Shin Megami Tensei 5, the review

We’ve played Atlus’ anticipated Japanese role-playing game for Nintendo Switch: find out if Shin Megami Tensei 5 is for you in our review

Let’s be honest: if it weren’t for the resounding success of Persona 5, Shin Megami Tensei V wouldn’t be one of the most anticipated titles of the year today, at least in the West. Which is ironic, considering that the stylish Atlus franchise is literally a rib of a Shin Megami Tensei rib, as we explained to you on the occasion of its twenty-fifth anniversary of Persona. Not that MegaTen – that’s what its fans affectionately call it – is an unknown series: the excellent Shin Megami Tensei IV had already been talked about, at the time of Nintendo 3DS, but either for a matter of audience, or for a matter of visibility and style, compared to its spin-off the Shin Megami Tensei series has always remained for a niche of hardened fans.

Shin Megami Tensei V, the protagonist is a Nahobino

Now, finally cleared by the success of Nintendo Switch, which has justified the greater publicity battage, Shin Megami Tensei represents a new starting point for Atlus and a viable alternative for JRPG fans who dream of Persona 5 on the big N’s hybrid console that so far have had to settle only for its sequel/spin-off Persona 5 Strikers or the recent remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne.

And this Atlus knows it well. In our Shin Megami Tensei 5 review we’ll explain what you can expect from this new little gem that, for many of you readers, will probably be the first MegaTen and one of the most disturbing video game experiences of your life.

Stories of angels and demons

Shin Megami Tensei V, Aogami is the being that will fuse with the protagonist

We do not want to anticipate anything that could ruin the surprise, but we must necessarily make a premise on the narrative: the first few minutes of the game you immediately drop in a context strongly mythological, telling you how God has taken total control of creation by depriving humans of knowledge. This has diminished every other supernatural being, relegating them to the imaginary dimension, when in reality demons, oni and any other kind of spirit or deity has been waiting for the great final battle for the conquest of human souls. Shin Megami Tensei 5 is a story about unspeakable forces and you will be caught in the middle.

The silent protagonist is an ordinary Tokyo high school student who one fine day slips into a tunnel to discover, along with some curious students, what happened after a mysterious accident. Suddenly found in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, your alter ego immediately risks his skin and is saved in extremis by a being called Aogami, which proposes to literally join forces and become a Nahobino, a hybrid neither man nor demon who can draw on unusual supernatural powers.

The story of Shin Megami Tensei V takes a few hours to engage, although perhaps it would be better to say that it takes a few hours just to reveal itself. At first, in fact, you’ll find yourself wandering through the ruins of a distressing and hostile Tokyo as you try to get the hang of the gameplay. With a destination to reach and no other short-term goal, the feeling is that you’ve ended up in some sort of creepy playground waiting to be discovered. It’s an approach that can be disorienting for more casual gamers, especially if they’ve gotten to know Atlus with its Persona and are used to being taken by the hand by a straight, didactic way of telling the story.

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Either because of the vastness of the first explorable area, or because of the caution with which you go little by little farther and farther away, it takes a while before the story comes into its own and even then the narrative maintains a dilated pace, but significant, throughout the campaign. The absence of a real “party” means that the characterization of the characters is all entrusted to the interlude scenes and dialogues: the cast does not rise to the levels of any Persona, but the characters are all interesting, often shrouded in mysterious auras that intrigue and push to continue the adventure just to understand where the brainiac script wants to go to parry.

Shin Megami Tensei V, Sophia presides over the World of Shadows

The themes, as usual, are anything but trivial and the unusual representation of the supernatural factions in the field – with demons often portrayed in an ironic way and angelic forces as a rigid dictatorship – tends to question the certainties of the player, especially when you have to make some choices that can have significantly different outcomes.

Sometimes these choices can change the direction of a secondary mission. For example, you may decide to ally with the demon you were sent to assassinate, gaining his respect and perhaps even his help. More often, it won’t even seem like there are immediate consequences, since it will be the sum of our decisions that will determine the alignment of the Nahobino and the development of the story, which can branch out and end in different ways.

