Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 - Staff Review  

Mothmen and Anzus and Taown, Oh My!
by Mike "JuMeSyn" Moehnke

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20-40 Hours
+ Varied battle goals & tactics
+ Great opportunities for experimentation
+ Interesting narrative
- Endgame is overly prolonged
- Challenge is not even
- Limited number of music tracks
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   The Megami Tensei series encompasses such an array of offshoots that finding a starting point can be intimidating. The Majin Tensei and Ronde tactical games appeared to be experiments abandoned by Atlus in later years, until Devil Survivor came along to show that the idea was still in the developers' thoughts. In a development that truly surprised no one Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 came to be, and up until Nintendo's recent announcement that the next Pokémon title would be on the DS it looked like the system's swan song for significant RPGs. As a novice when it comes to the series, I can't compare the game to its brethren very well, but Devil Survivor 2 on its own is an interesting title that should prove quite enticing to the initiated, though newcomers to the franchise may find themselves in a world of hurt as the end approaches.

   The player-named main character begins the game chatting with his friend Daichi at school about a mysterious website called Nicaea. Mixing the ideas of a couple of current horror movie franchises, Nicaea sends video clips of people dying which promptly come true. A death clip of themselves in a subway crash is prevented by the sudden appearance of demons which are surprisingly easy to defeat, and which are then willing to pop out of their cell phones whenever called upon using a summoning application. The problems of the subway prove but a microcosm of the disaster unfolding across Japan, and surviving the tumultuous events demands everything the protagonists can provide.

   In its depiction of a society suddenly forced to cope with its impending destruction, Devil Survivor 2 does a lot right. The people involved argue about what the preferred method of facing the future should be, and their disagreements are often impossible to resolve peacefully. The additional complications divulged as the narrative progresses stay interesting and reasonably free of unintentionally stupid moments, with Atlus USA's fine translation ensuring that events remain well-written.

   The player is free to advance certain sections of the plot by choosing which of the cast to talk to, and these dialogues serve as a very effective means of coming to know their personalities. Though these characters do not attain completely well-rounded status, the conversations serve the purpose of giving them quite a bit more depth than would initially be apparent. Protagonists also learn elemental resistances and the ability to fuse new demons through these talks, making them even more critical.

Oh NO - Michael Bay is making a new movie!  RUUUUUNNNNN! Oh NO - Michael Bay is making a new movie! RUUUUUNNNNN!

   Demon fusion is a time-consuming task that demands paying some attention to the results, but fortunately is an enjoyably engrossing job as well. After a few demons are awarded to the player at the beginning of the game, further additions to the protagonist's ranks can be purchased from a demon auction site accessible through cell phones. For further choices in constructing a powerful demonic force, the ability to fuse two current demons into something new exists. Putting demons together in this fashion allows them to gain new abilities and improve their statistics, along with the creation of creatures that cannot be bought in shops. These are excellent reasons to tinker with demon fusion early and often, as the results are undeniably worthwhile.

   With the exception of the main character, whose statistic growth is determined by the player, humans are less malleable than the demonic hordes but they too can be tweaked. The base statistics they have to work with are fixed, but the abilities they use in battle can be freely swapped at any time outside combat. These skills are obtained by taking them from defeated enemies, and the eventual inventory of techniques becomes vast. Such plentiful customization options ensure that tinkering with the party's makeup is always available.

   The tactical combat is similar to that found in Archaic Sealed Heat, only Atlus made an effort to imbue the result with considerably more variety. On the protagonist's side a human must anchor every three-member team while being flanked by two demons, and the group takes actions as a whole. The general formula is that two groups will collide and exchange actions, after which the survivors will be returned to the movement screen. Many alterations to the formula can occur, with the most common being the ability to hit an enemy's weakness to generate an extra action before the current altercation ends. The enormous variety of abilities demons possess ensures that new things will be encountered on a regular basis, and Devil Survivor 2 never grows stale simply because of doing the same thing repeatedly in battle.

   On the other hand, participating in free battles for grinding purposes can quickly get old. It's a necessary evil if one wishes to broaden the options for demon fusion, because the level of the main character determines the creatures that can be created. In case one desires to try experimenting with new soldiers to triumph over a tricky battle, fighting free battles nonstop is the main way to accomplish this. Doing so becomes more advisable as the game progresses and starts throwing bosses into the player's path, with unpleasantly powerful abilities that cannot be matched. This causes the difficulty of the game to rapidly rise late in the game, possibly to the accompaniment of repeated rage fits from the player.

This represents a fan fiction just waiting to happen. This represents a fan fiction just waiting to happen.

   The finale's approach is also unnecessarily protracted. The player will likely be ready for the game to be finished before it actually is, due to the insertion of an eighth day in its storyline when some pruning would easily have kept the tale to seven. The experience could easily have been trimmed down into something about twenty-five hours long, but the extra hours eventually start to become undesirable.

   Devil Survivor 2 is impossible to experience in its entirety with a single playthrough. Too many possible character interactions are offered in the available time, and even if that were not the case several major choices appear toward the end that significantly shift the narrative's direction. The presence of death clips also offers a means of altering the plot in certain ways, and the player's actions with regard to them can let characters die permanently. The overall scenario will stay roughly the same, but the differences are interesting enough to warrant some observation.

   Character illustrations are big and vibrant, but not much else about Devil Survivor 2 shows off what the DS can do. Battlefield sprites are small and unimpressive, the combat zones themselves rarely show any animation, and the participants in individual skirmishes never move. Nothing is particularly ugly, but the DS can do much better than this. The music is quite catchy and compelling at first, but while it remains engaging, the dearth of tracks eventually becomes bothersome. To have the final boss's first phase use a recycled composition illustrates how few tracks the game possesses, though they remain ingratiating.

   Devil Survivor 2 remains an addictive experience for a large chunk of its length. Its skill swapping for humans and demons along with the varied battles and wide gamut of character events should hold the interest of anyone intrigued by the concept. Eventually the gantlet of nasty bosses and the many unnecessary fights they occupy start to sour the proceedings somewhat, and the endgame is something I have no desire to experience again in my life. Shin Megami Tensei initiates seem accustomed to a rapid increase in unpleasantness as the game approaches its conclusion, and anyone who looks forward to such things will no doubt enjoy it here. I did not, but the bulk of the game remains quite entertaining without being unduly frustrating.

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