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I spent two hours getting beaten up in Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance

Needed a welcome mat

A powerful golden demon-lady points her weapon at the protagonist in Shin Megami Tensei: Vengeance.
Image credit: Sega

Recently, I spent around two hours with Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance, the Persona 5: Royal-fied version of the original SMT V. Vengeance promises many new things: a revised battle system, a new story branch, new areas, and more. What I found when I played, was several punches to my metaphorical ribs. A few to my gut. Sure, I spent some time with the new stuff, but really, I spent most of my time being absolutely demolished in turn-based battles against various demons of a phallic and non-phallic nature. I will now attempt to summarise my time against these creatures, wish me luck.

My time with Shin Megami Tensei V started a few hours in, with a group of pre-determined pals and a team of demons on my side. And to be totally honest with you, I had absolutely zero clue where I was in the story or what was happening. I talked to someone, they asked me if I was ready to go, I said "Yes", and then I was whisked away from dark Tokyo to the demonic other realm of "Da'at".

Tao casts Mahamaon in Shin Megami Tensei: Vengeance.
Image credit: Sega

From what I gathered, we seemed to be in Da'at to get a better understanding of why people were "turning to salt". The zone reminded me of a well-lit cross between Dark Souls' Ash Lake and Shinjuku, except if Shinjuku had the same topography as the Peak District. Undulating hills home to roaming demons, uprooted highways covered in salt, enormous golden trees, all encased by enormous mountains. In typical JRPG fashion, it was the equivalent of an open air dungeon with a clear endpoint and offshoots where you could gather resources, fight certain demons, and gather side quests.

My task was to talk to reach some guardsman demons at the top of a hill, which led me to a nearby grindable rail (Magatsu Rail) that deposited me at a cliff edge. For new players, it means you're able to navigate these zones a bit quicker, and for returning players, they act like shortcuts. For me? I spoke to a demon that tasked me with killing a god: The enormous fella who I'd been one-shot by earlier, who was about 20 times larger than anything else and resembled those inflatable wobbly tube guys. Reader, I did not manage to kill him.

Yoko, Nahobino and Tao look out over Da'at in Shin Megami Tensei: Vengeance.
In the original SMT 5, you can't save your game unless you're at a certain save spot. In Vengeance, you're able to save anywhere by bringing up the menu. You'd think I'd make judicious use of this new feature, but I forgot to do so repeatedly, then had to reload from the beginning of the demo everytime I died to demons. | Image credit: Sega

I died to enemy demons a lot. Being someone who's never played an SMT before, I was taken aback by how difficult it was. I wouldn't say I'm a turn-based maestro by any means, but I'd say I've played enough old school RPGs to muddle my way through the most annoying of challenges, ie, being turned into a frog a la Final Fantasy or taking on someone who constantly regenerates new limbs a la Persona 5. But rarely did I have any luck in my time with Vengeance. I had a couple of pals I'd brought in from the real world, a healer and someone with a variety of spells including dark magic. Unlike Persona, where the combat is stylish and jovial and has a celebratory atmosphere, Vengeance was the Eastenders Christmas special.

As a total newcomer to SMT, I did appreciate the ability to extend your turn almost indefinitely by targeting an enemy's weakness. And I enjoyed swapping in and out various demons to prize weaknesses out of unknown nasties or capitalise on known quantities. Yet - the preview environment and save definitely didn't help, mind - I found the combat a bit jarring, in a demon's ability to use the 'one more' against you if they discovered a weakness in your party you weren't privy to. And in the lack of punch in your teams' turns, as I found most spells, even those that would target weak spots weren't all that powerful. At least in the preview build, most fights felt a bit knife edge, where the knife was very much poking me in the chest. Still, there's the ability to turn down the difficulty if need be, which I probably should've taken advantage of.

The protagonist bargains with a watermelon-looking pig demon in Shin Megami Tensei: Vengeance.
Image credit: Sega

Not long after, I got rushed at by what can only be described as a cock chariot. It's in Persona 5 as well, so I'd been pre-briefed on this particular member of the demon horde, but it was still terrifying as it hurtled towards me as I trotted around Da'at. Again, I gave the fight a good go, but simply couldn't find a way past its enormous health bar and my limited knowledge of my demon collection's strengths. In the end I ran past the cock chariot and towards a claustrophobic zone where horse demons patrolled tight, dilapidated office blocks.

Yet more fights ensued and that was… sort of it. Would I say the preview did Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance justice? Maybe not. But! I think a preview for such a thing is very hard to do, in fairness. This is the sort of game you need to play from the start, to really understand its intricacies, and perhaps most importantly, understand the team you've built.

I came away from my time in Da'at a little jaded if I'm honest. If you're a Persona-liker who's intrigued by SMT, then I'd say be prepared for a dungeon crawler that won't be nearly as forgiving. Vengeance I'm sure has plenty of upgrades that make it better for existing fans, but for newcomers, I'd say my brief stint was more phallic and a lot harder than I could've imagined (oi oi).

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