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