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February 2023

Shin Megami Tensei V

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Atlus U.S.A.
Release Date: Nov. 12, 2021


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Switch Preview - 'Shin Megami Tensei V'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 26, 2021 @ 12:50 a.m. PDT

Shin Megami Tensei V is set in modern Tokyo. Players face a new onslaught of demons in the latest entry from the RPG series.

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It's been a while since the Shin Megami Tensei franchise had a big release. The spin-off Persona games took up most of the console real estate, while the mainline franchise saw only handheld releases, which didn't have the same feel and eschewed 3D graphics for static sprites. Shin Megami Tensei V is exciting because it's the latest entry in the franchise and the first "full" one since the PS2 era. Based on what we've played thus far, it looks like it'll live up to fan expectations.

As is tradition for the franchise, Shin Megami Tensei V puts you in control of a young Japanese boy who's living a normal life in Tokyo. Rumors of mysterious creatures appearing and murdering people have become commonplace. One day, he follows a classmate into an underground tunnel, only to have it collapse. The protagonist awakens in a dusty, sand-covered version of Tokyo ruins that are populated by demons and angels. His only assistance comes from the mysterious Aogami, a powerful figure who appears from nowhere and fuses with the protagonist. The melding of human and Aogami creates something new: a Nahobino, a being whose very existence may influence the world to come.

Our preview build took us through the first hour of the game, which includes exploring Tokyo in both whole and ruined formats. Whole Tokyo has its own classic SMT-style map that promptly vanishes once we reach the ruined Tokyo. From there, the entire environment is open to exploration, and if there is a world map for the more destroyed version of the city, we didn't encounter it in our demo. Exploration feels like a more agile version of Nocturne, with the protagonist able to dash at high speeds and jump supernaturally high to unlock more traversal possibilities. Demons appear in the overworld, and you can run up to them and slash them to initiate combat.

SMT5 returns to the Press Turn combat system that the franchise has been using since the PS2 days. For every character in your party, you have one Press Turn icon. Taking an action uses one up. If you strike an enemy's elemental weakness, it only uses a half-turn. Have an attack miss or be nullified/reflected, and you'll lose two turns. You can also pass your turn to the next demon in your party, which only uses up half a turn, or Guard, which uses up a full turn but prevents enemy attacks from hitting a weakness during that turn. Enemies have to play by the same rules, so if your party can nullify your foe's strongest attacks, that could severely curtail the enemy's damage output.

New to combat are Magatsuhi attacks, which function like Limit Breaks. You have a shared party bar that fills up over time or with certain actions, and when the gauge is full, you can unleash a special attack or buff. The default ability causes all attacks for the rest of the turn to be critical hits, but there are other unlockable abilities that are exclusive to certain races of demons. Enemies can also gather Magatsuhi, which causes all of their attacks for the next round to become critical hits.

Similar to the Demi-fiend from Nocturne, the Nahobino isn't technically human anymore, so they don't equip items to power up. Instead, they function very similarly to a demon but with significantly more customization options. The first way to power up your protagonist is with Essences, which are similar to the Demon Sources from SMT: Strange Journey. Essences can be earned as prizes, purchased in stores, found in chests, and more. You can spend Essence to teach skills to your Nahobino or their demons. The Nahobino can also inherent other features from the Essence, such as elemental affinities. In a way, it's also similar to the Magatama system from Nocturne, but it's more flexible. You can only carry one of each Essence at a time, so if you use one, you'll need to find another.

It's worth noting that not all demons are created equal. Most demons have an affinity with different elements, so a positive affinity can increase the power and decrease the MP cost of various abilities, while a negative cost does the opposite and makes demons weaker and less effective. A lot of demons also have unique skills that have cool animations and special effects, so you'll need to decide if it's worth keeping a weaker demon for a strong skill.

The second way to power up is with Miracles, which are permanent boosts that are similar to the App idea in recent SMT games. As you adventure, you'll locate Glory by finding hidden items or collectible lost demons. You can spend Glory to unlock Miracles, which range from increasing your number of skill slots to allowing you to transfer more skills from Essences to permanent increases to the Nahobino's affinities. The more of these you get, the more flexible you are and the more options you have.

In our preview build, SMT5's design feels different from the previous games. Our demo took place in a large, open-world map that we were free to explore. While there are guided paths, there are also a lot of hidden items that require figuring out the proper way to access them, such as climbing onto a ruined skyscraper or into a seemingly distant cave. We only explored a small part of this area, but the shaded-out map showed that even our starting area was huge, and it was plainly one of the areas the game would offer to explore. Our demo ended with us fighting an Abscess, a powerful enemy hive that we must destroy to unlock new Miracles for purchase and reveal segments of the map. Thankfully, no climbing up a tower was involved.

Our preview build only covered the very opening of Shin Megami Tensei V, but what we played feels incredibly cool. It feels more like a Shin Megami Tensei title than a Persona title, with a grim postapocalyptic setting and mechanics that feel like a refined version of Shin Megami Tensei III. Fans of the franchise have a lot to be excited about, especially since we're only a few weeks away from the full release.

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