The name “Shin Megami Tensei” likely evokes one of two responses from experienced JRPG gamers — fear or elation.
Of course, those who don’t play these sorts of games likely don’t think much of this unapologetically untranslated Japanese title.
Roughly meaning the “True Rebirth of the Goddess,” the “Shin Megami Tensei” main series represents nearly 20 games released in the last 34 years, not accounting for its numerous spinoffs. The most notable of these, the “Persona” series, overshadows the original in popularity worldwide.
The latest release, “Shin Megami Tensei V,” transports players to a post-apocalyptic Tokyo and into the shoes of a high-school student who is drawn into a supernatural war between angels and demons for the very soul of the world.
Your character meres with a demon and becomes the Nahobino, and embarks on a journey to godhood; a journey which will take them (as far as I can tell, this character is gender non-binary) through the familiar Tokyo of today and deep into the ruinous Tokyo of the Netherworld.
At its core, the “SMT” games revolve around fighting demons with demons. Your character leads the charge and enjoys considerable powers of their own. But the brutal world of “SMT” requires a variety of strengths to survive, and in order to achieve these the protagonist must recruit demons to their side.
You’ll do this by talking to the demons you’re fighting. Find one you think would make a good companion and choose to talk to it, preferably after you have eliminated any other threats from the battle.
If you choose the right dialog, and perhaps provide a substantial bribe, many of these characters will join you. Think about it like collecting Pokémon to use in battle against other Pokémon.
In order to survive you’ll need to create a balanced party, one you can strategically call upon against enemies with varying weaknesses and strengths.
This sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s harder than it seems, particularly if you are new to the series and play the game on Normal or Hard difficulties. In fact, the game’s notorious difficulty is one reason the series has remained among the fringe.
“SMT V” aims to address some of the perceived issues keeping it from the mainstream popularity that “Persona” has achieved. So “SMT V” contains a Casual difficulty for those who are new to the series.
Make no mistake, even on Casual this is still a difficult game. It’s never unfair, but it does require thought and strategy for success. And chances are, newbies will still die more than they’d like.
That’s why Atlus also provided a super-easy difficulty they call “Safety.” Not available out of the box, you’ll have to download Safety from the Nintendo store. It’s free, though, so you just have to grab it if you want it.
Here’s the thing though: Safety difficulty is too easy. I’m all for playing a game on easy if you want to concentrate on the story and move things along more quickly, but when I switched to Safety the game lost its soul.
Strategy became necessary only when dealing with demons a dozen levels higher than you (which you shouldn’t be fighting anyway). Otherwise, all you have to do is spam the attack button and you’ll fly through every encounter.
Therefore, you won’t think much about recruiting new demons, or fusing your party into stronger ones. So if you’re looking for an easier, though still true-to-the-game experience, leave it at Casual.
Other new additions to the series are the massive, open areas to explore. Instead of small dungeons, “SMT V” features huge maps to traverse, most with maze-like elements that will confuse those with little sense of direction (writer raises hand timidly). There’s also a good deal of verticality to these areas, making some of them feel like a platform gaming challenge.
That’s not a bad thing, though. Despite being lost quite a bit (the map could be better) I had a fantastic time exploring the Netherworld.
“SMT V” won’t please everyone. It’s still a very Japanese game and does not pander to the mainstream. But thanks to a good story, amazing battle system and expansive world to explore, it will keep JRPG fans happy for more than 100 hours.
Shin Megami Tensei V
From: Sega Atlus
Who it’s for: Switch owners looking for a hardcore JRPG experience