Sunday, November 25, 2012

Game Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked

Strategy RPG; Nintendo 3DS; Atlus; 2011
Sorry about this review coming in later than usual. Over the course of Thanksgiving weekend I spent several nights else where, away from my computer. I only arrived back home today, and with that long time away from my computer means there is a lot I need to catch upon. I also need to catch up on my sleep because I don't do that so well when I'm in other people's beds. Anyway, with all those pleasantries out of the way, it's high time I talk about today's review: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked. A enhance port of Altus's original Devil Survivor for the DS, but is this game half-baked attempt at extorting more money from the Altus faithful, or is there enough here to survive one more day.

Shin Megami Tensei Rule #1: It is Always the Demon Apocalypse.
You are a normal everyday high school student living in Japan. Summer Vacation is winding down when you are asked by your cousin, Naoya, invites you to visit him. You go along with your friends, Atsuro and Yuzu, head to downtown Tokyo. There you where handed three "Communication Players" or COMPs, a portable gaming system from Naoya. However, when they where booted up a program called "The Demon Summoning Program" booted up, and Demons materialized right in front of you. But that is just the start of a very long week. Shortly after, more Demons appeared and all of Tokyo was "Locked Down" seemingly in response. Now trapped within Tokyo with no food nor power and Demons lurking in every dark corner, all you and your friends can do is use your COMPs and the power of the Demons inside to survive. But is that possible, when everyone inside the lockdown is going to die in 7 days.

The story is awesome, as to be expected from the SMT series. Each character acts in a manner one would expect given the situation and a lot of the drama that occurs when you have characters you've come to like follow philosophical paths that you can sympathize with, but can't agree to. A lot of moments come down to a "What if someone had this philosophy and have the power to seize it" scenario. What if a person has the power over life and death and elects himself as the supreme Judge, Jury, and Executioner of the world? What if a Superhero Fangirl gets the opportunity to BE a Superhero? What if you knew how many days each person (including yourself) had to live? Then finally you get the choice of five different methods of ending the lockdown yielding six different endings. Instead of the standard "Be the Hero or Be the Villain" type ending choices in other games, Devil Survivor gives the full perspective of each choice. It's not as clear cut as a "Good Ending" or a "Bad Ending," more as a "These are the good things about this choice, and here are the bad things." It's fantastic how the game makes you second guess your preferred method of ending the game. If you know anything about the SMT series, you know that this game has what it takes to keep the player engaged.

Shin Megami Tensei Rule #2: Weak means more than just extra damage.
Devil Survivor Overclocked is an enhanced port of the original Devil Survivor for the DS. If you never played that game here is a run down. The game is split up into days which are further subdivided into half hour sections of time. Each half hour is consumed by viewing an event which revolves either around a fight or a conversation between the various characters who are trapped inside Tokyo. While there are many mandatory events to keep the story moving, other events are optional, leading to unlocking one of the five paths to ending the lockdown. However, it is the fights where the game really shines. Devil Survivor is a hybrid of a Strategy RPG and a traditional Turn Based RPG, while not the first of it's kind SMT: DS is nearly flawless in it's execution. When a fight starts you send out four teams of three, one Human "Demon Tamer" flanked by two Demons, against either other Demon Tamers teams or groups of three demons. At first glance it seems like any other SRPG with a square grid movement system; however, as soon as two teams are within attack range the game switches to a first person (Ala Dragon Quest or very early SMT games) where two rounds of a traditional RPG battle system are played, a normal round and an Extra Turn round. Here, defeating the opposing team's leader (always positioned in the center) is the goal, for as soon as the leader falls the entire team falls with it; however, so long as there is at least one other member of the team the leader will receive less damage. Still, this is a Shin Megami Tensei game, and what kind of SMT game would it be if exploiting weaknesses isn't the main strategy? As I mentioned there are two rounds played, a normal round and an Extra Turn round. Depending on each character's Agility Stat, who initiated the attack, and other factors, some characters will start out with an "Extra Turn" at the beginning of combat. While all able characters will act during the normal round of combat, only character with "Extra Turns" will act during the Extra Turn round. However, you can gain an "Extra Turn" by attacking an enemy's weakness, likewise if that enemy had an "Extra Turn" they would lose it. You can also do the same if the enemy happens to attack you with attacks that you are strong against. But be cautious since the enemy can do the same to you. Of course all of this is easy thanks to the top screen displaying all the information you need, especially weaknesses. While it might seem like the game might take forever to finish a single battle, it really doesn't. Individual fights are over in a matter of seconds, usually with one side wiped out (especially if you are exploiting weaknesses), and entire battles can be finished in a few minutes (Which is good considering you are probably going to need to grind quite a bit in this game).

