Nearly five years after the game's initial reveal, Shin Megami Tensei V is finally launching on Nintendo Switch in November. The latest entry in Atlus' long-running RPG franchise is set to tell another dark, post-apocalyptic tale set in a demon-filled version of Tokyo where the protagonist's actions will determine the world's ultimate fate.
As Shin Megami Tensei's first brand new mainline entry on a home console since the PlayStation 2's Nocturne -- not to mention its first since the spin-off Persona series skyrocketed in popularity with Persona 5 -- SMTV is in a position expand the historically niche series' reach. CBR was able to go hands-on with the game, and we found its opening hours to be an intriguing start that does a great job of reintroducing the franchise's central tenants while introducing new concepts and game mechanics.
Shin Megami Tensei V follows a high school student from modern-day Tokyo whose world is on the brink of major change. After a near-death experience, he finds himself in a new version of Tokyo called Da'at and fuses with a mysterious entity to become the Nahobino, a being who is neither human nor deity. Before being thrust into the wasteland, though, the protagonist meets fellow students Yuzuru Atsuta, his little sister Miyazu, Tao Isonokami and Ichiro Dazai. While they play little role in the portion we were able to preview (outside of Ichiro, who was with the protagonist during a crucial moment early on), all four are clearly set up to be important later on.
One thing that really stood out in the two hours or so we were able to preview was just how quickly the game gets into the action. Many JRPGs, SMT and Persona titles in particular, have a lot to set up early on, meaning players must sit through lots of cutscenes and minimally interactive sections before they can start exploring. But while SMTV does have plot points and characters to introduce before players can get to freely exploring Da'at, it definitely felt like we got there comparatively quickly, with the game instead leaving a lot about its story and characters a mystery of uncover later on.
Like previous SMT games, this seems to be setting up an epic battle between the forces of law and chaos, but the story is not where the familiarity ends. Series staples like demon negotiations and fusions are back, as is the press-turn battle system, which is back and easier to use than ever thanks to how clearly the UI displays the weaknesses and immunities of demons that player has already fought underneath a helpful HP bar.
After spending quite a bit of time with Nocturne's remaster earlier this year, SMTV's quality-of-life updates are certainly welcome. While that game holds up in many ways, as a 2003 PlayStation 2 game, it lacks many of the improvements RPGs have seen in the nearly two decades since. Some of these were present in the Nintendo 3DS' Shin Megami Tensei IV, like the elimination of random encounters in favor of having demons roam the overworld, while others, like combining the save point, item shop, healing and demon fusion mechanic into a single location are new.
Also new to SMTV are Magatsui skills. While Magatsuhi will be familiar to returning fans for its significance in Nocturne and role as a recurring demon, this game lets players fill up a new gauge to unleash powerful attacks, buffs or healing magic that doesn't consume a turn or pass control to the next character. Different types of characters can have different Magatsuhi skills, though we found the default Omagatoki: Critical that the Nahobino and any demon can have to be incredibly useful.
Considering how the Press-Turn system works, starting out with a buff that makes every attack a critical hit for all allies for one turn essentially guarantees every character getting to go twice, potentially overwhelming the enemy. Of course, Shin Megami Tensei games always balance these kinds of advantages by allowing them to work both ways, meaning players will have to be careful to avoid getting hit by the enemy's Magatsuhi Skills.
Further deepening the combat system are skill potentials, which were introduced in SMTIV. These make it so demons using elements they have an affinity for will be more powerful (like a Jack Frost using ice attacks), while those using attacks that match their weaknesses will do less damage (like that same Jack Frost using a fire skill). This encourages further strategic thinking when choosing a demon's moveset, as one with a negative affinity skill can still hit a weakness. Balancing skill type coverage and damage-dealing potential will likely be a major element of developing your individual playstyle.
Already, it's clear that Shin Megami Tensei V is blending the best aspects of Nocturne, like its dark atmosphere and great exploration, with SMTIV's more accessible gameplay and quality-of-life changes while also implementing modern improvements and evolutions to the formula. While this preview didn't cover too much of the story, what we've seen up to this point is intriguing enough to make us want to continue exploring Da'at and the mysteries hidden within it.
Developed by Atlus and published by Sega, Shin Megami Tensei V will release for Nintendo Switch on November 12. A review copy was provided by the publisher.
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