Shin Megami Tensei V is back with a Vengeance - Preview

Shin Megami Tensei V was a flawed but fun modern take on the franchise, hampered by hardware constraints on Nintendo’s aging portable platform. It also didn’t help that the game concluded development during the peak of the COVID pandemic, which I’m sure caused the scope of the game to be impacted. But those are excuses, and the end result was contentious game that I happened to enjoy quite a lot. I was enthused to see that ATLUS was doing more than just porting it outright to modern consoles, as Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance will feature better performance, a whole new campaign, new music, and rebalanced combat.

ATLUS/SEGA gave us an opportunity to visit New York City to get a taste of the upcoming expanded release, and the experience exceeded my (admittedly high) expectations. I mean, I liked New York last time I visited, but have you ever been to Central Park in the spring? That’ll change your life. The perfect chaser to that was getting my hands on two hours of Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance. In both of our segments for this demo, we were allowed to experience the Canon of Vengeance route that will be exclusive to this new version. 

The first of these occured during one of the original game’s earliest arcs, relating to Lahmu and the bullied student Sahori Itsukishima. We see the protagonist leave Da’at for the first time with new character Yoko Hiromine joining you and Bethel Japan. I was able to play up until the moment of the original where your school is invaded by demons, and the small amount of changes seem promising. Most notable is Tao’s scene with you on the dorm rooftop about her friendship with Sahori, now interjected by the presence of Yoko telling her to take more direct and extreme action. Yoko seems like an injection of personality in a pretty docile original cast, and I hope she continues to be as entertaining as she came off in this demo. I adore her. Entirely new was a battle with one of the members of the new antagonistic force Qadištu.

The second half of the demo took place in the new Da’at of Shinjuku, featuring a bit of story entirely unseen in the previous version of the game. Tao and Yoko tag along as you initially explore this new area, and Angels continue to threaten your team for reasons unknown to your party. Yoko is inherently skeptical of them, and Tao has to come to terms with them. Later on in the demo, we got to see a bit more of a human side to the other cast members as they all come together to rescue Miyazu Atsuta, a character whose arc originally was confined exclusively to side content and felt separate from the rest of the story.

Our demo took place on the PS5, where we were treated to a 4K 60 FPS experience that almost hurt my eyes after 100 hours of playing the original exclusively on Switch. You can get used to unstable games when you’re as framerate-neutral as I am. That doesn’t make it any less unstable, of course, and I don’t fault anyone who couldn’t stomach it on Switch. It definitely should have been better optimized for the hardware, and I really hope they’re aiming to improve Vengeance on the Switch for its re-release, too. Having said all that, I don’t know if I can go back to 30 FPS without a strenuous adjustment period. The game runs incredibly on PS5, and the stylized 3D holds up immaculately at higher resolutions with lightning-fast load times. 

This is great when exploring the overworld in all its dangerous glory. I played the demo on the normal difficulty, and I felt it offered just as tense of an experience as it did before. With the option to save anywhere coming back from the SMTIV duology, I was a bit worried the game could end up a bit too easy. That worry isn’t entirely gone since I haven’t played the full thing, but I think that uncertain danger of those games has come back in the new content. They’re able to get a bit more devious with the challenge, like a segment where hunting down a single Power Angel for a quest became a chain battle where the amount of Powers increases substantially after every battle. It went from 1, to 2, to 3, to 5 all without breaks. This was a MSQ battle, but rounding a corner and being so unprepared and overwhelmed by a wave of enemies was exciting. Losing a few minutes of progress exploring a little district of the destroyed city because of this was also exciting in a way. 

Shinjuku has a more purple and blue color scheme with flowers breaking up the patches of desolate cities and sand, and was a treat to explore. A sand whirlpool was near where we started, pulling me into a fight with a massive Gogmagog that spent no time wiping out my entire party and sending me back to the title screen. I couldn’t help but grin at how mean it felt.  I’m hoping this new Da’at ends up being just as if not more expansive than the ones from the original game. I made a conscious decision in the second half of the demo to not explore too much to save some surprises for me when I get my hands on the full game, since I think Da’at exploration is where Shin Megami Tensei V shined the most. What I saw was promising, and I hope the new rail grinding mechanic to get access to new areas isn’t as restrictive as being just a way to find items.

