Shin Megami Tensei V is the first game I’ve played in the series, and I am enthralled with the apocalyptic universe that I’ve been dumped in to. This series is all about the darkness and cruelty of the world, offering a reminder that the odds are often stacked against humanity, caught between wars between angels and demons, and this addition to the series is no different. The Shin Megami Tensei universe is a desecrated world of despair and ruin, with plenty of challenging and unforgiving bosses, really cool demon lore, and you get the opportunity to recruit powerful demons to fight at your side using fusion and negotiation…at a cost! That’s what this game is all about, cost versus gain.
If you’re afraid of spoilers, stop here. ✋? There are spoilers in this review.
I often found myself comparing the Shin Megami Tensei series to the Persona series because they’re actually very similar: you’re a teenage or young adult thrust into a world with two universes that separates humanity from demons. In the demon world, things are apocalyptical and turned upside down. In humanity, things look pretty and shiny but have a grimy layer that often goes ignored as a coping mechanism. With that being said, there are articles dedicated to explaining how Persona is actually a knock-off, or split from, of the Shin Megami Tensei series, but I won’t go into detail about that here.
If I had any objections to the plot, it would be it was too short. There’s plenty of world building and character development but the game wasn’t nearly as long as I wanted it to be, and it didn’t quench my thirst quite like Bravely Default 2 did (which also released in 2021), which took months for me to complete. With that being said, I couldn’t put this game down, until I got so frustrated I wanted to cry, then I put the game down, and immediately picked it back up again because I had to know what happened next. I started the game on hard mode and friends who decided to play on the normal mode challenge instead made double the progress I did in half the amount of time—hard mode is hard and also very grindy, but isn’t that the case with all JRPGS? Shin Megami Tensei V difficulty delivered.
There two separate universes, Tokyo (where the humans reside), and the Netherworld (where the demons reside). Like I said before, Persona did a great job dividing normal student life from the demon-culling grind and hustle. Obviously Shin Megami Tensei and Persona are two very different games, so I don’t expect them to be similar or the same, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss certain things from the Persona series, especially the Confidant system and the student life balance that Shin Megami Tensei V was missing.
The story plot in this game is dark. With that being said, I would prefer a darker and potentially more fleshed out backstory and development in Shin Megami Tensei V. It was missing something more in-depth, like chapters had been ripped out of a book. The main character was tossed around like a doll without the option to have opinions. Ok…I guess that’s not totally true. There are times where you are given two response options periodically throughout the game and the responses you choose influence which ending you’ll see, but no matter what you choose, you’re still inevitably strung along. The main character is very obedient and nescient. It does get a little old.
Shin Megami Tensei V is a true dungeon-crawler—each of the maps you explore are laid out in simple-to-follow fashion, without many ways to get lost or lead you away from the main story path. Sometimes following the map can be a huge pain. Once you start poking around the world a little more and begin participating in sub-quests, the world opens up a bit, and you can take a break from the story to finish off a few side gigs like the paid DLC quests. There’s often quite a bit to help you build up your characters better, with treasure to grab along the way, and new demons to negotiate into your party. Additionally, there are 200 Miman to find throughout the whole game, and these are all connected to an ongoing side quest for Gustave, the NPC merchant. Every Miman milestone you complete will be rewarded with various treasures like healing items, points to spend on special skills, and demon essences that can be used to enhance the attributes of your main character and demons in your party.
If you’ve played an older Shin Megami Tensei game, you’ll definitely see a few familiar demon faces, all with their own unique voice acting flair (and lore!), which is a really nice touch, especially for demons. This was something I noticed in Bravely Default 2 and more JRPGs are putting in that little bit of extra effort to create individuality between characters in their games. Shin Megami Tensei V has a ton of characters and it can be hard to keep up, but the developers did a great job keeping each character individually appealing, even when the main character was a bit flat. Since the Persona series does such a great job adding extra content to normal student life like socializing, school exams, dating, optional extracurricular activities that influence your stats like strength and knowledge, the main character in Shin Megami Tensei just felt incredibly boring and flat without much of a backbone.
Demon Negotiation and Fusion
One of the great things that is unique about this game is fusing demons together to create a more powerful demon, and even better than that, is picking and choosing inherited affinities and skills. Depending upon the moon cycle, negotiations and demon fusion can sometimes fail. An NPC named Sophia holds the power to fuse demons and assist you with becoming the best you can be, with the hopes of making you strong enough to one day shape a new universe where humanity, angels, and demons can co-exist.
This is probably one of my favorite things about this game—fusion “accidents”. The odds of this accident occurring is very low and even less probable that the accidents are beneficial. An accidental fusion happened to me twice, once with Thor on a New Moon, and again at Half Moon I ended up with Kali. Both times the fusion accidents were 3-4 levels above the Nahobino. The chance of risk in this game was thrilling, and it made demon fusion and boss battles even more fun.
Sometimes you may be missing the fusion ingredient requirement to fuse a new demon and you may have to spend money on fusing a new demon or you may choose to go out into the world and pick up a new demon you find out in the wild instead of using the demon in your compendium that you spent a lot of time leveling with better stats. That’s just how the game works. Sometimes it’s about completing your demon compendium, and sometimes it’s about making the best demon you can with the demons you’ve spent time leveling and nurturing to be the best it can be. Demons learn a number of skills upon leveling, but they can only keep a handful of skills, so you must pick and choose what skills to keep or discard. I constantly checked the options available for fusion, and picked the skills meant for the next fusion. Inevitably you’ll turn a demon in your party into something else, and sometimes the new demon won’t benefit from those skills. It’s a tricky process to make the “best” version of a demon. On top of that, everyone has their own playstyles, and the combat challenges are different depending on which difficulty you choose to play. On hard mode difficulty, I found my party composition always requiring a healer, no matter what.
The Good: I’ve been told that normal mode is challenging, and I can attest that hard mode is even more challenging, which is something I’ve been craving since the release of Bravely Default 2; another JRPG released in 2021—check out my review here! Shin Megami Tensei V has an overall unique story, and the angels versus demons trope is much better than your typical “battle for the heavens” story. Shin Megami Tensei V is also pleasantly darker without shying away from real life issues such as depression, hopelessness, and despair.
The Bad: A slow slog to the finish line. I was missing the Confidant system from the Persona series and the ability to hang out with my classmates, or the option to do anything else really, outside of dungeon crawling. Shin Megami Tensei V had a lot of dungeon crawling and sometimes I just wanted a break. I think the Persona series divvies up time spent outside of dungeon crawling and boss fights really well. Some of the plots points were obvious, and navigating around a map that didn’t reveal depth was incredibly tedious—while paths were linear, sometimes an objective could be above or below you, and the map wouldn’t show it.
Conclusion: If you love JRPGs, you would be a fool to not pick up this game. But if you’re a huge fan of the Persona series, don’t expect Shin Megami Tensei V to scratch the itch.