There’s a notion that the Devil Survivor series enjoys imparting to gamers: a healthy suspicion of the familiar. For 2009’s Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, the gateway to a world of demons and death clocks was a gaming device which closely resembled the portable system that players were holding. For the recently released follow-up, Devil Survivor 2, the catalyst for catastrophe is a website which exhibits videos of a user’s impending demise- unambiguously asking players to reflect on the perils of social media. Although the sequel remains a proficient amalgam of compelling gameplay mechanics, fans of Devil Survivor (or its 3DS remake, Overclocked), may find the game just a bit too…familiar.
While the Megaten franchise might seem daunting to newcomers , filled with Persona, Devil Summoner, and Digital Devil Saga spin-offs, Devil Survivor 2 mercifully demands no previous series experience, making it a prototypical pick up for role-playing enthusiasts eager to expand their experiences. Elevated by a branching story- which not only dependably foreshadows tragedy but permits players to alter a disastrous trajectory, the plotline feels far more organic that the typical portable RPG. Unusual for the genre, Devil Summoner 2 dispenses with the customary verbose prologue, allowing gamers to quickly immersive themselves in the title’s core elements.
Despite the game’s capable, mutable storyline, combat and customization are the title’s core strengths. Recalling the battle system from Devil Survivor, characters take turns moving around grid-based environments, engaging any adjacent foes. Once a skirmish is initiated, the game transitions to a traditional turn-based interpretation of conflict, allowing physical, magical and elemental-based strikes as well as support skills. Using specific attacks to exploit an enemy’s weakness awards supplemental turns, obliging a raised level of involvement in battles. Woefully, many of Survivor 2’s returning demons have the same vulnerabilities that they had in the first game, limiting the sense of discovery for returning players.
Additional complexity is found in the team-based approach to encounters, with demons typically traveling around in three-creature arrangements. Terminating the center antagonist defeats the whole team, while picking off each flanking foe rewards players with additional experience and currency. Survivor’s Skill Crack ability makes a reappearance, offering the ability to extract abilities from specific demons. Developing a relationship with other characters through the Fate System permits companions to share access to the new capabilities, allowing for a bit more flexibility in your battle tactics. Moreover, the addition of the Fate System helps unify the story-based sequences with the game’s combat, with crucial plot choices able to augments each character’s battle stats, recalling the Social Link component of the Persona series.
With the lure of incentives, determining when to annihilate the entire squad can be tricky. The decision is further complicated by fluctuating battle conditions and strengthened bosses capable of stat-escalating buffs or persistent healing. Habitually, these same enemies have access to devastating special attacks which are only offset by a special type of ally demon skill. While this is meant to endow allied, specialized demons a sense of dominance, it inadvertently leads to a ‘learn by failure’ demoralizing approach.
When these conditions inevitably arise, solutions are commonly found in Devil Survivor 2’s Demon Collecting and Customization. Like the first game, players have access to an auction house, where they may attempt to outbid a trio of AI competitors in an effort to recruit new beasts. While a large chuck of currency can procure a domineering demon, the game’s most powerful confederates are born from fusion. Combining two creatures (along with any stat-augmenting add-on items) forges a crossbred creature with a combination of abilities from both donors, forming a daunting demon capable of acquiring boss-crushing skills. Once players generate an exceptionally useful combat companion, they can resister the being in the Demon Companion, where they can instantly resummon a creature for a price.
Like its predecessor, Devil Survivor 2 eliminates the walking and wandering- which has become a RPG custom. Instead, the game is set across a weeklong span, with each conversation using a half-hour of the game’s clock. With options consistently plentiful, players are forced to prioritize, although a clock icon warns of events about to permanently disappear from the game’s itinerary. Wisely, players can also participate in Free Battles. As their name indicates, these optional battles don’t move the in-game clock forward.
Devil Survivor 2’s reliance on aging DS hardware does little to diminish its effect. Cutscenes showing obliterated streets and damaged buildings across Japan inevitably recall last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, but don’t dwell on the destruction. Considering the modest resolution of the portable, the title’s visual delivery is aided by Atlus’ proficient translation. Although players might not expect a pixelated cinematic to have much emotional impact, poignancy is fostered through the game’s prose. Regretfully, moments of tragedy are undermined by some bizarre musical choices- which sporadically contradict the timbre of on-screen activity. Elsewhere, Suzuhito Yasuda’s bubble-breasted character design and Mohiro Kitoh’s creative demon design is certain to appease fans of the genre.
Barring a few enraging enemy battles, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 is a near-faultless title, capable of keeping players immersed through its twenty-hour span. Enriched with an absorbing battle system and a creature accumulating component capable of igniting Pokémon-like addiction, the title seems certain to hook new players. Although returning players will appreciate many of the game’s tweaks and additions, they may not feel that the developers offered quite enough innovation for the sequel. Yet, thanks to an absorbing, forking plotline (as well as a gratifying New Game+ option), even veterans will probably want to give Devil Survivor 2 its due.