Release date: November 12, 2021
Shin Megami Tensei’s illustrious history has been unparalleled since its debut in the 90s. It has since grown and evolved, though the changes mostly come from the detailed environments that captivate and immerse you just as much as the narrative. These games constantly highlight the question of morality and philosophy, what’s right and wrong, and good versus evil. It’s hard to believe now that Shin Megami Tensei V is finally here and real, almost five whole years since its announcement prior to Switch seeing its launch. What’s not so hard to believe (or maybe it is, depending on how you look at it) is that the game has not only been worth the wait, but it’s also an exceptional new JRPG.
Shin Megami Tensei V brings with it its demon infested worlds we’ve come to know and love for years, now with a fresh makeover on Switch thanks to Unreal Engine 4. With deities, demons, and humans crossing over and clashing in a decaying world where order and humanity is lost, the game tasks the player at becoming a new being, the Nahobino – which is neither demon nor human – to decide which path to take the world next. Is it a world worth saving? Or are things on the brink of extinction for good reason, being better off to a reset? This constant battle of what’s right and wrong and choosing the fate of the future – and subsequently humanity – has been an ongoing theme with the series that has also pitted heaven and hell against each other, each having their own agendas and views on what a brand new world should look, feel, and act like. Ultimately the character has to choose sides and make important decisions that could shape alliances and change the fate of the world at any given moment.
As is the norm with the series, it’s hard to go about such a monumental task alone, and it’s not one that can be done without the help of the very demons you fight against, persuading them to fight by your side – but for a price. Shin Megami Tensei’s battle system has always been one of the shining stars of the series, primarily because of how you’re fighting and who you’re fighting with. Demons tag along after talking to them and using persuasion through a plethora of routes and quick dialogue exchanges that sometimes can feel like a transaction or contract being made. They can do something as innocuous as race against you or tell a joke, to something as egregious as taking a majority of your HP, MP, or Macca (the in-game currency) before they’re willing to join your party.
The talking portion of Shin Megami Tensei has always been, to me, one of the highlights, and it’s no different in Shin Megami Tensei V where demons of all shapes and sizes will have some sort of request that needs to be fulfilled before they’re satisfied enough to join you. Conversely, saying the wrong thing and pissing them off can backfire completely causing them to really dish out damage to you, and in a less threatening manner they will just straight up walk away from the battle. However, a growing party of demons isn’t all you’ll need to ensure survival because Shin Megami Tensei V takes another area of its demon collecting to a new level with another returning yet staple feature: fusions.
Exploration this time around is hugely emphasized over previous entries. Each location is gigantic and feels like a genuine realm that’s dilapidated and clearly in chaos compared to the more controlled and docile nature of the human side. From area to area along your journey of life and death, heaven and hell, and god and human, you’ll come across various locations in the netherworld that provide hidden collectibles, areas, events, and more that reward the player for their curiosity and explorative habits. Because of how vast these locations are now compared to previous entries in the series, fast travel is something that will be heavily used through these blue streams of aura called Leyline Founts. These same Leyline Founts are also your friend for many reasons including saving, healing, buying and selling items, as well as the aforementioned fusions that have been a recurring mechanic in Shin Megami Tensei and its associated spinoffs.
Leyline Founts are a core part of the experience in Shin Megami Tensei V and are a nice quality of life improvement, serving as a sort of hub to take a breather through the provided menus rather than going to specific, sporadically placed locations that are tied to a certain function (such as going to one side of a map or city to buy Life Stones or talking to a specific person for fusions). It’s because of this and their fast travel properties though that it’s a relief finding one as you progress, as Shin Megami Tensei V can certainly bring a challenge if you don’t properly train or recruit demons to fight by your side. Each death causes the game to revert back to its most previous save, and with no autosaves available, saving frequently would do you good – though most who have played Shin Megami Tensei for quite some time now should be accustomed to this. It’s no understatement to say that the netherworld is vast and large with a ton to find and do compared to the areas and hubs of prior installments, and a new jumping ability gives every area an extra vertical plane and sense of depth not found in previous entries.
