Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance is a pick and mix of my favorite JRPG elements, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to get into the series

The protagonist stares into the camera in Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance.
(Image credit: Atlus)

Despite being a diehard JRPG fan, I'm rather ashamed to admit that until recently, Shin Megami Tensei has always evaded me. Unless you count the Persona games, which themselves are super stylish SMT spinoffs, the closest I'd gotten to playing one was Tokyo Mirage Sessions – the colorful Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem crossover RPG that first released on the Wii U. As much as I loved it, I wouldn't say that its musical interludes and pop star heroes were necessarily indicative of SMT's traditional darker, apocalyptic experience.

Now I'm finally playing through Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance, I can't believe it's taken me this long to give one a go, because it's basically a tailor-made mix of everything I love in a JRPG. For a start, it's got a grand overarching plot at play, with multiple routes and endings for maximum replayability. At the moment, I'm playing through the 'Canon of Vengeance' route, a new story which was introduced in the re-release, and there's been a lot to unpack so far. Pretty much right out of the gate, my protagonist was dropped into a destroyed and barren version of Tokyo overrun with dangerous demons and angels, and merged with a 'Proto-Fiend' called Aogami to gain fabulous, flowing purple hair and a sword arm. The hair is important, but the sword admittedly more so to make sure those luscious locks stay on his head. 

A world of trouble

The Qadištu seen in Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance.

(Image credit: Atlus)

So far, the deadliest of these foes have been part of a group of new characters introduced in Vengeance, the Qadištu. They have ridiculously cool designs, but are very much bad guys hell bent on murdering innocent people – including school kids – to obtain a powerful energy called Magatsuhi. I've not made it far enough through the story yet to know exactly what their deal is, but what I do know is that they're no joke in battle – during one boss fight, one of them pulled off a very suggestive special attack to charm my whole party, and then proceeded to one-hit KO everyone. So, they're definitely not to be messed with. 

Speaking of which, combat in this game is tough, but it's a welcome challenge. I adore turn-based battle systems, but if they’re not implemented in an engaging way, fights can be tedious. That's not the case here at all, since any battle has the potential to become fatal, even with random field enemies. Foes can stack extra turns if they land a critical hit or hit a weakness, and equally, you can lose your own team's turns by missing attacks or having your moves blocked, so things can go very wrong, very fast. Admittedly, this made me lose one or two very early fights to the weak Slime enemies, which felt a little embarrassing, but particularly in boss fights, the system forces you to think carefully about your actions and what teammates you're bringing out onto the field, since weaknesses can spell the beginning of the end. 

The enemy of my enemy is my friend

The protagonist negotiating with a Slime enemy in Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance.

(Image credit: Atlus)

"There are almost 300 to recruit, and the act of actually adding them to your roster is always good fun"

Thankfully, you've got plenty of teammates to choose from in the form of demons. Despite encountering them as enemies, you can convince the many different demons out in the wild to switch teams and join you on your adventure. Considering that a very large portion of my brain is entirely dedicated to creature collecting games, I love this – there are almost 300 to recruit, and the act of actually adding them to your roster is always good fun, too. Sometimes, you can negotiate with them, and by saying the right things, straight up convince them to stop fighting you. Other times, you might have to bribe them with money, or participate in a quiz to identify another demon from its silhouette and prove your worth. Once recruited, you can merge them with other demons to unlock bigger and better companions, which in itself encourages you to pick up as many new friends as possible. 

I still have a lot of Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance ahead of me, especially considering I never played the original version's story. But even if I'm late to the party, I'm thrilled that I'm finally on board, and I have plenty to catch up with. Playing it has certainly proved that Tokyo Mirage Sessions wasn't a fantastic indication of the rest of the series, even if I do miss its musical interludes. Can we bring those back, Atlus?

Be sure to check out our roundup of the 25 best RPGs for more games like Shin Megami Tensei 5: Vengeance. 

Catherine Lewis
News Writer

I'm one of GamesRadar+'s news writers, who works alongside the rest of the news team to deliver cool gaming stories that we love. After spending more hours than I can count filling The University of Sheffield's student newspaper with Pokemon and indie game content, and picking up a degree in Journalism Studies, I started my career at GAMINGbible where I worked as a journalist for over a year and a half. I then became TechRadar Gaming's news writer, where I sourced stories and wrote about all sorts of intriguing topics. In my spare time, you're sure to find me on my Nintendo Switch or PS5 playing through story-driven RPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles and Persona 5 Royal, nuzlocking old Pokemon games, or going for a Victory Royale in Fortnite.