Shin Megami Tensei V doesn’t mess around. If you want to get through the game with your sanity intact, you’d better not either.
If you’ve played any of the past games in the Megami Tensei series, including the Persona spin-offs, you’ll know that they’re not for the faint of heart. Unlike friendlier turn-based combat systems like Pokémon or Dragon Quest, it’s super easy to get your whole team one-shot if you aren’t prepared.
SMTV leaves a lot of the core mechanics unexplained. While this often leads to frustration when you’re killed after a particularly harsh stroke of bad luck, it can also result in a lot of satisfaction when you finally beat that beefy boss that keeps pummelling you into the ground.
That’s where I come in. Here are 11 top tips that I wish I knew before I started the game, so you can slice up demons faster than Joker in the Metaverse.
#1: Save—All. The. Time.
The Shin Megami Tensei series is infamous for being absolutely brutal. That’s why I say, more than any other game I’ve ever played, that saving is vital.
With no robust autosave system, the only way you can save is to visit a Leyline Fount. There’s already a lot going on at these blue pools of light: they’re where you fast travel, heal your party, perform Demon Fusions, learn new Miracles, go shopping, and more. Every time you visit one, make sure to chronicle your deeds.
There are a huge number of bosses and mini bosses in this game. One wrong move or unlucky roll, more often than not, you’re dead.
What’s worse, every time you die, there’s no checkpoint to save your backside. It takes you right back to the title screen so you can load up your last Leyline Fount save. This means that if you’ve traversed across Da’at (a parallel underworld to regular Tokyo), you’ll lose everything: Macca (currency), demons you’ve recruited, items, experience; you name it.
And it’s not just bosses. One unlucky super-effective move chain or critical hit performed by lowly Jack Frosts or Matadors can erase a whole map’s worth of progress. Save early, save often.
I don’t care if it’s only been 0.45 seconds between visiting Founts. If you reach a new one and think not enough time has passed to bother saving, you’re wrong. The end.
#2: Build A Balanced Team
If you’re a Pokémon fan, chances are you’ve brute forced your way through plenty of Elite Four tournaments. Your trusty Venosaur versus a glacial Glalie? No problem: Body Slam it quickly before it aims an Ice Beam at your oversized tulip, and even then Venosaur’ll probably withstand a couple super-effective hits.
SMTV just doesn’t work that way. Typically, you and each of your demons get a turn—that’s 4 turns. But if you land a super effective or critical hit, you get another turn for a potential of 8 turns per round of combat. Ideally, this means you’ll exploit enemy weaknesses every turn to string together a bunch of attacks for maximum damage.
Crucially, the same mechanic is true for enemy demons. If you or one of your party members has a weakness to the moves the enemy is using, then you have no choice but to sit back and watch in dismay as you and your party get snowballed out of life.
Demons also resist certain types of attacks and skills. If you hit a demon with a move it’s immune to, then you’ll lose turns (or vice versa). This gets even more complex if you hit multiple enemy demons at once with multi-target spells like Mabufu or Maragi. If you hit a demon with a weakness as well as another that blocks or absorbs the move, the negative outweighs the positive. Take all demons into consideration when planning your attacks.
As you can see, it’s important to ensure you have a variety of move types so you can exploit enemy weaknesses at least once per turn. I personally like to ensure my Nahobino has his strong Elec and Almighty attacks at the ready, and use the other party members for all other spell types.
#3: …But Don’t Neglect Buffs & Debuffs
Who actually uses support moves in vanilla Pokémon, unless you’re doing a Nuzlocke with level caps? Again, you can brute force most enemies with little-to-no strategising.
If you do this in SMTV, you’ll soon fall to the stronger enemies—even with type advantages.
Support moves like Masukunda (decreases enemy hit and evasion rate) and Matarukaja (raises attack of all allies) are vital when taking on bosses. Often, these encounters are battles of attrition, so raising defence or lowering enemy attack can be the difference between winning or losing. So, ensure that you have at least 3 or 4 of these moves in your arsenal to table them turns.
