Angels, demons, and… Japanese high school students? When you fuse all these elements together you get the newest entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series, developed by Atlus. SMT is a popular RPG series that dates back all the way to the Super Famicom (Japan’s version of the Super Nintendo) and gained more traction in the west with titles like SMT 3: Nocturne for PS2. People in the west may be more familiar with its popular spin-off series Persona which had an excellent addition back in 2016, Persona 5. So how does the new Nintendo Switch entry in the series hold up? Let’s put on our school uniforms, bargain with some demons and find out if it ascends to the Heavens or if it should be cast to the fiery pits of hell.
SMT5 takes place in modern day Japan where you play a high school student. There have been rumors around Tokyo that something has been attacking people in the tunnels of an old train station below the city. You and your friends enter the tunnel to investigate only for a strange earthquake to occur and the player wakes up alone in Da’At, an apocalyptic version of Tokyo infested with demons where a battle for the fate of everything hangs in the balance between demons and angels. While wandering Da’At the player meets and fuses with a being named Aogami and becomes a forbidden creature, a Nahobino, a being that is neither deity or human. The player now must decide the fate of the very fate of the universe. Do you ascend to the throne of godhood or let chaos reign as a new world is shaped. I enjoy the story! It’s very Philosophical and has a spooky atmosphere which I don’t think you see enough in JRPGs. The twists and turns along the way helped keep me invested for the 15 hours I’ve sunk into the game so far. If I had any nitpicks with the game, I think there isn’t enough time spent with your other human companions. They’re there and you get to talk to them between missions but I don’t think we get enough characterization of these characters to care much what happens with them through the course of the story. That being said, most of the English voice acting is good and brings a little emotion into the game. If religious iconography and a dark, post-apocalyptic tone turn you off you may not enjoy the game, but for me I’ve been having a great time.
Alongside a great story a JRPG can be made or break by its gameplay system. Luckily here, I think it’s very strong. Throughout your adventure you’ll travel on an over world from spot to spot, accepting side quest and collecting various things to help you on your journey. Once you run into a demon on the overworld map is where the combat comes into play. The combat of SMTV is a standard turn based RPG with a little twist. If you can find out your enemies’ weakness (ex. Some might be weak to ice) you can exploit this weakness to keep your turn going for longer. You have to be careful though because the enemy can do the same to you! I think this is a fun way to keep you engaged during battle and trying new attacks until you find one that gives you an edge. The other unique aspect of the SMT series is collecting and fusing demons. When you get into a battle with a demon you can take a turn to try and talk to it. Say the things the demon wants to hear and they might join you on your quest! These conversations can be very fun. Demons don’t typically respond to things the way you think a normal person would so it’s fun to try and figure out the right thing to say to them to get them on your side. This is where the writing shines too. These interactions had me laughing out loud sometimes like when one demon told me to “comeback when you’re stronger pretty boy”. Alongside collecting these demons, you can also fuse them to create stronger, new demons. Or you can take their Essenes and add it to yourself, or one of your other demons to inherit its skills and resistances to certain weaknesses. This aspect reminds me of games like Pokémon with collecting and trying out all the different types of demons. The character design by artist Kazuma Kaneko is also excellent and I was always excited to see what cool and weird demon I’d find next. All and all, the combat and world exploration are strong and create a good play loop that kept me enticed my entire time with the game. Be warned though, playing on normal difficulty this game is still quite challenging. I faced multiple game over screens in my time with the game, if you’re unfamiliar with RPGS and grinding this difficulty and grinding experience may turn some players off but I was okay with spending a little more time battling in the excellent combat system.
Visuals and Performance
For a Nintendo Switch game SMT5 looks really good! It seems to be around 1080p while docked and maybe a little less then 720p while in handheld which can make it a little fuzzy but still playable. Menus have nice big text which is nice for playing on the small, handheld screen. The game runs mostly at a solid 30fps with some dips when a lot of enemies are on screen or a graphic intense battle scene plays out but these were infrequent for me and I barely noticed them when they happened. As I alluded to in my gameplay section, character design is strong in these games. While performance-wise the game is okay, I think it’s the art style that truly elevates it to the next level. Characters, demons and angels all look cool and interesting a lot of the design may ask have you asking yourself “why” and I love that sort of weird thing, it’s fun! Environments look nice too, I don’t think a biblical post-apocalypse has looked so visually interesting in a game before! Some of the battle animations in the game are awesome. Characters go swirling in the air and deliver devastating blows or a siren whaling freezes everyone on the map, it all looks great! I like small attention to detail too like if you’re finishing off an enemy with an ice attack they freeze and fall apart or if you use fire they’re burnt to ashes. Little stuff like that brings the presentation up a notch!
Audio and Soundtrack
Audio here is good as well! I played the English dubbed version of the game and like I stated previously the voice acting is very good for the most part! Sounds that play out when you land on an enemy’s weakness have a nice, satisfying heft to them when you deal a devastating blow. Sound effects while you run around the overworld play out well too, from the wind blowing through old, destroyed buildings in Tokyo to the grunts of demons lurking the lands. The soundtrack (like with most of the SMT series) is excellent here too. It can be mystifying, spooky and ominous but once a battle gets going it turns into a rock fest with screeching electric guitars which rules. I can see myself adding the OST to my workout playlist if I ever need a little motivational boost!
I loved my time so far with SMT5. Awesome character designs and music, a creepy JRPG story that gets quite philosophical at times and an awesome gameplay loop elevates this game to godhood in my eyes. I can’t wait to play out the rest of the roughly 60-hour story and I’m still deciding what side I want to take in the story which is cool! If you’re a fan of JRPGs and more specifically Persona 5 and have been looking for something like it I can’t recommend this game enough. I do think the game might be a little alienating for new players with its difficulty and heavy story but if you see the gameplay and are slightly interested in what’s up with the demon that looks like Puss N Boots shooting lightning at a demon sitting on a toilet (yes, really) I say give it a shot but a better point of entry might be the aforementioned Persona 5. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to fighting and fusing some more demons!
Overall grade: A- (scale A-F)