I remember the anticipation I had eagerly awaiting the release of Persona 4 back on the PlayStation 2 after a friend got me into the series via Persona 3 a year prior. To sate my hunger for more of the Shin Megami Tensei spin-off series, I purchased a copy of Nocturne, which, unfortunately, after a few hours, I dropped due to the game being substantially more challenging than expected.
Flash forward to a few weeks ago, I decided to dust-off my Nintendo 3DS and give Shin Megami Tensei IV an earnest effort in anticipation of V. I’m glad I played SMT IV, as the game not only clicked with me, but it also prompted me to give Nocturne another go while readying me for Shin Megami Tensei V.
There’s a lot I want to talk about regarding Shin Megami Tensei V—however, as this is a preview, I will limit myself to the first five hours, or so I’ve put into my post-apocalyptic journey.
For those unfamiliar with the Shin Megami Tensei series, the Atlus-made title roughly translates to Reincarnation or Rebirth of the Goddess. Each entry tends to open in a contemporary Tokyo setting, quickly transitioning into a post-apocalyptic, demon-infested mess. The above statement rings true for Shin Megami Tensei V as well, with the player, an unnamed protagonist investigating rumours of an underpass said to be haunted by an invisible force, which upon entering, instead transports the protagonist to the future, a ruined cityscape with sand dunes and fallen monuments, replacing the skyscrapers and buildings of Tokyo.
“Despite Shin Megami Tensei V having a familiar-feeling overworld navigation system, the actual levels themselves are massive…”
The first thing that struck me about Shin Megami Tensei V was its presentation and scope. Gone are the linear dungeons separated by swathes of navigating a cursor on a map. Despite Shin Megami Tensei V having a familiar-feeling overworld navigation system, the actual levels themselves are massive, making the game akin to an open-world experience, with fully realized demons dotting the world in a style reminiscent of Dragon Quest XI.
Upon being transported to this strange yet familiar world, the protagonist is imbued with the spirit of an unlikely ally, which fuses with the player, turning them both into the Nahobino. Outside of transforming the player into a demon-killing machine not dissimilar to Nocturne’s demi-fiend protagonist, this new alley acts as this game’s assistant, similarly to that of the AI character Burroughs from the 3DS predecessor, complete with warning the player when near high-level, boss demons.
Due to the larger scope of the explorable areas, saving is now relegated to ley-line crossings or fault-lines in the environment that act as demonic geysers. Additionally the ley-line crossings give the player access to the demon fusion system, compendium and a merchant and healer. The merchant, Gustave, who resides in the aforementioned ley-lines, can be found in an area called the Cadaver’s Hollow, where the player can purchase demon essence and consumable goods.
“The first thing that struck me about Shin Megami Tensei V was its presentation and scope.”
Demon essence act to graft and transplant demon-specific skills to both the player and other recruitable demons that otherwise couldn’t acquire said skills outside of fusion. Additionally, Gustave tasks the player to hunt down his scavenger minions, known as Miman, which are equivalent to something like the collectable Korok Seeds from Breath of the Wild—albeit with better rewards—while being limited to 200, instead of the ridiculous 900 present in Zelda.
Demon Fusion, Essence imbuement and Miracles occur in an area known as the World of Shadows, similar to the Velvet Room present in Persona, or the Cathedral of Shadows as it’s also known in previous mainline Shin Megami Tensei titles. Instead of an older man, however, players instead are aided by the mysterious woman calling herself Sophia, who herself resembles a demon.
Miracles require glory points, which can be earned by finding Miman, hidden caches and from just playing the game. This replaces the app-point system found in SMT IV, offering the player all manner of benefits. These include enhanced affinity with elemental magic, better rewards found in the overworld and bonuses while fusing demons.
Battles are, as expected, still turn-based (as they should be) but now offer significantly more detail regarding both the enemies and the party. Demon attacks offer multiple animations, ranging from a standard attack to more fleshed-out versions of the same move that brilliantly animate the unique and eclectic range of monsters present in the game. Two early examples of this that I thoroughly enjoyed was seeing both the Mermaid and Angel Demon’s secondary animation play out when using their class-specific skills.
In addition to the game’s tried and tested turn-based battles, Shin Megami Tensei V also employs the Magatsuhi system. A means to overcharge parties on both sides of the battlefield, granting either side boons such as guaranteed criticals, extra exp (for the player’s party) and other bonuses while engaged in combat.
“In addition to the game’s tried and tested turn-based battles, Shin Megami Tensei V also employs the Magatsuhi system.”
Outside the battles, the player quickly begrudgingly befriends an alley demon, the fairy Amanozako, who feels like a cross between Berserk’s Puck and Zelda’s Navi. Amanozako can scan the overworld for hidden treasure, indicated by a little demon icon on the minimap. These caches can occasionally trigger a battle instead of offering up loot, making it a fun risk/reward side activity.
Optional quests fill out the remainder of things to do in the game, at least early on, something that I found to be paramount in the experience, as the exp bonuses granted are welcome and can mean the difference between life and death when fighting boss encounters. Bosses themselves come in a few flavours, with both story encounters and optional threats, roaming the overworld, often eclipsing everything else in the area and ultimately giving Shin Megami Tensei V a well-realized sense of place with its own unique personality despite its familiar post-apocalyptic setting.
There’s a lot more I want to talk about regarding Shin Megami Tensei V. However, even with just shy of seven hours into the game, I can already assure those eagerly anticipating the release that the game has a lot to offer and will likely keep players busy when it launches later this November.