Shin Megami Tensei 5 is an excellent demon-battling Nintendo Switch exclusive that ranks among the best games released on the system this year – despite some harsh difficulty spikes.
Have you ever woken up somewhere where you didn’t expect to be? You open your eyes, a little disorientated, and you have to piece together the events that led here? Shin Megami Tensei 5’s protagonist has a similar kind of scenario going on, except rather than a sore head and a dry mouth, they wake up in Da’At – an alternate version of Tokyo that’s teetering on the brink of the apocalypse.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any weirder, a strange being called Aogami saves your life, then invites itself in, fusing the two of you into the Nahobino. We’d say we’ve had worse nights, but we’d be lying.
Shin Megami Tensei V – Key details
- Price: $59.99 (USD) | £49.99 (GBP)
- Developer: Atlus
- Release date: November 12, 2021
- Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Shin Megami Tensei V Trailer
That’s the basic setup for Shin Megami Tensei 5, the latest entry in the long-running JRPG franchise that’s not only been running since 1987, but gave us its spin-off, Persona – a series that’s arguably eclipsed the core franchise.
In fact, it’s almost impossible not to mention Persona when discussing Shin Megami Tensei V. While the standard comparisons of turn-based combat and some demon-catching apply, you’ll spend time in Tokyo defending it from demons and, well, going to school.
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Shin Megami Tensei is a little more straight-laced, though. Its characters, while endearing, aren’t quite as memorable as those in Persona 5, for example, while its menus and music lack the same swagger.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to love, though. Classmate Tao battles with the weight of knowledge she holds, while Ichiro is cheeky and carefree. They’re fun to hang out with, but don’t last long in the memory.
Where Shin Megami Tensei V really shines is in its combat. Turn-based combat is nothing new, but SMTV puts extra emphasis on type matchups and hitting specific weaknesses in an enemy group.
Hit an enemy with an attack they’re weak to, and you get a chance to follow up with another attack. This means that the right party lineup can have you chaining attacks, but the same goes for your opponents, too.
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Players recruit demons, with three available at any one time. Your trio can be buffed with items, making them viable further into the game, and they can be combined too, with the game’s Essence system allowing for certain properties to be transferred between them. You’ll also enter into dialogue with demons, looking to recruit them to your team.
If that all sounds complex, that’s because it is – there are an awful lot of moving parts in Shin Megami Tensei V’s combat system, and you’ll need to use every option at your disposal. More than once my party was crushed into the dirt, and more than once I found my dream lineup in one area simply couldn’t cut it in the next. That means it’s possible to spend a sizeable chunk of time in the game’s menus. Still, it’s all worth it when you topple a huge monstrosity.
Knowledge is power, though, and learning each enemy’s weakness to rack up attacks, or unleashing your latest Frankenstein’s monster of a demon onto an enemy team that can barely touch it is great fun.
The end of the (open) world
Between battles, you’ll explore a series of overworlds, each with rewards hidden away for players looking to practice some rudimentary platforming. Each world is full of detail, and not since the likes of Daemon X Machina has there been such a foreboding hue in the sky, with shifting hues making it feel like the end of days is here.
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It doesn’t hurt that Shin Megami Tensei V is a great-looking game, particularly on the Nintendo Switch OLED model. Faceless NPCs on the Tokyo subway are surprisingly creepy, while each of the demons in the game is rendered with impressive detail – even series mainstays like Pixie that we’ve seen in countless titles before. Shin Megami Tensei V’s world is purposefully dark, more than a little unsettling, but always intriguing.
Shin Megami Tensei 5 is one of the Switch’s best RPGs, which is saying something considering the strength of the genre on Nintendo’s hybrid system. While it rewards preparation and making the most of all of its mechanics, its difficulty may put off some players.
Still, if you can persevere, you’ll be rewarded with an intense and unforgettable experience.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch