Shin Megami Tensei V (SMTV) is the latest entry in the series focusing on gods, demons, and a merciless world. The game starts in modern Tokyo, but the silent protagonist is soon transported into a world of sand and rubble, left to fend off hostile demons. The state of the world is a mystery, and answers are not given easily. As the game opens up, the player gets to explore eerie environments while battling and recruiting demons that are based on real myths and religions.
Exploration is great fun and an important part of the game flow. While the environments are mostly ruined cityscapes with different color themes, the level design itself is wonderful, as there is constantly something new to discover in hidden crevices and heights. The upgrades that can be gained are crucial to survival, so exploration is motivated by both fun and necessity. The addicting loop of searching for resources creates a nice change of pace between battles.
Fights against demons are turn-based, giving the player much-needed time to ponder their moves. The combat can be unforgiving, as the game ends immediately when the protagonist dies. Technically, an ambush by the enemy can mean instant game over if the main character is hit critically a few times. There is potential for frustration if the player has not saved at one of the sparsely placed save points in a while. This ruthlessness carries over the whole game, with major bosses causing deaths in the party without fail. However, multiple difficulty options can decrease the steep learning curve. On normal and hard, the game pushes you to think about which demons to include in certain fights and what actions you should take. Luckily, battles are not random as enemies can be seen roaming in the environment. The player can pace themself, though fighting is still necessary to level up the party.
Demons are the meat of the game, with over 200 characters to fight and collect. Demon recruitment, which can be initiated during most encounters, is hilarious and random, and the conversations give personality to the characters. Ultimately, though, they are tools more than companions. If the player is to get through the game, they need to get rid of many party members. Demon fusion is the most powerful method for improving the roster, as two or more demons are combined to create a stronger demon that inherits some of their abilities. There are a lot of choices to make, which is a treat if the player enjoys strategizing. Demon management is why I am a fan of the series, and SMTV plays to its strengths in this area.
The weakest part of the game is the story. Writing feels disjointed, with some parts feeling like they came from a different game altogether. Major characters disappear into irrelevancy without warning, getting so little screen time that any kind of emotional connection is hard to build. It is a shame as I was interested in the story’s twists and concepts on paper. Another problem is the performance. Especially in the Switch’s docked mode, the framerate drops noticeably and causes even menus to be unresponsive, which is a large problem considering how much they are used.
To me, these problems are easy to disregard. The core gameplay feels so satisfying that ignoring technical problems, SMTV has quickly become my personal game of the year and one of my favorite role-playing games in general. The game cannot be recommended to everyone due to its uncompromising nature and disappointing story, but for those that enjoy challenging turn-based battles and character customization, SMTV is a fantastic experience.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: November 12, 2021
Screenshots from the game, taken by the author.
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