Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revenge is attractive and tedious

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World Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revenge can be an unforgiving place.

Tokyo is besieged by demons of all stripes. The throne of heaven sits hushed and empty. An extradimensional civil war threatens to tear reality apart. And to add insult to injury, Mothman is waiting to shake you down for cash in a random battle, leaving you with no choice but to dish out thousands of bucks and sneak away with your tail between your legs, despite fielding a team of literal gods because you still can’t you’re recovering from bad choices you made in a previous fight and you don’t want to lose half an hour of progress by going back to an earlier save.

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Unlike e.g. Shin Megami Tensei 4: Apocalypsemy relationship with Shin Megami Tensei 4 for Nintendo 3DS, Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revenge acts more as an extension than a sequel to the 2021 original. Going from a Switch exclusive to releasing the game simultaneously on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Windows PC means that the game looks great and runs much better on these more powerful platforms. More importantly, it also includes several quality-of-life features, as well as a redesigned narrative with fresh characters and story beats. But don’t worry if you missed it Shin Megami Tensei 5 the first time you can choose between the base and updated storylines at the beginning of the game.

Photo: Atlus/Sega via Polygon

Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revenge, at least on paper, stands out even from the series’ best entries thanks to its combination of addictive gameplay and stylish aesthetics. Any battle that is built around exploiting your enemies’ elemental weaknesses to gain more turns to deal damage, heal health, and influence status is built on the layered strategy of a chess match. Megami Tensei is unlike any of the contemporary players in the genre, as it features a more invigorating combat rhythm Shin Megami Tensei 5 and now, Revenge thanks to the introduction of a special Street Fighter-like meter used to activate techniques ranging from guaranteeing critical damage to improving all of your team’s stats for a constrained time.

Exploration in Revenge it is also much easier compared to the original Shin Megami Tensei 5. Allowing players to save progress anywhere, rather than just at designated checkpoints, and using shortcuts to bypass repeated trips through hard areas means there are fewer opportunities for grueling game skips. That doesn’t mean there’s no danger, of course: every battle, from boss encounters to terrifying random fights with Mothman and his cronies, carries the same weight. Just one wrong move and your entire turn will disappear and your enemies will have a free hand to attack you with their strongest attacks. Still, you’ll rarely lose much progress after being sent back to the title screen bloody and bruised if you take advantage of the game’s various quality-of-life adjustments.

Unfortunately, such useful safety nets only exacerbate my deepest criticisms elsewhere. Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revenge is so fun and user-friendly that, combined with the paper-thin and featherlight narrative, even during the most earnest moments of the story it is often basic to overlook or even completely forget about the grim qualities that the game should inherit from its predecessors. They like the heavyweights from the Megami Tensei franchise Nocturne, A strange journey, and the Digital Devil Saga duology balanced engaging combat and attractive graphics with an overwhelming atmosphere that gave overwhelming weight to their almost Lovecraftian stories. Successfully giving this weight isn’t just about difficulty, even though Megami Tensei games are known for their brutal and grueling campaigns.

A character from Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance with black angel wings, a golden halo and a mask floats in the foreground, facing the viewer.  In the background, a vast view of the city skyline

Photo: Atlus/Sega via Polygon

Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revenge rarely treats the inherent horror of looking at age-old, supernatural forces that exist beyond the realm of human consciousness with the seriousness that the premise deserves, whether through the gameplay or in its dual plots. To put it simply, the abyss flashes. Important characters die and are resurrected without so much as a double take from the largely emotionless cast. Revelations that shake one’s worldview don’t have much room to resonate before the player is sent on another mission. Instead of being characters that evolve naturally over the course of the story, both allies and enemies deliver surprising monologues with all the passion of middle school.

While the trend in RPGs like Final Fantasy that culminates in climactic “kill the god” moments is often joked about, the all-caps Christian God is very real (and often very pissed off) in the Megami Tensei mythos, existing alongside a cornucopia deity, ghosts and other supernatural beings from almost every real world religion and culture around the world. No matter your belief system, there is a substantial difference between facing… magician with clown makeup elevated to artificial godhood and attempting to erase the literal creator of all things from existence, but Megami Tensei operated on that level Vince McMahon-style hubris for nearly four decades. It’s because of this pedigree Revengeno possibility of lifting Shin Megami Tensei 5The narrative shortcomings that elevated everything else in the original feel like a disappointment.

Three characters from Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance turn away from the viewer and draw weapons.  A monster in a grinning dragon mask stands towards them (and the viewer).

Photo: Atlus/Sega via Polygon

I’m also excited about the addition of the fresh Demon Haunting feature, which gives players the opportunity to spend time with the ghouls and spirits currently on their party. You can talk to them and even give them gifts, and they will reward you with basic items and a marginal stat boost. Such entertainment would feel right at home in Pokémon, where you’re encouraged to become attached to your favorite pocket monsters, but here it proves confusing. You shouldn’t get too attached to the monsters in this game because you won’t see them for a long time, at least if you want to make progress against the late-game bosses. As a result Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revengeleisurely experience gain and constrained movepools, you must treat your allies as fodder to team up with bigger, stronger demons, otherwise you run the risk of being beaten profusely. Let’s face it: the utility of a cute Jack Frost brand mascot pales in comparison to a late-game powerhouse like Mary, the literal mother of Jesus Christ. After the first few hours, I learned to ignore the Demon Haunt system Revenge and I didn’t feel like I missed anything critical.

Like many others, I used to describe the Megami Tensei series as “Pokémon for adults,” but I no longer believe that shorthand is completely right. Megami Tensei is a Pokémon for the ruthless, able to exchange compassion and attachment for the chilly reality of spiritual combat. Shin Megami Tensei 5: RevengeHowever, the “save anywhere” feature, global shortcuts, and shallow plot make the experience too frictionless and therefore flat. The moment-to-moment gameplay can still be as satisfying as any previous Megami Tensei game as it strikes a exquisite balance between fresh and aged mechanics, but Revengethe overall lack of texture fails to live up to the critical narrative themes of struggle, loss, sacrifice and rebirth that the series has established over the last 40 years.

Shin Megami Tensei 5: Revenge will be released on June 14 for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 5 using a pre-download code provided by Atlus. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions on products purchased through affiliate links. You can find Additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy can be found here.

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