You will probably have already noticed it if you hang around in our columns: we love Japanese RPGs. Square Enix, Bandai Namco, Atlus… So many big names, so many epics lived and yet, despite the passing years, we still love to dive back into them. So, yes, we are not unaware that the J-RPG suffers from ups and downs. Storyline or gameplay gimmicks repeated to disgust, generally linear journeys, often poor technique… The genre seems to suffer from a clear lack of ambition, and relies instead on formulas known to players instead of risking a change of scenery. And it’s also because it stands out that Shin Megami Tensei V was eyeing us.
Finally, yes and no. A Shin Megami Tensei is a bit of a promise. This is the guarantee of finding a light RPG in abstruse and redundant blabla, but a rich and exhilarating experience, difficult and rewarding. And we say that, but from the first trailers, which then dated from the release of the Nintendo Switch itself, the title was already announced as a surprise, in particular on its way of depicting its world and crossing it. Finally, the only shadow on the board, a silence of almost four years before offering us to see more. Was this silence in favor of the game? On the contrary, does he announce the end of the world for the series? Is it better to praise or damn this Shin Megami Tensei V?
In old pots
We were saying it earlier, Shin Megami Tensei, often it’s a promise. And naturally, this fifth installment continues the approach taken in the previous episodes… at least as far as its story is concerned. Shin Megami Tensei V offers you (as often) to embody a Tokyo high school student whose banal life serves to portray a city suffering from many ailments. Strange accidents, disappearances… The daily life of the inhabitants of the capital is sinister, a tone fairly faithful to that found in the previous sections, far from the usual neon lights and cherry blossoms. This image will take a final blow when, following an unfortunate detour, our character discovers Da’ath, the broken reflection of the Japanese capital, an eternal battlefield of the forces of good and evil on a bed of sand and ruins of skyscrapers…
It is in this context that our weakling avatar, unable to defend himself alone, is offered to merge with a strange entity in order to become the Nahobino, a half-man half-god character who should remind fans of the series the half-demon from Shin Megami Tensei III (also available on the hybrid console, a parallel which is therefore not insignificant). In this form and now equipped with new talents (just like the character he reminds us of), it is up to you to roam the wastelands of Da’ath, rally devils and angels to your cause, and decide the path you will follow the world (another habit of the series and one of the main differences with the most famous license from Atlus).
Deja vu? Indeed, it is normal. Deprived of its subtleties (a choice we make in order to avoid ruining your pleasure of discovery), the publisher’s latest title is hardly different from previous parts (and in reality, it does not deviate not too often and never too far), but its staging takes advantage of the power of the Nintendo Switch which makes this episode the most cinematic episode of the series to date, in particular thanks to the dubbing (English or Japanese after a download) neat and cinematic scenes which, thank heaven, never last too long either (we stay on a classic formula so not too much is needed). Anyway, as you will have understood, we are walking on familiar ground.
The adventure of which you are the tempo
And since we are talking about walking, let’s now address the real novelty of this component: open environments. Indeed, it’s a first in the series (but also in Atlus’ RPGs). The world of Shin Megami Tensei V is actually made up of fairly large open areas (four in number) to explore freely and in which you can complete your quests, hunt monsters, find secrets … Naturally, unlike the previous panes, this choice forces Atlus to always display where the rest of the story continues (an advantage or a disadvantage, we let you be the judge), but it also allows the publisher to create a much more interactive and lively world (ironically for post-apo, but we do not sulk our pleasure).
