Sunday, December 29, 2013

Game Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2

SRPG; Nintendo DS; Atlus; 2011
Big news from over at the Mighty No. 9 forums, the infamous Call vote is over and the winner is *DRUMROLL* Call F! From now on, this design is the official design for Call though it was close with only a 2.25% difference between the winner and the first runner up Call E. Of course naturally the immediate reaction over at the forums is celebration from the Call F crowd and immediate calls for a re-vote because the vote was "unfair" and that Call F only won due to "Comcept favoritism." It will take a while before all this will blow over. Until then here is a video game review. Oh and for Christmas I got Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl, Kirby's Mass Attack, Luminous Arc, Spice and Wolf Vol. 6 (unfortunately I don't have Vol. 5 yet), and for some reason DmC: Devil May Cry. Anyway, onto my review of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2.

"A Death website? Sure, that sounds like a great idea Daichi."
You are a senior in high school and while taking a mock entrance exam, your friend Daichi comes to you with news of a website that shows you clips of the deaths of people you know before they happen. After signing up for the site, you and Daichi head home via the subway and run into Io, a fellow student at your high school. That is when all three of your phones go off with a clip of your mutual death, crushed underneath a wrecked subway car. Moments after viewing that clip, an Earthquake strikes and the subway car derails, just like in your "Death Clip." It is then, just seconds before your death, that your phone goes off and you are asked "Do you want to survive?" After agreeing, a demon appears and saves your life, but now you and your friends must fight to secure the power of the Demon Summoning App that has been forcibly installed on your phones. After emerging both from the subway and victoriously from battle, you and your friends discover that the devastation that Tokyo has met is far greater than just a normal earthquake. What's more, is that there are more demons about, including foes that defy description, and a secret organization that walks the line between friend and foe. Do you have what it takes to survive?

The story to Devil Survivor 2 is a solid SMT storyline and much like the original Devil Survivor, the strengths in this story is it's cast. Characters are well developed and diverse, and those who are likeable endear themselves to you while those who are unlikeable at least are interesting enough to want to know more about them. While there are more characters that fall into clear cut archtypes unlike the original Devil Survivor, they are none the less still all-around solid characters, especially when late in the game the group is split into different factions over the fate of the world. However, while on it's own Devil Survivor 2's story is solid, it pales in comparison to the original, which not only had a likeable cast of characters with complex motivations, it also had a unique atmosphere and central mechanics for the story to work with, the Laplace Mail and the Death Clocks. DS2 tried the same thing with the "Death Clips" but it felt more hollow, and the concept of "survival" is completely downplayed given that for most of the game you are working with a massive organization that supports you. So in words, good story, not as good as the original.

If you have played the original Devil Survivor (or the enhanced port Overclocked) then you should be right at home with this game. If not, then here is a quick refresher. Devil Survivor is a cross between a traditional RPG and a Strategy RPG. During battles, you control up to four teams of three characters, a human Demon Tamer and two Demons, as you move your teams across an isometric battlefield against other teams of three. Once two characters are within attack range, the battle screen changes to a first person view where two (or three if you have a Demon with a special skill) rounds of a more traditional turn base RPG battle system commences, one regular round and an Extra Turn round. During combat, some characters (based on Agility and who initiated the fight) will have an Extra Turn icon, which means they will act during the Extra Turn round. However, this Extra Turn can be removed or added based on whether you strike characters strengths or weaknesses. Hitting Weaknesses will remove the enemies Extra Turns while adding an Extra Turn to your character while hitting Strengths will do the opposite. But be careful, for that rule also applies to enemies. Combat between two parties ends when either all turns are used or when the leader of either group gets defeated, in which case that party is removed even if there are still fighters alive in the party. And while teams can preform multiple actions in one turn (such as moving, attacking, and using field commands), the more actions a team preforms in a signal turn, the longer it takes for their next turn to come around. And like most SRPGs, battles have a wide array of objectives to gain victory, including defeating all enemies, defeating the boss, escape, and so on.

Between fights, you can view events that will take up time in your day, but will either advance the story or strengthen your Fate with other characters, which gives you several different benefits such as natural resistances to elements, new demons, and access to new abilities. You also have the Demon Auction where you can bet money on new and more powerful demons and the Shin Megami Tensei stable of Demon Fusion, where you can combine two demons to create a more powerful demon with skills and Stat bonuses of the previous two demons. Devil Survivor 2 replaces the Magnetite bonus with Add-Ons, which can be added to fusions to either give Stat bonuses to the fusion, or add more skills to pass onto the new demon. This allows you to better give demons those resistances that are so necessary for survival, unfortunately you won't get the same level of command skill superiority. It's an interesting trade off.

Who names the main character "ATLUS USA"?
Unfortunately, it's not all good. A lot of the annoyances from the original Devil Survivor are still here without much change and some are even worse. The game drops the "Speed" stat to determine turn order on the battlefield map leaving it nebulous as to how turn order is determine, especially since the turn cost gauge at the bottom of the character's status window is also dropped. This is most frustrating since battles always begin with every single character taking their turn one after another, leaving some time between your initial move and your second move after the demons stopped attacking you, since being attacked also drops you in terms of turn order. This gets even worse in some fights where the enemy can attack you three or four times before your next action. And while the game never gets to the same level of ridiculousness with it's fluctuating victory condictions or hard as hell boss fight, there are some fights in this game that is just completely unfair. But then again, this is a Shin Megami Tensei game, those kinds of boss fights come with the territory.

While I readily admit that Devil Survivor 2 is no where near as good as Devil Survivor 1, it is still a fantastic game. It's still that same old addicting fusion of classic turn base RPGs with a good helping of strategy and good old SMT flavor that made the original so popular. If you want a little SMT in your strategy RPGs, and can't wait for Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem, then Devil Survivor is here for you. Highly Recommended.

Until the next year.

-Crescent, Beware the might of... two Pixies!

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