Review: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor (DS)July 1st, 2009 | Written by Danreb Victorio | Topic: Nintendo DS, Reviews
The DS has seen a glut of RPG’s, especially lately, with various ports and remakes of the best SquareSoft and Enix had to offer over the years as well as the seemingly bi-monthly releases of an Atlus-published title. The Megami Tensei series in general is without a doubt the company’s most prized license, with games such as Persona 3 and 4 getting rave reviews. After countless Megami Tensei games being released on the PlayStation 2 over recent years, Devil Survivor has finally been released, an original game that just so happens to be the first Shin Megami Tensei game to be released on the Nintendo DS.
After a few suspicious words, the game opens in modern-day Shibuya, where summer is drawing to a close and high school kids are trying to enjoy the last few bits of their summer vacation. Unfortunately for three students—Atsuro Kihara, Yuzu (Yoohoo) Tanikawa), and yourself (where you first and last name are limited to six characters each), the entire Shibuya region has been quarantined due to various attacks including but not limited to random explosions, murders done by wild animals, and rolling blackouts. Via e-mail through the party’s COMPS, PDA-like devices resembling DS’s that can do things such as check e-mail, the party finds out that every event is being scripted beforehand due to conflicts in the Netherworld—the opposite spectrum of the game’s overworld where demons lurk.
From there on, the story goes about its course in typical RPG fashion. Kill a few demons here, get called a Devil Survivor. Kill a few demons there, find out you only have one day to live. Basically, the lives of you and your companions rely on the future-predicting e-mails you receive, and it’s up to you to re-tool the history that’s about to happen. Think of it like righting the wrongs of the past, except you’re just focusing on the future.
Aside from all of that, the game itself is very linear, but it leaves you a lot of freedom with where to go. Exploration is done through various menus, just like in the Phoenix Wright games, except you don’t have the option of interacting with your surroundings. The menus have destinations listed on the left, while the menu on the right lists things you can do. Locations that lead to a battle or have the story continue are clearly marked on the menu, so there’s no way you can really get “stuck” in the game. Then again, this method of exploration makes going to any other area pointless, especially if you don’t have the option of interacting with any sort of environment.
Since there really isn’t a sense of “active” exploration in the game, you can bet that the meat is within its battle system. At first glance, simply judging from screenshots, you might think it’s a simple first-person turn-based system. While it is that, it gets a little more complicated because it’s also a hybrid strategy game. The main character and his two friends (along with those you’ll recruit later) are units that can be moved all over the battlefield, like your average mapped out strategy game. You have the traditional strategies to deal with, such as where to move your units or when to use your magic, but once you choose the “attack” command, everything becomes a bit different.
This is where the game becomes a first-person turn-based game. Each unit you have on the field actually represents a team of up to three that can fight in one-on-one battle. The leader of each team is the person (or monster) in the middle, while his or her sides provide support. Defeating the leader of a team allows for the unit to be totally annihilated, whereas defeating the support will cause the leader to have no real sense of defense. This is where the game’s turn-based strategy comes into play. You might think attacking the middle is the first thing you should do, but that isn’t always the case because you’ll often find times where the team leader keeps blocking, forcing you to attack someone else. On top of that, for every critical hit you land, you earn what’s called an Extra Turn, which is exactly what it reads—you get an extra chance to attack or defend. Of course, if your opponent also lands a critical hit, they get an extra turn as well, making things much more challenging.
At first, battles are on the easy side, but once you reach the game’s first real boss, the game’s strategy really comes into play and you’ll find yourself sometimes relying on luck to get things done. Of course, the easiest way to get stronger is to fight optional battles to grind out your stats. Over the course of time and experience, your units will get stronger and earn new abilities along the way, and that in turn will also increase the amount of strategy you’ll need to succeed.
Devil Survivor also comes with an auction feature where you can bid or straight-up purchase demons to add on to your team. It’s actually quite a useful feature, because we caught ourselves struggling at first before realizing that each member of our squads was missing an optional third member. Full teams increase the odds of winning tremendously, so as soon as the option becomes available, you’d do well by taking advantage of it.
While there aren’t any pre-rendered cutscenes or anything of that sort, Devil Survivor looks quite good. The character art is pretty spot-on with the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei series, and there are a lot of different characters to appreciate. Of course, if you’re not into the whole manga thing, there’s not much to see, but it’s all very unique, even with the over-exaggerated breasts.
The game’s sound is also superb. There isn’t any spoken dialog outside of battle, but that really isn’t much of an issue since the series has always been known for good voice acting. Either way, the soundtrack is great and it’s a shame that Atlus didn’t throw in a soundtrack promotion.
It’s well known that the DS has quite a wealth of very good RPG’s, this entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series is good enough to warrant itself to be one of the most exciting, engaging, and unique experiences to be had on the handheld—even with its eerie similarities to Square Enix’s The World Ends With You. The game may be extremely punishing at times, but those who stay along for the ride are definitely sure to enjoy the brilliant story, cast of characters, and engaging battle system. It’s vintage Shin Megami Tensei, and that’s all anybody can ask for with the series’ debut on Nintendo’s handheld powerhouse.