Title: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
Developed By: ATLUS
Published By: ATLUS USA
Console: Nintendo DS
Genre: Tactical RPG
Classification: This game has been classified as Teen by the ESRB for Alcohol References, Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco and Violence
Review Conditions: US Nintendo DS version. The only version currently released in English.
Special Thanks: A copy of this game was purchased out of my own pocket.
Throughout the life-span of the Nintendo DS console, we have been treated with a number of rewarding RPG’s, some of which have made use of the DS’s unique capabilities (Eg. The World Ends with You), while others have kept the normal control mechanisms or otherwise remained ports of previous games (Eg. Children of Mana, Final Fantasy III). One of perhaps the more memorable releases was Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, a 2009 release by the folks at Atlus USA and one of two major SMT releases on the console. Over the last year or so with the release of the Nintendo 3DS, I find myself seeing a lack of RPG’s on the console. Atlus have however, perhaps in an attempt to give the series one last “Hurrah!” on the console decided to release Devil Survivor 2 on the DS, dropping all the DS: Overclocked Enhancements and putting more of a focus on the other elements. Does it work however? Would it have been better to embrace new technology? My answers are Yes and Not Necessarily…. but to find out why you will have to read this review.
It’s your last year of high school, and during a fall season full of college enterance exams, you receive a text message on your way home from one of your study sessions….
“A death clip has been uploaded to Nicaea!”
The message’s sender is the mysterious onlien video site, Nicaea, which is rumored to have videos that predict your friends deaths – in graphic detail. Your classmates Daichi and Io have also received these texts, and “death clips” of them have been uploaded as well. The events shown in the videos begin to come true as the three of you are involved in a subway accident. When you regain consciousness, the unbelievable is taking place before your very eyes…. Demons have appeared from nowhere….
In the previous game you were limited to the confines of Tokyo and the various regions of it due to a lockdown preventing the swarms of demons roaming the streets from escaping. This time however it is not so easy for any organization to keep anyone in the confines of Tokyo and the entire world – especially Japan find themselves in the middle of a demon outbreak alongside the the appearance of powerful “Beings from Space” named Septentrione’s. At the same time as this, a mysterious website that functions as a lesser Laplace Mail becomes popular with the public, and allows people to see the tragic deaths of anyone they are acquainted with. You play as yourself, who upon registering for the site finds himself almost being crushed by a train….. if demons hadn’t decided to spare your life. Upon fighting and making a contract with these demons, you find your cell phones now have more “demonic” capabilities than before… capabilities you use to support the secret JP’s who work to defeat these demons.
The one thing I appreciated most about this games storyline was that it felt more similar to the earlier Shin Megami Tensei games, being darker in nature and giving that real feeling that the world (Unless you do something) is infact doomed. While they do occasionally drop the odd comedy sequence or inclusion to try and shake things up a bit, the story doesn’t just stop mid-way and try to focus on more light-hearted topics or character development. The game is far from being linear with an added inclusion of a “Social Link” system titled the “Fate System”. Between battles you are presented with a world map similar to that of previous installments in the series, but instead of selecting regions you are presented with events – often featuring either a main plot element, a free battle or an event with a single or group of characters. These offer you the change to dive into the development of a character – often through more serious unfolding plots with the added benefit of leveling up the system, providing both added skills in battle and the option to change the course of events in the game, especially in the final days.
The game takes place over a week and a bit in game-time with each event or plot storyline taking up half an hour (or a bit more for major events) every time you take part in them. Diversifying the plot and sending the characters outside of Tokyo was perhaps one of the better elements to the game, with each of the areas you visit initially containing different characters which join up through plot events and for at least the first few days, bid you farewell as you leave their area back to Tokyo. Even when you do finally all meet up, the main storyline still focuses on individual or groups of characters and often separates the parties – making a need for an adaptable battle strategy and as all “Thirteen Devil Messengers” are not together, allows individual development of the characters.
Given the gameplay and what they had to work with, I felt they did a very good job at delivering an enjoyable storyline that complemented every other factor well – with its more serious and mysterious tones easily letting it surpass that of the first Devil Survivor game. However there was one thing that did surprise me and that was just how infrequently the Nicaea plot element was used, often only being used a few times if not once a day – a peeve of mine as there was a lot of potential that I felt was wasted in not using it more. Still, with a varied and enjoyable cast of characters, an ending that is altered through your selections and relationship with characters alongside the more “open” environment left me satisfied.
Perhaps one of the more noticable features about this game is that the design elements with the exception of the main character designs, select locales and a few other things are almost exactly the same as the original Devil Survivor release – not really a bad factor and as it was user friendly in the first place, should be well suited to both new and experienced players. Focusing on the character designs, they have once again gone for a diverse range of appearances that match the personalities of the characters, while also delivering a more modern and mature choice of clothing designs – Blacks, Whites, limited range of colour and for the most part nothing all too skimpy. Character sprites are respective of the character designs however for those who do not like the more simplistic style of sprite designs… it will not win you over.
Moving on to the designs of the demons. Here is the thing… the first game in the Shin Megami Tensei series was released I believe in 1992 for the Super Famicom and while technologies might have changed, artists may have changed and heck… they have mixed and matched demons in every one of their games – there is no real excuse for poor demon designs after being just shy of their 20th Anniversary. Fortunately while some demon designs are just brought over from the original, they are well designed, visually appealing and offering a sizable range of demons to both recruit and battle. I still remain a bit reserved about the designs of the Septentriones which were more or less uninspiring – they did add to the mystery of just what they are. While you don’t actually control any of their sprites in battle, the demon sprites that appear as enemies are also good but that is about it.
