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Shin Megami Tensei V – Video Game Review

This review was authored by Kevin

When you utter the name Shin Megami Tensei someone might say back to you: “Gesundheit”. So to keep things simpler we shall mostly use the moniker SMT for the rest of this review. Here is the elevator pitch for the uninitiated; SMT is Pokémon but the ‘monsters’ you collect are gods, demons or famous historical figures coming in from almost every mythology. So instead of capturing Pikachu you are convincing Zeus, Shiva, Horus or Odin to join your squad. While the series is frequently compared to Pokémon it’s simultaneously much older, darker and tough-as-nails in comparison. 

*WARNING* Brief History Lesson! *WARNING*

Shin Megami Tensei is an interesting and storied game with a long history, with the first game (Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei) coming out back in 1987 on the NES in Japan exclusively. So now you probably see the irony of comparing it to Pokémon as it predates the Pokémon series by roughly 10 years. 

Since the first SMT there have been over 50 SMT/SMT-spin-off games if you don’t include remakes or ports to new systems. (No, I have not played anywhere near all of them.) Perhaps the most fascinating factoid is that one of its spin-offs (Persona) eventually became more popular than the main series. 

There are a few themes that run through the majority of the SMT games.The first is a focus on the apocalypse and rebirth of the world, with the story having a strong emphasis on what form you want the new world to take. In that regard, these games usually have three or more possible endings: a law, chaos and neutral story route. Another theme that runs through each and every SMT game is the “demons” that you collect. 

Alright let’s get back on track.

*END OF HISTORY LESSON -> REVIEW TO BEGIN*

So now we have the release of the fifth entry into the Main Shin Megami Tensei as a Nintendo Switch exclusive. I won’t keep you waiting any longer: I absolutely love this game. 

HOWEVER

There are a few things you should know about the game before you get too excited. So I will exposit on the caveats:

  • This game is hard and I don’t say that lightly:
    • You will die, both unexpectedly and frequently. Any time the protagonist falls in battle, it is game over with no extra chances. There is no autosave feature – it is time to load your last save file. I would suggest making saving an compulsory instinct to avoid tears. 
    • Do not let this game fool or pressure you into playing on normal if this is your first SMT game. Consider normal mode to be hard mode, and casual mode as normal. Don’t let the game or anyone else make you feel bad if you want to download the optional merciful mode difficulty (which is the true easy mode).
    • The game’s tutorial will probably not be sufficient for most new players. Consider watching walkthrough videos or reading guides to fill in the gaps.

 

  • There are also issues with the graphical performance:
    • The Switch is just not strong enough to run this game at a crisp frame rate or resolution. The graphics are serviceable but if you’re coming from a beautiful game like Metroid Dread running at a stunning 60fps, it will be jarring.
    • The issues can be partially mitigated by playing in handheld mode because the reduced screen resolution is not being stretched out over a giant tv screen.

 

  • The story is a mixed bag: 

(I hesitate to throw this in the ‘negatives’ column but the story isn’t strong enough to be the reason to play the game. Especially if you have played any of the other SMT since they are all very similar in premise)

    • Anime lovers will feel right at home with a cliche, generic, high schooler protagonist who awakens a mysterious power, but for others this might cause a glassing over of the eyes.
    • Plot isn’t the real reason you play this game but it does a serviceable job driving the game forward. There will be meaningful choices you make – especially towards the end of the game – that will have a major impact on what shape the future takes. 
    • As a double edged sword, the game doesn’t have extremely long exposition dumps, but it does lead to many of the characters feeling under developed.

 

The Reasons to Stick Around

Much like you readers who are still here, this game really rewards those who take the time to get to know the game’s different systems.

  • A delightful apocalyptic world:
    • The number one improvement this game has made over it’s prior entries is the apocalyptic landscapes you get to explore. Environments feel like an open world game… while at the same time not actually being open world.
    • Exploration and curiosity is constantly rewarded with collectables and treasure.
    • As stated earlier, this game pulls from so many wonderful cultures and histories that you will assuredly come away from the game knowing more about the world you live in. (If you want to.)

 

  • You. Can. Jump! :
    • Jumping may seem like a minor feature but the newfound exploration tool opens up the map in a way this series hasn’t seen until now.
    • This means those open world maps littered with secrets mentioned earlier have a verticality that has been lacking before.
    • The jump combined with the ability to run really darn fast makes traversing the world almost a reward on its own.

 

  • The Demons (The generic name for the monsters in SMT):

 

    • The model animation and character design shines through. It is a true treat to see these guys animated and detailed with so much care. The design of the demons of SMT have been largely unchanged since its inception and they have never looked this beautiful. 
    • A fair number of the demons now have their very own special moves! This gives those demons their own special sauce to stand out amongst their peers.
    • You can fuse your old demons to make new, more powerful ones that can inherit some of the abilities of your old pals. (While this system is complicated, this game in particular really makes it user friendly…but, this is one part of the game that could have a beefier tutorial section)

 

  • The turn based combat is challenging in a way that rewards smart team building:
    • The challenge the game puts before you is how you can exploit the enemies’ weaknesses while at the same time guarding your own. 
    • Every character has different attacks that they are strong and weak to. But you can cover a weakness of one character by putting another character on your lineup that is immune to that particular type of attack. 

 

  • Last but definitely not least – Hair:
    • A demon asks you > Why is your hair so long?

  • Or maybe…

Conclusively, SMT V is not a perfect game, but those who give it a chance will easily be able to look past it’s flaws and find that gem beneath. This is an easy recommendation for two types of people: Those who love SMT games or JRPGs in general and want more, and those who love digging into a challenging game with some meat on its bones. If this sounds appealing but a bit too intimidating, consider trying out Persona 5 Royal on PS4; the combat system in that will be a bit kinder (not to mention the story in it is phenomenal).

Overall Rating: A-

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