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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (DS) artwork

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (DS) review

"The meaty bits of battle were so succulent that they were worth waiting through even the most asinine dialogue. When a game's perks are so great that you can ignore such flaws, you know you have a great title on your hands. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 definitely qualifies."

Imagine: your hometown is in ruins and everything you know and love is blown away. You stand amidst piles of rubble that used to be your neighborhood. You can hear the voices of looters in the distance, but desperate thieves are the least of your worries. You hear a cry nearby, something inhuman and lusting for blood. Demons appear from the wreckage, their intentions obvious. You reach into your pocket and take out your only hope: a cell phone. With the press of a button, you find yourself side by side with the very creatures you feared were in your closet and under your bed. Your future may be uncertain, but you won't go down without a fight.

And fight you will in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2, with legendary beings on your side. The game plays with themes and archetypes familiar to the main franchise, but also tosses in a pinch of Pokemon. Instead of collecting a menagerie of cute creatures, you amass a contingent of mythological beasts, gods and heroes (referred to as "demons") to join you in turn-based tactical combat. You can rush onto the battlefield with Odin and Thor, or crush opposing parties with Cerberus and Orthrus. You can then turn to the Hindu goddess Sarasvati for healing, send the mighty Loa to curse your opponents, and finish them off with Baphomet's powerful magic. As a lover of mythology, the prospect of teaming up with some of my favorite names from folklore, both heroic and malevolent, got me giddy as a schoolgirl. I especially appreciated that the game kept the characters fairly true to their source material.

You don't enter the first battle with the big guys; you have to work your way up to them. The game starts you off with a few basic demons, as well as some apps on your protagonist's cell phone that enable you to obtain new ones. You can assign two of your new flunkies to a human character to make a team, and eventually guide up to four teams in battle.

I didn't know how this would work in a strategy game, as having a single unit on the battlefield represent three characters was new to me. I'm used to titles like Final Fantasy Tactics, where attacking leads to a sword-swinging animation followed by floating numbers. Devil Survivor 2 pulls a Shining Force move by shifting to a separate battle screen. Command menus pop up, prompting you to inflict as much pain on your nemeses as possible. Given the huge collection of spells and attacks you have at your disposal, that won't be difficult. You'll discover several ways to reduce your opponents to cinders or hack them to bits, not to mention more buffs than you'll know what to do with.

I learned one very important thing early on: I suck at building teams. Devil Survivor 2 is not going to go easy on you. If you were dumb enough to build a team using two Pixies, you get what you deserve. As much as I cried when both of my Pixies bit the dust, I appreciated the butt-kicking. It told me that I needed to strategize and use my brain. I didn't get this message right away and tried grinding for experience instead. Nothing doing. Experience values depreciate as your characters beef up, meaning that non-story battles will only be beneficial, experience-wise, for a short while. Eventually you'll hit a leveling ceiling, and you'll think to yourself, "What could I possibly do differently to win these battles?"

The answer is simple: fusions! You'll receive an app called Cathedral of Shadows, which allows you to fuse any two demons to create a new one. Any bonuses your demons have accrued through leveling up can be partially transferred to new demons, meaning that fairly complex planning is in order as you make your new minions. For instance, if you wish to create a powerful magic user, you can fuse demons several times over, beefing up your demon's magic stat. After several such fusions, the end result would be a powerful spell-slinger.

Both the battle and fusing systems add a huge amount of depth to the game. Most S-RPGs, and even most RPGs in general, rely on grinding alone to deal with any situation. All you usually need is to boost to level X and you can kill anything. Devil Survivor 2 invites you to think. Building a new team is like problem solving. You have to consider what sort of enemies you will be facing in the next battle and what demon types will be best for the situation. Such a setup should cause mytho-freaks like me to squeal with glee, as it gives us a reason to discover more new demons all the time. It's a great system that teaches as much as it challenges. You learn that your group has to evolve and adapt to new situations.

Challenge is ever-present in this game, sometimes excessively so. One boss battle gave me heartburn before I could even begin. Not only do you have to lock horns with a massive boss, but you have to contend with its minions that respawn from black vortexes called "miasmas." The battle also tosses a laundry list of constraints on you. You have a finite number of turns to win the battle, not to mention that the boss is resistant to physical attacks, regenerates, moves to other parts of the battlefield after taking a certain amount of damage, and spawns mid-boss level enemies. It's easy to get overwhelmed in this battle, and at first I thought it was impossible to win. After some clever fusing and restructuring, I was able to overcome all of the hurdles.

Despite how frustrating a few of the battles were, though, I still loved the battle system. I loved it so much that it pained me to go through long periods of dialogue. Don't get me wrong; the story isn't bad by any means and the characters are par for the Megami Tensei course, but some dialogue scenes drag on for too long. Many of them were uninteresting and only developed the characters slightly. There also are a few scenes that neither establish anything new about the characters nor progress the plot at all. There's one scene where you talk to the resident psychopath, Keita, only to be interrupted by a random woman. Long story short, he tells her to piss off, then tells you to do the same. End of scene.

You can't skip these sequences because they require your participation. Whether you're engaged in a story cutscene or a non-required interaction with one of the other characters, the game prompts you to pick your character's dialogue. What you say will affect your relationship with the other characters, granting combat bonuses and even giving you access to hidden demons. There's very little thought process involved in selecting dialogue, as well. Sometimes they're too obvious, like scenes where your choices amount to "Good job!" or "You're an idiot." Other times there's no difference at all, like your choices are "Let's go for a walk." or "We should go for a stroll."

My reaction at first was something like, "Argh! There's graphic adventure in my S-RPG!" As I became more accustomed to the game world and the characters, I grew to not mind the dialogue bits so much. The wait may have been excruciating at first, but I learned to deal with it and even grew to like some of the characters and subplots. The meaty bits of battle were so succulent that they were worth waiting through even the most asinine dialogue. When a game's perks are so great that you can ignore such flaws, you know you have a great title on your hands. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 definitely qualifies.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Freelance review by Joseph Shaffer (March 21, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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