Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is a brilliant introduction to Sega’s wonderfully weird RPG series | VGC (2024)

Better Call Saul. Frasier. Even the best TV spin-offs rarely manage to dethrone the beloved shows that inspired them, yet in gaming’s cutthroat world of pixels and polygons, forefathers are toppled with a game of thrones-esque brutality.

With World of Warcraft completely sidelining Warcraft, Nier ruthlessly usurping Drakengard’s throne and the Sims all but levelling the once bustling Sim City, gaming heirs are undoubtedly as dangerous as their mediaeval equivalent.

Nowhere is this truer than Sega’s beloved Persona series. Originally imagined as a more light-hearted Shin Megami Tensei spin-off, Persona’s wholesome high school hangs struck a chord with players across the globe, booting SMT’s broody post-apocalyptic series back into the shadows. Now, thanks to Persona 5’s unprecedented success, publisher Atlus is hoping to channel some of that unbridled love towards Persona’s emo older brother.

It’s hard to overstate just how different the vibes are between Sega’s two interlinked series, a fact cemented as Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance boots me straight into an eerily abandoned temple. Clad in metallic sci-fi armour and surrounded by a horde of intimidating-looking creatures, as my blue-haired protagonist Naruto runs their way across overgrown, demon-infested train tracks, I sprint past a pile of humans that have been turned into salt before being ambushed by a naked, severed head-clutching harpie. Welcome to Shin Megami Tensei.

Originally slithering its way onto Nintendo Switch back in 2021, Vengeance sees Shin Megami Tensei V get the full Persona 5 Royal treatment. Breaking free of its Switchy shackles, Vengeance takes the former Nintendo exclusive to new visual heights on PlayStation, Xbox and PC, adding a welcome layer of shiny 4K visual polish alongside vastly improved battle animations. Just like in Royal, Vengeance also boasts a whole host of quality-of-life changes for SMT V, bringing along an additional playable character for the ride and adding an entirely new story path.

As snow seeps into collapsed skyscrapers and overgrown grass coats rusted train tracks, the moody metropolis is a nice palette cleanser from the JRPG’s typical well-worn fantastical backdrops. SMT’s eerily quiet, demon-infested Tokyo feels a world away from Persona’s bustling Shibuya, offering up a wide and open wasteland to explore. Instead of resigning players to dungeons, this feels like a post-apocalyptic rendition of Persona’s cosy modern-day surroundings, where the demonic nightmares resigned to the shadow world have broken loose.

Yet it’s the unhinged weirdness of interacting with the individual demons that really separates SMT from its more successful younger cousin. While SMT and Persona share a lot of the same creatures, Vengeance’s cast of collectable monstrosities feel altogether more sickening. No longer just resigned to the shadow world, demons directly join your party, fighting alongside your human allies.

Like in Persona, you can also opt to talk your way out of most battles, appealing to each demon’s insidious nature to either bribe them or endear them to your noble cause, yet this time, you’re very much on their turf vastly outnumbered in a waking nightmare. There is no separation of the day and night cycle to save players here –just a bitter fight for survival in a future that has already been lost. It’s a mood that’s mirrored in the soundtrack, swapping Persona’s breezy funky pop for brooding, down-tuned metal.

With over 300 different demons to ally with – and even breed, if you’re into that – players have their pick of a royally f*cked up set of Pokémon. The Giant dick monster on wheels that douses you in slime and makes you fall hopelessly in love with it, is a clear highlight. Mananaagal, the aforementioned dismembered floating demon harpy with zero clothes has more than a touch of Junji ito to her, smiling at you eerily as it cradles its second head in its tendril-esque fingers.

“It’s the unhinged weirdness of interacting with the individual demons that really separates SMT from its more successful younger cousin. While SMT and Persona share a lot of the same creatures, Vengeance’s cast of collectable monstrosities feel altogether more sickening.”

Alongside the extra level of spit and polish added to the creaky Switch engine, Atlus has seen fit to work in some welcome quality-of-life improvements – including the much-requested ability to now manually save your game anywhere. It’s a welcome change that ironically makes the console-ready Vengeance now even more amenable to portable play, but there is still a baffling lack of auto save, a fact I learned the hard way after the aforementioned pulsating dick monster sent me hurtling back to the demo’s start.

In another obvious budget constraint, voice acting in Vengeance is rare, still simply saved for just the more essential story beats, which given the definitive edition treatment, is a bit of a shame. As you might expect, with the apocalypse nigh, there are no kawaii high schoolers to romance or ramen bars to frequent, with Persona’s between dungeon time management and social links instead swapped for side quests and mini games that you discover in Vengeance’s cursed overworld.

As playful succubus and taunting tricksters beckon you towards them, interacting with the various hellspawn offers up a nice distraction when you fancy taking a break from slaughtering ghouls across Tokyo’s crumbling skyline.

Some character models and animations look impressive, defying their simplistic switch origins, yet static text bubbles and wonky environment textures ensure that, overall, this still pales in comparison to its bigger budget console cousins. Despite looking perfectly fine on PS5 and Xbox then, Vengeance still ultimately feels like a game crying out to be experienced on a handheld, thrust above your head while slumped precariously over the sofa. Vegegance is, of course, heading to Switch, but here’s hoping for Steam Deck support.

If you’ve never played a Shin Megami Tensei game before, Vengeance looks set to offer a brilliant introduction to the wonderfully weird and nihilistic RPG series. While millions of players have enjoyed Sega’s slice of bleak sci-fi weirdness, Shin Megam Tensei has never quite hit the mainstream.

With Persona fever at an all time high, this definitive edition sits alongside Royal and Persona 3 Reload as a shiny and more accessible way to dive into Persona’s bleaker and less amenable older brother. Despite the visual touch up, SMT V still feels ostensibly like a game that was built for a handheld, and while it’s unlikely to be SMT’s Persona 5 moment, Vengeance is still shaping up to be a brilliant RPG to lose yourself in during the wait for October’s Metaphor: ReFantazio.

Shin Megami Tensei V: Vengeance is a brilliant introduction to Sega’s wonderfully weird RPG series | VGC (2024)
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