Shin Megami Tensei V Review: The Jack-o-Lantern of All Trades

by in General | Nov, 15th 2021

Shin Megami Tensei V has been, without a doubt, my most anticipated game for the Nintendo Switch since the announcement. SMTIV and its successor, Apocalypse, are easily the two best games on the Nintendo 3DS in my opinion, and I hoped that it would be the same for the fifth entry. Read on for my Shin Megami Tensei V review to find out if I think it is the best Switch game. 

Shin Megami Tensei V Review: An Amalgamation of Past Games

Like its fellow Atlus series Persona 5 before it, the first part to mention in my Shin Megami Tensei V review is that this game is the fifth entry and the culmination of what came before it. It takes elements from each of the previous games and combines them into a singular package.

However, unlike that other Atlus game (I know, I know) that I will not mention in this Shin Megami Tensei V review again, it does so in a way that feels less masterful at times. As I mentioned in the title, it is the jack-of-all-trades but the master of none in the process. 

Shin Megami Tensei V does right by taking some of the best parts of each of the past three games: Nocturne, IV, and Apocalypse. From Nocturne, it takes a similar setting, right down to the overwhelming desert feel and the lore that the recently remastered title had going for it. 

From SMTIV, it took many of the demon designs and feel of the gameplay as the basis for the turn-based system used in V. And then, last but not least, it took the story and character-driven nature of Apocalypse (my favorite in the series up until now) to complete the entire package. 

I would argue that these are some of the best parts of each of these games, so combining them into one experience is a welcome change of pace. In many ways, Shin Megami Tensei V pays homage to everything that has come before it while ushering in a new direction for the series. 

In this way, Shin Megami Tensei V is one of the greatest JRPGs and games in general on the Nintendo Switch that you can find right now. Without a doubt, it is also one of the best games to come out this year. However, it is not perfect by any means, nor do I think it is the best in the series to date. 

Gameplay Doesn’t Fix What Isn’t Broken

For those who are reading this Shin Megami Tensei V review without ever having played one of these games before, or you have come over from the Persona side, SMT is a series that pre-dated the Pokemon franchise, attempting the whole monster-capture-style gameplay first. 

Instead of cute monsters, though, we are dealing with mature and sometimes horrific demons that are mostly created using real-world mythologies, religions, and beliefs as a basis. It is a fascinating premise and one that I have adored since discovering the series with IV. 

There are two main elements to Shin Megami Tensei V in gameplay: the capture of demons and their employment through turn-based combat. Instead of throwing some capsule toy at the creatures to capture, you communicate with the demon and persuade them to join your team. 

This can be done by giving them Macca, the game world’s currency, items, or even your health and MP. Persuading a demon to join your party is just half the fun as you can also go to a certain area and fuse the demons to create new, more powerful ones that retain some of the skills from their predecessors. 

With hundreds of different demons to discover in Shin Megami Tensei V, including revamped designs for some of the older ones and plenty of new demons to discover, it can be thrilling trying to collect all of them and use them in battle. 

When it comes to the turn-based battle system, this is one of the many parts of the game that is almost the same as previous titles. The press turn system is back, emphasizing the need to aim for foes’ weaknesses to gain more turns in battle. 

Not much has changed here outside of minor adjustments and the new Magatsuhi skills that you can use. These are special, ultimate abilities that will make all your team’s attacks become critical hits for a turn, cast a bunch of ailments on the enemy, and so on. 

The Magatsuhi skills are ones that I found were a nice addition that does not deter too much from the overall gameplay. It is best used for the challenging boss battles veterans will be familiar with; it adds an infrequent helpful addition to the combat. 

Oddly enough, I found that this game emphasized the need for constantly acquiring new demons and switching out old ones who’ve already unlocked all of their abilities more than any game in the past, which I liked. There are so many different demons to collect that it felt nice to explore each one equally. However, it might be a bit more challenging for those who like to keep the same ones throughout the journey.

Speaking of difficulty, I also found that this game was slightly easier than past titles, ignoring the possibly controversial easy leveling paid DLC returning from Nocturne’s remaster. There were no Matador-like skill checks early on (unless you have the Return of the True Demon DLC, which even then was easier, in my opinion) or the unbelievable tutorial battle from SMTIV that I, admittedly, lost.

In many ways, this does make the game more accessible to newcomers, which is great since this entry has the most mainstream appeal, and there is always the hard setting at the start that you can use. I played on normal on my first playthrough, to be clear, so hard will likely be a more satisfying experience. 

World Can Be Bland at Times

While the gameplay is the amazing turn-based collection system that it has always been, the exploration takes a drastic turn this time around, making it easily a unique part of this otherwise familiar title. You explore the game in a semi-open world of sorts, with different open areas to explore. 

There are various save points scattered throughout, along with side quests, plenty of demons roaming the overworld (no random battles, of course), and the Abscesses. The Abscesses are essentially demon “bases,” similar to the basesfrom other open-world games that give a little bit of a side objective for players to do. 