Shin Megami Tensei V, the protagonist in human form

Shin Megami Tensei 5 takes between 40 and 50 hours to complete a single campaign, but this is a very relative estimate that may depend on various factors such as the difficulty level set or the player’s determination to complete each side mission. It is, however, a long-lived and challenging title that does not get lost in unnecessarily long dialogues, and for this reason it is replayed very happily, thanks to the possibilities offered by the New Game + mode.

Demon Fights

Shin Megami Tensei V, the combat system is called Press Turn

The Press Turn combat system, so dear to Atlus, returns in one of its driest and most balanced iterations. The Japanese developer has preferred a direct approach, without weighing it down with unnecessary complications or controversial twists in the name of forced innovation.

Anyone who has played Persona 5 or Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne will immediately recognize the basics: you fight in turns, deploying a party of up to four characters – including the Nahobino – who act in the order of formation. Each enemy is more or less vulnerable to different types of magical and physical attacks, which not only deal more damage, but also add an extra action to the player’s turn. By taking advantage of affinities with intelligence, you can ring up to eight actions per turn, two for each party member, before it’s the enemy’s turn.

Shin Megami Tensei V, Aramasa is a unique technique of Nahobino

That’s just the problem: the enemy can also exploit your affinities to gain extra actions and exterminate you within a turn. Shin Megami Tensei 5 lets you choose between three starting difficulty levels, which will become four with the free update on launch day and the addition of a beginner level. The highest one, Hard, is selectable only at the beginning of the game; afterwards, the player can lower it at any time, but then he won’t be able to raise it again. You can alternate between the Relax and Normal difficulty levels, but we’ll be very blunt: even Relax is a challenging difficulty level that can put the least prepared or farsighted players in a corner. Also because you go into Game Over as soon as the Nahobino dies, and it doesn’t matter if the other demons in the team are still standing.

Since you can’t save at any time, but only in the vicinity of the Energy Sources, you’ll feel constantly on your toes. All it takes is one misjudgment to end up at the main screen and lose all progress made since your last save. We understand the intent of Atlus – after all, you’re playing an adventure that often borders on horror – but we admit that modern JRPGs have accustomed quite well in this sense and a form of automatic saving would have been appreciated.

Shin Megami Tensei V, at each level up you will be able to assign 1 point to the parameters of Nahobino

On the other hand, Shin Megami Tensei V is a title that wants to challenge you and that makes the unexpected its workhorse. This is also true in the fights, but not only. You can also bet on affinities all you want, but if a spell goes awry, is negated or absorbed, the Nahobino’s team loses up to two actions at a time, handing an important advantage to the enemy. At the Relax difficulty level you feel a little less the weight of the strategy, but we assure you that already at Normal you must rely on the various spells that improve or worsen the parameters to overcome even the most trivial clashes.

In this sense, completing side quests to unlock Magatsuhi is one of the smartest things you can do during your stay in the Afterlife. The Magatsuhi is a sort of super move that changes depending on the species to which the character belongs, and that consumes a special indicator to be filled by collecting particles around the map or by fulfilling certain requirements in combat. Its effects can be the most varied: it can inflict massive damage to all enemies, or make critical every attack launched during a turn, improve or worsen the parameters, double the experience points at the end of the fight and so on. It is the only accessory of a combat system that does not reserve big surprises, but can be exciting, if not thrilling, when you arrive unprepared for the boss of the turn. And then you go of dear, old “trial and error”: you die, you melt new demons and you return to the office more prepared than before.

Collectible demons

Shin Megami Tensei V, decisions ... decisions ...

A parallel between Pokémon and Shin Megami Tensei V would not be entirely wrong: here, too, monsters are collected for battle. The small difference lies in the fact that the infamous Shin Megami Tensei 5 Compendium includes biblical entities, gods belonging to the most diverse beliefs, urban legends and folk myths. They are all there, on the streets of Tokyo, or rather of Da’at, the Afterlife that has engulfed the Japanese capital and that Nahobino and his companions of Bethel Japan must contain before it spills over into your reality. The monsters are visible and identifiable: coming into contact with their models triggers combat, so it is better to take them by surprise with a sword strike and start ahead.

