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Shin Megami Tensei 5’s exploration is the RPG’s secret weapon

After a little over a week with Atlus’s new role-playing game Shin Megami Tensei 5, it’s clear to me that the team behind it stepped up everything that I expect from the series. The character models are gorgeous, the story is louder and more intriguing than ever, the battles are fun and retain their challengingly-strategic nature, and the various pieces of demon lore have been expanded upon. But two surprising things that stand out to me are the movement and exploration of the game.

Shin Megami Tensei V - Official Bethel Trailer

In fact, I’ve found myself more delighted with exploring the world of SMT 5 than any other installment because of the philosophy behind the way you move, how you interact with your surroundings, and all the little nuances that Atlus snuck into the game.

Moving right along

The movement options of the game are actually nothing special on paper. There’s a run button that gets the main character, the Nahbino, pulling a Naruto and sprinting with their hands behind their back. For the first time in mainline SMT, there is a jump button that presents the player with lite-platforming moments, similar to those in Kingdom Hearts. That probably doesn’t sound impressive, but they really make things pop when you get in the game.

Shin Megami Tensei 5 takes place in a ruinous world covered in sand, almost enough to give Dune a run for its money. Toppled buildings, totaled cars, and soda machines are scattered throughout the desert. You’ll explore the world as you travel and discover more throughout the game. I found that there’s so much chemistry between the way you can move and the world that surrounds you that I noticed myself getting immersed and enjoying exploring more than I do in most RPGs.

In other games of the genre, exploration can come off as an end to a means, but in SMT 5 it truly feels like you’re discovering a new world. It’s really amazing what a simple bit of platforming and small nuances can bring to a game like this. At one point, I noticed a giant demon flying around the skies of the Netherworld and thought to myself, “I wonder if I can get a better view of what that thing is.” I went to the nearest knocked-over building and made my way up, climbing rooftops like they were a giant set of stairs. Lo and behold, I came face to face with the creature for a split second before it flew off into another direction. I even could see where it landed in anticipation for a future boss battle. There are so many moments I’ve encountered like that, which makes it feel special so far.

Shin Megami Tensei 5's protagonist sliding down a hill of sand.

Early on, a few friends and I felt genuine joy over trailers showing the Nahbino sliding down hills of sand. What’s even more exciting is how this becomes another factor that further immerses me into the world. Imagine running from a giant boss battle that you want to come back to later and suddenly seeing the Nahbino sliding down a hill of sand. There are so many little specks of extra detail and fun that make the game feel like a cinematic anime experience. When I have those emergent moments that almost feel like they’re meant to be there, I know that something is really pulling me into the game.

Another thing that adds to the exploration of SMT 5 is how lively everything feels. The open world of the game operates in a sort of real-time way. As in Final Fantasy 7 Remake and another great recent JRPG, Tales of Arise, enemies show up on the overworld and you can encounter them and avoid them as you please. Once you defeat one enemy you return from the turn-based transition and every other enemy that was present is still there. Just seeing all these demons walking around this world and filling it with life further push the immersion bar for me — not to mention the added joy of watching them actively running away as I leveled up.

Shin Megami Tensei 5's protagonist talking with a demon.

There aren’t only standard demons walking around the sandy wasteland; there are monsters you can casually chat with, others that may ask for help with personality-filled side-quests, and some that are so big that you’ll want to avoid them as long as possible. It doesn’t feel like I’m walking through this world alone. These demons talk as though they’re inhabiting this world with me. Each of them has a different motive whether it’s to protect their friends, simply find food, claim their territory, or kill me. It takes things to the next level from past titles in the series and I can’t get enough of it.

Shin Megami Tensei V has so much going for it that it’s obvious to me that Atlus really pushed to make its original flagship series a top dog again. The world it created shows how much the company has grown and learned from installments in both its SMT and Persona series and makes me even more excited for what they may deliver in the future. When you finally get your hands on SMT 5, be sure to take a break from battles and demon recruitment every once in a while and stop and smell the roses — I mean the sand.

Shin Megami Tensei V launches on November 11 for Nintendo Switch.

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