Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance Review

The original Shin Megami Tensei V was an RPG I enjoyed a lot despite its shortcomings. It's somewhat of a lopsided game, putting heavy emphasis on turn-based battle & progression mechanics and less on character writing or storytelling. In ways, it's also a very different sort of game than anything Atlus has made before (or since), even among the varied Shin Megami Tensei series itself. While SMT has roots in dungeon crawling, its fifth mainline entry moved in a different direction instead, opting for open-zone exploration gameplay. I praised the game for its rock-solid press-turn combat and ambition, despite growing pains for its new direction.

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance, then, is an opportunity to iron out some of those sore spots. Not only is there a brand new route to the game, offering an alternate take on the main story of Shin Megami Tensei V, but many adjustments and additions have been made globally, improving the experience as a whole regardless of which route in the game you decide to take.

Right at the very beginning of the game, you'll be given the option to choose between the original storyline, called Canon of Creation, or the new storyline, called Canon of Vengeance. The game is explicit here, and it'll ask if you are sure of your decision, so there's no ambiguity about which route you are playing.

As far as narrative, dialogue, and characters go, Canon of Creation is practically the same as it was. I'm going to be honest, a lot of my discussion in my lengthy original review still holds valid for this new re-release, at least as far as Canon of Creation goes. For now, it would not be very useful to revisit components like the game's combat system, which more-or-less functions the same as it did before. Instead, this review will focus on components new to Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance, both global adjustments and the new Canon of Vengeance route. 

First, I'll talk about adjustments new to the game, regardless of which route you decide to play.

There are several additions made to Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance that returning players should begin to notice relatively quickly upon starting a new game. For one, you can save anywhere, not just at leylines. There are numerous new demons, some new quests, new mechanics, and other small adjustments throughout. It's still a game over if your MC falls in battle, though.

Of all the new global adjustments made to Shin Megami Tensei V, probably the most immediately functional addition is that of the new Magatsuhi Rails. Throughout each of the explorable zones in Da'at, you can find rail spots. Sometimes, these rails lead to small new areas within each zone, sometimes offering new treasures, demons, or quests that weren't in the original game. But more importantly, several rail spots have been added acting as shortcuts to make re-traversal a bit easier for each zone. Remember all those areas in Chiyoda where you have to run around 'the long way' to get to the other side of a cliff or canyon? Many of those locations now have a rail you can find so you can easily cross from one side to the other upon revisits. These rails relieve a considerable chunk of the backtracking tedium, simply making it a bit easier to get around.

Another significant new mechanic in the game is the Demon Haunt. Basically, you can hang out with your demons at any leyline. Speaking with your demons and giving them gifts can raise their stats. This is easily the addition I'm most lukewarm about, as you'll constantly get notifications about demons wanting to chat with you, and it ends up being more annoying than helpful or interesting. There's some amusing quirkiness among the demon dialogue itself, but the Demon Haunt implementation is tedious, as setting aside time to initiate conversations with your numerous demons gets old very fast, and it ends up feeling like a chore. However, you are leaving some stats on the table if you ignore doing these. The chats that you can have with Aogami and human characters are more compelling from a narrative perspective, but this whole system is closer to a net negative than a net positive to me, anyway.

There are numerous new quests, even in the original Canon of Creation route. These quests come in all sorts of varieties, including new boss encounters, collecting items on the map, getting a certain demon in your party, and more. One of the new quest types involves you taking control of a demon for a short period of time to initiate some dialogue with other demons. This is a minor criticism, because there are not many of these, but these types of quests did nothing for me, as you essentially just follow a linear path to the end without much actual input from the player.

There are plenty of other smaller additions too, including a 'sky view' to let you see your location from a birds-eye perspective, a virtual trainer boss-rush mode, adjustments to demon negotiations, and quite a bit more. There are also new combination attacks you can do with certain groups of demons in your party, but throughout my 100+ hours with the game across numerous playthroughs, I never bothered with these at all. 

For the most part, every mechanical adjustment made to Shin Megami Tensei V is an appreciated one, Demon Haunts aside. Personally, as someone who enjoys SMTV primarily for its combat, the parts of the game I enjoyed most are the numerous boss-type encounters. There are now a few more of these, including a few new high-level super-bosses, that really test your battle preparation and party configurations. More quests, more demons, improved exploration, and a better-performing game on PC make Canon of Creation better than it was before, even if it is fundamentally unchanged.

