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The PS2 just can't be killed. Even with its successor nearly three years old, the war horse keeps going. And while the PlayStation 2 has a good amount of shovelware clogging its new release section, the Shin Megami Tensei series is keeping it honorable with games expertly tailored for the RPG fanatic in all of us. And the publisher - Atlus - shows no signs of stopping with the newest release in their action-RPG sub-series: (deep breath) Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abaddon.
Unlike the more modern setting of the other SMT games, Devil Summoner takes place in the 1930s as a fictionalized Japan is really taking to western culture. You play as the Raidou Kuzunoha from the cumbersome title, who is the 14th Devil Summoner to carry that name. He's been sent by his deity to the Capital to address some strange trouble that’s brewing. He stays with his assistant/talking kitty Gouto and the dapper detective Narumi, as what seems like a simple missing person case grows into a giant battle between a demonic cult and humanity's protectors.
As you go through a Raymond Chandler-esque adventure with a Japanese twist, you run into weird demons who can either help or hinder your progress, in and out of battle. When it comes to fighting the demons the game really shines, as the combat feel loose, fast and yet always under control. The action is real-time, but can be paused at any moment to give commands. Dodging, blocking, combos and a healthy mix of short and long range attacks make each battle feel fresh, even with the sometimes repetitive enemies.
But you don't fight them on your own, as you have two interchangeable demons on your side. They are very needed in a fight as back-up, and are used in the normal world to help with investigations. The monster collecting aspect adds even more depth, but the beasts don't join the team easily. Instead you have to negotiate with them during battle, which is a cute idea, but it's sometimes random, as the monster asks you a series of questions that when answered incorrectly means you've lost them as an ally. It can get a little frustrating, but it also makes it feel more worthwhile when they join.
Devil Summoner 2 has a unique and rewarding combination of demon-battling and gumshoe-ing, however, the investigative aspects are hindered by some faults. What could have been something really special instead boils down to talking to everyone in town until you get a clue on where to go, with some fetch quests mixed in for flavor. While the dialogue with the bystanders is well written, it would have been nice to have some speech instead of the text like in other SMT games, like Persona 4. Additionally, the camera for navigating the world is annoying in its fixed place, as when you enter each new area the controls shift to new location, causing you to run in unwanted directions often.
Much like Raidou's opponents, the Devil Summoner series has a cult following and they will really enjoy this continuation of his adventures. Plus it still feels open enough to those who want to join the club, as it takes time to let newer players feel welcome. It isn't the prettiest game nor the easiest, but for the hardcore fans keeping the PS2 afloat and for those that want to join the effort, Devil Summoner 2 is worth the time.
May 27, 2009