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Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance review: One of the best RPGs just got even better

SMT5 Vengeance cover art
Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance
MSRP $59.99
“Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance makes one of the best open-world RPGs around even better.”
Pros
  • New story path is excellent
  • Meaningful gameplay additions
  • Great quality-of-life features
  • Improved performance
Cons
  • Demon recruiting is still a pain

When Shin Megami Tensei returned to Nintendo Switch in 2021, fans of the RPG franchise had a lot of reasons to celebrate. Shin Megami Tensei V was the first game in the series to feature an open world, and developer Atlus pulled it off with panache. It felt like a natural transition given that the previous entries were purely segmented with dungeons and maps. It was the kind of success story that was begging for a good victory lap.

Now, Atlus is taking its rightful double dip with an enhanced port of the game, Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance. The new version comes complete with new gameplay features, story content, and quality-of-life improvements. That’s great news, because as great as the original Shin Megami Tensei V is, it has two critical flaws: its skeletal story and subpar performance on Switch. The RPG’s intricate and thoughtful turn-based battle system, gorgeous art direction, and moody atmosphere were able to fill in the meat between the bones, but there was room to improve.

Thankfully, Vengeance addresses the original’s issues to create a stronger package. The newly introduced story path is much more coherent, and its supporting cast plays a more active role in it. Best of all is that even though Vengeance is available on Switch, it’s no longer tied exclusively to that platform. Your performance may vary depending on where you play it, but a move to PC, PlayStation, and Xbox finally unlocks its power. Shin Megami Tensei V was already one of the best open-world JRPGs out there, and Vengeance makes it even better.

A new timeline

In Vengeance, players are able to choose between two story paths: the Canon of Creation or the Canon of Vengeance. The former is the one found in the original game, and the latter is a completely new one. The biggest issue with the original Canon of Creation storyline is how uninvolved many of the supporting cast of characters felt in the plot. Much like previous games in the series, the main character, Nahobino, is on a quest in a post-apocalyptic hellscape to reshape the world in their image.

SMTV Vengeance new characters
Atlus

The supporting characters usually only make their most impactful appearances toward the last hours of the storyline, where depending on which decision you pick, you get different endings. The newly added Canon of Vengeance has a reworked story that feels much more like a streamlined RPG narrative you’d typically experience. The Canon of Creation’s story never felt like it went anywhere, and character motivations here were vague. That’s not the case here.

The new villain faction introduced in the Canon of Vengeance, the Qadistu, are a more coherent antagonistic force to go up against. The supporting cast is much more involved this time around, and their motivations are clearer, making the new storyline easier to get invested in.

The Canon of Vengeance also has an entirely new explorable region, Shinjuku. This one replaces the third region, Chiyoda, from the Canon of Creation. Since most of the game takes place in a reddish desert setting, I really appreciated Shinjuku’s drastic shift in aesthetic with its white sand instead, almost making it look like snow. Interchanging Shinjuku and Chiyoda between both story paths adds a layer of replayability, especially for those who’ve already made their way through the original release. It’s a supersized RPG package now.

This old dog has new tricks

Vengeance’s turn-based gameplay doesn’t bring any huge overhaul from the original system. Those who’ve played its sister series Persona will feel right at home. You strike enemy weaknesses in order to gain extra turns, giving the battle system a puzzle-like rhythm. Players new to the series will find it much more difficult and unforgiving than Persona, however. The Shin Megami Tensei series really emphasizes party composition. Trying to find the perfect party of three additional demons to help take down an overwhelming boss is as satisfying as overcoming a boss in a Souls game. Thankfully, there are difficulty settings that can be adjusted at any point.

The biggest change to the gameplay system is the inclusion of human party members. Not only are there new demons to fight and collect, but the supporting cast of characters can also fight alongside Nahobino in battle in the Canon of Vengeance storyline. Here, Vengeance borrows a bit from Persona to take the extra mile in making the supporting cast feel even more involved.

Human allies in SMTV Vengeance
Atlus

There are smaller changes to the battle system that really add up. Allied demons now have innate special abilities, similar to the Pokémon series. For example, one demon’s ability applies a passive damage boost to the party’s fire elemental attacks. New Magatsuhi Skills, which function like ultimate attacks when a meter is filled, are added too. Some can only be used with a certain combination of demons in your party. These two additions alone radically open up how I think about party synergy. Do I want to take advantage of these shiny new Magatsuhi skills, or maximize my damage output for one element?

One way to acquire new demon allies is through demon negotiation, where you talk to monsters during battle and pick dialogue choices to try to get them to join you. There’s been some improvements there, including adding a fun little minigame where the demon will ask you to guess the silhouette of another demon. By guessing correctly, they’ll automatically join you. Small moments like that freshen up a familiar RPG just enough.

Vengeance is well worth coming back for …

There’s a new consumable item called a Gold Card. If a demon asks you to give up some money, items, or HP in order to join you, you can use Gold Cards to counteroffer and they’ll join automatically instead. While these are some welcome additions, negotiation still largely remains annoyingly luck-based, as choosing the wrong dialogue option could still cause the enemy to attack you or run away. Moments like that keep Vengeance humble — there’s always room to keep improving.

But wait, there’s more!

The incremental gameplay changes are astronomical, but the quality-of-life upgrades are key here too. For starters, you can now save your game anywhere on the map instead of having to trek all the way back to a save point. Additionally, the new Magatsu Rails scattered across the open-world maps let you zip around different points, making exploration much faster. Quest destinations can now be seen on the map, and it’s color-coded to help easily distinguish between height elevation.

Magatsu Rail in SMTV Vengeance
Atlus

I always found Shin Megami Tensei V’s open world to be as impressive as ones found in its contemporaries like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Final Fantasy VII Rebirth. Even though humanity was vanquished and demons took their place, it still felt lively with NPCs. The ruined buildings and cliffs offer so much variety and height elevation. All of these new quality-of-life changes to the open world make traversing it a smoother experience.

Since Vengeance is on all platforms, more powerful systems alleviate performance issues found in the original release on Switch where it suffered from long load times and stuttering frame rates. There were also pop-in and draw distance problems in the open world where sometimes demons could appear in front of you at any moment. This was especially annoying if you were trying to avoid battles. The PlayStation 5 version, which I tested, has none of those issues. Load times are shorter with very few, if at all, performance slowdowns or frame rate drops.

Shin Megami Tensei V was already an incredibly solid open-world RPG in 2021, and the new Vengeance version is well worth coming back for so much so that it makes the original completely obsolete. The Canon of Vengeance storyline alone would be enough, but the gameplay and quality-of-life adjustments might make Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance perhaps the best entry in the series so far.

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance was tested on PlayStation 5.

George Yang
George Yang is a freelance games writer for Digital Trends. He has written for places such as IGN, GameSpot, The Washington…
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