Shin Megami Tensei has always stood out from the role-playing pack. While the typical RPG is firmly rooted in swords 'n sorcery, Megaten (as the cool kids abbreviate it) gives us stories that take place in dystopian present-day worlds. The art style, environments, and character designs of Megaten are dark and hauntingly beautiful, as opposed to the sunny fields and feather-haired heroes we've come to expect from Square Enix. Oh yeah, and there are demons. Megaten always has lots of devils, monsters and assorted beasties, culled from pretty much every religion and mythology out there. Some are friendly and cute, some are wicked and nasty. Most of them fit somewhere in between.
Still, as Devil Summoner shows, developer Atlus is willing to break with their own conventions to deliver a new game experience. Rather than a straightforward turn-based RPG, Devil Summoner is the unholy offspring of an adventure game and an action-RPG, set in a time and place that's underrepresented in the gaming world - 1920's Japan.
As Kuzunoha Raidou the 14th - the latest in a long lineage of Devil Summoners - your job is to ensure harmony between the Dark Realm and the human world. You go about doing this by working for a paranormal detective agency, solving mysteries and disturbances with the help of legions of demons at your beck and call. After handling a few cases, it becomes obvious that something far more sinister than your typical ghost hunt is afoot.
Solving the mysteries you encounter involves investigation, and Raidou will need to speak with witnesses and persons of interest, collect clues and evidence, and even travel to the Dark Realm occasionally for some good old-fashioned devil hunting. Rather than constantly progressing to new areas, Raidou will often revisit familiar places, particularly after obtaining key information. Seeing the same old locales does get tiresome - especially when maps are re-used in the Dark Realm - but usually you'll be too caught up in your detective work to care.
Combat, sadly, isn't nearly as interesting as the story sequences. Rather than being turn-based, Devil Summoner 's battles are full of action, with you and a summoned demon pal taking on a group of enemies in real time. But for being a badass demon handler, Raidou is surprisingly limited in his combat skills, with only a few sword and gun techniques at his disposal. Demons offer more variety, coming into combat with plenty of skills, but they still can only perform a few special techniques beyond standard attacks. Success in combat essentially boils down to finding the best demon to take advantage of an enemy's weakness while not getting killed. It's hardly rocket science, and grows boring after a while.
Devil Summoner is a solid effort - not quite as good as the series' more traditional offerings, but still above average. It's worth checking out, if only because there's nothing else out there quite like it, but it probably won't be enshrined in the hallowed halls of RPG classics anytime soon.