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Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance Hands-On Preview

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance's party on the road.

Rejoice, Shin Megami Tensei fans. If you were slightly disappointed with the original Shin Megami Tensei V, it’s likely that Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance might wash that bad taste out of your mouth. I enjoyed the original SMTV but always knew something was missing compared to previous entries in the series. The gameplay, as always, was on point, but the story really suffered, especially since the quintessential part of SMT’s storytelling— its alignment system—felt tacked on, which led to a lackluster story where your choices don’t matter. Characters that often have good reasons to align themselves with Law or Chaos apparently existed only to continue an SMT tradition instead of fleshing out why they went down those paths. Narrative was not a strong point. However, SMTV: Vengeance rectifies this mistake with new story beats and characters and fleshes out the original’s characters.

Thanks to the lovely folks at Atlus, I had the opportunity to try SMTV: Vengeance. As a huge SMT fan, I was extremely excited to get my hands on the game, even for a short time. Both sections took place during the new Canon of Vengeance storyline, which is the focus of this preview. The first part covers the new school sections of the game and Yoko Hiromine, the new character and mainstay during this storyline. The second section we got to play was one of the new explorable areas, Da’at Shinjuku.

Schooltime with Yoko

So, for the first part, we were dropped off right inside the Diet Building from the first game, right after the boss battle with Nuwa. Despite being a new storyline, the game’s first section may play out similarly to the original story and have you explore Da’at Minato first. The apparent difference, however, is that Yoko, the new character, joins you for this exploration. As the trailers show, she is a playable character who acts like any other demon in battle, with strengths, weaknesses, and various abilities. There are many new combat and gameplay changes, which I will go over later, but for this section, it was hard to access them without wasting time, so I held off until the later exploration section. I don’t want to dip into spoilers in this preview, but there were noticeable story changes, and the characters converse about demons that have been turned to salt. So, not immediately, but pretty shortly, the story will differ from the original.

We then return to Tokyo’s Bethel branch and encounter everything like the original story. The noticeable difference here is Yoko. Much like Tao, she is considered a Saint, but she goes to Saint Marina’s Academy and not Jounin like the rest of the cast. She agrees to help the Bethel branch but is incredibly suspicious, and rightly so. In Vengeance, you can explore Tokyo, but you must go to school like before. However, in a clear gameplay diversion from the previous game, there are now quests both in Tokyo and school. Some of these are time-limited quests, meaning you must complete them within a timeframe. For example, I took a quiz about demons from someone on the street and had to get three questions correctly to finish. Another quest was from Miyazu, who wanted me to find someone to explain her weird dreams. It’s clear the developers put more time into this part of Vengeance, which was incredibly lackluster and just straight-up inconsequential in the original.

Another noticeable change is that the dorm room now has an Amala Drum with some nice features. First, you can teleport from school to any previous area of the game to grind or explore things you may have missed. It also has challenge battles via a Virtual Trainer. These battles allow you to undertake brutal fights, and I don’t want to spoil who I fought in the Trainer, but to put it plainly, the game warns you that you can game over in these fights, and game over I did. I severely underestimated our setup with the save file we were playing from. Still, I laughed because getting game overs is just part of the Shin Megami Tensei experience, even if by accident. It’s not just brutal fights in this Virtual Trainer, either. Some challenges include using only demons of certain races, such as Vile or Raptor. So, there is plenty of fun to be had with this little device throughout the game.

Vengeance continues much like the original and even has the section about Sahori getting bullied and the rooftop talk with Tao about it. The difference here is Yoko, who has transferred to your school and is involved in that conversation. She notes that Sahori isn’t looking for help; she is looking for revenge. So clearly, Yoko will be the driving force for this new storyline. This section ends in a boss battle with one of the Qadištu, the new villains in SMTVV. We faced off against Na’amah, the blond-haired lady, and her servant Glasya-Labolas. I won’t go into weakness or strategy for this or any other boss fight I did because that wouldn’t be fun for players when they get the game, but I will say it wasn’t nearly as difficult as the challenge battle from earlier.