The interface is curiously bilingual, some Italian and some English. We’re not sure if it’s intentional; maybe Nintendo will release an update that will translate the texts that weren’t localized yet in our review code, maybe it’s a stylistic choice. Dialogues are still in Italian, however, as are descriptions of abilities and monsters.

Shin Megami Tensei V, the iconic Atlus mascot, Jack Frost

The fact that the dialogues are in our language, however, does not help much when you choose Talk in the combat menu of the Nahobino. As often happens in MegaTen, this option allows you to converse with demons and maybe recruit them. They are delirious dialogues that often result in nonsense: the attitude and appearance of the demon on duty should suggest the tone to be held, but in any case most of these negotiations end with the Nahobino that releases Macca, Health / Magic Points and consumables. If all goes well, and the demon accepts, you’ll end up with a new monster in our ranks.

Collecting monsters is essential for various reasons. In the immediate term, it means having a new force to oppose enemies, and not infrequently you’ll find yourself looking for the right monsters to face the next boss with an extra gear.

Shin Megami Tensei V, the Cait Sith are among the first demons you'll come across in Da'at

You might want to recruit them for collecting, after all they are more than two hundred and the character design of Masayuki Doi translates well in their 3D models, full of details and animations. Each monster is also characterized by a nice card that tells some anecdotes about him, and good thing that video games are not educational. Did you know that your black cat could be a Cait Sith and that if you mistreat him he could drag you with him into his supernatural realm? We didn’t, and now we feel much more erudite.

All jokes aside, the recruited demons can be fused in the World of Shadows, a dimension accessible through the Energy Springs where you’ll find Sophia, a mysterious entity who will assist you in the fusion exercise, waiting for you. If you prefer, you can call it the Velvet Room, because the concept is the same. By fusing two or more demons, you’ll get a new one that you can customize: it, in fact, will inherit a certain number of abilities or spells that you can choose at the time of its creation.

Shin Megami Tensei V, conversations with certain demons are truly delirious

It is not strictly necessary to go looking for certain demons every time you need them for a merger: after you have registered in the Compendium, you can summon them again in exchange for Macca, which for the record is the money of Shin Megami Tensei V. You will accumulate them by selling the precious objects, also called relics, to the creepy Gustave in the Lair of the corpse, an emporium accessible through the Energy Sources. Given the prohibitive cost of these evocations, it may be preferable to go and take the demons in their natural habitat: a lower cost would have certainly streamlined this procedure, but it is also true that you can significantly lower buying the appropriate Miracle.

And that leads to another World of Shadows feature that ties in double duty with the combat system, demon fusions, and other gameplay dynamics. Shin Megami Tensei V, you may have guessed, is a fine game of interlocking.

The World of Shadows

Shin Megami Tensei V, clash with two Azumi and one Tsuchigumo

Glory is a second currency that you’ll have to accumulate and spend sparingly. You’ll find it inside large silver crystals that float in mid-air in the most hidden places, or you’ll receive a small amount after finding the Mimans for Gustave. These little creatures hide in the most unthinkable places and finding them will be a challenge, but keeping your eyes open will serve you every time you return to the World of Shadows and access the Apotheosis menu to buy Miracles or consume Essences.

Miracles are additional bonuses and features with which you can refine your experience. There are Miracles of all kinds: some increase the number of demons that can be recruited, others act on the costs in Macca, others still affect the accumulation of Magatasuhi. There are Miracles that improve the potential of the Nahobino and Miracles that facilitate the interaction with demons on the battlefield. It is up to the player to choose what to unlock and when, keeping in mind that new Miracles are discovered every time an Abscess is destroyed in the Da’at.

Shin Megami Tensei V, the first time you meet that winged demon will be trouble

Essences are a new feature in Shin Megami Tensei 5, although their function is reminiscent of the Magatama in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne. You’ll find them just about everywhere – exploring the map, completing side quests, you can even buy them – and they’ll allow you to assign the abilities of specific demons to the Nahobino or his esoteric pokémon. They’re essentially one more way to customize your team, and especially the Nahobino, who can tap into Essences to change his affinities.

