Gotta Catch ‘Em All (Demon Edition)

HIGH Tactical, dynamic combat with cool demons.

LOW Level grinding is required for all but the easiest difficulty.

WTF Mara. Always Mara.

Shin Megami Tensei V (henceforth SMTV) is everything that I expected it to be. As a third-person demon-summoning JRPG that sticks to its grindy, turn-based roots as a long-running series, it made me work for each battle and my time spent with its cast made me think about a rigid sort of morality. For some, this will be an amazing adventure. However, those looking for a more traditional sort of JRPG might not get past the sparse story and repetitive grind.

Ironically, SMT has much in common with another successful, long-running Japanese staple, Pokémon. Like Nintendo’s juggernaut, the SMT games have largely remained the same in terms of gameplay for many years. The core of the experiences both revolve around a turn-based combat system where the player has control of their own character and a party of minions — Pokémon there, demons here. Both titles also focus on tactical use of abilities to strike enemy weaknesses. For example, striking a demon weak to ice with an ice attack does more damage and in SMT‘s case, this can also lead to the player receiving extra turns.

Also like Pokémon, a huge part of the experience is recruiting new minions. However, instead of tossing pokeballs, SMT relies on a demon ‘negotiation’ system, where the player can talk to prospective additions and convince them to join the player. Winning them over often depends on being able to suss out a demon’s personality, which can be quite interesting when dealing with the stranger, less human creatures.

SMT also differentiates itself by offering a ‘fusion’ system that allows the player to combine two (or more) demons together to create a new one that’s more powerful. These new, fused types can sometimes be recruited as well, but fusion generally creates stronger variants and makes them earlier to the player than they would be encountered in the wild.

The method of leveling, like most JRPGs, revolves around combat. The more battles won, the more EXP is obtained. While striking enemies with the right abilities is key, I found that the most effective method of play was to grind to the point I could fuse a demon at or above the level of the enemies I was encountering. I often had to seek out mobs of enemies for a while before my level would be high enough to challenge the next boss, but doing so ensured that battles would go much more smoothly.

Luckily, if grinding isn’t something the player enjoys, lower difficulty settings are available at nearly any time. Doing so will mean that the player will not be able to re-engage a harder difficulty later once they find their feet, however. For me, playing on Easy alleviated some of the grind fatigue I was having, and while fights were still challenging, I was glad to not have to grind levels for an hour before each new boss battle.

The world’s setting is a future, post-apocalyptic Japan. No spoilers here, so I’ll just say that much of the first area, for instance, is a Tokyo filled with nothing but ruins and sand. A war between demons has raged, and as usual, the script focuses on the themes of morality that the SMT series is famous for — here things are not black and white, but instead, broken more into disciplines of law and chaos, freedom or control.

These are interesting themes to me, but while the the cast of characters largely get the job done, there were many instances where I felt as though both the cast and the overall story didn’t live up to their potential. For example, there are moments when players must choose between a ‘good’ and ‘evil’ faction — it seems like there might be more to their motivations, but after simple resolutions, this doesn’t go anywhere. Similarly, characters show up but they never reveal much or grow in a detailed way. This somewhat distanced approach is a hallmark of the SMT series and it’s a bit deeper here in SMTV, but it could have gone further.

While not altogether much different from most of the previous SMT games, SMTV’s visual presentation is clear and easy to use, and features some of the Switch’s best graphics. I did encounter some occasional slowdown or lag, but overall it ran fine and I had few performance complaints. Even so, there is room to improve in future updates.

Like Pokémon, SMTV doesn’t do much to change its formula. Newcomers might want a greater emphasis on story or less grind to the gameplay, but those who are keen for this sort of content will find what might well be the best in the Shin Megami Tensei series thanks to its stylish graphics and engaging tactical gameplay.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Atlus and published by Atlus, Nintendo and Sega. It is currently available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence. The official description reads as follows: This is a role-playing game in which players assume the role of a high-school student traversing a nether realm in Tokyo. Players explore the environment, interact with characters, and battle demonic creatures in turn-based combat. Players select weapon and magic attacks/demonic abilities to kill enemies; battles are accompanied by light effects, impact sounds, and screams of pain. Some attacks result in blood-splatter effects, while pools of blood are seen in some areas. Cutscenes depict additional acts of violence: a character impaled through the chest; a character impaling a woman with a sword. The game depicts several female monsters with partially exposed breasts and buttocks; one creature appears with a phallic-shaped head and torso. A handful of demons (e.g., Succubus, Incubus) are described with sexual characteristics (e.g., “They are known to visit men/women in their sleep and have sex with them”; “…said to engage in intercourse with human women….”). The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the game.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Sometimes demons will make sounds when they are aggro’d them on the world map, but they are also given bright visual indicators to signal this. I found that there are no audio cues needed for successful play, and I would call this a fully accessible experience. in fact there are no sound reliant aspects in this game, very easy to play without any sound.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. The left stick is used for movement and the right stick for the camera. The A button is to select, and B is to cancel. Option menus are on face buttons, and players can run by holding the trigger.

Nikki Waln
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