Shin Megami Tensei V Review

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Gaming:
Cheyenne Clark

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3.5
On November 4, 2021
Last modified:November 3, 2021

Summary:

It's not winning any awards for graphics, but Shin Megami Tensei V is a well-designed JRPG that has just a little too much combat. Even with such an interesting story and themes to explore, it instead focuses on grinding and fighting the same enemies over and over.

Shin Megami Tensei V

The game I’m about to review is, in fact, not Persona. Still, that won’t stop me from comparing it to the Persona series here and there, because it’s my only frame of reference for a Shin Megami Tensei title. Persona 5 Royal is one of my favorite games in recent years, so it was hard not to let that color my expectations for Shin Megami Tensei V.

Whereas Persona 5 is dripping with style and filled to the brim with a rich story, Shin Megami Tensei V is much more somber and subdued. Its tone is darker, and absent are the fun cast of characters to uplift the mood. Instead, your ragtag team of high school students fights a holy war to protect their world and everything they hold dear. While Persona 5 certainly deals with some dark and difficult topics, it remains lighthearted through its life sim/dating sim mechanics. With the absence of a lot of this gameplay, the stakes feel much higher in Shin Megami Tensei V.

This difference in tone is reflected in the sheer amount of combat there is. SMT V is so much more combat-heavy, almost to a fault. You’re nearly immediately tossed into the Netherworld, ready to start fighting demons at a moment’s notice. I appreciate that SMT V isn’t trying to hold my hand every step of the way or explaining mechanics over and over, but it is a little jarring how little exposition there really is. I spent my first 10 hours in the game fighting demon after demon, slowly grinding my way to the next level to fight ever-stronger enemies.

Almost all of the gameplay could be described the same way. While I don’t mind grind-heavy games, I wish these long stretches of combat were broken up with different gameplay or story beats. There are a few side quests here and there, but most of my motivation for progression comes from simply reaching the next level. Over and over again, I’d fight the same set of demons in order to increase my level and challenge the next set of demons, or I’d reach a new area just to do the same thing. These small milestones keep me motivated for a time, but after a while, I longed for something more.

What story there is involves a few uninteresting high school students fighting alongside angels to protect the world from a demon invasion. It’s pretty intense stuff, but I don’t feel like I was given much chance to care about the people I’m supposed to be protecting. You’re immediately dropped into this uncanny world; the familiar sights of Tokyo’s city life in ruins, now entirely unrecognizable. It’s become a desert, completely desolate and devoid of human life. Only demons remain as they overrun the city you once knew. The music swells with this ethereal sound, establishing the feeling of being in a foreign place that’s not quite reality.

As you traverse the sand-covered streets of a ruined Tokyo, your beautiful, long blue hair flowing in the wind, demons will stand in your way. Their presence gradually grows until you can’t move without being bombarded with enemies. That’s all there is to do most of the time: fight demons.

Although to be fair, you can also recruit demons to your cause. Your party members in combat are not a bunch of high school students like in Persona 5; instead, they’re a bunch of random demons you picked up off the street. You’ll negotiate with demons to try to convince them to join you, though it isn’t always easy. Say one wrong thing, and they’ll start attacking your party with everything they’ve got. Shin Megami Tensei V‘s moon phase systems aid in this: when the phase reaches a full moon, it can often result in encountering demons in high spirits, and in turn, a quicker and easier negotiation.

Once a demon joins your party, you can fuse them with other demons to create even stronger allies, imbuing them with new abilities to meet your needs. I had some of the most fun with the demon fusion, crafting an ideal party to match my playstyle, covering a wide array of affinities to different elements.

I do miss talking with my teammates, though. There’s no real characterization of your allies, and you don’t get a chance to grow close to them when you constantly replace them with new party members. Sure, each demon has its own personality, but I’m missing the camaraderie and the storytelling you get from having a team of wacky high school kids fighting evil. Some demons do seem eager to help you, others very eager to harm you, and each has a unique personality. Some are very weak and small, while others have a strong and commanding presence, though they all help tell the story and explore the game’s themes.

