Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Review (NDS)

One of the most innovative, creepy RPGs to come out for a handheld console.

Atlus has sort of been the underdog game developer/publisher of the English-speaking world for quite some time. They release fantastic games, but they have no press, and their market is very specific. For a lot of people, JRPGs are sort of played. They were big in the 1980s and 1990s, but with the invention of the MMORPG, more and more people are being swayed to one side or the other. Stereotypical MMO players have sort of become an image in the heads of many gamers and non-gamers alike as shut-ins, while JRPG fans have the unfortunate “weaboo” or “otaku” label thrust on them. This may be why so few people have played any of the games in the Shin Megami Tensei series of games, and their various spin-offs; Devil Survivor, and its sequel, Devil Survivor 2, among them.
Let me start off by saying that I am not one of those people. I’m the type of guy who can enjoy any good game, regardless of what genre it is, or where it comes from. I’ve been playing everything from old-school JRPGs like Dragon Quest, Earthbound, and Final Fantasy since I was a kid, to first-person shooters, action/adventure games, indie releases, and really whatever I see on the shelves that looks like it has a lot of potential. I’m also a huge fan of the Shin Megami Tensei games, and I played the original Devil Survivor to pieces. So Devil Survivor 2 immediately called out to me.
If you haven’t played the first Devil Survivor, it’s okay. These games are not linear in story, and they’re also not connected in any way except for their title, setting, and the potential things you can do. If you have played the first Devil Survivor, you will immediately find similarities in the two titles. If you intend to play the first, don’t play the second, though, at least not yet. There are a lot of improvements you’re gonna miss if you go backwards in the order you play them.

Something’s clearly not right here…

The story is insane. You play a (somewhat) silent protagonist, and like most other SMT games, you start off in a high school. You’ve got a buddy who immediately introduces you to this really creepy but cool-sounding website called Nicaea, which apparently has the power to show you – in a video sequence – how people die, usually a friend or family member. Just after this happens, a tremendous earthquake terrorizes your city, and your own death is predicted on Nicaea, coming within inches of actually happening. There isn’t much buildup, but it’s not necessary, and that’s perfectly okay, because like the first game, most of the story is chosen, not told, in your decisions and narrative. One of the most tremendous improvements over the first game – and one of the biggest reasons to play it first, not second – is the ability to save in multiple slots. This is extremely important with any RPG, and it’s one of my main criticisms about the first game. Unfortunately, Devil Survivor 2 only gives you three save slots, but it’s still a huge improvement over only having one. Thankfully, this helps to bring out the full potential of Devil Survivor 2′s massive replay value, which includes at least seven different storyline branches and at least two different endings for each.

The Demon System is innovative enough to carry this game alone.

The gameplay is largely entertaining, but has a pretty decent learning curve. I’m not going to say it gets more advanced in five seconds than it needs to be, and I’m definitely not going to say it gets as hard as, say, Demon’s Souls. What Devil Survivor 2 succeeds in doing is combining elements of tactical RPGs together in an excellent, but not perfect harmony. Like many other SMT games, you control “Demons” throughout your game. These demons can be bought, sold, won, and fused together to make more powerful ones. You’ll find this system to be much easier to navigate as time goes on, but this is a system you’ll want to devote some time to, and play around with, to get the hang of.

Graphics have taken a massive turn for the better since the first game. Despite the fact that some of the character designs seem a little bland, especially when compared to any of the other SMT games out there, I find this actually works to the game’s advantage. It serves as a reminder of the story and helps set up the setting you’re facing, and the whole shebang is topped off with an absolutely devastating look at a realistic emergency situation that really makes you feel what the characters are feeling. There are also full-blown FMV cutscenes that are beautifully rendered, on par almost with the SMT games released for the PS2. Overall, the graphics were perfectly executed, and remain some of the best I’ve seen on the DS.

An example of a playing field. FF Tactics reminiscent? I think so.

The soundtrack for this game is more enthralling and nerve-wracking than it was in the first game, and definitely suits the dark atmosphere of this game well. The soundtrack ranges from dark, brooding, electronic-influenced piano melodies to desperate progressive metal riffs, interlaced with serious violins and haunting choir support. This is one of the first DS titles I found myself plugging in headphones for, as most other handheld games can usually be played with the sound off. There is very little voice acting, but I feel like that’s a good thing, too. DS cartridges are small, and I feel like voice acting would only hold the rest of the game back in how much content they could cram into that little cart.
Overall, you have to be patient if you expect to get into this game, but it’s more than rewarding if you stick around. Devil Survivor 2 is one of those rare diamonds in the rough titles that I found myself falling in love with right off the bat, but I’ll admit it’s an acquired taste. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re looking for a new JRPG to break the mold set by all the crappy ones that have been coming out recently. I loved it, and I hope you will, too.

8.7/10

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