Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzanoha vs. King Abaddon
Shin Megami Tensei has always been an extremely intimidating series of games to get into. While they offer excellent storytelling, quirky game design and a fascinating art style, there is a huge difficulty curve that prevents many players from making it all the way through. Of course, the series isn’t intentionally cheap; the games are just very complicated, and they lack the level of guidance that many other RPGs funnel players through for the first few dungeons or so. The stories are also extremely dark, peppered with topics ranging from the occult to sexuality. Raidou Kuzunoha: Devil Summoner, on the other hand, was a deviation from the traditional role-playing experience that previous games offered; it eschewed the hard-as-nails pretenses of other Shin Megami Tensei games and instead twisted typical SMT elements into a lighter, campier story that was still unmistakeably related to the overall series. It felt like an exhalation compared to the usually uptight and tense atmosphere that radiates from other games in the series. The mechanics were easier, the overall experience was shorter, and the script was snappier – something that went along well with the faster, action-oriented gameplay. Now Raidou, devil summoner and detective extraordinaire, is back in this new caper in the Devil Summoner branch of Shin Megami Tensei. It’s bigger, better, and just as much fun as its predecessor.
“The stories are dark, sinister affairs”For the uninitiated, Shin Megami Tensei is a series of RPGs dating way back into the mid-1980s, with various iterations on home computer systems and consoles. The stories are dark, sinister affairs that usually involve the apocalypse arriving in some fashion, or murders, or cannibalism, or dealing with living after the apocalypse, and at one point, crazy people attempting to resurrect Hitler. They’re extremely cerebral games, to say the least; which makes the Devil Summoner spin-off series something of an oddity. Instead of the old-school turn-based system that most other entries have used, battles are controlled in real time; the encounters are still random, but options for fighting are much more fluid. Raidou can summon a demon partner to fight alongside him, similar to the use of Personas in Persona or the recruitment of demons in Nocturne; however, these devil characters act independently, leaving the player focused on controlling Raidou in a combat system similar to Devil May Cry. Fighting well in Devil Summoner means picking the right demon for the job at hand, and then going nuts with Raidou’s katana and revolver.
“Attacking and defending now feels much more fluid, adding a layer of polish to an already streamlined RPG combat system.”Nothing much has changed in Devil Summoner 2, either. Most of the appeal in this sequel stems from the return of the quirky film-noir experience, complete with 1920s catchphrases, fashion, and jazz. The story is just as delightfully over-the-top as Raidou vs. The Soulless Army, rife with real-world references tossed out with a wink and a nudge. However, there are a few gameplay additions that really make Raidou vs. King Abbadon stand out from the first game. Raidou can now perform more moves in battle, including – thank God – a rolling dodge. Attacking and defending now feels much more fluid, adding a layer of polish to an already streamlined RPG combat system. There are also a few edits that will come as a relief to many fans. The best – or at least, most noticeable – is that random battles no longer strike during visits to town. It was extremely annoying in Raidou vs. The Soulless Army; even in innocent jaunts around the city, Raidou was apparently a prime target for a random battle. And not just in towns; everywhere. That kind of thing was acceptable in games like Nocturne, where every action the game took seemed to be a direct middle finger to the player as the difficulty ramped hopelessly upwards, but in a game as laid back as Devil Summoner it was just irritating. Thankfully, civilization is now sanctuary for the mysterious boy detective.
The art design is undoubtedly the best part of any Shin Megami Tensei title. Series veteran Kazuma Kaneko returns to make Raidou vs. King Abbadon look just as fantastic as the other games his hand has touched. Character designs are sleek, eerie and minimalist; and while the visuals aren’t technically fantastic, the PS2’s aging graphics do the designs justice. The city, and indeed the gameworld, feel bigger and better; it’s not a huge step up from Soulless Army, but it is noticeably better. The soundtrack is a mix of uptempo jazz and film-noir scoring, which fits perfectly with the visuals. However, the characters are surprisingly silent. Considering that the recent Digital Devil Saga and Persona games have been fully voiced, it’s odd to see the series take a step backwards. The lack of acting lets the soundtrack come to the forefront, and it sort of fits the 1920s vibe, but it is still a tad disappointing.
“Raidou vs. King Abbadon feels like the product of a company that listens to its customers.”Atlus seem to be masters of creating brilliant sequels without changing more than a few textures and a new script. Persona 4 was an example of this, and Devil Summoner 2 seems to continue that tradition. The changes that did make it into the game are universally excellent, improving the playability and tightening the controls. There are a few other perks: Raidou moves faster, the game is longer, and there are more sidequests. Raidou vs. King Abbadon feels like the product of a company that listens to its customers – as if Atlus had been there when every person had said “Man, this game is great, but…” and taken careful notes. In typical Atlus fashion, the game comes at a reduced price point with a collectible goody – in this case, a plush Jack Frost mascot wearing Raidou’s iconic outfit. If a better game, a low price, and an adorable doll aren’t enough to sway you, it might be time to find a therapist.