Jack is back
Personage might rule the roost in Atlus, but I’m always up for a new Shin megami tensei. And we can say that it’s been a long time! Although apocalypse kind of accounts, it’s been over eight years since the last fully numbered CMS RPG, and really, five years since apocalypse, which is a pretty long wait. Given that Shin megami tensei V was the first iteration of the series on console in a long time, and Atlus was experimenting with some drastic changes to the formula, there was room for concern.
I think most of these fears will overwhelm people as soon as they play it.
Shin Megami Tensei V (Nintendo Switch)
Released: November 12, 2021
MSRP: $ 59.99
The setup of the modern school kid-thrust-into-an-apocalyptic event is very close to Atlus’ wheelhouse, but remains very unique outside of the MegaTen universe. Chaos happens quickly and you are prompted to make sense of it as you slowly watch the story unfold through various revealing incidents. The main thing, without going too far: you and a spiritual entity combine into a higher being called Nahobino, and are drawn into a war. The result is an incredibly striking protagonist, with designs that are dubbed given the fantastic art direction and visual style (which appear on an OLED display).
Atlus has shown time and time again that he has no problem creating games full of personality, and the increased reach and scale of Shin Megami Tensei V on the Switch is felt in several ways. Neon hues absolutely do it for me – everything is crisp and, best of all, clear. The designs of demons, especially classic band members who have been around for ages, are more detailed than ever. This is how you make a modern take on a collectible creature RPG (without naming any names).
The narrative always does this thing where it masterfully switches between cute and dark grim on a whim. Someone may be murdered, and then a few minutes later, you chat it up with an adorable anime companion who may or may not have a dark sense of humor. SMT V The voice acting ranges from good to fantastic, as just about every demon pulls it off (even though they have a limited amount of dialogue), as do the core cast members. Almost no one stays longer than expected because you can walk long distances where you walk around and do your own thing in the overworld. About that!
Shin Megami Tensei VThe flow of is super interesting, due to the emphasis on roaming through sandboxes, with lightweight platform elements. the trigger of a stopwatch style, you can see all the enemies in the overworld, including the superbosses, of which there are many. You can choose to go on the offensive and attack them to have a better chance of gaining initiative in the subsequent fight, or you can flee their attempts to chase you down.
I was a little surprised, in a good way, at how big these biomes are. Typically, you’ll progress through parts of the story, discover another large map (which takes several hours or more to clear), do more stories on the critical path, and then return to another biome. With this formula, you can set your own pace in terms of how much you choose to explore, fight, or ride through the narrative.
The beauty of Shin Megami Tensei V, and why I’ve been constantly drawn to it is that nothing seems to be wasted or left behind. If you miss an area and a few bonuses / items, it’s not the end of the world. You quickly unlock a comprehensive fast travel system that lets you return to any save point in the game, across multiple regions. So if you have a quest that you got in the first five hours and you feel like completing it at some point, say, hour 15, you can go back and do it.
Or if you get caught up in a superboss fight 20 levels above you, you can remember where it was, teleport back and face them when you’re better prepared. The convenience factor is increased when you unlock a mechanic that allows you to press the L button to immediately return to the last save point you visited without penalty. Just be aware that there will be overwhelming moments where you either forget to save or encounter an enemy who will instantly dominate you in the first round of combat – and you will have to manually load your last file.
While these areas can be huge, you aren’t going to get lost, and you have the flexibility to move to locations virtually anytime you want (minus some of the aforementioned story elements, which want you to move around. focus on certain locations in the story for a moment). Everything is very simple and very easy to understand in just an hour of play.
Right from the start, you’ll sort of get the gist of leveling up, building your character with a status line and magical affinity of your choice, and the demon recruiting system, which has a feeling of “I have to catch them all”. . At this point you will probably be like “I get it” and decide whether or not to move all in. You can achieve a more divine status through miracles, which are like perks that provide bonuses in combat and out of combat. Destroying Abscesses (fixed miniboss fights) will increase your perk pool, and points can be earned in a number of ways (including pure exploration).
The dashing (which triggers an “Naruto / Sonic run” animation) is super fast, and the platforming bits are subdued so that they don’t approach the realm of annoyance, but also allow certain moments of be considered legitimate “jumping puzzles”. Again, balance is what Shin Megami Tensei V is so good at. Over time the layers started to peel off on the sandbox system and I started to invest more. There is an order to all of this, but there are a lot of spokes on this figurative wheel that you can swap out between them.
Another important element, of course, is combat. The turn-based system of CMS V is super crisp and responsive, while also evoking its own menu style (which is easy to decipher). If enemies die from an elemental attack, they will wither away with a unique animation, such as dissolving into a light force or shattering from a freezing spell. Strategic depth is mostly built from the mechanics of advantage, which allows you to gain additional actions by exploiting weaknesses (Nocturnal).
You may also need to build towards a certain boss, bringing in some high caliber demon party members who are strong as a baseline and don’t trigger an elemental weakness advantage by tapping the enemy side. I can see some people get a little frustrated after a few moments (think Nocturnal), but there’s always a difficulty setting that’s easier to toggle at will if that happens. Some grinding may be necessary at times, but never to the point of excess, in my experience.
Speaking of swapping party members, the demon recruiting system, aided by “talking” to demons, is still alive and well. Shin Megami Tensei V. This is where many classics CMS personality shines through, as different demons may react to different prompts (like choosing to step back or look their way), preferring an emphatic or dominant leader.
Some demons will steal you for money – or health or items – and then either join you or run away. Others might taunt you and not indulge your Pokedex (tome) so easily. It can be frustrating at times, but the demon spawns are carefully designed, so it’s not a big deal if you fail – you can just try, try again in the same area. In addition, it is convenient to merge demons to create a new one (as long as you meet the minimum level required, such as a Pokemon badge), alongside the thrill of discovery when creating special group members.
Sure, CMS focuses more on impermanence than a lot of similar games. You’re not supposed to keep the same party forever, and merging demons means you have to recruit the merged ones again if you want them again. Additionally, there is a strict cap on your maximum party size, so eventually you’ll have to throw demons into a pool, where you’ll have to pay in-game money to collect them. It’s addicting because of the simplicity of the process – the game registers every demon you register, so you can go into a wave of capture, register them all, and then release them. You will be have to pay to get them back, but again, impermanence is emphasized.
In the end, it’s the best of both worlds. You get your dopamine when you see that you have ‘hooked up’ a demon and can re-summon it forever. But Atlus also encourages experimentation with this system, requiring you to constantly try new types of demons, elemental combinations, and strategies. The Infusion System is the secret ingredient, allowing players to use what is essentially demonic DNA to inject abilities and affinities into the main character or other demons. There is a lot of customization going on in CMS V and it’s really hard to feel at ease with what you’ve got.
The seemingly endless possibilities of Shin Megami Tensei V directly fed my desire to play it as soon as I received my copy. It’s overwhelming, but compartmentalized. The world is technically finished, but seems limitless. That’s exactly what a lot of people expect from an RPG, and the strong personality-focused bitrate helps propel it past most of its competition.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]