Time Is Dead: A Review of Shin Megami Tensei V

Thanks again to @headlamp_ on Twitter for the art

The following contains spoilers for the entirety of Shin Megami Tensei III and Shin Megami Tensei V’s story. Click here to read Part One, which contains no spoilers.

Shin Megami Tensei is about meeting God.

Shin Megami Tensei is about killing God.

Shin Megami Tensei is about becoming God.

These are the core components of the mainline SMT series. In one form or another you’re doing one of those three things, sometimes all in one sitting. The unsettling, sacrilegious nature of the games evoke this feeling of dread and despair that few other narratives replicate, mostly because developers don’t have the need or want to make a game with such themes. That isn’t to say that SMTV, or SMT as a whole isn’t without it’s brighter moments. There’s a lot of comedic writing and it never takes itself too seriously. Take the franchise’s lovable mascot Jack Frost. Yeah he’ll kill you without batting an eye but he also loves ice cream and hanging out with his other frosty friends.

The fan community has even taken one of the more popular demons- Mothman, and created this big joke in the form Matias “El Mati” Mothman, Portuguese demon extraordinaire. We have fun here, but at the end of the day when you disconnect the memes from the source material you get a game about death, rebirth, and the philosophical multitudes that make up our everyday life. Do we crave order? Or do we dig our nails deep into the soil of chaos? With everything in the world the way it is these days (bad) I find myself slipping into the opium that is gaming. Since early 2020 I’ve easily played more games than I usually do. That’s not even because I had any sort of physical social life before the pandemic. I didn’t go anywhere in 2019 just as much as I didn’t in 2020 and beyond. The light may be at the end of the tunnel just yet, but I still want to hold onto the digital experiences in the form of these dumb little essays. It might just be my narcissism billowing out from my fingertips onto screen, but I like what i’m doing here.

SMTV is the fastest game in the series in regards to just how long it takes to get to the “Good part”. You name the protagonist, make your way back to your dorm, and right before you get home you’re transported to Da’at- The Netherworld. Here you discover that God has been dead for 20 years, and from then on you go from one short story beat after another with some boss fights peppered in for good measure. around the 10 hour mark you discover that the Tokyo you’ve been living in all this time has been some kind of simulation, and the Netherworld is what’s left of the real Tokyo after God was killed at the end of Shin Megami Tensei III. From then on you can travel between the simulation and Da’at, and with a few character deaths along the way it is revealed that the people around you all have different ideas regarding what they want to do with the rest of the world. One ally wants to give everything to faith, and let the remaining angels in the Netherworld accept you as their leader. Another wants to break free from the shackles of religion and fight the demons head on. What do you have to say to all this? Do you respect God’s last wishes? Do you too want to liberate yourself from the holy light? Or do you want something more? Do you want something completely different? There’s three paths you can go towards, and you’ll be making big decisions at the end of the game before you know it. The game isn’t coy about telling you what to choose either. In the final area of the game you’re given three choices that are as cut and dry as they’re going to be.

Law

Chaos

Neutrality

Those are your options. There’s a fourth option hidden behind some quests but you’re probably not going to discover this until after your first playthrough. I’m an atheist but i’m not really an anarchist so I went with the neutral ending on my first go.

I felt gross.

60 hours later and I didn’t have much to show for it. Nearly 3/4 of the game is just…the game. Atlus knew that they didn’t have much in terms of a plot because they made sure that the SMTV (the game) was fun as hell. SMTV (the story) is about 7 hours of cutscenes and dialog with not much else to show for it. I thought it was fine enough but I didn’t really feel engaged until the very end, and with the ending portion being filled with so many boss fights I just felt like Atlus was throwing everything into the Instant Pot hoping it’ll taste alright.

It did taste alright. Because while that meal was cooking I was anticipating every bite. When it finally came time to chow down on the ending I made myself like it. It was clearly a journey vs destination situation, but I felt so refreshed when I finished SMTV, mainly because I was done with it. I know I sound disappointed but let me be perfectly clear here.

Shin Megami Tensei is my game of the year…

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Or is it?

No. Shin Megami Tensei V is not my game of the year…because from now on i’m not doing a big “Game of the Year” blowout sale. I love videogames. I love Shin Megami Tensei V. I love Monster Hunter Rise, and even though I couldn’t even finish the damn thing I loved Bravely Default II. Every single game I have written about this year are my games of the year. Every game I've played is a game of the year, and what a year it was. I played Disco Elysium! Do I want to write about it?

NO!

I simply cannot properly articulate just how good that game is. Having said that I loved every minute of it. I punched Cuno in the face on my first try! I left my apartment, walked to the store, bought a pack of cigarettes, and smoked one a day for a week at dusk because Kim Kitsuragi is just so cool.

In a lot of ways Shin Megami Tensei broke me, because it made me sit down and play a video game that I already knew that I was going to love, and it tore me apart when I realized that I didn’t love everything about it.

EPILOGUE

An abridged version of the review you just read

In Shin Megami Tensei you talk to creatures that don’t always understand what you’re going through. Half of the game is just….trying to be friends with puddle of slime. These monsters have been on the planet longer than you have so you can’t blame them for wanting to kill you when you show up and say you’re trying to become God. You learn about their beliefs, their politics, their favorite foods, etc. Most demons in game require tangible objects in the form of money, food, or shiny rocks before they’ll agree to be your ally. Before the true negotiations begin however it always starts the same:

I’ve always said that Grindr conversations were the real world equivalent of demon negotiations in SMT, but now we’ve come full circle

They just want to talk. I get that. I just want to talk, and i’m glad someone out there is willing to listen. If you like what you’ve read feel free to buy me a coffee. If you’re from discord or insert credit follow me on Twitter if you want to keep in touch with what i’m doing in between essays.

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Essays and opinions, both of which are completely unwarranted

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