Shin Megami Tensei 5 Review-In-Progress - One Hell Of A Game

Shin Megami Tensei is a morbidly fascinating series at its best. Leaning heavily into religious influences, we're often witness to wars between angels and demons, cultists and significantly darker leanings than a certain spin-off franchise. Announced before the Switch had even released, SMT’s next main entry is finally here, four years later.

Launching exclusively for Nintendo Switch, Shin Megami Tensei 5 is thematically similar to its predecessor, III: Nocturne, presenting an old-school experience that also moves away from its dungeon crawler roots. Packing a significant challenge, turn-based combat, and familiar gameplay mechanics. I've not reached the end yet but honestly, I'm finding myself hooked.

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Read More: Shin Megami Tensei 3 Nocturne HD Remaster Review: A Classic JRPG That Acts Its Age

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It's The End Of The World As You Know It

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Like Nocturne’s protagonist turning into a demon post-apocalypse, SMT 5 dances a similar tune. Playing a student at Tokyo’s Jouin High School, what begins as an average day quickly becomes chaos, as you unwittingly investigate rumours of demonic appearances within a nearby tunnel. Following an unusual earthquake, our protagonist is knocked unconscious, waking up in a strange version of Tokyo.

Calling this land Da’at, there’s nothing you can do to stop the apocalypse, it’s already happened. Demons have long-established a new order across its ruins after defeating the angels, and they’re hungry for humans. How did this situation happen? An excellent question, the answer to which I’m not spoiling here, but thanks to this intriguing narrative, SMT 5 quickly held my attention.

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Facing imminent death, we’re soon saved by a being known as Aogami, who fuses with our protagonist directly to become a Nahobino. As a being that’s neither human, deity or demon, we’re now equipped to deal with this harsh reality, though you’ll soon return to our Tokyo.

As a Nahobino, we gain a glowing sword, magical abilities, and the power to command demons, but survival means being clever about their use. Starting off as a one-man party, the Nahobino can recruit demons during battle through negotiations, providing they aren’t a higher level than you. That usually involves handing over items and money, or just answering their questions correctly.

Fight To The Da'ath

Shin Megami Tensei 5 Screenshot - the Nahobino
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Exploration is split between four sizeable zones, giving this a semi open-world feel as they're not naturally joined together. Demons wonder these zones and to start fighting, simply walk up to them. There's also a series of red anomalies called Abscesses which need taking down, and that clears up your map for exploration.

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Make no mistake, combat can be challenging, and it falls back onto old school conventions. If the Nahobino gets KO’d, that’s an automatic game over. No battle retries, no revival chances, just a one-way ticket to the main menu, so save whenever you can.

Unlike other JRPGs, there’s no shared party inventory here and only the protagonist can use items, so you’ve got to think tactically. It’s worth noting an easier “Safety” difficulty is being patched in at launch, though I can't currently access that for comparison purposes.

Each combatant wields specific physical and magical attacks (Fire, Ice, Lightning, the usual sorts) and everyone has specific strengths/weaknesses. Bringing back SMT’s Turn Press Battle system for 5, hitting a weakness grants an extra turn, though missing attacks loses turns and enemies also gain this advantage.

Essence Of Demon

Shin Megami Tensei 5 Review-In-Progress - The Nahobino exploring the Netherworld
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Weaknesses aren’t revealed until you’ve landed that attack type on a demon, making this a trial-and-error process. Unfortunately, that can compromise your strategy and that’ll frustrate some players, especially during boss battles, but there’s a strong sense of achievement that comes with defeating them. Thanks to the strong narrative backing SMT 5, I felt compelled to keep trying.

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Combat’s faithful to older entries, though there’s a new addition with Magatsuhi attacks. Functionally similar to Final Fantasy’s Limit Breaks, that implements a shared meter across your party which fills up during battle. Offering new abilities like making every attack a critical hit, new demons provide additional options later, like boosting the strength of your stat buffs/debuffs. It’s a fun new addition that often proves decisive in battle.

Winning earns EXP within a traditional levelling system, though you don’t have an equipment system for stat boosts. Thankfully, the Nahobino can be powered up in other ways. Should you visit the World of Shadows, players can fuse demons together to create a stronger demon, and you can also infuse “Essence” into the Nahobino or other demons, teaching them new skills. It’s similar to Nocturne’s Magatama system, and while only one can be used at a time per person, that offers significant flexibility.

To find Essence, that can be earned as prizes, but others are found within the numerous chests scattered across Da’at’s four different regions. Offering several large areas to exploration - each brought to life through a vivid art style and filled with memorable scenery - you’ve got plenty to keep you occupied, including numerous side quests.

Shin Megami Tensei 5 – Is It Worth It?

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So far, Shin Megami Tensei 5 is shaping up to be a fine addition to Atlus’ juggernaut series. 5’s unashamedly old school, packs a significant strategic challenge that’ll please veteran fans and right now, I'm having a great time with it.

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It won’t be to everyone’s tastes and combat’s trial-and-error nature might prove off-putting to some, but if you can look past that, you’ll find a highly engaging RPG worth exploring. While I've yet to reach the end, what I've seen so far is extremely promising and currently, I'm leaning towards a strong recommendation.

Review Score Pending

Switch review copy provided by publisher, played on Normal difficulty.