Published on January 14th, 2022 | by Abdul Saad
Shin Megami Tensei V Switch Review
Summary: Shin Megami Tensei V is undoubtedly a well crafted game. Despite the story taking quite a while to intrigue me, the gameplay mechanics and the challenging combat more than make up for it.
Shin Megami Tensei V is Atlus’ latest JRPG. Now that the developer is mostly known for its excellent Persona series, it’s sometimes easy to forget that said series is a spin-off of The Shin Megami Tensei series, renowned for being unapologetically challenging yet still often manages to be hilariously entertaining. While SMT V lives up to the franchise’s legacy in that regard, what appealed to me most about it surprisingly isn’t the story or the challenge it often provides but the game’s core mechanics.
The game follows you as a random high schooler who starts his average day in a boring high school. After class, you socialize by meeting some classmates, and all seems fine until an earthquake unexpectedly occurs, knocking you out. When you awake, you find yourself in the world of Da’At, a post-apocalyptic version of Tokyo in the middle of a massive battle of dominance between angels and demons. Upon waking up, you quickly find yourself surrounded by demons until a being known as Aogami saves you by fusing into the Nahobino, a mysterious being that is neither human nor deity.
As a person who puts a lot of importance on premise, narrative, and dialogue, SMT V threw me off with how seemingly little importance these are to the game. This isn’t to say that the game has a lackluster story or premise as if anything, the core concept, characters, and the premise is impeccable and presented well. My only gripe is how little we see of these narrative elements, for the first ten hours or so. Players will roam the Netherworld; the previously bustling city of Tokyo turned apocalyptic desertscape doing all manner of things which mainly include fighting demons, being extorted by demons, heavily involving yourself in the lives and ecosystem of the demons, and finding a variety of items and collectibles. However, while doing all this, you will noticeably lack the presence of a story that usually serves as a driving tool for players. Instead, players will be driven by the gameplay mechanics and combat alone. I found myself baffled at how little the initial lack of exposition and vast cast of characters, and copious amounts of dialogue disturbed me. This allowed me to focus solely on the game’s many mechanics.
SMT V’s combat is where the game truly engages you. If you’re anything like me and live and breathe JRPGs, you’ll feel well at home with SMTV’s combat system. Demons roam freely about the Netherspace, and it’s up to you to either approach them head-on or wait till their backs are turned to attack, prompting the start of the battle with an advantage. Each demon has a weakness, and it’s up to you to find out what that is and exploit it, mainly because in SMT V, more turns are granted to you when a weakness is exploited, which further proves just how important it is to take advantage of said weaknesses.
This is why having more demons with a diverse skill set will come in handy, as no matter the demon, you’ll be prepared to face them. Of course, acquiring the help of demons won’t always be a simple task as each has their own bizarrely unique and often funny personalities, and all want something from you, whether it’s your life savings, soul, or health. You will fail a lot in winning the demons over, but the beauty of Shin Megami Tensei V is that you can always try again when you do. Aside from demons, there are also tools players can use to have the advantage, one of my favorites being the Spyglass which displays the weaknesses of a demon and is a tool that’s noticeably missing from most Shin Megami Tensei games. Players can also use Shards and Dampers to always be one step ahead of their opponent, explore the world of shadows to fuse powerful demons, and acquire skills like increasing your elemental affinities, increasing your demon slots, and acquiring more skills by fusing another demon’s essence, among other things.
All that said, it’s easy to see how different the mainline SMT games are to the persona series as while combat is considerably more difficult (especially on normal and hard mode) and methodological, it is significantly more engaging and, dare I say, satisfying, due to the number of options provided to players. However, it’s also worth noting that combat in SMTV can be a bit frustrating at times. Not only is grinding a necessity before and after any major boss in the game in order to have a smooth experience, but specific differences to the Persona series like how reviving demons don’t immediately bring them back into action, really stands out. And while demons can extort you for all manner of items, I find it odd that they can’t even use said items in battles.
Outside combat, players can admire Shin Megami Tensei V’s impeccable character designs and art direction. While the character models aren’t as pretty as those in the Persona series, the models are shockingly detailed, and character designs like that of Aogami, Sophia, and the Nahobino are visually impressive, with unique, detailed, locations introduced at various points in the story. In addition, the environments have all been well crafted and really succeeded in presenting the post-apocalyptic aesthetic. It’s just too bad that some of the game’s locations (especially the first) grow progressively bland as you go through the game, especially because you’ll be spending on average about ten hours or so in each section.
Aside from that, the act of transversal in SMTV feels incredibly effortless and satisfying. Nahobino’s movements are incredibly swift and light, making it easy to move from point A to B, and the ability to instantly spawn at your last save location (known as Leyline Founts) and fast travel to any of said Leyline Founts is a complete godsend especially in dangerous moments in unfamiliar territories. Additionally, players can indulge themselves in the many side quests the game has to offer. Many demons have their own stories to tell in the form of subquests. Although it’s worth mentioning, most of the said subquests are fetch quests or kill X amount of X enemy. However, the excellent side quests really stand out despite their smaller narrative scale.
All in all, Shin Megami Tensei V is undoubtedly a well crafted game. Despite the story taking quite a while to intrigue me, the gameplay mechanics and the challenging combat more than make up for it.