Humanity has lived on Earth for thousands of years, leading simple lives while unaware of the true nature of the world and of the forces that have been waging war since time immemorial for its control. Things, however, have started taking a bizarre turn lately, and some people in Tokyo have started seeing strange creatures roaming the city, kidnapping people, and generally causing trouble. The vast majority of the population doesn't believe in these rumors, but as more time passes, it becomes clear that the world is changing. And so is the Shin Megami Tensei series with Shin Megami Tensei V.

Despite the massive popularity of the latest Persona games, the main entries in the Shin Megami Tensei series haven't managed to become as successful in the West, mostly due to their more hardcore approach to the JRPG genre, an approach featuring a high challenge level and a bigger focus on dungeon crawling. Shin Megami Tensei V still features a challenging JRPG experience that's one hundred percent in line with the previous entries in the series, but the introduction of several new features and mechanics manages to elevate the experience past that of its predecessors.

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Shin Megami Tensei V begins as our silent main character makes it through yet another school day. Having recently transferred to Jouin High School in Tokyo, he doesn't know any of his new fellow students, but he does get acquainted with some of them, like Tao Isonokami, Yuzuru Atsuta and his sister Miyazu, and Ichiro Dazai. Soon enough, however, the life of these young students changes forever, as an unplanned detour on the way home leaves the protagonist and some of his new acquaintances buried in a tunnel and unconscious.

Waking up in a desolate wasteland, our main character is attacked by demons. Only the intervention of the mysterious Aogami and their subsequent fusion allows the main character to become the Nahobino and acquire the power needed to fight off these demons and make it out of the Netherworld alive. Surviving a harsh wasteland infested with dangerous creatures is only the tip of the iceberg, as the main character and his friends will become involved in a war between different factions whose outcome may alter reality itself.

While the story in Shin Megami Tensei V doesn't really move beyond the boundaries set by previous entries in the series, it is surely an enjoyable one, featuring a couple of very interesting twists and some new takes on some of the series' themes. It's also very well-paced, and it doesn't overstay its welcome, clocking at around 50 hours per single route while keeping a great balance between story sequences and gameplay. On the other hand, there is definitely a smaller focus on story this time around, compared to Shin Megami Tensei IV, as dialogues and story sequences are fewer in number. To make a comparison, Shin Megami Tensei V is closer to Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne than the previous entry and Apocalypse in terms of story focus.

With the story centered around the war between the forces of Law, spearheaded by the powerful Bezel organization, and the forces of Chaos, character development takes a backseat in Shin Megami Tensei V, with the most central characters getting only minimal development, which is definitely in line with what the series has done so far. The main characters representing the different alignments also fall into their roles naturally, although you shouldn't expect anything shocking if you have played the series before.

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While the story doesn't stray too far from familiar territory, even with its twists, it's the gameplay that makes Shin Megami Tensei V feel different from previous entries in the series. If the other entries are dungeon crawlers at their heart, the new entry is effectively an open-field crawler.

For the first time in the series, Shin Megami Tensei V has mostly done away with small, claustrophobic dungeons, which do appear in the game but in a much smaller capacity, swapping them out with big open fields that are reminiscent of open-world locations. These are complete with different points of interest, optional quests, and a unique take on the tower system used in many open-world games.

What elevates these open-ended locations from those seen in many modern open-world games is the excellent design. Not only are the maps packed with things to discover around pretty much every corner, but they also give the game an amazing sense of scale and are extremely intricate, offering players multiple paths to the goal. The maps also feature a surprisingly nice vertical design that requires players to use the Nahobino's jumping capabilities to discover all secrets. These platforming sequences are very simple, but their inclusion makes exploring these open locations incredibly engaging and extremely rewarding, as these open locations feature treasure chests including essential items such as Demon Essences. These can be used by the Nahobino to learn skills and alter his affinities and by regular Demons to only learn skills, vending machines that drop items that can be sold for Macca, and statues of demons that grant a level up to the player's current party. Even the tower-like system feels way more rewarding in Shin Megami Tensei V than in traditional open-world games, as destroying these towers, called Abscesses, will not only unlock a full map of the area but also new Miracles, special abilities learned with Glory Points, also obtained by exploring the world, that include increased demon stock, reduced shop prices, improved skill proficiency for the Nahobino and so on. With side quests also granting experience points upon completion, it's clear how exploration is a central part of the Shin Megami Tensei V experience and it works incredibly well.

While exploring Da'at, players will encounter a lot of different demons that are not particularly friendly. When it comes to combat, Shin Megami Tensei V doesn't feel as revolutionary as it does during exploration, featuring the solid Press Turn Combat system seen in the series since the days of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne. For those not in the know, this is a turn-based combat system where it is possible to get an additional turn by attacking the enemy with an attack it is weak against. Attacking it with an attack that the enemy can null or absorb or repel, on the other end, will result in a lost turn. Enemies will take advantage of this system as much as they can, so team composition plays a big role in the combat experience: bringing demons whose skills can cover multiple weaknesses can make the hardest battles more manageable.

