Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Review

RPGs are tricky subject matter. If you can’t get together an intriguing cast of characters, solid gameplay that rewards your grinding, and a great storyline that should keep you playing, then they become throwaways that are little more than copies of games that came before them (and usually did better jobs). Having been a big fan of the MegaTen games for years now, I can usually count on the franchise to deliver on all counts, even when it seems that the rest of the RPG world is going down the tubes (I’m looking at you, Black Sigil!). The release of Devil Survivor, the latest entry into the series fails to disappoint as well, receiving my own personal honor of being one of the most entertaining handheld adventures I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. These days, when it’s increasingly difficult to find a game to stick with, that’s saying a lot.

Set in gorgeous Tokyo, Devil Survivor (conveniently given a “DS” title) revolves around the story of three friends, one mysterious cousin, and the characters they meet along the way. What begins as a leisurely hangout for Yuzu, Atsuro, and the unnamed protagonist slowly degenerates into a darker reality. The three, along with the rest of the city, become trapped in a circle within the city after being gifted three mysterious devices by Atsuro’s cousin. The devices just happen to mirror a DS Lite or DSi, and are affectionately known as COMPs. The COMPs begin delivering chilling mail to the trio of children foretelling disasters that will happen across the area. When the harrowing disasters come to fruition, the kids realize that something deeper is going on than just scary coincidences. They learn that these mysterious COMPs can be used for things other than simply email, internet, and communication: they can summon demons. As the clock begins to tick for the kids (literally — death clocks appear over their heads), they must race to unlock the demons’ full potential in order to save the city that’s being conveniently barracaded by the government, themselves, and possibly even the world.

Because you get a lovin’ spoonful of plotlines before you’re ever introduced to the battle system or any other aspects of the game, Devil Survivor hooks you and doesnt let you go. With a tone similar to The World Ends With You (many of the same ideas and locations), it’s hard not to get sucked into this tale of demons, the occult, and strange goings-on within an area modeled after a real location. I have been riveted to the edge of my seat, playing much longer than I should have and obsessively attempting to uncover more secrets even though there were hurdles such as bosses I couldn’t defeat staring me in the face.

Devil Survivor is at its core a strategy RPG sans the frills of Disgaea and the flowery language of Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume. The story takes center stage here so the battle system (though polished) can take a back seat. Unlike traditional RPGs, there is no overworld to wander around. Instead, you’ll move from place to place through a series of straightforward menus. Locations on the map are marked with the familiar MegaTen “mover” and each new area to explore is clearly marked with a battle warning, free battle opportunity, or simply a place where you can advance the story. This greatly reduces the lull in gameplay by having to wander around aimlessly and effortlessly streamlines the game for those who like their demonic chaos a bit more organized. However, because there is no real exploration to be done in the traditional sense, you’ll want to load up on free battles in order to level up sufficiently.

Battles are your typical strat-RPG fare. You can deploy party members in a certain space on a battle grid and change their facing when necessary. Though your human characters aren’t anything special themselves, the power of the COMP allows them to summon, buy, and train demons. You’ll find the demons run the gamut between typical MegaTen characters such as Jack Frost and Sarasvati to a few newer and lesser-known demons, each with different abilities, elements, and appearances. The fun truly lies in encountering new demons and making them yours whether through Skill Cracking their spells and status effect-altering magic or by buying them through the in-game Auction House and fusing them together to create new demons that are harder to obtain.

Battles play out very easily. You can move only a certain set number of squares during each turn, and you can also use spells or abilities. Your enemies can do this as well, so lather, rinse, and repeat until you meet the terms of victory (usually to destroy all opponents). It’s simplistic, but it works. There are no overly complicated rules to follow or to remember to progress in battle. Just good, old-fashioned plugging away at enemies in order to gain levels to see the rest of the story unfold. One thing that can be said, however, is that the battles can get downright nasty if you don’t prepare yourself beforehand. As previously mentioned, you’ll want to utilize every free battle you can get (especially those labeled “hard”) in order to pick up different cracked skills and even new demons. For those not used to skating through a video game without ever having a truly random battle, this can be a bit of a shock to the system and you’ll find yourself losing perhaps a bit more than you should be. Devil Survivor boasts a colorful palette and vibrant characters. If you’ve ever enjoyed a MegaTen game, chances are you’ll feel right at home with this one. Deep reds, bright blues, and mysterious purples are only some of the colors you’ll see everywhere throughout the game — a welcome switch from the rusts and earth tones of most games these days. While there aren’t any cutesy 3D models like we’ve seen in the Final Fantasy remakes on the DS, there are sharp character portraits and intriguing demon portraits on the battle screen. It’s a bit of a throwback to the olden days of RPGs (think Earthbound) when the enemies nor you move at all during battle, but it’s not truly a necessary game mechanic. I still would have liked to see a little animation, though.

If the graphics are gorgeous then the music’s deathly catchy. MegaTen games always boast some of the best music within the RPG world and for that you can thank the musical genius Shoji Meguro. Spooky techno and guitar riffs annotate battles, and sneaky synths punctuate the dark storyline that you’re working to uncover. This is one game you might want to check out the soundtrack for, even if just to make out what the vocoder-heavy boss battle music is actually saying.

Devil Survivor is one of the most engaging handheld competitors so far this year, and it’s going to be quite hard to top it unless there happens to be another MegaTen title releasing this year. Luckily the campaign will take you well over 10 hours to complete (or longer, depending on your status and feelings on picking up all fusable demons). You’ll be keeping this in your DS for quite some time, and for good reason. It’s not trying to be anything but a good, solid RPG. What more could you ask for these days? Hey — at least there’s no mandatory waggle.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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