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Wolf Kanno's Crazy Ramblings and Incoherent Statements

Damn Surviving Devils

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So I finished Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor last night, I ended up going the Law route and went with Amane so I can finally get some answers to wtf was going on.

For those who don't know, this game is on the DS and is basically the MegaTen franchise trying its hand at SRPGs like FFTactics or Ogre Battle. Your units are teams made up of one human and two demon partners. Humans gain skills by targeting certain enemy skills and killing the target that carries the skill, while demons gain their skills by either leveling, fusion, or collecting enough magnetite from killing enemy units to change one skill for your unit.

The system is actually quite robust and rewarding. Human characters can only equip a skill based on whether they meet the stat qualifications. Agi (a weak fire spells) requires the player to have something like a 7 in MAG but Maragi (a weak fire skill that targets all units) might require a 9 in MAG but also a 7 in AGI. Humans are also restricted by having skills restricted to one character, so you can't have everyone equipped with Anti- Most as a support skill.

Added to this, is that the player can only control the main characters stats growth so other human party members are on set paths. This makes balancing skills very interesting as you have to work around their stats. Atsuro is a melee brawler type so try as you may to make him a mage, he'll never get stats high enough to use high tier magic and magic support skills so its better to just stick to melee and give him low level magic to keep him diverse. Amane on the other hand pours all her skill points into magic and is arguably the best mage in terms of raw damage but thanks to neglecting her other stats, she can't equip certain magic like most of the high tier all hitting elemental spells, and is instead restricted to single target high damage spells. Its forces a the characters into specific strengths and weaknesses which makes building your units that much more important.

Demons are for the most part, work like normal MegaTen titles, except the team decided to throw players a bone by letting players actually get to control what skills transfer when you fuse two demons together. I feel this is a compromise cause this game lacks a Demonic Compendium, so once you fuse a demon, its gone for good and you'll need to either purchase one or fuse a new one, which may be difficult if the demon has a specific skill set that works. Gaining demons is also different in this title, instead of conversing with them or winning them after battle, you instead barter for them in the Demon Auction. Unfortunately, its limited to common demons so if you were hoping to get your hands on some potent Megami or Tyrant Class demons you'll have to fuse.

Speaking of which, most of the powerful demons are classified as unique which means you can only have one. They are worth it though as they can easily stay useful far longer than common enemies before you need to upgrade to better demons. Also, each demon race has a special race skill that can be used in combat or when traversing the field, they range from double movement and ignore obstacles, to restoring a bit of SP after battle or being bale to target enemies from a long range without fear of counterattack at the cost of having no extra turns and slower speed. Humans get their own variations which usually grant some special ability during battle like higher strength or reviving any dead members of a unit.

Gameplay is typical SRPG grid the real changes come from the race skills mentioned above in terms of interacting with the map. You'll need some of the skills like Flight, Devil Speed, and Switch for some of the timed missions and "protect random NPC" missions. Combat actually plats like a variation of normal battles from the main series. When you engage a unit your taken to a battle screen where you face the whole unit. Units are built with one leader and two allies. Leaders get defense bonuses as long as the allies are alive, but killing the leader automatically destroys the unit, though you get much less XP for killing the leader only. The game still utilizes the Press Turn System from Nocturne/Persona3/Avatar Turner so not much new their, but your money is graded on how strategically you fight by exploiting enemy weaknesses, having enemies get attacks thwarted by defensive skills, and whether you took damage in the battle, consequently, you lose money if you have your own attacks thwarted or lose a member.

The biggest weakness in the game for me was the plot and cast. Its not bad, but its not great either. You play as a nameless protagonist who is meeting up with his cousin Nayoa, in Tokyo, with his two classmates: Atsuro, a computer geek who idolizes the computer skills of your cousin, and Yuzu, who is basically a ditzy chick who loves fashion and indie rock. Your cousin hands you some special handheld computers (which look like DS units har har) called COMPs, and then you get an email saying that some serious trout is going to go down at certain times of the day. When the emails start coming true and demons start appearing, the group freaks and the Japanese government locks down part of Tokyo to keep the demons from getting loose.