Those allies at your back are ghosts, legends, mythological beings, and religious figures. The Shin Megami Tensei series regularly makes use of creatures from mythologies and religions from around the world to explore human nature in all its facets. SMT V in particular asks what makes good people do bad things, and if vengeance is just, or even acceptable. It asks you to choose between chaos and order when neither choice sounds all that appealing on its own. Order seems like an obvious first choice, but an obsession with order only leads to authoritarianism. Chaos may seem fun, but anarchy could breed violence and harm. It’s a classic question that can’t be answered, no matter how many SMT games try to tackle it.

To me, there has to be a balance of both. Of course, finding that balance is the most difficult part — almost like finding the balance between combat and storytelling in a video game (ba dum tss). These themes are so interesting to explore; I just wish there was more of it. The turn-based combat and depictions of these demons can help tell the story, but I can only grind and level up for so long before I need something else to keep me going. I don’t need Shin Megami Tensei V to be a dating sim — I’d just prefer even a crumb of storytelling and character development to keep me engaged.

Unfortunately, one of my biggest issues with Shin Megami Tensei V isn’t even with the game itself, but the console it runs on. The in-game performance could be so much better, and I’m not typically very sensitive to framerate issues. The screen transitions and some cutscenes get really choppy, and the game just doesn’t look as good as I know it has the potential to. Honestly, it could pass for a PlayStation 3 game. That’s not something I can actually fault the game for, but I do think it would have been a more enjoyable experience on any other platform. I love the Nintendo Switch, and I love playing games in handheld mode, but it’s a shame that it can’t compete with the performance of other consoles of this generation.

Regardless of these issues, I genuinely enjoyed my time with Shin Megami Tensei V. Although I could really only handle playing for a short period of time before I got bored of grinding and hearing the same exact song over and over, as I fought the same enemies for the hundredth time. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a solid JRPG that explores some really neat ideas, but ultimately, it doesn’t do enough for me. Fans of the series will find a lot to love in Shin Megami Tensei V, but if you’re looking for the next Persona 5, look elsewhere.

Shin Megami Tensei V
Good

It's not winning any awards for graphics, but Shin Megami Tensei V is a well-designed JRPG that has just a little too much combat. Even with such an interesting story and themes to explore, it instead focuses on grinding and fighting the same enemies over and over.

Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymoussays:

    “The game has too much combat, it’s too hard”
    Oh no god forbid a JRPG has actual difficulty and requires you to do more than use fire against ice or forget about buffs and ailments.
    How come game journalists are still so incompetent at their job?

    1. Anonymoussays:

      Seething, coping, and malding.

    2. Peepoosays:

      How come gamers are still so salty 24/7 that people have opinions different than theirs?

      1. The reviewers opinion is shit

    3. Anonymoussays:

      JRPGs have come a long way since 2003, though.

      At this point they shouldn’t only be just grinding, that’s how JRPGs on the SNES were formulated due to technical limitations.

      1. Anonymoussays:

        If you’re playing the game right and building a smart party of demons, you shouldn’t have to grind. In fact, from my experience those little stat boosts you get from levelling up are nowhere near as effective as just recruiting or fusing new demons to deal with the challenges ahead.

  2. Anonymoussays:

    “(…) it instead focuses on grinding and fighting the same enemies over and over.” LMAO grinding in an SMT game ? Game journalist moment

  3. Anonymoussays:

    This review is almost as bad as David Jaffe complaining about exploration in Metroid Dread. You’re complaining about an emphasis on combat and a light story in a series that – since the first entry in the late ’80s – has always been about heavy combat and light story. Also gotta love the forward that mentions that this reviewer has only played Persona, yet the review has this quote:

    “It’s a classic question that can’t be answered, no matter how many SMT games try to tackle it.”

    How would you know that unless you played a Megami Tensei game before? I’ve got news for you: Persona 5 ain’t Megami Tensei, nor is it a Shin Megami Tensei. None of the Personas are – not even the ones released in North America that carry the subtitle. That fact that don’t know the difference means you would have been better off judging this game on its own merits, rather than trying to compare it to a spinoff of a series that you are unfamiliar with.

    Whether or not you enjoy the game is not the issue here: it’s the smug adoration of Persona 5 and the urge to compare this game to Persona when that comparison is irrelevant. That would be akin to comparing Kingdom Hearts to Parasite Eve because both games were created by the same company and are RPGs.

    Also, easy on the adverbs, which have no place in a professional piece of writing.