Pretend that your Nahobino is vulnerable to fire and that the boss you face loves to cast incendiary spells, stealing all your actions: consuming the essence of a Jack’o’Lantern, for example, your Nahobino will become resistant to fire and the boss fight will be a piece of cake. It is clear that the Essences are likely to “break” the game, especially in the hands of the most astute strategists, but they also represent an additional control tool with regard to the most micro-management aspect of the title Atlus.

Afterlife Explorers

Shin Megami Tensei V, the deserted Tokyo of the Beyond

We mentioned the need to scour the game world far and wide for demons, Gloria, and Miman, and that’s because exploration is not only one of the most important aspects of Shin Megami Tensei 5, but perhaps the most fun. In this sense, Atlus has made great strides over the previous MegaTen. The Tokyo of the Afterlife is not an open world, but each area in which it is divided is gigantic and as you discover new areas the city becomes increasingly varied, intricate and geometrically complex.

The atmosphere is terrifying, not so much for the presence of demons, but for the scenery itself: crumpled ruins, abandoned cars, gutted skyscrapers in a bath of colors, sound distortions and artfully edited blurs. The melancholic soundtrack by Ryota Kozuka accompanies our wanderings in the Tokyo of the past, and then explodes into an exhilarating euphony of guitars during the fights.

Shin Megami Tensei V, some demons are gigantic and extremely dangerous

The overworld of Shin Megami Tensei V encourages exploration. Following only the primary objectives loses most of the fun, rewards and demons, especially since sometimes you have to engage in real platforming phases to reach some collectible out of the way, perhaps climbing to the top of a building and then jumping from rooftop to rooftop. The idea in and of itself works, but also lays bare the limits of the Japanese developer, especially in closed maps that from time to time you have to explore to continue the story, and that tend to be limited and repetitive in structure and progression.

The open-air maps are much more interesting, but not without smudges. The Nahobino can run and jump; its animations are splendid – especially that of the long hair – but its movements are not always very precise and the complexity of the scenario sometimes betrays some collision problems that can cause quite a few headaches. The map and the mini-map are also not very helpful, especially when looking for the objectives of the side quests, but at least they indicate the location of collectibles and resources with fair clarity.

Shin Megami Tensei V, Abscesses spawn demons and darken the map

From a purely graphical point of view, Shin Megami Tensei V is an excellent production. It does not move who knows how many polygons and does not dare the exaggerated stylistic solutions of Persona, but it does its duty by returning an image always clear and clean both in TV mode than in portable mode. We played several hours in portable mode on Switch OLED, taking advantage of the larger and brighter screen, and the differences in definition seemed very minimal.

It must be said, however, that in both modes Shin Megami Tensei V, while not exceeding 30 frames per second, loses a few strokes during exploration. The title Atlus has always been fluid in every fight, but wandering around Tokyo is felt sporadically a certain visual heaviness that results in some drop in frame rate if the scenario becomes too complex. Nothing that makes you lose sleep, mind you, but it was right to report it, and who knows that the update scheduled for launch does not correct this flaw.


Shin Megami Tensei V isn’t a revolutionary JRPG, nor does it aim to transform the genre or revamp the iconic Atlus series. While it does wink at new players with an unprecedented roster of difficulty levels and various upgrades, it remains an extremely long and challenging title, all about micromanagement, exploration, and a dry but rewarding combat system. Net of some technical smears, Shin Megami Tensei V is a great game, but it is not Persona: if you are approaching the series after playing Persona on some other platform, keep in mind that these are similar products in appearance, but profoundly different in atmosphere and narrative. And it’s perfectly possible that you’ll enjoy this one even more.


  • Over-the-top combat system
  • Exploring the Afterlife is a lot of fun
  • Unique and engaging atmospheres
  • The story takes several hours to get going
  • A few technical flaws
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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