Exploring Da’at Shinjuku

In this section, we were thrown a bit further into the game and given the ability to fully explore one of the new sections of Da’at, Shinjuku. It is a big, white, crystal-like place dotted with orange trees among many valleys and hills. Tao and Yoko joined the protagonist, serving as party members. Strangely, Tao was not in her demon form from the original story and had a few changes to her skill set, such as lacking Light of Order. To make up for this change, there are now consistent, passive innate skills for all demons. They occupy their own section of the skill list and aren’t included in the skill selection during fusion. To give you an idea of these passive innates, Yoko has the ability Alms of Uprising, which allows her to revive demons in the stock after the battle. Tao, on the other hand, has an innate that allows demons to recover ailments when returned to the stock. I can see innate passives being a significant deciding factor for picking demons in this version.

Speaking of demons, there were many new demons to take stock of. From my notes and off the top of my head, I ran into Peallaidh, Turbo Granny, Hare of Inaba, Kinmamon, Zhu Tun She, Tzitzimitl, Senri, Cherubim, and Gogmagog, to name a few. There are many more I didn’t see or don’t remember, but it’s safe to say there are several. Also, many were only summonable in the last game but are now on-field enemies and bosses like the giant Mara I ran into. Returning demons also got many new abilities, such as Jack-o-Latern’s new Jack Agilao unique ability.

The other significant change is that demons you control now will want to converse with you after leveling, defeating bosses, or completing side quests. At the new Demon Haunt, accessible from save points, you can talk to the demons, characters like Tao and Yoko, and even Aogami himself. Doing this earns you additional stat points for demons. When speaking to Aogami via the bench in this area, you get three additional stat points to add to Nahobino as you see fit. It’s clear that Atlus has added a lot of new content here.

As for exploration, there is now a sky view map in addition to the standard map, which allows you to see the surrounding areas in three dimensions, making it easier to get around. There are also new map symbols, such as ones showing where new Aogami essences are. Fancy new sky rails allow you to swiftly return to previous areas or move forward without having to navigate the terrain again. Abscesses no longer cloud the map until you clear them. Instead, the map is visible as long as you explore that section. So, lots of much-needed quality of life changes. It makes the original game’s enjoyable exploration gameplay even better.

Now for combat changes. The base game’s battle system is intact, and honestly, that’s great because combat was superb in the original game. It also makes sense since the original game is included in Vengeance, and it would not make sense to play the original and then play the new portion with a total change in combat. I can say that I noticed many spruced-up animations. Tao and Yoko have some awesome animations, such as Yoko’s little finger flick in her normal attack. Nahobino has some new attacks, such as Inflaming Divinity, which is essentially Heat Riser in that it gives all buffs to one ally for three turns. And yes, if you are curious, buffs and debuffs are still on turn limits here, as they were in SMTV.

The most stand-out aspect of combat is the inclusion of new horde fights. Similar to — but not exactly like Shin Megami Tensei IV — these are fights against hordes of the same demon. One such fight had me fight one Power, and then after defeating him, two more showed up, then three, and finally four, all in one battle. It adds some new challenges to combat. So passive skills, new attacks and animations, and horde fights are the most notable things you can expect from combat in Vengeance.

I can’t go into which boss fight was at the end of this section, but I look forward to this fight again when the game comes out. While I can’t say for sure that Vengeance will rectify all the issues with SMTV‘s lackluster story, I walked away from my demo time very impressed with all the changes to the game. Also, by playing on the PS5 instead of the Switch, the framerate and visual fidelity were noticeably better, which made me excited. The original game was already a great-looking Switch game, but it suffered on the system as many games do. Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance was already a day-one purchase for me, and now even more so. Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance arrives on June 14th, 2024, for all platforms. Learn more and get links to pre-order on all platforms on the game’s official website.

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Scott Clay

Scott Clay

Scott streams games for our Twitch channel almost every night! He enjoys playing games on stupid hard difficulties, creating unnecessary challenges for games that don't need them, speedrunning and telling everyone why Lunar 2 is the best RPG ever made. You should stay awhile and listen!