    1. Nobody caressays:

      cry more

    2. milk babysays:

      stfu and go back to mommy’s basement

    3. Anonymoussays:

      “- First entry in the 80s -”

      That’s kinda the point, the 80s. There isn’t a successful JRPG alive that has stuck with every single thing it kept dear in the 80s, hell… even Dragon Quest/Warrior has a high emphasis on characterization and plot now… I mean, they might not be good but they’re there.

      SMT hasn’t evolved, at all. It’s the same experience it was in the 80s, the only difference being the 3D environment. Even Persona evolved past what SMT was… you might not like Persona, but it did still evolve.

      1. Anonymoussays:

        If you’re ever curious why SMT never received as much popularity as other series, it’s because of this. Not because of its difficulty as many fans would like to delude themselves into believing. Hell retro SMT is FAR easier than retro Dragon Quest in the long run, not even up for debate. People these days don’t want grind fests from their JRPGs, they want something more than what JRPGs from the retro days offered them.

      2. Sneaky Booboosays:

        “Not because of its difficulty”
        I’TS NOT DIFFICULT!
        Yeah, you need to use your head a little when making demons and buying armor, whatever. But that’s it. Kids finish these games. The core audience of JRPG had always been young adult and teens. Adults have been a wavy audience that Japan just doesn’t like all that much.

        I truly expected SMT V to take SMT to the level of Persona. Did they spend all these years drawing the monsters???

      3. Persona is ass pedo bait

      4. Smt is one of the best jrpgs ever don’t ever compare it to pedo bait persona

  4. Anonymoussays:

    To be fair, this review framed the situation straight up. The only exposure they’ve had to SMT is Persona, and I appreciate the honesty. While SMT fans, such as myself, might be used to minimal story, lack of character development, it is definitely something to criticize.
    SMT4 made the most effort to try and develop characters, unfortunately fell a bit flat, but a well appreciated effort nonetheless.
    I know characters in SMT aren’t really characters, but are stand ins for the ideals they represent, kinda like Plato’s writings where each character exists only to present a philosophical argument. But still, it would be nice if they were given more background so we could see them as actual people. They don’t have to be lovable like in other JRPGs, just more human. I’d love see to more development to see why these characters develop these somewhat extremist ideals because often these characters kinda jump to extremist ideals for very shallow reasons. I want to see ideals developed through more personal events that we actually see rather than it just being what the characters believe in because of arbitrary circumstances and upbringing.

    I think SMT: Strange Journey probably does the best job of having characters that develop their ideals, and feel more more believable when they go further and further into their extremist ideals. it remains my favorite in the series. Though I might not recommend the game because it being more of a classic dungeon crawler, a typical JRPG player might find it even more grindier than mainline SMT games.

    And being grind heavy, while sure, it is a defining feature of SMT, it’s a fair point.

    I like this review much more than the IGN review which also frames the review from the perspective of a Persona fan. However unlike the publishings of other reviewers, this recognizes the reviewers perspective and doesn’t beg for lovable characters or dating sim mechanics. This is probably the review I’d show towards general JRPG fans who haven’t been exposed to SMT, because loving SMT means also recognizing it’s shortcomings.

    1. Sneaky Booboosays:

      I’m a fan of the series and from the looks of it, this has less story than Strange Journey Redux! And that is on 3DS.

  5. Sneaky Booboosays:

    I’m a fan of the series and I completely agree with this review. I LOVE SMT IV and IV Apocalypse but they are very light on the story and their problem is that apart from fights you really don’t do anything else.
    The same music over and over, the same demons over and over, just to get strong enough for the next boss.

    I don’t think any other game offers me the chance to spend time with these demons or to experience the same things. Just like most other games do not have feminine male protagonists. So, SMT is still going to be important to me.

    But man do I wish the series would finally EVOLVE!

    1. Robsays:

      Besides extra fluff dialogue with the demons you recruit how else could the series evolve? It seems SMT isn’t too concerned with story and characters which is fine since that’s what persona is for and SMT is more straight forward with their themes. The only thing I can think of is how the progression down a particular route is handled. I kinda figured they would have a more endings like if they don’t fully commit down a path or few bad endings.

  6. Horrible review. Never played a jrpg before I see

  7. Horrible review never played a jrpg before I see

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