Developer: Atlus / Publisher: Atlus / Played on: Nintendo DS / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Teen (Blood, Violence, Alcohol Reference, Use of Tobacco, Suggestive Themes, Language)
What’s that? Another tragedy has befallen Japan and demons are at the center of it all? Hmm, must be another Shin Megami Tensei game. Devil Survivor 2 is the follow-up to the RPG/strategy hybrid Devil Survivor (which saw a recent remake on the 3DS), and it has you once again controlling a group of young heroes as they unravel the mysteries surrounding the most recent trip Earth has taken to its ultimate destruction. I know it’s terrible that the world is in shambles, but if mass destruction is this much fun, count me in, baby!
Devil Survivor 2 leans heavily on narrative to draw players in, and thankfully the story is one of the game’s strongest parts. When three friends, Daichi, Io, and yourself, discover that the rumors about a website that predicts when a person will die are true, their lives as they know them end. Literally. The three friends get killed in a subway accident (as predicted by the website) but are granted new life by a demon who gives them the ability to summon creatures to their side via cell phone.
When the three regain consciousness and return to the surface they find Tokyo to be in shambles. Not only that, but demons have appeared and are causing even more mayhem. Before long you run into the secretive group JPs, which is using demons much like the ones you can summon from your cell phones to try and understand why Tokyo has been destroyed.
Devil Survivor 2 follows many of the precedents set by the first game: Japan has been devastated by an unknown force, people are controlling monsters, secret agendas and plot twists are aplenty, and there’s only a few days left before Earth is completely doomed. The shit hits the fan quick in the game, hooking you from the early minutes of the story, and throwing you into the thick of things right off the bat.
Helping the story move along are the people you’ll meet. Each character feels like they have a personality and motivation for doing what they’re doing: Yamato, the leader of JPs, fights to save the planet because his family has done so for ages; Joe has already lost everything but fights because it is right; and Hinako tries her hardest to protect everyone she meets. A new addition not seen in the first game or the remake is the Fate system. By talking with characters you can increase their Fate, which gives benefits during battles like increased stats and also allows the use of even more powerful demons.
But every choice in the game comes at a cost: spend too much time talking to friends and avoiding your mission and you may see permanent changes to your story, such as characters dying for good and effecting the ending of the game. The story is constantly building, adding more and more layers to the base problem without introducing too much to make things overly complicated. However, the pacing isn’t always on track, as some parts of the story tend to drag on. Expect to read through upwards of 20 minutes of dialogue between battles, especially towards the end game. If you’ve played the previous game you’ll understand the structure of Devil Survivor 2.
The first Devil Survivor successfully combined RPG battles with Real-Time Strategy mechanics, and Devi Survivor 2 makes little change to this formula. Your party of up to four appears on an isometric map along with all your foes (much like you’d see in Final Fantasy Tactics). Engaging a foe in battle switches to a more traditional RPG view and has you facing your enemies directly (ala Dragon Quest). A team is made up of three combatants: a leader (in most cases a human) positioned in the middle, and two demons at either side.
A team is defeated when their leader in the middle falls, even if the outer demons are still left standing. But taking out demons first then the leader is recommended because leaders take less damage and are harder to hit when their allies stand by their sides. Much like other RPGs, enemies have certain elemental attacks they are more or less resistant too, and properly exploiting these weakness and strengths is key. Proficient battling can lead to valuable rewards, like extra turns in combat, more money earned at the end of the fight, and even items you can use when fusing demons (which we’ll get to in a minute).
Battles in Devil Survivor 2 are some of the most strategic and entertaining fights I’ve had the pleasure of playing in any RPG. The strengths/weaknesses of every character/demon means no battle is 100% safe. Not only that, but the win conditions for each level aren’t as simple as kill everything on screen. One battle has you saving innocent civilians before they get killed, while another has you deactivating switches before you can even hurt the hulking boss demon. Devil Survivor 2 makes sure you always stay vigilant during battle.
Aside from advancing the story and fighting, the other big chunk of your time will go into demon management. There are over 100 unique demons to utilize. The way you earn these companions is by first seeing them in combat, and then making a contract with them via the Auction. Winning more powerful demons through Auction and switching them out with your current roster is key to staying alive. A few hours into the game you unlock the ability to fuse demons, something the SMT series is known for.
By combining two demons you can create even more powerful allies that share some abilities from its parents. Fusion can only be done between two demons but it is easily the fastest and most effective way to create a powerful team. Making things a bit easier this time around is the Demon Compendium which you unlock a ways into the game. The Compendium lets you resummon a demon you’ve used before, negating much of the headache of the last game on the DS that had no easy way of recruiting older demons. Creating a new, powerful friend through fusion or winning one at Auction is incredibly satisfying, and before long you’ll have a small army of creatures at your command.
There are a few drawbacks to the gameplay, first of which is the difficulty. If you don’t regularly upgrade your team with newer demons you’re going to run into a roadblock that you can’t overcome. This means grinding for experience and money is essential. Having to replay the same stages and kill the same monsters again and again gets repetitive and tiresome quickly. Second is a trial-and-error method to matches. A lot of battles will sway greatly in favor of the enemy because you either didn’t know some game changing event was going to happen, or made a mistake and moved or attacked when you shouldn’t have.
I recommend saving often: Devil Survivor 2 is a ruthless RPG that doesn’t afford any missteps.
Sound and Visuals
Much like the first game in the series, Devil Survivor 2 has decent graphics for the DS. Character portraits outside of battle are well animated and change to capture the emotion of the scene. Full-motion animated segments are scattered throughout the game (usually accompanying the previously mentioned death clips). Levels and backgrounds are large and detailed, featuring multiple stories, branching paths, and environmental hazards. Things do get familiar though, as you’ll visit some locations more than once, and ultimately kill the same creatures over and over through grinding.
If you’ve played the 3DS remake of the first game you’ll be saddened to hear that there is no voice acting in this title. But there are some stellar musical tracks that play throughout the game. Each location plays a different track, and these tunes usually change when the mood changes, giving the game more tension or emotion when needed. Devil Survivor 2 feels like an old school SNES RPG when it comes to sound effects though, as the same smacks, explosions, and lightning strikes play after each attack.
Overall the game doesn’t do anything to enhance the graphics or sound over the original (and actually loses ground over the remake, but that can be forgiven since this is only the DS and not 3DS).
Devil Survivor 2 is certainly not a game for everyone. The reliance on story as a driving part of the experience, the cruel difficulty, and many similarities to the first game might put some fans off.
But engaging combat, addictive demon collecting, and gameplay that can only be rivaled by the first entry make Devil Survivor 2 a worthy title in the Shin Megami Tensei series.