Boy, do I have some opinions about this here SMT game.
Where do I begin?
SMTV is a game of blessings and curses. I’ll start with the good.
The gameplay is top shelf.
Press turn is back, which is nothing surprising, but in addition, Atlus added an absolutely unprecedented insane amount of customization. There’s new physical skills, new magical skills(and a new tier, -barion), skills that let physical builds use their physical stat to inflict magical damage, meter(Magatsuhi) skills that allow for broken abilities to be used for an entire round(namely guaranteed criticals, full restores and revivals for the entire party, auto charge and pierce, etc), and best of all, Essences.
Essences are the biggest game changer since manual skill inheritance. You can get an item that basically contains all of a demon’s inherent skills, which can be freely applied to either the MC or the demons in his team at your leisure. This means you not only get to customize the MC however you like, any demon in the team becomes near endlessly customizable.
Pairing these two factors together, and this is the freshest, most innovative and widely experimental core gameplay has ever been.
Which brings us to the other big game changer… the world itself.
As you’ve likely heard, yes, SMT V is a full “open world” experience.
Sort of. There’s five major hubs in Da’at, which… are kind of different, but not really. One’s a desert, one’s a red desert, one’s a… white desert? You get the gist. Sadly, they’re mostly the same atmosphere with shuffled architecture and a different filter applied.
While repetitive, I give credit given where due: the open world is a joy to explore. The areas are full of massive buildings that you can either access from stairs, adjacent highways, or even stray ledges. There’s lots of nooks and crannies to explore, with little secrets and bonuses that reward exploration, namely the collectible “Miman” creatures that allow the MC to learn new skills and gain new items over time.
The trademark overworld map from 1/2/3/etc is also still present, though only in the “real world” that you only go to like five times.
Then there’s the dungeon. Not dungeons. Dungeon.
SMTV has literally one of note: and it has everything I wanted! Great design and aesthetic, platforming, interesting gimmicks, secrets to look for and explore, and… that’s it.
There is no final dungeon. There’s a massive world leading to it, and then a long tunnel with a few battles.
It’s a crying shame. Look at that architecture. It could have been a massive dungeon full of platforming and verticality. It SHOULD have been. But it’s not, and the game just leads you right to the climatic boss fights.
Then… there’s the story. God, where do I start.
From the get-go, the cover makes it look like there’s going to be all kinds of factions vying for control of Tokyo, since it depicts four demons and the MC.
There’s even a (very marketable) cast of humans! Surely they’re all going to be well fleshed out, have lots of dialogue, and massive impact on the plot, yes?
Nope. They barely factor into the plot at all. After the introduction, hope you liked talking to them! You’ll barely ever see them again.
See this girl here?
This is Sahori. She’s an NPC who goes nuts, and murders a bunch of bullies with her demon partner after making a soul-sacrificial pact for power.
She is far more interesting than any of the major players shown above, and she’s only in the game for all of three scenes. Therein lies SMTV’s major narrative problem.
There are interesting characters here, and their designs are great, courtesy of Masayuki Doi. Sadly, it’s all surface. The duo above, Yakumo and Nuwa, are one of the more interesting narrative threads, and even they barely appear in the story.
SMTV has interesting ideas, in very broad strokes. This is a world in which Lucifer won. The armies of heaven are scattered and listless, and chaos runs rampant, but even Lucifer himself is nowhere to be found. There could be a ton of great stories told in a universe like this. A power struggle between warring factions of angels and demons, internal fighting, a return of the Divine Powers/Polytheist Alliance from IV, and on and on. V does almost nothing with this potential. Even when a group of the lesser deities from Egypt, Greece, Hinduism, and so on show up in the late game, they barely factor into the plot. They’re just bosses to be slain and obstacles to be stepped on. They barely factor into the alignment decisions if they even get to make an impact at all.
You make a choice at the very end, and do some extra quests if you want a “true” final boss. That’s about it. Again, sadly, this reeks of wasted opportunity. V feels rushed. They had a ton of interesting ideas, but the team lacked the time or maybe even the ability to properly utilize them.
I will say that when V’s writing is strong, it excels. The tone of the Chaos ending was particularly enjoyable, raising genuinely philosophical questions about what living in a Chaotic world would really entail, and how successful the goal will actually be. It’s a shame the rest of the game’s narrative couldn’t rise to meet it.
In closing, the music should be made note of. The main composer of SMT IV, Ryota Kozuka, has basically taken over the main line series, which I am totally okay with, as his work for IV was nothing short of incredible.
I had high expectations for V, and… well, for better or for worse, it is a very different type of soundtrack.
Whether by design or by direction, SMT V has a very ambient, ominous score. By and large, it nails the tone, and fits the oppressive open world areas very well.
Sadly, with a few exceptions, none of the boss themes have the bite of, say, Divine Powers from IV: Apocalypse.
They are absolutely solid tracks, but anyone looking for a repeat of IV or its successor’s majesty will be sorely disappointed.
I wish the same could be said of the game itself. SMT IV was clearly the product of Kazuma Kaneko’s original design and ideas, as is clearly credited.
V has no such pedigree to fall back on. On the gameplay front, Atlus deserve lauding for the wonderful flow of combat and exploration, and for all the new innovation added.
However, they still have a long way to go if they’re going to fill the narrative shoes that Kaneko, Okada, and Tadashi left behind. Hopefully with this template in place, they can step their game up for the next go round.