Despite feeling a lot like previous entries in the series, the Shin Megami Tensei V combat has been enriched with a new mechanic, the Magatsuhi Skills, that increases the range of combat options, making it more strategic than ever before. These skills, which range from a guaranteed critical for an entire round to reduced MP cost to buffing and debuffing, can be activated only after the Magatsuhi gauge has been filled. This gauge fills gradually as rounds pass, but it's possible to fill it by performing specific actions once certain Miracles have been unlocked or by picking up Magatsuhi on the field. Knowing which Magatsuhi Skill to use and when to use it plays a huge role, especially during boss battles: for some of the most intense battles, my whole strategy revolved around these skills, as I started buffing my party and debuffing the enemy a few rounds before I could activate a Magatsuhi Skill, resulting in my attacks being considerably more powerful. Given how difficult some bosses are (even at Normal difficulty) and how limited the MP pool is, making these fights as short as possible should be a priority.

Regular battles can become challenging as well, even with the complete removal of random encounters. All enemies are visible on the field, but they will seek out the Nahobino as soon as they spot him, so it can be a little complicated to avoid battles. All demons also have different behaviors on the field, and some can even attack the player to gain an advantage.  Encountering a demon doesn't mean that the Nahobino has to take it down at all costs, however, as they can be made to join his party via the same negotiation mechanics featured in previous entries in the series. And just like in them, the conversations can be truly hilarious, with many demons also commenting on the Nahobino's luscious hair.

If the player cannot get demons to join their party due to negotiations going wrong, it's still possible to get them via the demon fusion system, which allows players to fuse two or more demons to create a new one that can inherit the skills of the demons used in the fusion. The system hasn't changed a whole lot in Shin Megami Tensei V, but some of the new Miracles make it more convenient than ever before, as it is possible to gain an experience and stat bonus depending on the demons used for the fusion and so on. All demons in the game also have specific skill proficiencies that make skills more powerful and cost less MP. Or more, if the demon has a negative proficiency.

Adding all the available demons to your party and completing the Demon Compendium is just one of the many things that make modern Shin Megami Tensei so fun and Shin Megami Tensei V fully delivers in this regard, possibly even more thanks to some welcome quality of life improvements, such as the Reverse Compendium Fusion option that tells the player which demon they can fuse with the demons in their party and those that have been registered in the Compendium. While the game features fewer demons than its predecessor, it will still take some time to complete it fully, giving completionists quite a bit of demon hunting and demon fusing.

The quality of life improvements do not stop at the new demon fusion options. As Shin Megami Tensei V returned to a third-person view for combat, fighting demons does feel slower than in the previous entry in the series, but the addition of an option to skip battle animations makes combat flow much better. Additionally, the game also includes the ability to return to the latest save point visited at any time at no cost. This is a welcome option since there is no auto-save and save points also act as quick travel points. With danger lurking behind every corner in Da'at, being able to warp back at any time to save the game and restore your party is an invaluable ability.

If there is one area where Shin Megami Tensei V doesn't deliver fully, it's on the technical side of things. While this is hardly surprising, given the scope of the game and how underpowered the Switch is compared to other gaming systems, some weird choices from the developer have worsened the matter.

While on the field, Shin Megami Tensei V runs at an uncapped framerate, and the performance varies wildly, ranging from very short moments where the game runs at 60 FPS to moments when it visibly drops below 30 FPS. Generally, having a few character models on screen is more than enough for performance to tank, and given how many demons roam the field, the game never runs smoothly outside of combat, which definitely feels better thanks to the 30 FPS cap. The uneven performance while exploring fields also leads to a small but noticeable input delay that, while not massive, does make moving and jumping on the big fields feel a little off.

It's a shame that performance is so uneven, as Shin Megami Tensei V is definitely among the most ambitious games ever released on Switch. As mentioned above, Da'at looks great, with a fantastic sense of scale that finally makes the world of a modern JRPG feel as big as it should be. Character and demon design are also great, with some demons getting an updated design and others, like Angel, getting a brand new one altogether. The great location and character design would have shined more at a higher resolution, but given the performance issues in the game's current state, bumping the resolution to a true 1080p resolution in docked mode would have made things even worse.

The soundtrack is yet another highlight of the experience, featuring a lot of atmospheric pieces that make Da'at feel more threatening and desolate, and a lot of different battle themes that are truly memorable. Overall, the Shin Megami Tensei V is definitely on the same level as the best soundtracks heard in the series. The English dub is also competent enough, although some characters do sound a little off, like Tao Isonokami.

Technical issues have and will damage gaming experiences, but in the case of Shin Megami Tensei V, it's easy to look past them. While the lighter focus on the story may turn off some, the new approach to dungeon crawling and the solid gameplay make Shin Megami Tensei V one of the best entries in the series and one of the best JRPG released this year, if not even the very best. Far from a small feat, considering the high-quality games released in the past twelve months.

Tested on the original Switch model. Review code provided by the publisher.

Wccftech Rating
Shin Megami Tensei V
Shin Megami Tensei V

Featuring a new approach to exploration and extremely solid gameplay, Shin Megami Tensei V masterfully balances innovation and tradition to offer an excellent JRPG experience. While the technical issues can get in the way, the game's quality is so high that most will be willing to look past them, as Shin Megami Tensei V is one of the best entries in the series and one of the best JRPGs released in 2021.

  • Great setting, lore, and worldbuilding
  • Amazing sense of scale
  • Excellent exploration mechanics
  • Solid combat and customization systems
  • Memorable soundtrack
  • Uneven performance
  • Lack of character development and big focus on the story can turn off some

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