The COMPs allow the cast to summon and control demons after they make a contract with them (by punching them in their faces) afterwards, numbers start appearing over peoples faces and it doesn't take long to learn that the numbers signify how many days left a person has before they will die. Your party then begins to try to thwart their own deaths and other peoples death (if you choose to do so) before the end of the week where the vast majority of the population within the lockdown is going to get killed. Its very reminiscent of the World Ends With You in this regard with the game being split up into days.

The premise itself is really good, but several plot threads are left open or completely based on making certain choices. You may never see how a plotline ended cause you chose the wrong ending path to take or you missed talking to an NPC at a specific time on a specific day with a specific character being in your party. While the freedom is certainly appreciative and the game is designed around replay value (New Game+ and Super Optional Boss) it does tend to leave the story very disjointed, especially when the first few days are a bit linear in order to set up all the plot threads. This can be resolved by watching all the endings and taking all six paths but that brings us to the real problem of the game....

... Mainly the cast, most of them are unlikable. Atsuro is pretty awesome and probably my favorite character in the game, especially when you learn where his ending path is going; but Yuzu is annoying and will only leave your party if you take the Chaos path. She reacts to the games premise rather realistically by screaming, yelling and whimpering into a corner, which is fine in the beginning but she never gets over it and constantly whines about just trying to escape which ironically leads to the games Bad Ending.

The game holds up a MegaTen tradition by having a Law Hero and Chaos Hero, and pretty much also keeps the tradition of making them both unlikable jerks. I got so fed up with the Law Hero cause he's required to be in your party in the early sections of the game, that I made sure not to rescue him later... The Chaos hero has an interesting story going for him, but eventually gets completely sidetracked from it and it surprisingly gets resolved with another character tied to it named Marin. Many of the characters are either gimmicky or pointless to the plot and most of the actual interesting characters won't join you until the final stretch of the game. Naoya is one of the most important characters in the plot and deeply connected to whats going on but is conveniently absent for most of the game, only showing up at the 11th hour to drop a brick-ton of plot over your head.

My beef here is that I have to put up with all the useless and annoying characters until the end of the game where I can finally recruit some likable characters into my party. Even this can be restricted as going down certain ending paths will have some characters not join you. Overall, the cast is not terrible but they can get grating, which can be daunting when you know these are the same people who wrote Persona 3/4 and the Avatar Turner series, which both have great characters and plots.

There are a total of 6 endings to the game, and even optional boss battles connected to them. Even certain demons are restricted from you based on choices you make in the game. As I mentioned earlier, it has a New Game+ where you get to keep your demons from a previous game, your skills, and level restrictions are removed so you can level up faster and use demons without dealing with level requirements, you also get a shot an optional boss in New Game +.

The story and cast are manageable, but I haven't been as quick to plan a complete second run through as I am with other MegaTen games, my only other beef would be how easy the game was. This may have been the easiest MegaTen title I have ever played, and I rarely died, usually from either failing a mission objective
(keep so and so alive) or by holding onto and using demons long past their usefulness has expired, which nailed me in a boss fight. Overall, the game is mostly good with great gameplay and plenty of replay value, with an interesting premise that is only hindered by a bit of disjointedness and a few character quirks. Its easily a nice starting point for people who have wanted to get into the MegaTen titles.

Now off to finish Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne, and start Catherine
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  1. Remon's Avatar
    Awesome review! I played the game and pretty much enjoyed it. I just like the end of the world feeling the game gives. I agree with almost everything you've said. I kind of enjoyed the plot though, but that may be because I like these sort of themes...and wasn't Yuzu annoying? UGH!

    Good luck with Nocturne. I gave up playing it because of the ridiculous difficulty. I mean, it sucks having to battle a boss just so that you can die first, and try again with the right elemental combinations right?