"In a sense, Devil Summoner 2 is one of the more accessible entries in Atlus's long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise. The combat is straightforward and quick, the difficulty isn't too high, and the demon negotiations and fusion provide a bit of depth to grab players' interest. Unfortunately, with its lackluster characters, blunt storytelling, and fitting but simplistic visuals, this isn't a game that will sustain that interest."
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon brings us back to a world of fixed camera angles, non-scrolling screens, porcelain character models, and jagged polygonal motion. Some will immediately denounce the primitive visuals -- I can't blame them -- but these animated dolls convey an unsettling antiquacy that fits the Shin Megami Tensei series.
King Abaddon is an independent tale with little connection to the first game, although a few conversations will go more smoothly for those who've defeated The Soulless Army. Titular hero Raidou Kuzunoha is a recently-ordained devil summoner on a mission to protect 1920 Japan's Capital City from a menacing swarm of golden locusts. Blonde men talk about "sparks" igniting new paths in life, impressionable girls ask whether Raidou treats his demonic servants as tools or companions, and Raidou's talking cat keeps hammering him over the head with blatant plot exposition. This is not strong storytelling.
As though aware of its own shortcomings, much of Abaddon's nonsense is played up for humorous effect; what other action-RPG pits the player against a clan of hillbilly ninjas? Unfortunately for Atlus, even a game that pokes fun at itself still needs an interesting cast. Aside from a few standouts (Dahn), there aren't many people worth caring about.
The devils are what fittingly bring Devil Summoner 2 to life. Raidou traps disposable demons, ranging from lightning-spewing spiders to sexy catgirls, inside tubes that are hidden beneath his flowing black cape. As Raidou advances in rank from TUBE-SLINGER to MANLY FOP to AVATAR OF SPIRITS and beyond, his superiors send him additional tubes to store additional demons. Two can be summoned at a time to assist during action-based combat (tap that button as fast as possible to hack enemies to death!), but acquiring devils is more entertaining than the actual fighting.
During each encounter, Raidou can choose to slay his opponents or negotiate. With the right words, a demon may offer items, jewels, or even him or herself. The devils' behavior can be quite erratic, as demonstrated by the skeletal knight TURDAK:
"PlEaSe dOn'T sTaB Me WiTh yOuR sHaRp SiDeBuRnS!"
1) "Okay. I won't hurt you."
-> 2) "I'll stab you with them." <-
The monster did not care for that response. Fortunately, one of my own demons interjected to calm him down.
"Ara Mitama randomly decided to make a ruckus!"
Somehow, this improved the tone of the conversation. In the end, Turdak . . . walked away. The number of potential phrases and outcomes is enormous and vary by demon; in my experience, no two breed of devil ever posed the same questions. The downside is that devils' responses can be pretty arbitrary. Threatening one Turdak with sharp sideburns may provoke anger, but harsh words may subdue another Turdak into submission. Although entertaining, each conversation is essentially a guessing game, since a previously "wrong" comment might be the "right" thing to say during a future encounter.
In contrast to negotiations' unpredictability, devil fusion is a downright science. Demons can be combined to produce stronger or weaker monsters from various elemental families, ranging from "fury" to "pagan" to "frost". Each elemental type wields a unique skill that can assist in Raidou's numerous spiritual investigations; some bust boulders, some read minds, and some cool hostile targets' tempers. Maintaining a variety of demon types while negotiating and fusing new creatures adds a level of depth to an otherwise easy action-RPG.
In a sense, Devil Summoner 2 is one of the more accessible entries in Atlus's long-running Shin Megami Tensei franchise. The combat is straightforward and quick, the difficulty isn't too high, and the demon negotiations and fusion provide a bit of depth to grab players' interest. Unfortunately, with its lackluster characters, blunt storytelling, and fitting but simplistic visuals, this isn't a game that will sustain that interest. Most of the dungeons felt like chores preventing me from advancing a storyline that was hard to care about, and by game's end I had stopped negotiating because killing demons was quicker than befriending them. Even the dozens of sidequests — some of which feature challenging secret bosses, and some of which are mindlessly simple — quickly lost their allure. My initial six-hour gaming sessions dwindled to two hours, then to one hour, then to ten-minute diversions as I browsed the internet for information on upcoming releases.
In short, I wanted the game to end so that I could play something better. I still consider myself a fan of Shin Megami Tensei, but Raidou Kuzunoha isn't a character I hope to see again.
Staff review by Zigfried (August 01, 2009)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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