Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 01/10/2022 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Ever since my buddy Pat convinced me to give Shin Megami Tensei IV a shot in college, I’ve been a massive fan of the series. Shin Megami Tensei IV Apocalypse routinely makes my Top 5 JRPGs when I’m asked to suggest games. When I first saw the trailer for Shin Megami Tensei V, then, I was unspeakably hyped. Then five long years passed with nothing until finally in November 2021, Atlus graced the world with the newest entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series.
The premise of the game is that you’re a high school student who finds himself abruptly and unexplainably thrust into a ruined landscape full of angels and demons. You’re saved by a mysterious cyborg-looking demon who fuses with you to become something called a Nahobino. You are thus not only given the ability to fight demons but to summon and lead them as well. From there, you learn that someone went and killed God (sorry, guys; God’s death was relegated to backstory in this entry) and thus threw the pandemonic order into chaos as various factions vie for control of the Empyrean throne that controls all of creation. There are, of course, different branching paths and endings depending on which of these factions you choose. In all, the game has four endings – three “main” endings and a hidden ending that’s a variation of one of the three main endings.
If you’ve played one Shin Megami Tensei game, you pretty much know how the gameplay works. You run around the overworld, fight demons, and recruit demons to fight alongside you and fill your demon compendium. As my friend Aaron called it, it’s basically “evil Pokemon.” It has a few different difficulty settings that can have the game range from balls hard to laughably easy, so no matter what kind of experience you want as far as difficulty goes, Shin Megami Tensei V has you covered. Personally, I didn’t find the overall story or characters to be quite as interesting as that in IV or IV Apocalypse, but it’s still an exceptionally good JRPG that stands out as a cut above the rest.
Being on the Switch, by far the weakest of the three current platforms, the game obviously is going to take some hits in the visuals and performance departments, but honestly, I was consistently impressed with the visuals. It looked like a mid-tier PS4 game in most cases, and the models for the demons were extremely well done. Environments looked nice, although it’s worth noting that performance took a pretty major hit to get the game looking this good. The frame rate targets 30 fps and usually hangs in the mid 20s. Thankfully, with a turn-based game, this isn’t really a hindrance so much as a mild annoyance. In some places, the frame rate can vary briefly drop to the low teens, and that’s a bummer, but the most frequent and glaring frame rate issue was actually an intentional one. In, I assume, an attempt to save system resources, demons on the overworld will move and perform their idle animations at like five frame per second until you get close to them at which point they speed up to the normal “30.” Again, this does absolutely nothing to hinder the gameplay in the slightest, but it was something I found to be rather annoying even if I totally understand why Atlus would design the game like this and even support the decision.
The music is exactly what you’d expect from Shin Megami Tensei; not as catchy as Persona but fantastic in its own right. The main series has never been quite as solid as far as soundtracks go as the Persona sub-series, but I still love the music in mainline Shin Megami Tensei games. An epic rock feel mixed with some foreboding more orchestral sounds are the overarching feel of the music in this game, and it fits really well in addition to being generally well done. It’s a nice bow to tie together an overall fantastic package.
Shin Megami Tensei V is definitely pushing the Switch to its limits, and while there are some noticeable issues with frame rate, the game’s turn-based nature makes that a fairly minor problem in practice, and the game’s graphics are fantastic for Nintendo’s little handheld that could. Some folks criticize the visuals for not standing up well against what Sony’s and Microsoft’s platforms offer, and that’s fair given how much more powerful even their last generation consoles are, but this is still the most graphically impressive original release for a mainline Shin Megami Tensei game to date, and I think it looks pretty comparable against even the PS4 release of Shin Megami Tensei III HD once you take the resolution difference into account. If you’re a fan of JRPGs or generally dark, apocalyptic stories, then this is definitely a game you need to play. Even with the frame rate issues, I have zero problem recommending this to any and all JRPG fans.