Vengeance offers new moments of downtime for players, too, with the Protagonist’s (cutely called Prota Gonist) dorm room and Demon Haunts. The protag’s room doesn’t seem too customizable or important, but I really like it when RPGs give you time to just hang out by yourself. In the second half of our demo, there’s even a fun little scene where he and the main leads of the game, Ichiro Dazai and Yuzuru Atsuta, hang out and bond. It didn’t seem like groundbreaking characterization, but I appreciate the attempt to paint the cast as more human which will allow for more character drama in the later half of the game as the natural events of a Shin Megami Tensei game hit the cast like a freight train. 

But the humans aren’t the only ones getting more characterization, as you can also hang out with any of your currently summoned demons with Demon Haunts. When you hit a leyline you can go to a little area based on the Da’at you’re currently in. Here the protagonist splits from Aogami and can walk around at his leisure. You can rest on a bench and have talks with Aogami to discuss the events of the story, and after doing so I was given three extra skill points to apply to my character. Talking to demons can give them permanent stat buffs, new skills, and possibly more. If you’re at a point where human characters are in your party, they’ll be here to reflect on the events of the plot as well, which was fun. I do worry that these will give players a bit more of an edge on the game and make it too easy, but this is an entirely optional mode it seems so I’ll withhold my worries for now and hope for the best. While I was talking to the demons given to us for the demo, I also discovered a new Free Camera option that functions like a photo mode, that’ll be especially fun to play around with for those who appreciate those modes.

I wish there was more I could really say about the combat, but we were given such a small taste of it that there really wasn’t too much I could come away from but thinking “Wow, that’s sure more SMTV. I like SMT V a lot, I need this game immediately”. It’s snappier than ever to control thanks to the improved performance, which did actually cause issues with the original release having unresponsive menu navigation. 

I also need to gush about the music, which is somehow better than I remember it. Ryota Kozuka has been one of my favorite composers at ATLUS since Shin Megami Tensei IV, and his and Toshiki Konishi’s work on SMT V’s soundtrack is some of the best music I’ve heard in a game. The combo of guitar and electronic, with brilliant use of church bells is beyond iconic. There are 117 songs in that game, and I didn’t think there was even room for more. And yet there is, and all of the new music I’ve heard in both the field and battle is just outstanding. I ran into Mara out on the field, and was surprised to hear what could likely be a completely unique battle theme I didn’t hear with any other Punishing Foe. That’s right, Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance’s soundtrack likely has a unique Penis Music Song. Naamah’s fight in the first section of our demo had such a good boss theme that I just sat there for two minutes soaking it in. ATLUS games having good music is about as generic of a statement as water being wet, but they still manage to surprise me every time. With apparently 80% of the original score getting remixes as well, I can’t wait to hear more.

My favorite new addition is the inclusion of other demon summoners as guest party members, featured mainly in the second half of my session. These characters take slots in your party where you would typically put demons, and will join or leave your party based on the events of the plot. Tao specialized in healing and light magic, while Yoko was focused on damage dealing and dark magic. I also got to try out Yuzuru and Ichiro in the party, but I didn’t get to play enough to really see how they’ll be in battle. I adore this inclusion as a way to mix up battles, keep the active story cast engaging in demon battles, or possibly offer challenge runs for players on higher difficulties. It’s impossible to fully gauge how useful they will be or how often you’ll be able to include them in battles, but since they lack the customization of fusible demons they seem like they might be more restrictive. Since they’re fully optional, I find this to be just a great addition and I’m so excited to see them add more personality to the game for those who felt that was lacking. 

By the time I had finished my session and began to head home, I was left hungry in more ways than one. I was literally quite starved at the time, but as I slurped down my last bowl of NYC ramen before catching an Uber to the airport I couldn’t help but reflect back on the little taste of the massive and unknowable experience that would be Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance. I adore this series, so seeing this game brought back and seemingly responding to a lot of the criticism received is exciting. I have a soft spot for that original release, and find it to have a fascinating and lonely atmosphere. I’m glad that will be preserved in the Canon of Creation, which I’ll be looking forward to revisiting. While the Canon of Vengeance seems to have a greater focus on story and characters, I’m glad the creative team acknowledged the storytelling potential that the original game had and is leaning into a more character-driven experience.

I have played Shin Megami Tensei V a ridiculous number of times. During the launch period of the game, when no one knew how to unlock the “true” ending I did about four to five playthroughs. All I can do is be optimistic that Vengeance will be a success, and the two hours I played have left me pining for more. This is a world I loved losing myself in when I played it in 2021, and look forward to seeing how things are going to be shaken up with this new version. This plans to dominate my summer, and I’m pretty willing to give myself over to see what new it might have to offer this go around.