It also helps if one of your allies has Dekaja—a particularly useful move that nullifies all enemy buffs. This can be particularly important in the longer battles, when enemies have pumped themselves bigger than Frieza’s final form at 100%.
#4: Don’t Get Attached
Demons are not your ride-or-die buddies. They may fall too easily in battle, or you may find new ones that are more powerful as you progress. They’re there to provide extra attacks and to support the Nahobino on his quest. So, take care to fuse or recruit new ones often.
In the World of Shadows, you can either use the demons you already have in your party or purchase registered demons from the Demon Compendium as fodder to create new types. Taking two (or more!) demons and squelching them together is not only an efficient way to open up spaces in your slots so you can recruit new demons, but it also facilitates the creation of much more powerful allies.
Bonus: whilst in other games we’ve seen gruesome guillotines and horrible hangings of creatures to fuse them together, this time you’re at an organ, dramatically accompanying demon demise. What a fabulous way to go.
#5: Use Essences
Don’t have any demons with the skills you need to take on Surt or Odin? Essences are your friend.
Given to you by friendly demons or found in the world, Essences are ‘the copied, astral form’ of a demon’s abilities. They allow you to transfer skills between demons and teach your party new attacks and support skills. You can also use Essences to change the Nahobino’s affinities, giving him a significant advantage against bosses. Ultimately, Essences are ideal for when you’ve been KO’d by a big bad once already and you need to equip more super effective skills or develop resistances to help take them down.
I found the Aogami Essences to be the most useful for the protagonist. These are found across Da’at and give you powerful, Nahobino-only skills such as Divine Arrowfall (a heavy Almighty skill to all foes). This means you can get powerful skills earlier than usual at a lower MP cost with some fun combat animations.
Another important point: you can only have one Essence of each type in your inventory at any one time, so use them when you need them. You can also buy some from Gustave, the equal parts cute-and-creepy shopkeeper, if you don’t have the specific move or affinity you require.
#6: Use Battle Items
What do you mean you still don’t have the skills you need to take on the giant Chimera galloping in your path? Good thing you have battle items at your disposal.
If you don’t have the Agi skill you need to take down Pale Rider, for example, you can use a Fire Gem. There are also items that cure and cause Ailments like Poison or Mirage, as well as HP and MP recovery items and element dampener items to nullify specific enemy spells for one turn.
However, a big mistake a lot of RPG players make is hoarding on your battle items until you really need them. Don’t make that mistake here. Many items have hard inventory caps that will go to waste if you find any more. Eventually, you’ll also be able to buy the better items from Gustave, the demonic shopkeeper, so there’s really no reason not to use them. Just remember to stockpile before a boss fight and you’re good to go.
#7: Stock Up On Spyglasses
When you first encounter a demon in combat throughout a game of Shin Megami Tensei V, you won’t be able to see its weaknesses or affinities. Don’t worry—all you need is a Spyglass, and you’ll have the gift of foresight.
Honestly, though, I wouldn’t recommend using them on most enemies. After you’ve defeated them once or convinced them to join your team of misunderstood creatures, you’ll know what you need to do to hit their sore spots. However, they are super useful for bosses (where you often can’t risk wasting a turn or your HP on a reflected Mahamaon), as well as for tricky little tykes called Mitama.
Mitama are floating faces seen throughout the SMT series similar to Metal Slimes from Dragon Quest. They’re difficult to kill, they often run away from battles, and are immune to all but one damage type that’s determined randomly at beginning of each encounter. Do not try your luck. A couple of wrong hits and they’re gone for good—and trust me, you want what these little guys drop.
Use a Spyglass as soon as you see one, and then Pass your turns until you can get a super effective hit on them. That’ll take them out and net you the spoils.
There are 5 types of Mitama, and each will drop a different valuable resource, including lots of XP, high-value Relics, money, Glory Crystals, and more. It’s worth defeating them every time you see them, especially if you’re grinding XP after a particularly aggressive Cerberus has knocked you out for the third time in a row. Get hunting!
#8: Hire An Assistant
What do you think the SMT series needed? More robust autosaves or checkpoints? More move slots for party member spells?
Don’t be ridiculous. Its very own Navi, of course.
