Finally, after several years of waiting and even longer since the last game, Shin Megami Tensei V has emerged from the abyss. This game is a long time coming in many ways, and this may be the series’ last chance to stand alongside its more popular cousin, Persona. I’ve had several days with Shin Megami Tensei V, and the media’s been given a little leeway for some early impressions ahead of the full review period. As a longtime “core” Shin Megami Tensei fan, I came away from the opening moments of this game both excited and intrigued to see what’s next.
Shin Megami Tensei V Preview
Starting this thing up I was immediately shown why we got a HD remaster of the third game Nocturne, ahead of part five. The fourth SMT and its pseudo-sequel appeared on the 3DS and had to make key adjustments to fit on the 3DS. But Shin Megami Tensei V is like a combination of the past and present, taking plenty of evolved mechanics from recent SMT outings and inserting its own ideas. But it also hearkens back to Nocturne specifically, taking the chance for this HD debut to re-explore aesthetic ideas previously abandoned by necessity.
What I’m getting at, is this game looks, sounds and feels like a sequel to Nocturne, rather than a sequel to Shin Megami Tensei IV. It’s in the atmosphere, the sounds, the UI and more. And that isn’t just to say this game is moody, because all these games are over the top dour. It’s the ways in which this game flows, the way the story begins and unrolls, that really invoke that PS2 cult classic. But that doesn’t mean SMT V is lacking in its own creativity.
I hesitated to make this call at first, but there’s no better subgenre sticker to slap on this bad boy than “Tokusatsu.” This is what happens when you take Nocturne’s concept of the “Demi-Fiend” and drop it in our current moment of ecological dread and superhero movies. You start the game as a brooding high school student in modern Tokyo, but as soon as things break bad you find yourself essentially becoming a nightmarish version of Guyver. This given power takes the protagonist’s body and dramatically transforms it, in a way that looks more like a costume than a body mod.
After Shin Megami Tensei V’s pop-goth henshin moment, you find yourself exploring what looks like a sandy wasteland version of Tokyo. You’re told it’s the Netherworld, and naturally that means demons roam these dunes. It’s a huge map, a major difference from the smaller chunks of navigation found in previous SMT games. Your character demonstrates their powers with a new kind of physicality, running at inhuman speeds (lol Naruto run), turning their hand into a laser sword and sliding down sand dunes to leap over obstacles to find hidden goodies. The Switch can barely keep up with all of this, and maintains a steady enough frame rate at the cost of resolution. It’s a very fuzzy-looking game, unfortunately.
Combat is where the tradition kicks in. There is nothing surprising here if you’ve played any Shin Megami Tensei or related title. You and your crew of demons battle foes Pokemon style, exploiting weaknesses and covering for your own. You can negotiate with demons to have them join you, and I absolutely love this part. This game really dials up the macabre comedy, making some exchanges with demons a riot. When you get your hands on SMT V, don’t forget to invite one potential friend to a barbecue. That’s all I’m sayin’.
One oddity I’m not sure about yet is the way Shin Megami Tensei V populates its map with extra things to do. You can accept sub quests from NPCs, which is all fine and good. But there are these little orbs scattered around, which give you small refills of HP, MP and a certain combat-oriented meter. It looks a bit silly, like those orbs Goku has to collect in Kakarot (if you’ve played that) but more subdued. You also have to search for these little critters tucked away in corners and whatnot, which are directly tied to your SMT IV-style upgrades. The jury’s still out on this one, but for now it’s just an unexpected element here.
Just from the first few hours-ish (depending on grinding), Shin Megami Tensei V is hitting in ways I expected, and found plenty other ways to surprise me. It’s definitely a bummer we don’t have a “Switch Pro” yet, but the throwback to Nocturne vibe keeps the game visually compelling anyway. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what the story has in store for me, and what the rest of this new Netherworld is like. I’m not sold yet on the open world-ish affectations, but we’ll see how that plays out longer term.
Be sure to check back in on Prima Games for a full review ahead of Shin Megami Tensei V’s November 11 release date. Thoughts on the series or game you want to share? Check out the comments below, or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter.