A key art from Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance.

Review: Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance (Sony PlayStation 5)

This is how you do a ".5" upgrade. Wow.

9 mins read

Shin Megami Tensei V was already a good game. SMT V: Vengeance adds an entirely different narrative route that, while similar enough in the early stages, diverges drastically deeper into the game. The core is still a battle between angels and demons in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo that your protagonist is thrust within, but it also features a new group of demons to contend with and a major personality, and… none of it I can talk about because of spoilers.

While SMT V’s narrative does have its detractors (what JRPG doesn’t these days?), I would argue that most people who play the game will enjoy it. Vengeance’s same-world parallel narrative isn’t going to win those detractors over, but for most people, it represents a second, 80-hour, dark epic to get totally invested in. It’s genuinely surprising that Atlus didn’t simply release the new narrative as a “SMT V.5.”

That’s not the only addition that has been made to the game, either. There are many quality-of-life improvements that make Vengeance far more comfortable to play. The level cap has been increased to 150, and you’ll need that because the world becomes dotted with particularly powerful enemies as you explore now. Guest characters can now join your party and help you out. It is now possible to run into consecutive encounters, where you’ll need to fight several waves of enemies, but with big boosts to EXP and loot earned at the other end. Atlus has fixed the irritating encounters that come from difficult-to-spot flying enemies. Navigating around maps (especially with quests) is easier, there’s a “sky view” option in addition to the map that can help you make your way around some of the more complicated building networks, and you can save anywhere, rather than just at the glowy founts.

A screenshot from Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance

That’s just a small cross section and I’m sure there’s a bunch of stuff that I haven’t noticed simply because it’s been that long since I played the original release. I do think developers and publishers can be a bit cynical with “quality of life” updates with re-releases of games. Often it feels like what they’re actually doing is just papering over cracks. With Vengeance, though, the playability facelift is genuinely impressive. It does come across as though the developers took a comprehensive inventory of every major and most minor complaint that people had with the original release, and sought to address them. Now it’s a much smoother way to take in the game’s many qualities, including the dark ambience and incredible sense of style.

Related: Also readily available, Shin Megami Tensei III HD Remaster is an absolutely essential entry in the series. Our review.

SMT V was no slouch on the Switch. It pushed Nintendo’s little handheld to its limits and looked impressive for it. Vengeance looks even better on the more powerful consoles, and this is important, given how gorgeous many of the character models are (and yes, prepare yourself for some very sweet demon (Mermaid) fan service). So in that regard, it is the ultimate version too.

As far as the underlying themes and storytelling goes, however, Vengeance remains the same beast. Everything that I wrote in my original review of the game remains true, even within the new narrative arc:

A screenshot from Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance

One of the things that I have always loved about this series is how much effort has gone in to reflect the mythologies of cultures from all around the world in the bestiary. The fact that each creature also has s little description to explain their background is positively educational too. We might not need to read the description of the mermaid or pixie, because those creatures are already famous, but when you get to the more obscure monsters, getting a bit of the backgrounder is certainly appreciated for context.

More importantly, the clear depth of research that went into making all these monsters authentic gives SMT V an additional gravitas that it really needed to pull off the apocalyptic angels-and-demons war story that it’s telling. That’s such a well-trodden topic that it could have easily been trite, but the earnestness with which the developers have gone about the creature design and research comes through into the game itself presents as something earnest. Nothing about SMT V feels like it’s aesthetics for the sake of aesthetics, or cynically thrown in for commercial appeal. My greatest, most powerfully overriding response to this game is that it is a complete and considered bit of art where absolutely everything in the game is there for a very specific reason to build towards a very particular theme. We rarely get games that are this carefully layered.

this is a dark game, and as much as we all joke about Persona fans finding their way to SMT (despite Persona being the spin-off), I do genuinely wonder how the Persona fans will respond to this thing. Shin Megami Tensei titles wear their nihilistic and existential themes on their sleeves, and when that’s combined with a kind of open-ended thinking around morality, you’re quite welcome to go some dark places before you arrive at one of the endings that come at the end of the 80-odd hour journey. But what has always impressed me about this series is just how willing it is to back the dark themes up with dark aesthetics. Shin Megami Tensei has always embraced discordant (albeit incredible) music, harsh imagery and unflinching nastiness at times, and the additional power that has been afforded the developers with SMT V has allowed them to really hit some striking tones.

A screenshot from Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance

The end result of this is that SMT’s narrative is not accessible. But here, in this instance, that’s okay. We often talk about “accessibility” as something exclusively to do with the gameplay, but the topic is broader than that, and SMT V is oblique and confronting enough that there will be people who can’t manage it.

Just as Persona 5 Royal added something meaningful enough to actually be worthwhile, without being a full sequel or changing anything that people liked about the first game, Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance really does deserve the moniker “ultimate version of the game.” You’re going to need a ridiculous amount of time to play it (again), but if you enjoyed it on any level the first time around, you’re going to love what the development team has done to it this time.

Matt S. is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of DDNet. He's been writing about games for over 20 years, including a book, but is perhaps best-known for being the high priest of the Church of Hatsune Miku.

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