Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance preview - Atlus' edgier persona gets a glow-up

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance preview - Atlus' edgier persona gets a glow-up
Images via Atlus

Written by 

Ben Williams


30th Apr 2024 17:30

Although the Shin Megami Tensei franchise was what led to the Persona series, it's arguably become far more of a niche compared to the latter. 

Sure, the RPG series that started it all is still going strong in its own right with a regular string of releases. Still, it’s been more the likes of Persona 5 Royal, Persona 4 Golden, and most recently Persona 3 Reload being on the radars of the genre fans in the West. 

However, in comes Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance - an upcoming multi-platform enhanced version of the 2021 base game that was solely on Nintendo Switch. Not only is Vengeance a well-timed strike to grab the attention of Persona fans whilst the iron’s hot, but first impressions show this could be the perfect step up for fans after something new. 

What is Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance about?

Alongside being playable on modern platforms outside of Nintendo Switch, Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is a seemingly massive expansion of the original game. 

That’s mostly in the fact it's playable through two paths: the “Canon of Creation” which follows the original 70-100 hour story (yes, really), or the “Canon of Vengeance” which features major story changes, including the addition of a new character Yoko Hiromine to accompany you on your journey. 

No matter which way you play, the core experience of Shin Megami Tensei V appears to be the same as the excellent JRPG that launched in 2021. 

Party members in Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance
Click to enlarge

You play as a high school student on his way home who gets inadvertently transported to an alternate post-apocalyptic Tokyo called Da’at (don't you hate it when that happens?). Before being quickly killed by demons, you fuse with the mysterious Aogami to become a Nahabino - a powerful warrior deity who’s neither human nor demon.

Now caught up in a war between angels and demons, you and your friends are conscripted into an organisation called Bethel on a quest for answers. Venturing across Da’at and fighting demons, as well as creating new ones to fight on your side, you and your party are also in a fight for survival that will ultimately decide the fate of the world. 

Atlus’ roots personified 

If that synopsis to SMT newcomers sounds like a Persona game, you wouldn’t be completely wrong because depending on your point of view, it kind of is. Although the Persona games are a sub-series of Shin Megami Tensei, the two share a lot of elements including their aesthetic, turn-based combat and recruitable monsters - in this case being called Demons instead of Shadows. 

Naamah in Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance
Click to enlarge

Coming in as a longtime Persona fan who’s never touched a Shin Megami Tensei game though, I was pleasantly surprised. That’s not only because of how SMT V treads that line between the familiar and unique, but also how the revamp’s made it a stunning visual improvement for existing fans as well. 

That perspective comes from where Atlus decided to land me in the preview and what it showed me. 

Persona on Hard Mode

Heading on a mission with your friend Tao Isonokami around five hours into the story, you’re tasked with travelling to Da’at and investigating the truth of the salt statue incidents - where humans have been turning to statues of salt as the name implies. 

Whilst travelling around this demon world map finding hidden paths and engaging in fun and charming little side quests from friendly demons, there was a lot of time to play around with the combat and realise this is where Shin Megami Tensei V shines the most. 

Turn-based battles with your interchangeable party made up of humans, your Nahabino protagonist, and demons you’ve obtained, every combat encounter can make you feel like in the best way possible you’re playing with Persona’s edgier older brother on Hard Mode.

A battle in Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance
Click to enlarge

Whilst still approachable for JRPG beginners, Persona players will almost immediately notice the little to big variations of combat mechanics they’re already used to: from physical slashing attacks, elemental movies, stat buffs, healing moves, and even ultimate attacks.

However, those differences, along with mechanics unique to SMT like the Force element and the more punishing enemy AI are enough to make you put more of an emphasis on your strategy. 

You’ll find that even more the case when getting introduced to more of Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance’s expanded array of demons. With new and returning creatures, including those seen in the Persona games, SMT leans well into its darker tone with the inclusion of creatures that edge on the line of horrific or even raunchy (looking at you, Manananggal).