Technically, you could probably ignore all of them, but taking care of these areas will make the map easier to see and unlock new abilities for the Nahobino main character you play. When you enter the area of this new objective in SMTV, you have to take care of it or else face demons running at you when you get too close to it. 

Taking care of the Abscesses results in mini-boss fights against otherwise normal enemies, but powered up to be a bit more of a challenge. This is a nice little side task but ultimately became more frustrating when I would finish one to see another up ahead in my path, not to mention the way it obstructs the map view of its area. 

While Shin Megami Tensei V is a semi-open world game, the exploration is fine and not too difficult or interesting overall. There are plenty of collectibles to find, items to pick up, and enemies to fight, but it is also pretty easy to do with the help of the map. 

I can’t complain about that since it keeps the exploration from being frustrating. However, what did bother me was how bland the world can be for a large portion of the journey. There is too much sand in this game. I mean it as the desert environments get tiresome fast. 

Sure, without spoiling, there is a bit more variation outside the desert locations, but the desert is still prominent and frustrating for much of the game. 

Story and Content Is the Star

Given that the gameplay, as mentioned earlier in the Shin Megami Tensei V review, is pretty similar to the past titles (again, not necessarily a bad thing) and the world is rather bland at times, what makes SMTV stand out is the story and characters that it has going on. 

Like the fourth title in the series, it, thankfully, does the same element of surprise partway through the game. I remember playing that previous game and thinking the fantasy world and the single main dungeon was all there was to the game at the 10-hour mark before it finally gave way to something else entirely that was much more interesting and better. 

SMTV has its version of that roughly 10-hour twist, going in a completely different direction from what I expected and, in my opinion, rightfully warranting the comparisons from other people to that one game that shall not be named. 

Ignoring those comparisons, though, Shin Megami Tensei V puts a greater focus on the characters and overarching story, matching that of Apocalypse, which was the greatest strength of that game. I think the story and characters are the best part of SMTV, pulling off plenty of twists, some expected and familiar, and others not. 

The English voice acting is good enough to convey the feelings and personalities of the main cast, though not nearly on the high-quality level of that other Atlus game, so I ended up sticking with the Japanese voiceovers for most of my adventure. 

SMT V Is a Master of None

As mentioned in the Shin Megami Tensei V review title, this game is the jack-of-all-trades and the master of none. This is by far the biggest grievance that the title makes, not trying anything too new or different, and not having that wow factor that made Nocturne, IV, and Apocalypse the amazing experiences they are. 

Nocturne had a sandy world, for sure, but it smartly sprinkled in plenty of dungeons and indoor areas that felt different from the one-note overworld. SMTIV perfected the gameplay system with smart changes. At the same time, SMTV copies it and focuses on applying changes and quality-of-life improvements to the other, less important parts of the experience. 

And while it does have a great story with well-written and interesting characters, Apocalypse did it better and with a more intriguing world to explore at the same time, carried over from IV. Sure, it is the sum of all of its parts, but it does little to outdo any of them in the process. 

Then there is the matter of the UI and performance. Graphically, SMTV is one of the most impressive games on the Switch. However, this would have benefited from being on a more powerful Switch system or another platform. 

There are frequent frame rate issues in the open world areas, especially coming out of battle, the draw distance is fairly mediocre at times, and enemies will chug when you can see them at a distance. The UI takes a lot of inspiration, oddly enough, from Tokyo Mirage Sessions, giving it a very bland look that feels like the wrong direction there. 

Is It Recommended? 9/10

With all that said, though, those past games that inspired Shin Megami Tensei V are amazing. The bar is just set that high. Without a doubt, SMTV is a fantastic game and one that should not be ignored. Though this Shin Megami Tensei V review may have sounded negative, it was only that the game did not do more than it could have. 

Shin Megami Tensei V is one of the best games you can find on Switch right now and is easily the best game to release this year. The gameplay may not change much, but you could argue that it did not need to, given how amazing it already is. Furthermore, the graphics push the hardware’s limits, the characters are solid, the story is engaging, and the quality-of-life improvements in the game make it the most accessible game yet. 

It is just a shame that I cannot say that Shin Megami Tensei V is the best game on Switch, the best JRPG on Switch, or even the best Atlus game at this point like I could easily say with IV and Apocalypse on 3DS when they came out. In this way, it is clear that the next game in the series will need to be its own experience, not relying on nostalgia or what fans loved before. 

Despite all of this, Shin Megami Tensei V is a wonderful turn-based, a demon-collecting game that I cannot recommend more to fans of the series, other Atlus games, or even Pokemon. If you like JRPGs or turn-based battles in the slightest or want to try something new, you cannot go wrong with Shin Megami Tensei V, the best game to come out this year. 

This was reviewed with a code provided by the publisher.


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