Despite having spawned spin-off series that is immensely popular in North America and Europe, the Shin Megami Tensei series has yet to reach the heights of the Persona series, mostly due to its more hardcore approach. While the Persona series shifted the focus on story, character development, and social sim mechanics, the Shin Megami Tensei series has stayed true to its roots, featuring a big focus on dungeon crawling and challenging combat. With Shin Megami Tensei V, however, the long-running franchise by Atlus has a real shot at becoming as popular as Persona, as the new entry is moving the series forward with new mechanics while improving the returning ones with some new welcome tweaks.
Right from the start, it's clear how Atlus wanted to move the series forward when it comes to exploration and dungeon crawling. Gone are the days of claustrophobic dungeons, and in are the days of big open fields. Following the introduction, where the main character and his friends are thrown into the mysterious Da'at, a world covered in sand where demons roam free, players can start exploring this otherworldly land that feels quite open, featuring multiple paths to the goal. The design of the starting areas is extremely solid, with a surprising amount of secrets and optional areas to discover right from the very beginning. The starting maps have also a very nice vertical design that forces players to use the jumping and climbing mechanics properly to get all treasures found in a certain area.
The openness of Shin Megami Tensei V, which gives the Netherworld a great sense of scale, feels incredibly refreshing and shows how it is possible to do away with the classic world maps and still make a world feel big. Many acclaimed modern JRPGs fail to do so properly, presenting experiences that not only feel small, but also incredibly linear, so, for this reason alone, Shin Megami Tensei V has already managed to set itself apart from the competition right from the very first hour of the adventure.
The new approach to exploration mechanics isn't the only feature that makes Shin Megami Tensei V stand out from the competition, although every other feature does feel a little familiar to those who have played the latest entries in the series. The setting and atmosphere, while great, don't greatly differ from the past, with players getting involved once again in a war between otherworldly beings, and the combat system is the same Press Turn combat system that the series has been employing since the days of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, a turn-based system where players and enemies can get extra turns by striking at weaknesses. The series' typical customization features return in full force, with the ability to fuse demons by the World of Shadows to create more powerful ones. Shin Megami Tensei V also marks the return of Demon Essences from Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, special items that can be used to inherit skills or affinities.
I'm still quite early in the game, but so far, Shin Megami Tensei V has been incredibly gripping, with its new exploration mechanics being the highlight of the experience. The rest of the game's features, while feeling familiar, are definitely well-crafted, so I expect they will hold until the end of the adventure. As such, I feel Shin Megami Tensei V has the chance of being one of the best JRPG released this year and becoming a personal favorite.
Shin Megami Tensei V launches on Nintendo Switch on November 12th worldwide.