Shin Megami Tensei V: Revenge Review


Despite being a flagship franchise, Atlus has never shied away from taking risks and experimenting with Shin Megami Tensei. Even without including spin-offs like Persona and Devil Summoner, the “core” series has taken on fresh forms and reinvented itself over many decades and platforms. A perfect example was 2021’s Shin Megami Tensei V, which both respected its oppressive hardcore roots and embraced Atlus’ evolving audience and conventional developments in gaming as a whole. It only makes sense that in returning to such a recent title, Atlus did much more than just create a plain port with some bonuses. Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is aptly titled; it is an act of defiance against convention, criticism, and perhaps even one’s own reputation.

SMT V was a huge event for the series, making its HD debut after previously switching from PlayStation 2 to 3DS. It was an pioneering combination of post-apocalyptic doom and gloom with colorful superhero action. As “Nabohino”, a powerful combination of human and synthetic demon, players roamed the sand dunes of long-extinct Tokyo, fighting for control of the future in the wake of the war between Heaven and Hell. While some found the story lonely with a distinct lack of supporting characters, I found SMT’s recurring theme of a lone man fighting a hopeless battle in a world that has already lost more than ever in the middle of a pandemic to be more colorful than ever.

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On the surface, SMT V: Vengeance is a home run with no extra effort. The original game was a Switch exclusive, which meant it arrived with inevitable technical compromises. Vengeance is still on Switch, but its cross-platform debut means every inch of this world is available in full force. This game is both colorful and grim, juxtaposing multicultural religious imagery with post-apocalyptic destruction. Just being able to ride through the glistening sand dunes of Da’at (formerly Tokyo) without losing framerate is worth the price of admission.

But Vengeance is much more than just tweaks under the hood. Instead of being a sequel like SMT IV: Apocalypse or a pseudo spinoff like SMT: If, Vengeance offers a completely fresh campaign scenario. Almost the entire story was completely retold, using the original premise as a springboard for a script with fresh main characters, antagonists, and completely different endings. On top of that, there’s a huge amount of rework, with changes and adjustments ranging from quality-of-life improvements to completely fresh features. Vengeance is an almost entirely fresh game that treats the original as a sketch. “Almost” is the keyword here because you can also choose the original scenario at the beginning, so you can still experience the original story while enjoying the fresh features and customizations.

In many ways, the fresh scenario seems to be a direct response to the problems players had with SMT V the first time around. As a returning player and long-time fan of the series in general, I find this to be an odd setup with an impressive level of self-awareness. There are moments when the story seems to deviate from the original in a direct and audience-pleasing way, only to have the rug abruptly pulled out from under you, twisting the plot twist to make it even more unpleasant than before. While I disagreed with the criticism that led to the creation of this fresh campaign, it was great fun discovering a completely fresh story combined with my prior knowledge.

The fresh character was intriguing and added a lot to the script, and the addition of a returning cast undoubtedly added to the story. I found them a bit silly to play because using a team full of my own demons was always more productive anyway.

This remixed approach can be confusing for a novice. Fortunately, Vengeance takes this into account as well, and version selection is presented in-game in a virtually seamless manner. It just feels like another option in a game and series full of choices that impact where the narrative goes. No particular attention is paid to this, and it doesn’t feel like a clumsy attempt to replace or undermine the original. It’s just more SMT V to dive into, which for an already jam-packed RPG full of narrative agency and monster-collecting action, puts more food on the table for a feast. And it was quite a treat to start with.

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