Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor review

  • Deep, yet quick combat
  • Intricate and well-told plot
  • Addicting demon fusion
  • Can't save during battles
  • Steep difficulty curve later on
  • A little too emo for some

Shin Megami Tensei, the cult Japanese RPG franchise, continues its march to America, where it has been met with open arms. Though long successful on Sony consoles, it goes into fresh territory on the DS with its newest sub-series, Devil Survivor. And while this grid-based strategy RPG has many of the hallmarks of the SMT name, including the collecting of demonic Pokemon, it also has some alterations and new features that make it a great fit for the handheld giant.

Taking place in modern day Tokyo, you play as the custom-named hero and two of his friends, Yuzu and Atsuro, who get lured into the metropolis and are given modded electronic devices that look just like DS Lites. The trio gets stranded in Tokyo when all hell literally breaks loose, as demons walk the streets, attacking the innocent and trapped populace. You fight the demons using those faux-DSes' summoning programs while trying to get to the bottom of all this. But your main drive is to live through another day, as the constant death clock over your head says you will die very soon unless you can change your fate.

That ticking clock is integral to Devil Survivor; not only are you out to save your team from death, but you also see the clock of everyone else that’s trapped, and there's always the constant need to save someone. Though the clock isn't ticking in real time, it does mean you must carefully choose what you do, as most interactions and battles move the clock forward a half hour, and people you could've helped may no longer be around. This enables the story to be unique for the player, as they can follow the side-stories of their choosing. Because of the branching paths, Devil Survivor has multiple endings dependent on your decisions, adding even more value to an already lengthy title.

The story plays out well, but only in conversations with different characters; there's no overworld or dungeons. All the action plays out on the classical-style grid-based maps of the strategy genre, like the Final Fantasy Tactics series. The battles work great as they seem simple, but it deepens dramatically; do you want a balanced or specialized team? Do you quickly kill the central enemy or attack its support characters first to get more experience and cash? Do you skip an attack this turn to go earlier next turn? These are just some of the decisions that make the fast-paced battles so addicting as you and your collection of demons fight for good.

In fact, maintaining your collection of hellspawn is nearly as fun as the fighting. You start with a small group of demons, but as you gain money, the only thing you can spend it on is contracting new demons in between battles. Also, while they have specific powers, the more you use them the more skills they can pick up. You feel a certain connection to each one as you mold them into the most powerful monster they can be. But don't grow too attached to them; while they can level up, it's much slower than the main characters and to really keep up with ever more powerful enemies, you'll need to fuse them.

The whole fusion system works spectacularly, as you can make so many different combinations of devils into more powerful creatures. On top of that, it pays off to level up a demon and then combine it with other experienced demons, as opposed to fusing two freshly contracted ones. The depth of how specialized you can make a demon is nearly limitless, and we found ourselves many times taken away from the captivating story to instead try to create the best Cu Chulainn possible.

With its quick battles and focus and short conversations to tell the story, Devil Survivor works great for the DS. On top of that it is so refreshing to play an RPG on the system that isn’t steeped in fantasy and/or is a remake. Though the difficulty takes a bit of a climb later on, the game isn’t so hardcore to push away everyone else. In fact, if you’ve always been interested in Shin Megami Tensei and didn’t know where to start, Devil Survivor is a great entry point for any RPG fan who doesn’t mind a little emo.

Jun 24, 2009

More Info

Release date: Jun 23 2009 - DS (US)
Available Platforms: DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Atlus
Developed by: Atlus
Franchise: Shin Megami Tensei
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Mild Blood


  • Cyberninja - August 6, 2011 9:20 p.m.

    @rayzor12 you know someone is not dumb by saying something reminds them of something else. because if you are just looking at a game in a store at a glace then you will see on the box for both games survive for 7 days and you wont know anything about battle system or story so STFU
  • RAYZOR12 - October 25, 2010 4:42 p.m.

