My inner apathetic agnostic just got a real one.
In a year full of third-party RPGs on Switch, Shin Megami Tensei V has a lot going for it. It’s got five years of hype behind it, marking Atlus’ maiden voyage with Unreal Engine, and being the main third-party game for Switch for the 2021 Holidays with a Pokemon game after the week of its launch. But for those who aren’t exactly ready to zip through fantasy Japan with a land shark, there’s an alternative that lets you take gods, demons, and icy dolls through Tokyo.
Shin Megami Tensei V is probably the most open world an Atlus RPG has ever had. Its size doesn’t compare to Xenoblade Chronicles X and the Fallouts of the world, but every square inch of thoroughly atomic Tokyo has places to explore. And similar to XCX, I spent more time than I wanted to admit just jumping around happily and figuring out how to get hold of this treasure. There are a few spots in the first area of the game that show an incredibly impressive draw distance for the Switch, and load times only occur on large area transitions. The review copy wasn’t perfect, however: there were a case or two where the scene switched to a ground texture and during a particularly bright cutscene later the text had strange behavior. A day-one patch will be available so they may not be in the version you will be playing – and there were some very special circumstances with zooming in on the ground texture that would be difficult to recreate.
Although SMTV starts at a school, you quickly jump into the open world, and the school is only used as a meeting point and briefly as a dungeon. Within 10-15 minutes, your self-named player character will be pushed into a wasteland version of Tokyo and will have to fight demons in an attempt to save their hometown. In return, they get the ability to command demons and a FABULOUS hairstyle. In addition to saving Tokyo, the character will also have to make a decision that definitely felt familiar after playing SMT IV on 3DS and especially Nocturne earlier this year: there have been many times that I spent several minutes deciding which text option to use I had to choose so as not to get into an end that I didn’t want. The characters are mostly high school aged with a few adults of questionable use for the ride, but the only things that get sexualized are the obvious demons like succubus and mermaid. If you’re worried about hitting what the boss calls “the Atlus Line”, V avoids it with flying colors; the M-rating represents violence, issues, and the inevitable mara.
The combat system places all demons on the map and mission control warns you when a large demon is about to appear. The turn-based “turn-press” system is returning, although it seems to have been weakened: You will only get one additional round per active member of the group and the group size is limited to the player character and three demons. However, since this is an SMT game, the enemies have no such concern: Enemy encounters can result in up to a 6v4 disadvantage, for example. Demon negotiations are also present and require a little bit of guesswork to navigate each of the monster’s personalities, but once you’ve built up a good stash of demons you can hook into the incredibly addicting fusion systems. Once I was able to build a good supply of cash, I was able to take advantage of the in-game merger option from the Demon Compendium to really streamline the demon merging process. Before, like in SMT III, I had to figure out a chain for a specific demon, summon components from the compendium if they weren’t in my group, and then fuse the addition to achieve the end goal. Reverse Compendium Fusion is a godsend for this, as the first two steps of the process are eliminated and it is easy to select the killer star Decarabia and show every possible combination and offer the option to essentially buy it.
There were three difficulty options available in the review copy: Casual, Normal, and Hard. Hard is the default setting for people who have played SMT II on the Japanese Super NES app for Switch Online and can only be selected at the beginning of a file. If you select Normal at any time, Hard will be permanently locked. But casual isn’t child’s play either; If you are looking for a tourist experience, you will likely want to select “Security” if it is available on the day of launch. While playing casual, I lost about 5-6 hours of progress due to death – save points are common, but so is death. One particularly annoying sequence in the middle of the game basically required me to take an afternoon to reset my character’s weaknesses, grind up whole new demons that neither had those weaknesses, and then go through a two-stage boss fight with the following factors:
- A long pre-fight cutscene that luckily can be skipped but has to be skipped twice due to a dialog selection
- I had to take eight different pieces off before attacking the core
- One of the moves that not only healed the residual damage from multi-target attacks, but also “slowed” a character; When it was the character’s turn, a move symbol was lost
- Said boss could strike with four different elements
- After you defeat it, you will immediately be thrown into a second fight with no opportunity for healing in between
- The second form has a very different weakness than the first form
So yeah, we have a new entry on the “That One Boss” page. It’s not as bad as Nocturne, but Nocturne is That One Boss: The Role-Playing Game, so it doesn’t mean much.
Atlus did a lot with the voice cast for the SMT V pre-launch, and they should too: There are a lot of really good voice overs in the game. My only complaint is that there is no way to play a female main character, and your mission control / owner regularly refers to the player character as a “young man”. I know it’s a serial tradition for the MC to be male unless you’re playing a spinoff visual novel with RPG elements, but their looks are so androgynous that I thought I could pretend they were one “Bifauxnen”. Apart from the script problems, what the actors had to work with turned out very well. There is also a lot of rock music, especially on the battle themes. You could get an entire album out of the battle themes here.
Now that we’ve finally finished the book on the Switch 2017 presentation, I think Shin Megami Tensei V could be my favorite game to come out of this show. That’s not a comparison I make lightly given the other games that came out that evening, but it was worth the wait for my money and time. Pokemon could end the year of RPGs on Switch, but SMT V is the best monster catcher for your money yet.