Shin Megami Tensei V – Fantastic, but Disturbing.

Shin Megami Tensei V Cover Art

Released on: November 12, 2021

Available Platforms: Nintendo Switch

Price: $79.99 CAD ($59.99 US)

Developed by: Atlus Co., Ltd. Published by: Sega

I love monster collecting games. I’ve reviewed multiple Pokemon games already, which should make this evident. It is interesting to see how others tackle the genre even if we exclude the most popular monster-collecting series from this equation. One I heard about in passing is the Shin Megami Tensei series. Most people are more familiar with Persona, a spin-off series of Shin Megami Tensei. While Persona has the player make friends with other characters to form their party, Shin Megami Tensei opts for the Pokemon-esque “catch em’ all” style.

While I played Shin Megami Tensei briefly, I initially didn’t give Shin Megami Tensei V, the newest game in the series, much thought. That is until I saw people online praising the game wholeheartedly. What got me curious was the numerous screenshots of hilarious conversations that the player can have with certain demons. Once I saw that I asked to get the game for Christmas and get it for the holidays. I did. Is Shin Megami Tensei V worthy of a place in the games collection?

One day, on their way to school, the player and his friends hear rumors about students going missing. The commonality is with this one tunnel that is nearby. Legend has it that monsters in that tunnel abduct Tokyo high schoolers. Upon hearing this, the player investigates said tunnel, only to fall into a wormhole that transports them to another world. Soon after, they meet a demon who tells them they are in the Netherworld. The demon offers their power to the player, which allows them to fight and recruit other monsters.

At first, I thought the story was pretty neat. The player dropping into an alternate world is nothing new, but the fact that it’s a world filled with demons and gods of old is fascinating. As the story progresses, it does start to hit home that these teenagers are being thrust into mortal danger. It might be because I’m a parent, but for some reason, that thought made it difficult for me to deal with.

Despite clearly working with underpowered hardware, Shin Megami Tensei V’s graphics manage to look impressively haunting and foreboding. Exploring the collapsed skyscrapers of the Netherworld gives me an odd sense of malaise. The game’s framerate will drop when there are many particles or enemies on screen, but beyond the busiest moments, the game does run well. The only other visual hiccup I’ve encountered was when browsing the list of demons. Sometimes their textures will take a few extra seconds to load, but they will be fine shortly afterward.

Shin Megami Tensei V sunset
A fine example of Shin Megami Tensei V’s visuals at its best

Those familiar with most monster collecting games (like Pokemon) will be somewhat familiar with Shin Megami Tensei V’s gameplay. Players explore the overworld for items and monsters to recruit or defeat. The main difference with most monster collectors is that to recruit the demon to the player’s side, they have to talk to it and convince them to join the team. Usually, this involves choosing the correct dialog option then bribing the monster into submission.

If the player fails to recruit the demon or can’t be coerced at all, they will have to fight their way out. The player and their demons have a standard attack and a list of skills they can use. Knowing type weaknesses is pivotal in Shin Megami Tensei V. A critical hit or hitting the enemy’s elemental weakness will grant the player (or the enemy) an additional action they can perform on their turn. If the player or enemy misses their attack or hits them with an attack, they are immune to or absorb will take away possible player or enemy actions.

The battle system takes some getting used to at first. The player’s first few times battling will more than likely result in a few “Game Overs” as enemies will seemingly dogpile the unsuspecting player. Once the player gets a hold of how turns work in Shin Megami Tensei V, it becomes much easier for them to use it to their advantage. Having a demon of each type on the team helps immensely with random encounters. Switching demons will reward the player with an additional action as well, so even if their current match-up is unfavorable, they still have one chance to swap monsters before making their move.

Shin Megami Tensei V’s main selling point is the demon recruiting. The fact that the player gets more creatures in their team by talking to them is a simple but effective idea. I love seeing what kind of dialog I get when trying to convince a new demon to join my ranks. Some want to join my team, while others will have me play a game, give HP, bribe them with money or items, or flee because they don’t like my face. It makes every new encounter exciting and unpredictable.

Shin Megami Tensei V demon conversation.
Sometimes, when the player has the correct demon in the party, both they and the enemy will start conversing.

Eventually, the player will have a full roster, where they can’t recruit any more demons. How does the player get around this? By fusing demons to make them stronger! Combining monsters to create new and more foreboding ones is an exciting part of Shin Megami Tensei V. One could end up fusing two demons into a god. I especially like the ones where two horrific-looking monsters fuse to make a cute-looking creature, only for that creature to dwarf the power of the two ancestor demons combined.

While I like Shin Megami Tensei V’s battle system, it does tend to make the game challenging. Mastering how battles work is pivotal for the player’s survival, as there are a lot of creatures out in the Netherworld that will obliterate unknowing players. Some side quests will thrust the player into an unwinnable situation if the player is not prepared. Fortunately, before most important encounters, the demon that the player is fused with will alert them that they are about to face a strong enemy. That is not the case with side quest monsters waiting to prey on the unknowing.

While I’m usually not bothered by stories that involve creatures taking over the human world, for some reason, shin Megami Tensei V struck an unnerving nerve with me. The fact that high school students can get captured and never return does not sit right with me. Truth be told, it will probably not bother most other people, but there is a chance that it might upset people who are sensitive about stories involving school-aged children disappearing.

Objectively, Shin Megami Tensei V is a superb game for fans of monster collecting. The creatures are fascinating, the game’s mechanics are well-thought-out and have depth, and the Netherworld has a lot to discover within its nooks and crannies. The difficulty and the somewhat disturbing subject matter are my warnings to those thinking about picking up Shin Megami Tensei V, as it does not let up on either front. Still, those who can overlook the dourness of the story will love Shin Megami Tensei V.

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