Environment backdrops are a mix of old and new, and while there isn’t as much variety as I would have hoped for given the extension into new regions, nothing really to complain about. The game does incorporate a number of new battle stage designs which coupled with the battle system actually works quite well and provide that extra bit of challenge when it comes to their size and walkable space.
Almost every game in the Shin Megami Tensei series has proven to have a great audio backing to it – and this game is no exception. The opening theme is entitled 夢幻の世界 or World of Illusions / Mugen No Sekai, which is performed by Kinuco Saga and proved to be short but enjoyable and managed to suit the themes of the game well. Outside of the opening theme, there was a sizable collection of tracks that I felt was of the same quality as the previous installment – with the exception of the battle themes which were a strong point. As this is a Nintendo DS title of the franchise, no voice acting was included in this release however nothing has been ruled out for a 3DS version somewhere down the line with them included.
The core gameplay itself is almost exactly the same as its predecessors, mixing the turn-based tactical RPG system with a classic RPG system when actually battling your enemies. During the course of the game you meet up and “unlock” thirteen characters who will join you - dependent on your choices in the game and from that, four of them can take part in the battle at any one time, joined by two demons of your own choosing. As you might expect, you use these three characters from each party to defeat sets of three demons or human tamers that appear on the battlefield – with them being considered “defeated” upon defeat of the party’s leader. It is a system that has proven to work well, and I think it was a smart idea not to heavily modify it – but instead use new concepts and level designs in order to offer something new to those who have experienced the first game.
The battles themselves are based around six different styles of attack – Physical, Four Elemental types (Agi, Bufu, Zio and Zan) and status altering spells such as Paralysis and Poison. Each demon has individual strengths and weaknesses to these six types, so for example series mascot Jack Frost is weak against Agi (Fire) spells however can drain Bufu (Ice) spells. It is the same as almost every SMT game… but with the implementation of three demon/character parties and each having different aptitudes, it is a case of careful planning. While demons come set with a stock batch of spells and aptitudes, your main party members begin the game as a blank slate – allowing you to choose what spells and skills you give them, along with for your main character, how you increase your stats as you level up. Each character can equip up to three different skills, three passive skills and a single auto-skill, and with no overlap planning your party is vital so you don’t have one character too heavily oriented in one type, or a Jack of all Trades that struggles to defeat most enemies on the field. But there are a variety of skills so provided you don’t slack off and “Skill Break” (If a character you designate defeats a particular enemy you select, you can “steal” an ability from them), you should slowly but surely be able to both level up and improve your skill arsenal – a system that is useful during the many grind sessions throughout the game.
While this game does give you your initial demons post-battle, you have to win the right to use other demons through either auctioning or fusing them. During the game you earn Macca after every battle, a demon world currency which you can use on your phone to bid for one of the games many demons – going against up to three other tamers. If you win, you can add them to your party, and can later fuse them together to form even more powerful demons, with the ability to carry over skills to diversify your demons even further. One of the most useful albeit expensive new inclusions to this game is the Compendium – similar to that from the Persona games it allows you to register your demons and then pay to re-summon them at any time.
On the word of Persona, as I mentioned above a sort of “Social Link” system is also new to the game under the title “Fate System”. In the previous game, a considerable amount of the optional dialogue had limited impact on the game or the main storyline, while others scenes may have resulted in an ending route being opened or locked off or even (In my case), not handing over a handbag resulting in the death of a character. While there are options that still can result in storyline alterations, the game puts a heavier focus on interactions with and development of the characters, which while providing more incite on the status of Japan… also allows you to slowly unlock new character abilities between the hero and that character. For example, characters can unlock resistances to certain types of attacks, unlock brand new special demons and have the ability to transfer demons between human characters in the midst of battle.
To be honest…. this game I dont think is as challenging as the original Devil Survivor which I would easily call the second hardest game I have played on the Nintendo DS (Nothing has managed to boot Etrian Odyssey off the top spot yet), but while this could very well come into third place I did notice that the difficulty did spike a lot earlier than in its predecessor, offering a number of challenges against enemies ten levels above your main character, requiring a well rounded repertoire of demons to adapt to any situation, unforgiving victory conditions which DO CHANGE in the midst of battle (You could have defeated a challenging boss and have only one character remaining – then they will ask you to defeat every other monster on the field) and yes…. I did throw in the gauntlet several times. But even if it is frustrating at some points which requires grinding in one of the games “Free Battle” areas…. it is extremely satisfying to finish a battle while testing your strategies out.
Personally while I do think they would need to do a bit more to the game if they were to release a Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 3, I was more than satisfied with the old and new inclusions within this game, and I felt like it had offered me more than the previous release, which I consider one of the gems of the DS console. While you may raise your eyes at the prospect of a Social Link system within the game – it is only the concept that is the same as Persona and not the actual plot behind it, more like an addition to focusing the storyline on individual characters instead of having thirteen main characters who you know nothing about. The difficulty will most probably not be a big hit with those new to the RPG genre but for those who want a more challenging experience and are fans of the genre…. Devil Survivor 2 would be one I could happily suggest!
Storyline/Character Development: A-
Music/Voice Acting: A-
Personal Opinion: A
Overall Score: A