This Legend of Zelda wannabe mechanic gives you a tiny fairy assistant to call out items and mark them on your map. Go over to your flailing friend, and you could find a whole host of useful items, from Gems and to relics you can sell for Macca (money). This is a key way to get some of the most useful and hardest-to-find items in the game: Chakra Drops and Pots. MP recovery items are super rare and are vital in some of the longer boss fights that divulge into battles of attrition, so it’s worth checking.
If you’re not interested in the items, there’s another beneficial reason to keep at it. Gathering items has a small chance to spawn Mitama, turning the odds of getting some valuable drops in your favour! Now you actually have a good reason to put up with your rip-off Sparx darting about to cries of ‘You want some? Well do ya?’ every six seconds.
#9: Prioritise Defeating Abscesses
When you reach a new area in Da’at, you’ll find that a lot of the map is obscured by one or more swirling pink circles of fog. That’s not the mist that bewitches your senses when an attractive person comes into the room: that’s the sure sign of an Abscess taunting you with its slithery tentacles.
Abscesses are mini boss fights that spawn enemies to defend the danger zone. It’s worth noting that they spawn regular enemies that have the same weaknesses and affinities as the demons they are based on, just stronger. Throne, for example, is as weak to Dark and Ice as its usual, lower levelled counterpart—but the kicker is, you won’t be able to see that until you attack. (This is where your Spyglasses could come in handy.)
Why should you prioritise fighting Abscesses? Once you’ve defeated them, the area obscured by the pink fog will be revealed, helping you locate vending machines, Leyline Founts, Miman, and Miracle caches more easily. It’ll also reveal routes and enemies, helping you grind enemies or get to your destination faster.
Make this the first thing you do in each area, and your journey will become a whole lot easier.
#10: Use Vending Machines
Even powerful demons inhabiting a dystopian hellscape of Tokyo in Shin Megami Tensei V need their pick-me-ups! That must be why vending machines are one of the only remnants of human civilisation that remain fully intact in Da’at.
Vending machines, with their soft blue glow, are home to Relics. These are items that can be sold to Gustave, which will net you a hefty profit if you make sure to pick up as many as you can on your adventures. In fact, vending machines are the most reliable form of raising money in the game.
Vending machines can be returned to regularly for more rewards (who’s restocking them?!). The good news is, once you find a vending machine, it’s permanently marked on your map, allowing you to go back every so often and grab even more goodies for Gustave to giggle over.
The only issue lies in some of the items you can dispense. It makes sense for the most valuable Relic to be a ‘Game Console with Handle’, sure. But why is a School Swimsuit worth 5000 Macca? And, of course, you can sell a Maid Costume for 840. Never change, Japan. Actually, maybe change a bit.
#11: Pay Up To Find Miman Easily
Demons aren’t the only sneaky scamps found in Da’at. Miman are Gustave’s pawns: little red imp-like creatures that have been sent out by their master to find Relics. But it’s time for them to come home to papa.
Gustave will give you increasingly useful items in exchange for the Miman—with 200 to find, this is a very useful way to gather all you need. However, the main reason to find Miman is Glory.
Glory is one of the most useful resources in the game. They unlock Miracles, which provide permanent perks for your party and protagonist. Some grant you battle upgrades, such as improved affinity for certain spell types or positively affecting the Magatsuhi Gauge. Some help with demon negotiation, some buff up fusion and summoning, and some increase ally demon stats or skill slots.
As you can imagine, these help to make an incredibly challenging game that bit easier, and are extremely satisfying to unlock as you gather more and more little red helpers. So, it’s worth your while to find as many as possible.
Struggling? At the end of each area of Da’at, seek out a cute little fox demon called Cironnup. They will mark every single Miman in that area for you—for a fee. Whilst the fee does get more expensive as you progress, it’s such a time saver, especially as Miman are very good at hiding in every tiny nook and cranny. Cough up the cash and save yourself the agro.
That’s all you need to start your playthrough of Shin Megami Tensei V! Will you align with Chaos or Order?
And even with all those tips, you’ll still regularly wipe out to an unlucky critical hit. Well, them’s the breaks.