Thanks to this unprecedented approach, Shin Megami Tensei breathes like he has never done before. Although it does not renew the notion of an open world and is rather content to offer its twist on the great classics (challenges that unlock the display of map sections, display of collection points, etc.), it offers for the first time fans of this series have many options to manage the flow of their adventure as they wish, whether by tracking down monsters (now clearly displayed on the map) or collection points and even some platforming phases (for beautiful gifts often: items and glory points). Welcome options therefore to strengthen your attachment to this world, but also to allow you to build a team adapted to the challenges that will follow…
This is the rhythm of the fight
Finally, if there is a rhythm that you will have to take (especially if you are new to the series), it is that of the fights. If in a certain way Shin Megami Tensei resembles Pokémon (especially in its “monster collection” aspect), we are far from a game that we finish by stupidly hammering the A button… Introducing the Press-Turn System, name barbaric that actually hides one of the best combat systems of any RPG . The principle is simple: each team is granted a number of shares equal to the number of participants. Aiming for an opponent’s weaknesses or landing a critical hit grants an extra strike. Failing, on the other hand, makes you lose two chances … If that’s not enough for you to understand why the principle is exciting…
And not only is it exciting, but it rewards your tenacity and self-sacrifice in the quest to create the perfect team. At the Cathedral of Shadows, you are offered to merge the monsters together in order to obtain new ones. These new monsters benefit from their own skills, but also a handful from those of the sacrificed monsters (according to your tastes). Thus, you can create extremely versatile or weak demons., the recipe for ultra-specialized teams capable of rolling over all the enemies that will face you (and one of the most addictive aspects of the series). Despite a bestiary limited to 200 monsters at most, the possibilities are simply bewildering (and it’s not hard to get attached to some of them as they’re neat).
Finally, before creating the perfect team, it will first be necessary to recruit beasts. To recruit, you just need to chat with a monster during a fight. Depending on his mood, his character (usually designated by his species) and the phase of the moon, he will more or less let himself go, asking one or two questions which, depending on your answer, will trigger his flight, the resumption of the fight or a phase of negotiation. After relieving you of a few items, money, life points or magic, the monster will join your ranks (provided you have room left or it has a level lower than yours). Let’s add that
And if your team and your monsters will require your attention, you will have to bring more to your avatar. Your team’s nerve center (if he gets knocked out, it’s Game Over, so remember to save regularly), as Nahobino he is, he also levels up, learns skills… To make him more powerful, except through combat, you will have to get your hands on monster essences (their souls in a way) and extract their skills or even their weaknesses and resistances. As with your monsters, by juggling, you can create an avatar without weaknesses and extremely versatile capable of taking on all the hard knocks. And that’s not to mention the glory points, to be found by exploring the map, which allow you to acquire all kinds of bonuses (elemental affinity, bonus points in fusion, etc.).
Undoubtedly, our time spent on Shin Megami Tensei V is a pleasure (you must have felt it by following the paragraphs so far) and it is likely due to Atlus’ efforts to make its title more flexible and accessible. This episode does everything better than the previous ones . Less laborious negotiations (no more monsters that shoot each other after emptying your inventory), abandonment of certain types of skills and optimization of certain existing types, much more pleasant navigation both in the menus and on the map (in particular because it is become much more difficult to get lost)… We are in heaven, but it is better to clarify a certain number of points before you start or you could fall from the clouds…
We were saying that the latest title from Atlus is more accessible. We didn’t say it was simple. Do you see the subtlety? The Shin Megami Tensei series is known for its difficulty (sometimes even cruelty (aaah, the Minotaur of Shin Megami Tensei IV)) and this episode is no exception to the rule. Some fights are tough, some bosses will take you out in one hit, and it’s not impossible that you’ll be biting your fingers if you’re not the type to save often. A word of advice: if you want to progress, apprehend . Falling is part of the experience, so do it. Learn and then use the tools at your disposal (a save point will be waiting for you before each tense moment and the Aogami will also warn you). The first boss will get you up to speed.
Finally, four huge biomes that are several hours long to dash through like a ninja, better animated fights and monsters… So many beautiful things that nevertheless have a price… Unfortunately, it was predictable, but an ambitious game like this could not come out unscathed on the hybrid and the price to pay is consequent. Already, it runs below 30 frames per second both on the map and during combat and in the menus. The textures of the decorations as monsters sometimes struggle to be displayed and, the decorations being relatively empty, they sadly highlight the jerky animation of the monsters in the distance (distance not always so far, moreover…). That said, we expected concessions and we must admit that we are not disappointed to see that such sacrifices have generated such a beautiful monster.