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Shin Megami Tensei V Review
Shin Megami Tensei V is one of the best RPGs on Nintendo Switch.
Shin Megami Tensei is one of the longest-running JRPG series out there, but it hasn’t gotten the recognition it deserves with the general public. Persona, a spin-off of SMT, is much more popular in the west, so why hasn’t the main series struck a chord with the general public yet? There are countless reasons why, from being restricted to handheld entries for the most part to the name not holding much brand power here in the States, but none of that matters anymore. Shin Megami Tensei V is good, so good that it could mark the series’ breakout moment in the west.
Shin Megami Tensei V is the first mainline SMT game to grace a console since Nocturne on the PlayStation 2. That game saw an HD remaster earlier this year, but it didn’t drum up enough fanfare to get the series the recognition it deserves. Shin Megami Tensei V not only has the quality to do so, but it’s also releasing in the perfect set of circumstances to make it’s launch the series’ breakout moment in the west.
Most diehard Shin Megami Tensei fans will roll their eyes when they hear this, but yes, the Persona series is widely popular. Even more so than the series it comes from. Now that we have a new mainline SMT game on our hands, however, Persona’s popularity can do the series some good. There are countless people itching for a new hardcore RPG right now, and when you pair that with the popularity of the Nintendo Switch, Shin Megami Tensei V has an incredibly wide audience to reach. With Nintendo giving this game a huge spotlight, it really feels like SMT is back in a huge way.
Shin Megami Tensei V needs to be a stellar RPG to capture this audience’s hearts though, and Atlus flexes its RPG prowess hard with SMT V. This is a classic SMT game through and through, refusing to cut any corners or dilute its vision. What’s most impressive, however, is how the series is able to modernize itself while not compromising on anything that makes Shin Megami Tensei what it is.
The game begins in modern-day Tokyo. You play as an unassuming high school student who, after a short walk home, wakes up in a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo. There’s no telling what happened or where everyone went, but it’s up to you to find the answers. You join forces with a mysterious stranger and become a powerful being called a Nahobino, a creature that is neither human nor demon.
Shin Megami Tensei V’s plot starts off like most other SMT games. It keeps things mysterious and uses the need for answers as a means to drive the player forward. Unlike most other JRPGs, the introduction is refreshingly short. The game lets you loose to explore and fight demons very early on, which most people are sure to appreciate. The story is slowly doled out over the course of the journey, keeping the mysteries alive for dozens of hours. It’s a slow burn like most other SMT games, but it’s worth the wait.
When you awaken in the post-apocalypse, you find Tokyo to be mostly a desert, but Shin Megami Tensei’s stellar art direction still shines with such a supposedly bland environment. Although the color palate is muted and the area is destroyed, the game still manages to be beautiful. Somehow, this console/handheld hybrid beautifully realizes a desecrated Tokyo with massive dunes of sand and buildings warped beyond recognition.
It’s a hellish landscape that’s hard to look away from. Character models are also remarkably detailed, and their vivid colors and personality-filled animations pop against the drab background. This is the best-looking Nintendo Switch game without a doubt.
Unfortunately, the graphics are both a blessing and a curse. Performance is not up to snuff, and the game feels choppy as you dash through the landscape. Shin Megami Tensei V has an increased budget and runs on Unreal Engine 4, which is a huge step up for the franchise, but performance suffers as a result. It doesn’t matter a whole lot for a turn-based JRPG like this, especially with the presentation being as good as it is, but it really does seem like the Switch is holding this game back. Still, this feels like the jump from Persona 4 to Persona 5 when it comes to presentation and graphics, and it’s mostly worth it.
Thankfully, the gameplay more than makes up for these performance problems. If you’ve played a Shin Megami Tensei game before, then you know what to expect. The Press Turn system and demon negotiation return, and they work as they do in previous entries. New to the series are Magatsuhi Skills, however, which are ultimate abilities that must be charged up during combat. Once the meter is full, you can make all of your attacks into critical hits, among other things.
Also, party building has a few new additions as well. You can still fuse demons to create new ones, but now you can also collect Demon Essences, which allow you to add skills to your existing roster of demons or even the protagonist. You can keep these in your inventory without having that demon in your collection. For example, collecting a Pixie Essence will allow you to add any of that Pixie’s abilities, such as Dia, to your party.
Shin Megami Tensei V also adds a new special currency called Glory, which can be obtained by finding certain collectibles in the overworld. Glory can be exchanged for Miracles, which are passive abilities that cover a wide range of things like increasing your maximum demon stock, improving negotiation chances, or upgrading your character’s elemental prowess. All of these features add new layers of strategy to team building, giving you more control of your party than ever.
Since it’s running on more powerful hardware and a more advanced engine, Shin Megami Tensei V features the most open and detailed environments in series history. These are surprisingly enjoyable to traverse, as the protagonist has a speedy sprint and jump that allow you to access areas you wouldn’t be able to reach in the SMT games. There are hidden treasure containers, demons, quests, and more to discover in the overworld, which is a nice step away from the corridors the series is known for.
Although it’s a hellish landscape, the world of Shin Megami Tensei V is just nice to exist in. Since demons appear on the overworld and there are no random encounters, you are in charge of what you want to do for the most part. You can grind, do side quests, and hunt for items at your leisure. Since it’s on the Switch, it also has the added benefit of portability. You can play on the TV during dungeons or serious story moments and undock the system when it’s time to grind. SMT V feels much less restrictive than previous SMT games, which many players are sure to appreciate.
As I mentioned above, if you’ve played a Shin Megami Tensei game, then you should already know what to expect with SMT V. That’s not a bad thing though. The series understands why people like it, and it delivers the most concentrated version of itself with SMT V. This is a Shin Megami Tensei game that will not only please longtime fans, but also attract more casual RPG players who have heard of the series. That’s a hard balance to pull off, but SMT V does it with flying colors.
Shin Megami Tensei V is one of the best RPGs on the Nintendo Switch. It’s also one of the best JRPGs released in recent years. It is unapologetically Shin Megami Tensei, staying true to its roots while modernizing the franchise in much-needed ways. The performance issues are unfortunate, but they’re not enough to turn people away from this great RPG. Although it’s been a while since the last mainline game, Shin Megami Tensei V lives up to the hype. This is a JRPG you won’t want to miss.
Shin Megami Tensei V
- Score: 4.5 / 5
- Available On: Nintendo Switch
- Published By: Sega
- Developed By: Atlus
- Genre: RPG
- US Release Date: November 12, 2021
- Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
- Quote: "Although it's been a while since the last mainline game, Shin Megami Tensei V lives up to the hype. This is a JRPG you won't want to miss."