Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance Review – Misery Loves Company

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Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance Review – Misery Loves Company


Despite being a flagship franchise, Atlus has never shied away from taking risks and experimenting with Shin Megami Tensei. Even without taking spinoffs like Persona or Devil Summoner into consideration, the “core” series has taken new forms and reinvented itself over multiple decades and platforms. 2021’s Shin Megami Tensei V was a prime example, both respecting its oppressive, hardcore roots while embracing Atlus’ evolving audience and conventional shifts in games as a whole. It only makes sense that in revisiting such a recent title, Atlus has done far more than produce a simple port with some bonuses. Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is aptly titled; it’s an act of defiance against convention, criticism, and maybe even its own reputation.

SMT V was a big deal for the series, its HD debut after previously moving from the PlayStation 2 to the 3DS. It was a novel combination of post-apocalyptic doom and gloom with colorful superhero action. As the “Nabohino,” a powerful fusion of human and synthetic demon, players traversed the sand dunes of a long-dead Tokyo, fighting for control of the future in the aftermath of a 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 human fighting a hopeless battle in a world already lost more resonant than ever in the middle of a pandemic.

On the surface, SMT V: Vengeance is a home run without any extra effort. The original game being a Switch exclusive meant it arrived with inevitable technical compromises. Vengeance is still on the Switch, but its multiplatform debut means every inch of its world is out in full force. This game is as colorful as it is dour, juxtaposing multicultural religious imagery with post-apocalyptic destruction. Simply being able to dash across the shining dunes of Da’at (formerly Tokyo) without the frame rate sputtering is worth the price of admission.

But there’s so much more to Vengeance than a touch-up under the hood. Rather than being a sequel in the style of SMT IV: Apocalypse or a pseudo spinoff like SMT: If, Vengeance offers a totally new campaign scenario. Nearly the entire story is completely retold, using the original premise as a springboard to leap into a scenario with new central characters, antagonists, and entirely different endings. On top of that is a massive amount of retooling, with changes and adjustments that range from quality-of-life tweaks to brand-new features entirely. Vengeance is almost a whole new game that treats the original as a rough draft. “Almost” is a keyword here, because the original scenario is also selectable at the beginning, so you can still experience the original story while enjoying the new features and adjustments.

 

In many ways, the new scenario feels like a direct response to problems players had with SMT V the first time around. As a returning player and a longtime fan of the series in general, it’s a bizarre setup with an impressive level of self-awareness. Moments occur when the story appears to change from the original in a direct and crowd-pleasing way, only for it to yank the rug out from you violently, twisting the twist to make it even more unpleasant than before. While I didn’t agree with the criticisms that led to this new campaign in the first place, having a whole new story to dig into that toyed with my previous knowledge was a lot of fun.

The new character was intriguing and added a lot to the scenario, and getting more of the returning cast admittedly fleshed out the plot more. I did find having them playable to be kind of silly, as using a team full of my own demons was always more productive anyway.

This remixed approach could be confusing to a newcomer. Luckily, Vengeance accounts for that too, and the choice of which version to pursue is presented in-game in a way that’s practically seamless. It simply feels like yet another option in a game and series full of choices that impact where the narrative goes. There isn’t special attention drawn to it, nor does it feel like an awkward 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, is more food on the table for the feast. And it was a hell of a feast to begin with.



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