One place where Shin Megami Tensei V has not changed all too much is with its tried-and-true battle system. Press Turn is back, and it’s as good as ever. It’s all about the elemental affinities – hit an enemy’s weakness to get extra turns, dodge an attack to eliminate enemy turns, and so on. As is typical with SMT titles, buffs and debuffs are also crucial in making sure you can come out of combat victorious. By the way, there’s no Smirking.
Just like other SMT games, you’ll constantly be befriending and fusing new demons to fight at your side. Demon negotiation is back, and for whatever it is worth, I felt persuading demons to join you was a tad easier to achieve this time around. Maybe I was just lucky, or maybe I am pretty familiar with the average demon personality at this point.
Depending on who you ask, Shin Megami Tensei games sometimes have the reputation of being hard-as-nails when it comes to their difficulty. As someone experienced with the series, I don’t entirely agree with that, but SMT V will require a *little* bit more regular preparation and coordination when it comes to approaching the games many, many battles.
I actually found the gameplay balance in Shin Megami Tensei V to be a little bit more even than what I experienced with its predecessor in
Shin Megami Tensei IV. SMT4 is often regarded as having an awkwardly tough opening section, and then the game progressively becomes more and more manageable from there, almost to its detriment. SMT V is a bit better balanced in this regard, where battles start out manageable but throw a few trickier encounters at you as you proceed through the story.
Especially later in the game, SMT V has several encounters with tough demons and bosses that will test you if you are unprepared, many of which are optionally found through quests. There will be times you won’t simply be able to brute force your way through an encounter through determination or luck, as you’ll likely need to reconsider your strategy if you want to win. However, SMT V gives you many, many tools to accomplish this, and in some ways is the most flexible in the series when to comes to setting up your team, as well as your protagonist.
Advertisement. Keep scrolling for more
I should probably also mention that, in some small ways, Shin Megami Tensei V does feel a bit old-school. You can only save at a few save points scattered through the world, and if the MC takes an unlucky hit in battle & falls, it’s game over. I personally didn’t mind this at all, but if you’ve gotten use to being able to save anywhere, or being able to retry any battle on a whim, you won’t be able to do that here (at least on the Normal difficulty, it’s possible the easier modes might adjust this).
Demon Essences are a key mechanism in the way Shin Megami Tensei V is more flexible than entries that came before it. Every demon in the game can award the Nahobino (the main character) with an Essence, which is effectively a consumable item that houses that demon’s skillset and affinities. You can take any Essence from any demon and then ‘fuse’ it with the protagonist to either transfer skills or elemental resistances. Essences are consumed in the process, but you can always get another one if you need to. In this way, it’s somewhat a combination of the Magatama system in
Nocturne or the Skill Inheritance in SMT4, only more flexible than either.
Not only can the Nahobino learn any skill from any essence, but so can your demon partners. Want Jack Frost to learn Maragidyne for some reason? You don’t have to mess with a chain of fusions and skill transferrals to achieve this, simply find a Demon Essence that has the skill and fuse it with your Jack Frost. Done. You can nearly have any demon with any skill in this paradigm, with the exception of a handful of ‘unique’ signature skills that can only be used by one specific demon, such as Yoshitsune’s Hassou Tobi.
However, there is one other new system in place that requires more consideration here, and that is Skill Potentials. Every demon also has an inherent potential with each type of skill, such as Fire, Ice, or Healing potential. A demon’s potentials will affect how well-suited they might be with certain abilities.
As an example, late in the game, I had a Sandalphon who I hoped to be one of my primary buffing/debuffing demons with skills like Debilitate and Luster Candy. However, I soon learned that Sandalphon has no Support Potential (a +0), meaning he had to spend the full 150 MP every time I wanted to use either of those skills. In drawn-out battles, this is definitely not ideal, as he would run out of MP fast and then I would have to spend precious turns restoring MP instead. I then replaced him with a Gabriel, who had similar stats otherwise, but a +5 Support Potential, meaning they only had to spend 89 MP for buffs instead. The same goes for offensive attacks as well of course. Gabriel has a similar magic stat to Sandalphon, but their Megidolaon +0 is going to cost 150 MP compared to Sandalphon’s Megidolaon +9, which costs only 71 MP.
Previous SMT entries also had a similar “+1” sort of system with skills in this manner, but they never were quite so inherent to a demon’s capabilities as they are in SMT V. Turns out a Jack Frost with Maragidyne is actually not such a great idea.
If you are playing the game mostly casually, you probably don’t need to worry too much about Potentials. But if you are taking on some of the game’s tougher optional boss encounters, or should you play on Hard mode, you bet you’ll want to pay attention and make sure demons are using skills that are suited for them, else you are just handicapping yourself.
Another new battle mechanic worth a brief mention is that of Magatsuhi skills. These are party-wide abilities that are spent from a Magatsuhi meter that constantly fills in battle. They often offer certain bonuses, such as party-wide buffs or heals, but sometimes these skills can simply straight-up damage the enemy. You start out only being able to cast one Magatsuhi skill, but as you complete quests and collect Talisman key items, you’ll expand your arsenal of abilities. In fact, seeking out Talismans is one of the key reasons to complete quests in the first place.
There’s also a Miracle system in place, which works similarly to the Apps in
Shin Megami Tensei IV. These Miracles can either power up the Nahobino in certain ways, or offer bonuses like lowering compendium costs, shop prices, etc. Miracles are purchased using a unique currency called Glory, which can be found by exploring the map. So, this is another way the game persuades you to go off the beaten path and exhaust every corner you can find.
In a way, Shin Megami Tensei V is probably the most accessible and digestible game in the series yet. You’ll never find yourself lost and unsure where to go, as the game will always signpost the next main destination. Quests are also very signposted, and you’ll always be able to pull up your map to see where you’ve been, where you should go, where the chests are, who has a quest for you, etc.
One somewhat disappointing element to Shin Megami Tensei V is its performance on Nintendo Switch. I do have to admit, as awkward as this might sound, that I tend to play games on a high-end gaming PC, so I am probably not the best person to judge performance vis-à-vis other games on the console. Shin Megami Tensei V runs *at best* at 30 frames-per-second. The framerate dips occasionally as you dash around zones, especially with several demons nearby, and aliasing can often be seen on models and environments. Load times into the primary menus are also just a tad slower than I’d like them to be.
The most egregious performance issue, however, is a frequent texture pop-in issue on both models and the environment. Not only will you see this as you dash around the semi-open world, but also frequently in combat. In my experience, whenever the battle timeline shifted to the next demon in my party, it was very likely their clothing texture would be absent for a moment before it popped into place. You admittedly get a bit used to it after many hours of battling, but it’s certainly something that doesn’t take a discerning eye to see. If there’s any chance it can be patched after launch, it would be super appreciated.
Finally, it’s difficult to talk about the narrative without spoiling it, so I won’t say too much, but I found myself slightly ambivalent in the way things progressed and routed as I neared the end-game, which I found a tad too familiar. I did end up replaying through SMT 5 several times to see each available ending, and I hoped things were going to be more interesting than they actually turned out to be. I’ll have to leave it at that though.
It’s probably inevitable that Shin Megami Tensei V won’t be exactly what everybody wanted from a new entry into the franchise. Although I had a few qualms with it overall, and there are definitely some growing pains with its direction in places, I came away mostly content with how Atlus handled this latest installment. While Shin Megami Tensei V’s new direction may not suit everyone’s expectations for the series, Atlus has returned to the franchise with an ambitious fifth entry.
Versions tested: Nintendo Switch