Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor review
An RPG For Every DS Owner's Library
Atlus have had some solid releases in June. They started the month off with Sting’s Knights in the Nightmare, which turned out to be an epic sleeper hit and one of the most innovative RPGs on the DS. However, their big release for the month was always Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. For good reason too. Over the years the MegaTen franchise has gained a lot of popularity with numerous spin-offs such as the Persona series. With Devil Survivor, Atlus finally brings MegaTen to the DS, and it was definitely worth the wait.
The story, like in other MegaTen games, revolves around the appearance of demons. Their sudden appearance leads the government to force a lockdown of a portion of Japan in order to prevent the demons from escaping. But just how far will the government go to enforce this?
The main character, whom you name, and his two friends, Yuzu and Atsuro, are amongst the many people trapped in the lockdown. You have seven days to get to the bottom of what’s going on. This aspect of the game is extremely similar to Square Enix’s The World Ends With You. At any rate, the trio was given mysterious devices known as COMPs which are the key to surviving through this ordeal. They give you a fighting chance by allowing you to summon demons, purchase them at the auction, and fuse them.
The COMPs weren’t handed to them for no reason. The three (or rather, your main character) have a duty only they can fulfill. Over the course of your adventure you’ll meet up with others stuck in this Hell who might share similar goals. How you choose to interact with them is up to you.
Apart from the team customization, the main gameplay found in Devil Survivor is rather simple. It consists mainly of two parts; visiting locations to gather information and battles. There’s no actual exploration to be done. Rather, everything takes place from the main screen where you are given a set of real life Japanese locations. All you have to do is select one and choose what you want to do. For example, examine the area, check out the people, or talk to your team. Visiting locations with a clock on them will pass half an hour of your time in-game. This once again brings up a TWEWY feel. You don’t have to worry about the time elapsing in real-time. However, certain events will be triggered at certain times and you won’t have time to talk to everybody or do all the things.
And this is what makes the game interesting. When you interact with characters, you’re given certain sets of dialogue to choose between. You can opt between ignoring them and their requests or try to be friendly, which will lead to certain outcomes and will sometimes put you at a crossroads to choose between. The effects of your dialogue choices might not be too apparent during the game for the most part; however, it’s on the final day that you get to see the impact. This is when you’re given a choice to choose between certain paths to take at the end. As you’ll play through the game, you’ll find out more about the possible options you might want to consider at the end. Some of them involve you busting out of the lockdown while others might task you with becoming the Demon King and controlling all the demons in order to have the lockdown lifted by the government. But as I mentioned earlier, you won’t have the time to talk to every person and follow their requests; meaning this game will have you play through it multiple times for a 100% completion.
The battle component is the other major component. To get into a battle, there will be events marked on the screen. Battles with a clock next to them are mandatory battles you have to face in order to advance the plot. These battles also take up half an hour of the time. Free battles allow you to grind your levels. You can also use the skill crack function, which you obtain later on, to gain new abilities for your human characters. Winning a free battle will also add new demons to the auction.
The best example of what the battle system is like would be Mistwalker’s Archaic Sealed Heat for the DS. Although it hasn’t been released outside of Japan yet, so it might not be the greatest example. The battle system is more of a hybrid of strategy and turn-based RPGs. Once you’re done selecting your party’s dispatch locations, the battle starts. The map is divided into a grid which you can move on. Once you’re next to an opponent you can attack them, though certain demons have skills that allow you to attack from further away. When you attack, the game shifts into a first-person perspective a la Dragon Quest. This only lasts for a turn, although your characters and demons can gain an “extra turn” by hitting an opponent’s weakness, performing a critical hit, reflecting/nullifying/being strong against an opponent’s attack, or simply being quicker than the enemy. You can kill demons by either taking out all of them or by focusing on the group leader (the one in the middle); however, should you go for the leader, he’ll be more resistant to attacks if his flanks are there and you won’t gain as much EXP as you would finishing off all three of them.
The demon aspect of the game is really what makes it shine and is undeniably the game’s biggest hook. Each human character in your party can have two demons on their “team.” The demons are just as useful as the humans. The only thing is that humans can be customized before battles by equipping the skills you’ve cracked from enemies, whereas demons have a preset skill set which you can only alter every now and then during battle. Like humans, demons also have active skills (spells you can use in battle) and passive skills (skills that don’t need to be activated or used; mainly support skills). Instead of command skills (skills that are activated at the beginning of battle regardless), demons have a racial skill specific to each race, which can usually help outside of battle. Some of them allow you to attack twice while others can heal your party. These skills just add to the game’s strategy.
But this isn’t the best part about demons; it’s how you obtain them. Demons can either be purchased from the auction or fused. At the auction, you can either try to bid for one using the money you gain in battle or pay a certain price and buy it now. The Cathedral of Souls allows you to fuse demons to create stronger ones. This offers a few advantages. Fused demons can have skills inherited from their “parents” while demons bought at the auction have their own standard moveset. Also, by fusing demons you can create unique demons, once you reach a certain level, which cannot be found at the auction. These demons are a lot stronger than regular ones and you can only have one of them at a time. The whole fusing aspect gives off a Dragon Warrior Monsters vibe. If you enjoyed playing that game on the GBC, you’ll certainly love this.
Visuals & Audio
The visuals are nothing groundbreaking, but it does a good job complementing the somber atmosphere of the game. The character and location artwork is nicely done.
The songs might not sound that great in the beginning, but they’re pretty amazing once you get used to them. Like the visuals, they do a good job or fitting in with the rest of the game. The opening theme’s also pretty catchy, especially the intro guitar riff.
There really aren’t a lot of things I can nitpick about with this game. It kept me thoroughly captivated for the couple of weeks that I played it. However, there was one fault that I found. This might not be so bad for everybody, but I personally found it a bit bothersome. The fault would have to be the emphasis on grinding your levels. Like other RPGs, the game places a lot of weight on this since you can’t fuse demons to get stronger ones unless your main character is at a certain level. So as you constantly level up, newer demons will become available through fusion and this is essential for when you face certain bosses as demons do become obsolete. It isn’t a bad concept; however, towards the end of the game I felt that I got turned off by the amount of grinding I had to do to in order to finish the game. Maybe somewhere along the line I progressed too quickly and didn’t level up accordingly, but I found it to be extremely irksome replaying the same battles over and over again to level up. Had they provided a bit more variety with the free battles it might not have been so bad.
In conclusion, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor is an amazing game that’s bound to keep you hooked for a while. It’s got RPG elements mixed in with some Pokemon-esque features with the whole demon aspect. If you’re looking for depth, there’s plenty of strategies to explore with the combination of humans and demons in your party. It might not be as deep as Disgaea or Knights in the Nightmare, but it’ll certainly have you tweaking your party to optimize your combinations for battles. If you’re looking for a solid RPG for the DS, I definitely recommend Devil Survivor.
About the author
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