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Nintendo Switch Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance Review

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is a stellar example of an enhanced re-release done right.
 
 

Official Review

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It's been nearly three years now since the launch of the original Shin Megami Tensei V and as is tradition at Atlus, the obligatory enhanced re-release (complete with a new storyline centered around a new girl) has now come to all modern platforms in the form of Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance. Boasting a full-length, alternate storyline and a host of gameplay and balance adjustments, SMTV: V is easily the definitive version of an already excellent entry in the long-running series. If you're at all a fan of SMT, Persona, or JRPGs in general, you owe it to yourself to pick this up at the earliest opportunity.

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For this review, we'll be focusing more on the additions and adjustments being made to the core SMT V experience with this release—if you'd like to get a more detailed evaluation of the underlying gameplay mechanics and such.

Now, let's briefly go over exactly what this release is. Atlus typically does an enhanced version of its most popular games a few years after their initial release, usually with some fresh story content and balance tweaks that respond to complaints about the original version. Previous releases, such as Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology, Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker, or Persona 5 Royal usually tacked this extra story content on to the end or sprinkled it in along the old storyline. What makes SMT V: V a little more special, then, is that rather than simply offering an 'addendum' to the original plot, this version brings a full-length plotline that you can choose from instead of the original.

SMT V: V begins much the same way as the original release did, but mere minutes into the start of the plot, things diverge into new and interesting territory. In a bizarre dream sequence, you're presented with the spectral form of a young woman while a disembodied voice tells you that she "cannot be allowed to exist" and offers you a choice. If you leave her there, the world's fate will continue as it was intended to, but if you choose to take her hand, she'll become real, and the world will be set on an unplanned and unknown path. Ultimately, this is where you choose whether you want to follow the plot of the original release of SMT V (called "Canon of Creation" here) or the new "Canon of Vengeance" story.

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Should you choose to save the girl, she is soon introduced as Yoko Hiromine, a prim and mysterious Devil Summoner who agrees to accompany the Nahobino on his quest to determine the world's future amid the ageless war between law and chaos. Yoko is a capable warrior with a quiet darkness to her, and her strength is a welcome asset as you're faced with a charismatic new gang of antagonists that call themselves the Qadistu. The Qadistu offer up yet another interesting perspective on the nature of truth in the strange world of Da'at, and they become increasingly more central to the story as events gradually diverge from the original plot in ever more significant ways.

We were fans of the divisive original plot of SMT V, but it's tough to argue that Atlus' second crack at a story here isn't an improvement. In many ways, it feels like this was the story the developers wanted to tell the first time around—Yoko was planned to be part of the original release before being cut partway through development, and her addition to the core cast here feels organic and like it fills a gap that wasn't previously apparent. Perhaps most importantly, it feels like this new plotline focuses a little more on the interactions between the various human characters, making this narrative easier to connect with than the somewhat barebones plot of the first release.

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While we'd encourage all players who pick this up to start with the Canon of Vengeance storyline, we'd still suggest playing through the Canon of Creation at some point, too—it may feel inferior, but experiencing both gives you much more appreciation for what they each bring to the table. Plus, if you take into account the 80-hour runtime for either path and multiple endings, that's a lot of SMT V content to burn through if you're hooked on the tough and engaging gameplay here. Suffice it to say, it'll take you quite a while to finally run out of stuff to do.

Aside from the story, various gameplay and quality of life improvements have also been made to streamline the experience further and make it overall more enjoyable. For example, you can now save anywhere at the tap of a button, rather than having to wait to find the next Leyline Fount. This helps to cut down on some of the run-backs for tough encounters, and makes it much easier to avoid losing a ton of progress if you happen to get jumped by an enemy who lands a crit that bodies you in one shot.

Da'at is still just as enjoyable to explore and platform around as it ever was, and to aid in traversal, there are now grind rails strategically placed throughout the wasteland to help expedite travel. Some of these are immediately obvious and some have to be discovered first before they show up on your map, and we enjoyed how they expand on the existing map by giving access to new areas while also making it generally quicker to backtrack. Often, you'll unlock a new rail after taking 'the long way' around a series of obstacles to make it easier to travel to and from the summit.

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The Demon Haunt is another big addition, giving you the rather cute opportunity to spend time talking to and building relationships with your various recruits. After a demon has been traveling with your party for a while, they'll ask to speak with you, and you can then choose to acknowledge their request at a chill hangout spot accessible from any Leyline Fount. You can then exchange gifts or talk to them, and after the conversation, the demon will usually get a stat boost. Sometimes even the Nahobino will get some direct boosts, too. It's no Social Link system, but we still appreciated the effort to push you to view demons as more than ultimately expendable assets. At the very least, the Demon Haunt provides a nice breather from the pervasive stress of the rest of the adventure, while the gameplay benefits these exchanges offer can help give you that edge to overcome a boss encounter you're hung up on.

Such additions aside, gameplay is otherwise much the same as it was in the original, which was excellent. You explore the vast, creepy wasteland by doing your goofy Naruto-run, Press Turn is still one of the best turn-based battle systems ever made through its strategic and engaging approach to buffs, weaknesses, and turn economy, while recruiting and fusing demons remains a compelling and addictive party-building mechanic throughout the whole experience. Even if the tougher difficulty can be off-putting to some, there's rarely a dull moment throughout either story given the wealth of objectives and gameplay options. Everyone has their own tastes when it comes to JRPGs, but it's tough to argue that SMT V: V offers anything less than a polished and thoughtful gameplay experience.

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Much like with previous Atlus re-releases, a key thing to remember about SMT V:V is that this is still largely the same game that came out a few years ago. Sure, it's received an all-new storyline and a raft of gameplay and balance tweaks that make it overall a superior experience, but those of you that weren't enthused by the gameplay loop and difficulty of original release won't find much here to change your mind. On the other hand, if you did like the original release—or even if you just had a few criticisms that held you back from really getting into it—this game is made for you. Atlus is removing the original game from store shelves to replace it with SMT V: V, and it's understandable why, as this new version almost completely nullifies that first release through all the additions, adjustments, and original content.

Something which notably did not improve for this re-release is the performance, which still isn't fantastic. Though everything runs at somewhat consistent 30 FPS, asset pop-in and fuzzy resolution is par for the course here whether you're playing in docked or handheld. SMT V: V is still a visual miracle on the Switch and certainly feels like a game that has no business running on such humble hardware, but it's clear that Atlus had to push the Switch as far as it could go to get performance to the acceptable though not impressive state it's in.

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This is a little disappointing, as we were hoping that a few more years of Switch development experience would lead to Atlus finding ways to squeeze better performance out of this one. On the other hand, it feels like we've reached the point where there simply isn't much more that developers can reasonably do with the limited hardware, especially considering that SMT V: V is built on an off-the-shelf engine with Unreal 4. If lacking visuals or resolution are a big issue for you in your games, we'd suggest you skip the Switch and pick up one of the versions available on other hardware platforms, if you have access to any of them. SMT V: V is an alright experience on Switch as far as performance is concerned, but it scarcely feels like the definitive version of this release.

Conclusion

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is a stellar example of an enhanced re-release done right. Its comprehensive approach to improving the story and various gameplay systems of the original release makes for an experience that's even more engrossing than the already excellent original game. Though we were disappointed by the lack of any performance gains here, Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is still an extremely easy recommendation for any RPG fans. Some may consider SMT to be "Persona without the heart," but SMT V: V cleanly demonstrates that this old Atlus stalwart still has an abundance of fantastic gameplay and unique appeal.

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