However, there are a couple of small missed opportunities that I felt could been touched on in this re-release, but were not. I wish the Temple of Eternity and the final area were more interesting than they ended up being, but they work the same as before. I wish those element block items would be more limited or more expensive, because they can trivialize some boss encounters despite being extremely affordable, which is a strange element regarding game balance. 

Now, let's discuss the Canon of Vengeance route new to Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance. As I said before, you opt into this at the very beginning of the game. 

I think it is best to consider Canon of Vengeance as an alternate take on Shin Megami Tensei V, rather than a fundamental shake-up to what was already there. It's not inherently an entirely different game than the original version of Canon of Creation, and you'll spend most of your playtime playing through the game the same way you would otherwise. Three of the four zones are the same as in Canon of Creation, although with some slight alterations here and there. I guess what I'm trying to say is, don't expect Canon of Vengeance to turn SMTV on its head or anything like that, it just ... rotates it a bit. If you've already put a lot of time into the original game, Canon of Vengeance does retread a lot of the same ground as the original. There are definite differences, but don't expect it to feel like a brand-new game.

Those who felt Canon of Creation had thin characters have something to look forward to here. Almost every named character in Shin Megami Tensei V gets a little more fleshing out in Canon of Vengeance - including Yuzuru, Ichiro, Tao, and Miyazu. Somewhat unexpectedly, perhaps, I feel like the existing character that benefits most from this new route is actually Yakumo, the katana-wielding demon hunter who aligns himself with the demon Nuwa. Much like Canon of Vengeance itself, none of these characters are fundamentally different than they were in Canon of Creation, but each just gets a little bit more time to intersect with the main story, more interaction with each other, and offer just a bit more than they did before. The Bethel Egypt questline with Khonsu and Miyazu is actually tied into the main narrative of Canon of Vengeance to some degree, instead of being a completely optional side-story as it was in Canon of Creation, although it progresses a little differently between the two routes.

Yoko is, of course, the newly added character for Canon of Vengeance, and is unsurprisingly a major player for the new storyline. If I had to boil down where Canon of Vengeance is most functionally different from Canon of Creation from a character perspective, it's how Tao and Yoko will tag along with your main character for a majority of the route's runtime. Without spoiling any major new story beats on this route, Tao and Yoko effectively work as a shoulder angel and shoulder devil, commenting on some of the decisions you make and asking for your opinion on occasion. In this way, while I previously said characters in Canon of Creation feel like Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne in my original review, instead, Canon of Vengeance feels a little more like Shin Megami Tensei IV, as Tao and Yoko offer continual reinforcement for their own personal philosophies.

Canon of Vengeance has one new zone and one new dungeon, effectively taking place as substitutes for one of the zones and one of the dungeons in Canon of Creation, such that the game flow is relatively similar between the two routes. The new zone, Shinjuku, is where a lot of the new story beats in Canon of Vengeance start to take form, and things are a little bit more dramatic and explicit than in Canon of Creation. The new dungeon, Shakan, is somewhat similar to the Demon King Castle that it replaces on this route, but it uses a room-turning puzzle instead of air gust platforming. Boil it down to the fundamentals, though, and exploring Shinjuku is essentially no different than how you would approach any other location in the game.

Narratively, I still have some significant criticisms about how Canon of Vengeance approaches its world-altering end-game scenarios. I can't be too specific here without spoiling, but I wish Yoko's overall philosophy and reasons were a little more convincing or well-established than they actually end up being. Instead, I didn't really latch onto the ending polychotomy, similar to how I felt about the original game.

It goes without saying that playing the game on PC instead of Nintendo Switch alleviates almost all of the performance issues I took with the original game. High-end PCs will easily be able to hit 60 FPS or more at 4K. Despite much-improved performance, I still wish menus were just a bit snappier than they are, but this is a minor nitpick.

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance makes a litany of adjustments and additions to improve an RPG that I was already quite fond of. It doesn't fundamentally change what Shin Megami Tensei V is, and those disappointed in the direction Atlus took with the original game may not be swayed by this new version either, but Vengeance gives Shin Megami V the revamp it deserves.

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