Shin Megami Tensei 5 Vengeance Review

SMT5 Vengeance box art header

Shin Megami Tensei 5 Vengeance asks a very simple, but poignant question: what if the world had ended, and we didn’t even realise? From the Mayans to Nostradamus, many soothsayers have predicted the end times over the years, and while we laughed, we moved on…. what if they were right? What if God had plucked us from existence and let us live on in a parallel world while war rages in the real world? A war started the Christian God who took the throne at the top of the pantheon by turning His brethren into demons by taking their Knowledge.

The snake that tempted Adam and Eve? A demon trying to regain godhood by regaining its Knowledge. The end of the world? Legions of demons dethroning the God of Law who usurped the throne millennia ago.

For such an interesting narrative, Shin Megami Tensei 5 — and its new, definitive edition, Vengeance — has a paper thin plot that you really have to work to unlock. It’s always going to be difficult not to compare the SMT franchise to its spin off series, Persona, in part because of the shared pantheon and battle systems, but when the Persona franchise drips panache and charm at every turn, newcomers to SMT are going to come with extremely high hopes and standards.

While SMT5V is very good, long-time Persona fans should temper their expectations.

Initially a Switch exclusive when it launched in 2021, this fifth instalment in the franchise was well received for its interesting battle systems, excellent music, overall wit and charm. Even its graphics were heralded, as long as you didn’t look too far into the distance.

SMT5 Vengeance da'at

The core gameplay for the multi-platform Vengeance is much the same — you’re very swiftly swept into Da’at (a post-apocalyptic Tokyo), and forced to fight to survive. The gameplay, even on Casual mode, can be punishing, meaning that you need to start expanding your party by charming demons with your silver tongue, and grinding all of the XP you can out of lower-level demons. It takes a solid ten hours to fight your way back to the real world for the first meaningful, albeit short-lived, dose of the plot.

Vengeance is the definitive edition of the game, adding an entirely new storyline that runs in parallel. While the original did give you choices, they boiled down to basically ‘say yes’ or ‘gloomily say yes’; there was no meaningful difference to your decision. Vengeance offers you an actual choice from the start: do you chose the Path of Creation (the original story) or the all new Path of Vengeance?

SMT5 Vengeance dialogue

It’s a little jarring for newbies to be presented such a meaningful choice so early in the game, with no idea or context as to how this will shape things. Still, seasoned veterans of Da’at will likely enjoy knowing early on that they’re locked into the new experience that they will pick up the game to play.

Talking of the new stuff, the graphics have been overhauled, as is standard for Switch games being ported to anything more powerful (which is basically everything). The things that you should care about, like your demon army and the cast of named characters look great. However, many other NPCs exist as creepy, faceless creatures. There aren’t that many NPCs that adding a pair of eyes would break the PS5 hardware, so it must be a strange creative choice that Atlus has stuck with.

SMT5 Vengeance frost storm

Beyond that, there’s a couple of other new additions, from an expanded demon compendium to being able to save anywhere on the overworld map — a huge boon in such a difficult game where you could previously only save at specific checkpoints

The expanded compendium is always going to be a plus — the demons in this franchise have always been great fun, and talking to them is incredibly personable. Some are cute and meek, others are sweary brutes; each new encounter is an engaging conversation. Being able to talk to these demons in the overworld is also incredible, with friendly demons chatting to you or giving you quests. It all adds to the feeling of a lived in world, no matter how dark and unnerving the Tokyo wasteland has become.

SMT5 Vengeance combat

Auto battle is also a nice addition, allowing your team to auto-pilot their way through battles, using the right spells against enemies you know the weaknesses of, and testing the water with newer enemies by trying different spells and seeing what works.

Everything else remains the same — a brutally tough grind that, if you can get past the rougher edges, reveals a very well put-together RPG that hardcore fans will love.

Summary
Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is an excellent addition to the franchise that's a must-play for franchise fans, and well worth picking up for those curious about dipping their toes in the water. The difficulty level is still there, but it has become a lot more manageable thanks to quality of life updates. Just don’t be disappointed if you show up expecting Persona, as the narrative and story qualities of the latter is a world apart.
Good
  • A chance to play SMT5’s original story on better hardware
  • An all-new optional storyline
  • Loads of minor improvements to the game
Bad
  • Lacks the flair and panache of a Persona game
  • Graphical improvements could have gone further
  • Lacking narrative flow and pacing
8
Written by
Barely functional Pokémon Go player. Journalist. Hunter of Monster Hunter monsters. Drinks more coffee than Alan Wake.