Of course, being an SMT game standard outside of battle mechanics are there including the Cathedral of Shadows which allows you to fuse demons together to carry over stats and skills and the Demon Compendium which records your best demons and allows you to recall them (for a price). Unique to Devil Survivor is the Demon Auction where you try to outbid other Demon Tamers for the contracts of various demons (some good, some average, some bad) as your main means of gaining new demons. Since Overclocked is a enhanced port there are a few new things in this version. First, the visuals are upgraded for finer details and smoother graphics (though it requires a side by side comparison to recognize a lot of them, hell even the COMPs where changed to resemble 3DS). The game is fully voice acted, with top-notch performances all across the board. New Demons in the available, as per SMT tradition for their enhance ports. And finally an additional 8th Day available for some of the paths, extending an already lengthy game with brand new content.

Shin Megami Tensei Rule #3: Choose, but Choose wisely.
Since this is a SMT game there is one major issue with it: It will crush your balls like a grape and hand them back to you on a silver platter. Just when you think your comfortable and you have a firm grasp on the difficulty, the game will punch you in the throat with a fight you where completely unprepared for, enemies who require a particular arrangement of skills and demons to even the odds, victory and defeat conditions that are constantly in flux, sudden and overwhelming reinforcements, and bosses who are the very definition of unfair. You might think you that you have gotten everything there is to know and that there is no challenge left anymore, and then you fight Beldr. The controls are standard affair with the exception of the touch screen and Circle Pad. While you can maneuver the menus with the touch screen, it is no faster than using the standard controls, and there is no touch screen input during battle. Meanwhile, the Circle Pad seems ill equipped for all the menu scrolling in the game, and is frustrating to use during battles. See, you can't use the touch screen to move the cursor around during battles so you have to use the Circle Pad or D-pad, but since it is an Isometric view pressing UP will move the cursor to the Upper LEFT or Upper RIGHT corner depending on your configuration. This makes using the D-pad fine more or less (especially since this was originally for the DS) but with the Circle Pad you instinctively want to move the Pad in the upper right or upper left when you want to move in that direction; however, such diagonal movement might trigger the cursor to move to the LOWER left because it is more to the left than up (again depending on your configuration). Finally, beyond what I mentioned above, there is very little difference between Devil Survivor and Overclocked. Besides the intro, title screen, and the new Fusion animation there is very little 3D at work, and non of the 3DS's other features are used, but then again this is an Enhanced Port rather than a full blown Remake.

Atlus has garnered a lot of acclaim recently thanks to it's Shin Megami Tensei series, and who can blame them. Their stories are top notch, their characters are practically real people, and their games are a brilliant mix of fast, strategic, hard-as-hell, but still additively fun. Devil Survivor is all that, wrapped in a Strategy RPG/Turn-Based RPG gameplay that is ready to go, and Overclocked is just an improvement to that. Whether you should get Overclocked if you already own the original is more of a personal call, there is a significant cosmetic improvement but unless the 8th day really grabbed your attention there isn't much here to sway you. However, if you never got a chance to play the original, you better make sure you pick up Overclocked if you have the choice, and it should be more available than it's predecessor. Highly Recommended.

Until next time.

-Crescent, Shin Megami Tensei Rule #4: We are so screwed.

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