It’s always great to see a long-running fan-favorite series drop a new entry. It’s even better when those entries are good, and we’ve seen that tend to be the case more often than not in the modern games industry where companies prefer to play it safe rather than taking risks. When an older series does something new and still hits the mark, though…that’s something special. It’s what we’ve got with Shin Megami Tensei V, an open-world take on the demonic monster collector that works far better than one might expect.
The world has eaten it, much as it tends to in the Shin Megami Tensei series. As one of the seemingly few humans to survive the cataclysm, you’re alone and defenseless in a wasteland full of demons. Thankfully, that “defenseless” part doesn’t last too long – you end up bonding with Aogami, a powerful Proto-Fiend, and by merging together you can form the mighty Nahobino, a rad fusion of human, demon and stylin’ hair that’s capable of kicking plenty of demonic butt.
As the Nahobino, you’ll scour the ruined world and protect whatever’s still worth protecting, perhaps even discovering there’s more going on here than just the usual apocalypse. It won’t surprise anyone to say the plot’s full of twists, turns and occult craziness and it’s half the fun of this adventure.
SMTV offers a new take on the SMT series that’s spiced up with a little of that open-world goodness you’ve come to know and love. Fans of Genshin Impact are bound to enjoy exploring the wasted world of Da’at, searching for goodies and battling demons as they go. There’s demonic Abscesses to clear out, hidden Miman to rescue for prizes, side quests to clear, treasure all over the place…if you needed reasons to run around and explore the world, there are plenty to go around. Controlling the Nahobino is a pleasure thanks to their speedy dash and mad hops and the world design does a great job of rewarding you for searching every nook and cranny.
There’s also something to be said for the way SMTV represents combat encounters as actual demons on the field that you can engage in combat via sword strikes rather than using random battles or SMTIV’s abstract icons.
As for that combat, it’s closer to classic SMT than the open-world gameplay surrounding it. Battles are turn-based and use the Press Turn system introduced in SMT: Nocturne, allowing you to take extra actions when you land attacks against enemy weak points. As is typical of the series, you’ll collect a vast menagerie of friendly demons by engaging in negotiation and fusion, and keeping a varied array of attack types is key to making the most out of each fight. Likewise, your own party has weaknesses that you’ll have to account for, lest you eat it just like the world did. Your opponents are mean and don’t play around; expect to die a lot, particularly the first time you encounter bosses.
You can, however, take the upper hand by using SMTV’s new Apotheosis system, which allows you to enhance the Nahobino and their allies by spending divine Glory on permanent buffs and absorbing the Essences of monsters to gain new skills and resistances. Between this system and allocating points obtained via levelling up, it’s possible to build your own Nahobino and tweak that build to suit your needs. The Essence concept in particular helps spice up SMTV’s character development quite a bit – Essences make for both great treasure and a worthy rare loot drop, so there’s a lot of fun to be had in searching for just the right Essence to fulfill your plans.
Presentation-wise, SMTV looks fantastic and performs, well, about as well as it can given the platform it’s on. The Nahobino is an incredibly cool character with all kinds of awesome-looking animations; their demonic entourage doesn’t slouch either, as it’s packed with both familiar faces and newcomers. Combat looks dynamic and exciting as the camera swoops about dramatically to catch the best shot of the action. The problem lies in the fact that this is all on the Switch, which struggles mightily to handle everything but falls a little short.
Don’t get me wrong: this is still an entirely playable game, but just expect slowdown here and there. Let’s hope we eventually see this one make an appearance on PC.
Long-running fans of the SMT series don’t need me to tell them that Shin Megami Tensei V is a rock solid RPG. Newcomers, meanwhile, may find this to be one of the more accessible SMT games – though that’s not to say that the series’ usual brutal difficulty never shows up at all. If you’re patient with the game – read: willing to try boss fights several times and accept the odd death to nonsense from normal battles here and there – Shin Megami Tensei V is an easy recommendation.