'Shin Megami Tensei V' Review
This article contains spoilers for "Shin Megami Tensei IV" and "Shin Megami Tensei V”
After a new entry into the “Shin Megami Tensei” (SMT) series was teased in 2017, fans of the saga that anticipated a new game had to wait several years for more information following the announcement video published later that year. It wasn’t until November 2021 that fans finally got to experience that new game, “Shin Megami Tensei V” (SMTV).
The first game of the SMT series dates back to the days of the Super Famicom, but the entries are also part of a larger “universe” often referred to as “MegaTen.” The most notable series in MegaTen is “Persona,” which achieved international fame following the success of “Persona 5.” Most entries, including the “mainline” SMT games, are role playing games (RPGs) that take place in some sort of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic setting. The mainline SMT games usually involve some conflict where the main character decides the fate of the world in the end, normally giving the player an option of chaos, order, or neutral. The series heavily draws from cultures and religions from around the world, whose creatures and gods serve as the main enemies in the franchise.
After finishing some of the entries of the Persona series a couple of years ago, I decided to dive into other MegaTen games, where I learned about the development of SMTV. Overall, I would say the gameplay is one of the best in RPG history, but the story leaves a lot to desire.
The story of the game is straightforward; you play as a student attending Jouin High School alongside some of the other main characters of the game. After hearing about some unfortunate events, the main character finds himself in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo where he fuses with a demon and becomes a “Nahobino,” or one who has “Knowledge” and the body of a god. We later learn that this is the real Tokyo which was destroyed in the war between Lucifer and the God of Law. Lucifer claims he has slain The Creator during Armageddon, the war from 18 years. So far, nothing too unexpected.
We also learn that characters who become a Nahobino can climb The Throne of Creator. The God of Law, the previous holder of the throne, had removed the Knowledge from the rest of the gods, meaning no one could take the throne from him. But after his death, Nahobinos can return and the main character is proof of this. The rest of the story follows the story of “Bethel,” the forces trying to reclaim the real Tokyo. Eventually, after the reclamation of Tokyo, the various Bethel branches, headed by gods, try to take the Throne of Creation for themselves after locating the human who holds their Knowledge (spoiler: our classmates from the beginning of the story do).
The main problem with the story in my eyes is that it doesn’t drive anything, it simply just exists alongside the actual gameplay and nothing more. The alignment representatives don’t serve as anything but tools for the story to progress; they don’t feel like they belong in the game. This was perhaps the biggest disappointment for me given my experience with SMTIV, which has a really solid story in my opinion. I grew attached to the alignment representatives in SMTIV, and I actually felt bad when I inevitably had to kill them following my alignment choice. In SMTV, killing my “friends” felt like a means to progress the story. The character development was severely lacking and sometimes felt rushed. At times, the law representative’s story felt like it was reaching at best.
I also briefly want to talk about the endings of the game. Upon my first playthrough, I got the “Neutral” ending, but was actually aiming for the “True Neutral” ending. I ended up ending a zone too early, which locked me out of the True Neutral ending even though I later completed all the requirements for it. The regular Neutral ending was lackluster, to say the least. It cuts out the final boss from the “Law” and “Chaos” endings and just feels wrong. With the little personality that the main character has, it just feels wrong for him to decide to destroy the Throne of Creation and nothing else. The next time I play, I plan on actually getting the True Neutral ending and I hope I’m not as disappointed as I was with my first ending. But also, it’s not the story that makes this game so good: it’s the design and gameplay.
SMTV is the first entry in the series that has a completely open overworld with overworld encounters, and it’s executed phenomenally. The models and behaviors of the demons are especially solid and definitely a right step for the series. While I did like the pixelated demons in battle of the SMT 3DS games, the SMTV models take it another level. I was really glad to see the return of Chironnupu, my favorite demon who first appeared in SMTIV:A, alongside some other inspiring character designs. Fallen Abdiel has got to be one of my favorite designs out of the new demons introduced, and Loup-Garou deserves an honorable mention. I would also be remiss not to mention how good some of the demon redesigns are; I much prefer the new version of Angel.
The battle system is solid in SMTV, though I slightly preferred SMTIV:A’s system. In SMTV, light and dark elements go back to being damaging attributes that have a chance to insta-kill if the enemy is weak to that element, which I vastly prefer over them just having a chance to insta-kill, as it gives me a reason to use light/dark skills. Graphically speaking, all the skills have solid animations, especially the unique skills that some demons have, including the main character. Profaned Land having Demi-fiend’s iconic pose was a nice touch, along with smaller details like the ice Jack Frosts in Jack Bufula.
This time around, the main battle gimmick was “Matgatsuhi,” which allowed the user to use a special attack when the Magatsuhi gauge was full during battle. I enjoyed collecting the various Magatsuhi attacks my demons could use throughout the game, which was a nice reward for exploring and completing side missions. However, since SMTIV was my first SMT game, I think I’ll always have a soft spot for the “Smirk” mechanic introduced in those games.
The last part of combat I want to touch on is its difficulty. The series as a whole is known for being very challenging, but I felt SMTV was very fair. Every time I had a “game over,” I felt like it was my fault. The widespread availability of elemental attack items in the game also made it a bit easier than other entries. The initial boss in SMTV didn’t feel like I had to get lucky to beat it, which many people feel in regard to Minotaur or Medusa from SMTIV. Though occasionally I got roadblocked at a boss, I just explored around for a bit and did a little bit of grinding and I was able to beat the boss. (Note: I played the game on Normal difficulty).
Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the game is the gameplay itself. The introduction of an almost complete open world exploration is a fantastic addition to the game and made the game feel much more interactive. Though some people may not be fans of “collect-a-thon,” I had a good time collecting “Mimans,” which are little creatures scattered all over post-apocalyptic Tokyo. It’s completely optional, but you come across enough of them that you get enough “glory” to get enough skills.
Additionally, I liked the mix of character stat mechanics from Strange Journey and SMTIII. The reintroduction of demon sources was a welcome surprise that I wasn’t expecting. I will say I didn’t fully utilize this mechanic, as I had a lot of sources leftover at the end of the game. However, I think using the sources to determine both the main character’s skills and affinities, was a useful mechanic. There were many opportunities to get sources, so I didn’t feel like I was in a bind to new skills at any point.
I would highly recommend the game to anyone with interest in RPGs. You don’t have to play any of the other games in the series to understand the plot or appreciate anything the game has to offer. The main game is about 50 hours and earning 100 percent completion will involve about 95 hours; the game has plenty to offer and solid gameplay, so give it a chance!