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Shin Megami Tensei 5 Vengeance review: I say this in the nicest possible way – this game reminds me of a PS2 RPG

Look, if you’ve got even a passing interest in Persona or Atlus games, give this a go; it’s an old-school, demon-fuelled romp through hell in all the best ways.

A review header for Shin Megami Tensei 5 Vengeance.
Image credit: VG247

You’re going to die. Just accept it. Save often, grind where you can, and stick your nose into everyone's business to get all that lovely experience. Batten down the hatches, gird your loins, watch out. Boss battles might absolutely batter you the first time around, but then you get to go back in with your wits about you. Even some random encounters have the chance to one-shot you if you’re not careful. This game doesn’t take any prisoners.

In the vanilla release of Shin Megami Tensei 5, life was hard. In the redux, it’s brutal. Good.

Shin Megami Tensei 5 Vengeance is class-A RPG – none of that gateway Persona nonsense that holds your hand and sings to you as you plod through your fancy little high school life. The parent MegaTen series has always been hard, it’s almost a meme at this point, and whilst Vengeance isn’t quite as tricky as SMT3 or 4, it’s definitely still out for your blood. I say it’s not as cruel as its forebears mostly because of the quality-of-life changes that have been added – being able to save anywhere, tweaks to UI readability, and clearer explanations of RPG systems see to that.

But the core gameplay loop is gritty. It’s compelling. It’s tough to crack, but when you do, it makes you ravenous – the kind of game you stay up into the little hours playing, because you want to beat one more optional boss or take down one more arrogant god. The series’ trademark Press Turn system forces you to think about battles in terms of brutal efficiency, making you itch to double up your turns and genuinely groan out loud when you whiff an attack and waste your allies’ upcoming moves.

The initial release of the game was good (the Press Turn mechanic ain’t broke, so don’t fix it), but in Vengeance there are a few more tweaks and additions to things. Special skills that take whole icons away from enemies or give you more next turn, upping potential sequential moves from eight to 10. Sounds small, right? But in action, this can be a game-changer. But, to keep in step with that, there are boss fights now that weren’t in the 2021 release – multi-enemy and multi-phase fights when the game changes drastically around 50% of the way in.

The demon, Eisheth, in Shin Megami Tensei 5 Vengeance, asks the player: "Now, tell me... what part of yourselves do you hate the most?"
This is one of the Qaditsu, one of four new enemies that'll plague your journey through the sandy otherworld. | Image credit: Atlus

The story is as camp and silly and devilish as it ever was, and as someone that finished the base game twice, I certainly took more out of this than I was expecting. The opening hours are a kind-of feint, almost – the really divergent stuff kicks off about 40 hours in, and just escalates from there. Old regional bosses, enemies and sub-plots remain in the new narrative path, they’re just displaced, and sniffing out all the collectibles can get a little rote…but hey, it makes grinding a bit more fun at least.

Mega-powered regular mob spawns, interesting little side quests, massive over-leveled world enemies, and a through-line optional narrative branch that ties into the SMT multiverse all pad out the grim main story. Even in the bits you’re re-treading, Atlus has injected new bosses and schisms into the narrative. So, even if you’ve done vanilla SMT5 on the Switch a few times, there’s enough to come back for here (and there’s nearly 100 new music tracks, to boot).

A party of demons and humans wanders the desert in SMTV: Vengeance
Yoko and Tao, flanking the long-haired protagonist here, play a major role in the story. | Image credit: Atlus

If you want my thoughts on the base game, you can check out my old pre-VG247 review . My opinion hasn’t really changed since I wrote that all those years ago, but now there’s more content to enjoy, too. Thing is, if you’re going into this expecting a top-of-the-line, shiny RPG that looks like Final Fantasy 16, you’re going to be upset. SMT5 Vengeance comes out on Switch, alongside all the other home consoles and PC. So it’s limited in how nice it can look, sound, and feel.

But that’s not the point of this game. It’s not trying to be Final Fantasy. In fact, part of what I love so much about this game, and series, is that it marches to the beat of its own drum – eschewing the RPG trends of the moment (no romances for you) and doubling down on what makes it great. A tight, infinitely satisfying combat system, fun and unpredictable demon negotiation, and a metal-as-hell world. Everything it sets out to do, it does well. Even if it does feel like you’re playing a glorified, modernised PS2 game. It’s intentional, and it rules.

If you’ve the acquired taste for RPGs that want to bully you, humiliate you, and laugh at the fact you call yourself a gaming masochist (we're not judging), SMT5 Vengeance is for you. I think Atlus is the most exciting RPG developer out there at the moment, and between this, Metaphor Refantazio and whatever the hell Persona 6 is going to be, I dare you to prove me wrong.

Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance comes to PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows, Xbox Series X and Series S on June 14, 2024. The original is available on Switch now. This review was conducted on Xbox Series X/S, using a code provided by the publisher.

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