4 reviews liked by zeroPraxis
that being said the game fuckin rules, always has ruled, always will rule
Shin Megami Tensei V
I had really high expectations for this entry and despite them being completely destroyed a couple of hours into the game, I still think the number of positive aspects outweigh the number of negative ones, making it a very enjoyable experience.
The first thing that rubbed me the wrong way was the seemingly unnecessary transition into open world which almost completely removed the dungeon crawling aspect the series was long known for. In fact, there are only two dungeons in the game that exist solely to drive the plot forward and nothing else. Their design is nothing to write home about and they feature a ridiculously small demon variety so you're not even encouraged to engage with them either for recruiting or grinding purposes.
I actually did enjoy the first dungeon a lot more than the second one specifically because of the wind traps and the way they're used to traverse the map. The second one was basically braindead with enemies literally lining up in order to prevent you from advancing further and making the player look for an alternate route.
What absolutely took me by surprise was the fact that I was actually enjoying the open world. Running around in this game feels great and finding your way around is like a rewarding challenge in itself.
Special shout-out to the mediocre world map because it made it very difficult to plot a course just by looking at it. This encouraged me to really look at the world around me and appreciate the interesting worldbuilding tidbits given to me by talking with the demons in each map. When I would eventually find out how to get where I wanted to be, it felt rewarding because there was seemingly no hand-helding involved and I managed to get valuable wordbuilding info and loot along the way.
At the end of the day, the open world implementation wasn't so bad because you're really going through the different maps in a very linear fashion. That is, until the very last map where this gets thrown out of the window and you're kind of left wondering which area you should explore first while getting high level demons thrown in your face no matter where you go. Fortunately, in this game you can avoid combat very easily because enemies are visible overworld and you can just dodge them 90% of the time.
Regarding the quests, there really isn't much to say about them: they're the typical open-world fetch quests except in this game they're given to you by really charismatic and well-written demons which believe it or not actually alleviate the issue by a long shot! Also there are some more important (but still minor) questlines that are a little more involving and are actually required in order to unlock the game's "true ending" or "secret ending", however you want to call it.
The combat is absolutely amazing, I'm going as far as to say it's the best in the mainline series yet. I feel like magic and strength builds are finally equally viable and the new items that can be used as skill backups were very much welcome additions as they allow you to save up some skill slots.
However, I feel like there were weird and unexpected difficulty spikes. For example, I didn't need to grind at all up until high level 50s because the bosses and side-quests were enough to keep me up to speed. However, as soon as I hit the last map it was like getting a wake-up slap because the enemies were suddenly much more higher level than me, forcing me to grind a bit more than usual. This felt very weird, not because I was not expecting to grind in some way in an JRPG, but because that's not the direction the game was going for until that point. It felt like some chunk of the game was removed at the last minute and they forgot to scale the levels appropriately.
The weird level progression is also noticeable in some way if you're going for the true ending. In that route you're required to fight a boss before the typical alignment lock that's stronger than the final boss itself taking all the challenge away from an otherwise interesting fight.
On another aspect, I particularly appreciated the more coherent art style compared to the previous game. This was something that was very jarring in SMT IV and, although it was improved upon in SMT IV:A, I feel like they finally reached a comfortable middle ground between the older Kaneko designs and the new ones by Doi. That's not to say I'm fond of the new designs, which I still feel do not possess the same direction, vision, impact, and recognizability of Kazuma's work, but they are respectable takes nonetheless. I did, however, like the character designs very much and feel like they had the necessary elements to stand out on their own while being recognizable as SMT characters from a glance. Also a side note but I absolutely love the way their eyes are drawn, it just screams SMT to me.
I feel like from an artistical standpoint, the series is trying to find its place in the gaming world: it doesn't want to be Persona, but it is trying to be more marketable than the older SMT entries, and I can absolutely respect that.
Another aspect in which this is pretty noticeable to me is the soundtrack. I feel like this time around it is pretty hit or miss. There are definitely some bangers here and there, but most of the time it kind of blends into the background and becomes a bit forgettable.
There are however some interesting sound design decisions. For example I was especially shocked when I went into the final boss and the music was barely there. Really, it was basically ambient noises. But then, I was so surprised when I went for the true ending and found out there was a pretty neat final boss track afterall!
It's pretty clear that the soundtrack was well thought out and produced in a very thematically appropriate way, and maybe that's why it's not as memorable as, say, Nocturne's: because it doesn't try to get all up in your face at all times.
Even though the soundtrack is by far not my favorite, I still find myself enjoying it, if anything because it's just so unique and no other game out there has this type of sound, to the best of my knowledge. I think this is where SMT shines: in distancing itself from the very much saturated JRPG market.
With this much effort put into the game's design, it was pretty disappointing to me that the story and its pacing were very neglected, to the point where I forced myself not to think about it too much as to not ruin the fun I was having with the game. Even though the lore is there and is actually interesting if you care enough to dig into it, the game fails to tell a compelling story with such rich ingredients. To be clear, I was not expecting a good story-driven game out of SMT — it's pretty obvious they save those talents for their Persona money printing machine. I just think even a minimalistic story can be told in a much more meaningful and laser focused way. They even did it before. I mean, look at Nocturne!
Overall, this is definitely a good game and I think it definitely lives up to the "SMT legacy". I'm hopeful the next iteration builds upon this one and I'm excited to see what comes next.