Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
Today’s youth has so many problem to deal with, especially in Japan. Keeping up with fashion, meeting up with friends, following the tech trends, investigating strange cults, fighting off demons, surviving the apocalypse… wait, what? You and your friends Yuzu and Atsuro are going to go have to contend with more than summer boredom if you want to survive the week in the first Shin Megami Tensei title from Atlus on the DS, Devil Survivor. Shibuya has been placed under a government lockdown due to mysterious circumstances, and you and your friends are trapped inside with countless other civilians while demons run rampant. The situation seems rather grim, and the only thing saving you from certain death is a mysterious package from your cousin.
The package consists of three COMPs (basically modified DS systems) which will become your most reliable source of protection in this new and dangerous Shibuya. These enable you to fight demons you encounter, tame and capture them, and even buy and fuse together demons to create new ones. These features are nothing new for veterans of the Shin Megami Tensei series, but players returning to the series will certainly appreciate the fusion search function, which allows looking up fusion recipes for new demons, instead of the usual SMT combine-everything-different-ways-till-you-get-what-you-want approach. New features of the COMP are also unlocked as you progress through Devil Survivor‘s story, adding each gameplay element to the mix smoothly and giving the player just enough time to get used to using one feature to their advantage before introducing another. That’s not to say that the features are easy to master, eventually the level of complexity reached between features like the demon action, skill acquisition, and demon fusion is something that can suck up hours of your time without even touching the story if you want to dive that deep into it.
Devil Survivor‘s battle system is a mix of elements, somewhere between Final Fantasy Tactics, Pokemon, and a more traditional turn based RPG. You and a party of up to three additional team members, supported by two summoned demons each, confront the enemy on an isometric grid map screen. From there, battles are initiated between separate parties in a first person view, and victory is attained after certain conditions are met. In typical SMT style, enemies all have strengths and weaknesses (as do you) and it is by exploiting these weaknesses that you will emerge triumphant. The SMT knockdown/critical system seems to evolve with each incarnation, but it’s still around as well, with exploited weaknesses leading to extra turns for either you or your enemies, depending who lands the blow. Skills in Devil Survivor are also highly customizable. Each skill you acquire is assignable to any of your party members, who have a certain number of skill slots that can be filled. The only drawback here is that each skill can only be acquired once, meaning you’ll have to juggle your skill selection and demon selection for each character carefully if you want all your party members to be useful in any given battle. Demons can also be swapped out during battles, or replaced if they’re knocked out.
By far the most important element of Devil Survivor is the clock that keeps tracks time passing throughout your day. Every event in Devil Survivor (with some exceptions) takes half an hour to complete, and as we all know you can only pack so much running around into one day. In addition, many events are only available during small windows of time, forcing a choice between, say, saving a popular but troubled singer or an old friend from being torn apart. As you progress through the game, the events you choose to participate in will direct the storyline to one of many multiple endings, making new game plus a much appreciated feature, since you’ll definitely want to replay it and experience each storyline.
Stylistically speaking, fans of the Shin Megami Tensei series won’t be disappointed, and newcomers are sure to be impressed with the polished gameplay and soundtrack. The huge cast of demons features quite a few old favorites, but there are plenty demons new to the series to mix it up a bit. There’s no voice acting this time around, but the music is top notch, and does a lot to add to the atmosphere of battles with driving guitars and heavy drums. The menus, both in battle and not, are intuitive and shouldn’t cause any confusion, which is good because juggling skills and demons is complicated enough without a clunky menu in the way.
To those looking for a great portable Shin Megami Tensei experience, this is it, and any fan of tactical turn based games should pick it up as well. A little warning though: while the Devil Survivor starts off easy, it will soon remind you that it is, in fact, an SMT game as the difficult ramps up. Devil Survivor never gets to unreasonable levels of difficulty, but it does provide an engaging challenge for on the bus, between classes, or eating up hours and hours of your spare time at home.