin Megami Tensei V will be released for Nintendo Switch on November 12, 2021.

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