Even though Shin Megami Tensei has always done well to keep things consistent, cohesive, and intuitive, Shin Megami Tensei V certainly improves upon elements that one wouldn’t expect needed to be improved upon, and it adds a seamless feeling to the experience when traversing the netherworld. Having what’s known as Cadaver’s Hollow to buy and sell your items and relics you find along your way as well as turning in any Miman that have been discovered – a group of harmless demons that hide in usually hard to find locations and serve as a collectible – are all included in the Leyline Fount. How it also provides the Glory needed to expand upon the Nahobino’s passives and buffs also makes it feel like a core part of Shin Megami Tensei V’s world. This is included with the World of Shadows and allows you to manage yourself and your demons make it all feel beautifully stitched and well-rounded. Too many RPGs add areas that feel optional or not worth your time, but Shin Megami Tensei V makes sure that you utilize everything that is presented to you, and even the optional subquests that are intermittently made available provide extremely generous rewards that are more often than not worth your while.
The World of Shadows in particular is a place you’ll visit quite frequently to properly upgrade and strengthen yourself and your demons through fusions of not only the demons themselves, but also with Essence Fusions. Essence Fusions allow you or a demon to adopt the skills of another without having to actually lose a demon through an actual fusion. While there have been similar methods in the past, this feature feels refreshing and also allows for a more strategic take on how you build yourself and the demons assisting you. Do you want a more versatile group that’s prepared for a wide variety of enemies, or would you prefer to max out a certain stat and rely on that to steamroll your way through certain enemies in certain environments? Shin Megami Tensei has always done a phenomenal job at feeling tailored to the player with decisions that impact the short term and long term both narratively and through its gameplay. Shin Megami Tensei V is no different, providing its most intuitive and polished interfaces yet for all the features implemented, with the only real drawback being having to remember a large amount of terminology that make things sound fancier than they really are.
It can’t be stressed enough that the craftsmanship of Shin Megami Tensei V puts it on another league, as has just about every entry in the series regardless of its mainline or spinoff foundations. Cutscenes, whether they’re in-game or pre-rendered, have all been made with such a polish that seamlessly weave between being in control of the situation to a scripted sequence and allow for the ultimate immersion. The game is rarely plagued by long loading screens that take you out of the action. While you’ll occasionally run into them, not once did I ever feel like black screens or loading segments ever overstayed their welcome and took me out of this world I was so captivated by.
The world of Shin Megami Tensei V also doesn’t just settle on what’s in front of you, but thanks to its new approach in movement, environmental detail, and storytelling, it also feels inviting when it comes to checking every corner as well as looking above and below you as the demons you encounter are in all angles and slopes of the world. It took me by pleasant surprise when I looked up on a whim and saw a demon high up in the skies and flying over me, as well as others minding their own business in the far distance dancing together or causing some sort of mischief. It brings out the personalities of each demon and not a single one ever feels like it has reused assets or animations, making the danger ahead of you be as worrisome as it is fascinating. It’s a world that despite all of its death and gloom feels alive and brimming with excitement.
Running into other allies in the form of humans, demons, and gods by chance along with constant foreshadowing through environmental storytelling makes it feel like there’s always something to discover in terms of content. Abscesses cover the world as well and serve as a test of strength before moving forward and uncovering more of the map as you progress through the game. With the challenge each serves – as well as the fact that there are bosses of other types that need to be revisited much later down the line – it gives the player the chance to really squeeze the most out of their current coordinates before moving forward.
There’s no denying that Shin Megami Tensei V, much like every other entry in the series, is filled with sensitive content that’s hard to touch upon both in terms of content with respect to the wishes of the developers and the religious, philosophical, and metaphysical topics that consistently spark debates in our day to day lives, However, it’s worth noting that regardless of the path you choose in the game and how the story plays out (as well as your beliefs), the game is one of the finest JRPGs to grace the Switch. Much like every entry in the series and its spinoffs, Shin Megami Tensei V will please both newcomers and veterans. Atlus somehow keeps finding ways to keep the franchise as engaging as ever with masterclass storytelling and never overdoing what already works, instead just refining and further polishing the existing mechanics and groundwork built over the years. The developer has proven that when utilized correctly, Nintendo’s hardware is the perfect place to experience your next favorite JRPG.
Shin Megami Tensei V is the JRPG powerhouse we all expected it to be since its announcement before the release of the Switch years ago, and brings with it yet again and unforgettable experience powered by the sheer talent and master craftsmanship by the minds at Atlus. Spanning many hours well into the hundreds for those that are looking to squeeze out as much as humanly possible, the game gives the series its most ambitious and refreshing design yet while still taking pride in what makes it so great. Seeing Unreal Engine 4 being utilized also makes it beautiful to look at both on the big screen and in handheld mode – and with a mostly stable performance. Fans of Shin Megami Tensei V will go in already feeling comfortable and back home with a refreshing uplift for the series, and newcomers will have a chance to experience their next favorite RPG on Switch.
Shin Megami Tensei V copy provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.