That said, now being able to save whenever you like is a godsend quality of life improvement that’s come with Vengeance - a definite perk for anyone who feels paranoid about losing an hour’s progress because of a couple of combat mistakes. 

However, not adding regular autosaves feels like a bit of a missed opportunity for those who are forgetful manual savers. Nevertheless, the single step forward there for now is still a welcome one.

Beautiful visually & audibly

The other two elements of this energetic trinity are the soundtrack and the animations.

With every attack, every strike, every ball of fire, every dark aura thrown to debuff enemies, comes a cinematic-esque animation making each move from each ally and foe feel like a spectacle. 

For example, even though I knew it wouldn’t be as effective against a particular demon, I intentionally kept making the Nahabino use the Aramasa attack because I couldn’t get enough of its epic display of shouting out the attack name before dashing to deliver a deadly myriad of slashes. 

Using Aramasa in Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance
Click to enlarge

That over-the-top action just hits right when paired with the soundtrack’s constantly audibly stunning selection of bops. With exciting rock tracks brimming with sick guitar riffs, it’s hard to imagine getting tired of combat encounters in SMT V because the constant energy in its music will bring you right back to life.

Even more so thanks to the increased resolution and framerate I saw on the PS5 version, every brawl against the demons of Da’at felt like a vibrant, cinematic rock concert I never wanted to end. 

Altogether, is the combat more punishing than Peronsa 5 for example? 100%. Was it far more a thrill ride defeating a monstrously tough mini-boss fight of multiple Power demons by being forced to strategise more? 110%.

Da’at what I expected

The higher definition in Vengeance makes even Shin Megami Tensei V’s more drab elements pop-onscreen a little bit more. 

There wasn’t really much else to do in Da’at at this point besides fight demons and try side missions, but it’s so easy to get distracted by the map’s prettier elements like the dazzling, glistening waters and heavenly lights shining up above. If you haven't played the Nintendo Switch version, it’s hard to believe Shin Megami Tensei V  wasn’t made for current-gen consoles given how gorgeous Vengeance has made its environments look. 

The same goes for its characters and what’s been seen of the story so far too. With the preview focused mostly on exploring Da’at and combat, there wasn’t much opportunity to dive into the plot as much as I'd have liked. 

Da'at in Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance
Click to enlarge

On the other hand, the overly dramatic tone in what was available felt like a fantastic fit into the dark settings and combat - especially with the new Vengeance additions like Yoko bringing an extra layer for players old and new. 

They may not be as colourful as P5’s Phantom Thieves or Persona 3 Reload’s S.E.E.S, but SMT V’s cast packs enough brooding and angst to make you want to see where this group goes.

Especially accounting for Persona fans again, 100-hour JRPG players won’t be surprised that Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance’s story can be a little daunting to get your head around at least. 

Be that as it may, now that it’s got its hooks into me, I’ve never been more curious to dive in and find out more.

Final Thoughts

In a glossier coat of paint and packing an interesting twist of extra content to boot, Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance has made it seem so far that it’s never been a better time to get into Atlus’ original hit JRPG series. 

Whether you’re a Persona fan, an SMT diehard, or a role-playing game fan who’s after something different, V’s enhanced Vengeance edition looks like it will tick everyone’s boxes with its darker tone, exciting combat, thrilling soundtrack, and refined visuals. 

Previewed on PlayStation 5.

Ben Williams
About the author
Ben Williams
Ben is a Senior Guides Writer at GGRecon. Alongside his BA (Hons) in Business Management is a wealth of gaming and entertainment writing experience, having previously occupied roles as a Copywriter in e-commerce at Overclockers and Guides & SEO Writer at GameByte and FragHero. When not whipping up guides and reviews, Ben’ll be off playing the latest Pokemon games, Overwatch 2, Spider-Man, The Witcher, and Final Fantasy - all before reading manga and listening to Ice Nine Kills.
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