    Sukururu and Cyberninja are dumb. There is no crossover. The battle system and story are also different. On top of all of that, Atlus and Square Enix havent had a joint project.... -.-"
  • Sukururu - October 20, 2009 1:05 a.m.

    maybe the main character in TWEWY dies because of the devils in Devil Survivor the first day and thats when TWEWY starts its story... if you think about it it might be possible...and awesome cause it would be two different sides of the story, trying to survive and being dead.
  • TrigunGunner - July 1, 2009 4:01 a.m.

    you can save during battle by pressing the start button to save suspend data like you can in the fire emblem series.The game doesn't inform you of this, but by pressing start during battle you'll see suspend at the bottom of the menu. This save feature works like fire emblem where you can either load your earlier save or load suspend data.
  • njdevils09 - June 29, 2009 9:24 p.m.

  • G1drake - June 29, 2009 5:59 p.m.

    you can save during battles, start>suspend and continue, you don,t need to shut down
  • FlyinMX - June 26, 2009 7:05 a.m.

    Shibuya was the only place you could explore in TWEWY. Devil Survivor has more regions of Tokyo to explore. Also, if anything, the main character looks more like the main character in persona 3 (blue hair and headphones), and that game came out a year before TWEWY.
  • tykillase - June 26, 2009 5:07 a.m.

    naww i deff agree with cyberninja... lol... it reminds me of twewy... lol they were both in shibuya... both main characters have headphones... the 7 days thing... and there are a lot of "small" things in this game that remind me of twewy... fun tho... both games
  • Cyberninja - June 25, 2009 8:43 p.m.

    not trying to get techinal and when you begin you dont know that but what about the japan thing
  • FlyinMX - June 25, 2009 8:39 p.m.

    I pre-ordered this and still have to wait another week for it. Oh well, I guess I can call it a birthday present to myself. And the comparisons to TWEWY are not necessary. I beat that game and see no real similarities with regards to anything outside of having to survive for seven days. (spoiler) And even then you had to survive for 21 days in TWEWY if you want to get technical. (end spoiler)
  • Cyberninja - June 25, 2009 2:09 p.m.

    i have the world ends with you, it reminds me of it because your in japan for 7 days thats all. i know they are different but have more things in common then imfamous and protype.
  • mEgAzD - June 25, 2009 12:41 p.m.

    Uh does Henry do all reviews of games by Atlus? Never mind. This review does convince me to get this game. Thanks!
  • somerandomchap - June 25, 2009 7:14 a.m.

    @ cyberninja LOl i have u even played the world ends with you, or did u just look at the box?
  • noofer7 - July 30, 2009 1:06 p.m.

    JFCoaB (that stands for Jesus ----ing Christ on a Bicycle) people, stop talking about how similar it is to TWEWY! Sure there are similarities but the gameplay looks utterly different! The battle systems are completely different and TWEWY doesn't have anything close to the demon-raising thing. But this game looks fun. This might be my next DS game.
  • zanthox - June 28, 2009 8:12 p.m.

    I'm also getting the TWEWY vibes as well. And that is a good thing. The combat is obviously really different. I guess this is making me wonder if the other SMT games have this feel, as this is my first game in the series.
  • Ravenbom - June 26, 2009 4:19 p.m.

    OMFG... this is pointless. Yes the PREMISE is similar, but everything else is different. That's like saying Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead are the same because they both take place in America and have zombie hoards. That being said, it does remind me of TWEWY and that was my first thought when I read this article.
  • Cyberninja - June 26, 2009 2:02 a.m.

    ok i didn't know that they were all in japan
  • FlyinMX - June 26, 2009 12:13 a.m.

    Every Shin Megami Tensei game takes place in Japan in either the present time or near future (ex. Persona 3 and 4 take place in 2009 and 2011 respectively) with the exception of the devil summoner series (which takes place around the 1930s) and mavbe SMT2 which takes place 50 years after the original. Obviously if you have a series of games located in Japan, you are going to visit the various regions in Japan right?
  • zombiekiller13 - June 25, 2009 7:30 p.m.

    Um...what other game allows you to save during a battle? Should it really be a negative?

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