Friday, April 20, 2012

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Making the Apocalypse a Blast!

As anyone could tell from my article about a month ago, What is “Shin Megami Tensei”, and Why Should You Be Playing It!, I am a huge fan of the series as a whole. I also mentioned at the end of the article that SMT’s new baby was releasing soon. Well, it released (February 2012), and I have basked in another great creation by publisher, Atlus. I have to say that the first Devil Survivor is definitely my favorite title in the SMT series thus far. It had some of my favorite characters in almost any video game series, all of whom are slightly damaged, but still manage to overcome their problems to save the world. It also had a story with multiple endings (which can be a chore sometimes if the game is tedious or boring), and each play through revealed something new about what was going on in the world the characters were trapped in. I felt that with each play through I discovered another layer to the story that I missed or hadn’t been revealed before. Needless to say, Devil Survivor 2 had some HUGE shoes to fill. Honestly, I don’t feel that DS2 had the depth that its predecessor had, but sometimes it’s all about the ride, and this was defiantly a fun and satisfying ride.

The story opens on the unnamed protagonist (from here on out I will refer to him as “Hero”), and his friend Daichi finishing their mock exams for college entrance (think PSATs). Daichi introduces Hero to a website on their cell phones called “Nicea”. The boys refer to the website as “The death site” since rumor has it that the site is supposed to send emails about your friends dying. It all seems like a joke and they decide to head out shopping, and then home. On their way home they run into Io, a girl they both know from their school.  On their way to the subway they receive their first email from Nicea. The video they receive shows the three of them being crushed by the subway train being derailed by an earthquake. As they arrive at the train station, sure enough an earthquake erupts and derails the train – however three demons appear and save the kids from being crushed. The demons insist on fighting the kids, but are quickly beaten and are forced to form contracts stating that they will aid the kids in their endeavors. Upon beating the demons the kids realize that a new app has been added to their phone, the “Demon Summoning App”. From here the trio faces off against feuding hoards of survivors using the “Demon Summoning App” for personal gain, a secret government organization that knows more than they are letting on, and a diverse cast of characters who join them in their quest of seven days to save each other and Japan from something far more powerful than a few demons being summoned by some thugs or a government organization.

Devil Survivor 2 is primarily a Strategy RPG. The story progresses through a lot of dialogue between the characters that eats up time. Each event that you encounter takes 30 minutes of time from each of the seven 16 hour days. These encounters consist of talking with other characters in an attempt to get Hero to know them better, investigating options for how to overcome problems, and event battles that are designed to move the story along. This component of the game imposes a sense of urgency that each decision may be the last one for you or one of your many comrades. Should you receive a Nicea death video for one for your friends you need to be aware of how long it takes you to activate the key event that would save their life.  Should you be even one event too late, say goodbye to that comrade forever. It’s not just saving your buddies that's important, you also need to spend time with everyone. As you get to know each character and choose responses to their situations you will level up your “Fate Meter” with them. For every level you increase with each character’s “Fate” you unlock something that can make them or you stronger. This system is very similar to the Social Link system that Persona 3 and 4 feature. Unfortunately it is very likely that you won’t max out the Fate Meter for everyone and may end up having some of the characters defect as the story moves on. Your responses also effect what happens to the characters. For example I was particularly mean to one character (oh lord he was annoying!), and he was killed shortly after, but on my second play through I was kind to him and he became my strongest ally. I love this kind of choice system, even though it is overly simple compared to other games out there. The difficulty of juggling the fates of the thirteen playable characters and saving those that need to be saved can be a daunting task, but it is definitely worth investing in the characters you have in your party a lot, especially later in the game when you start to see how each character’s stats are progressing. 

The action in the game is where the “strategy” comes into play. Each battle is fought on a large grid in different locales. Sometimes you take on demons, other times you face off against fellow demon tamers who are either losing their minds from the chaos or simply trying to survive. You have four teams consisting of one leader (the demon tamer) and two demons that you have either purchased from the demon auction, or fused from other demons. When you start, the only form of offense you have as a tamer is “Attack”, but you can “skill crack” physical moves, stat boosts, and magic spells from other tamers and demons you defeat. You can fully customize each team leader with a set of 3 offensive skills, 3 stat related skills, and 1 special skill. There is a huge array of skills to crack, and depending on the stats of each character, not everyone will be able to equip every skill. You have to be aware of each character’s strength and weakness (for example, don’t give a magic based character with low strength a physical skill). You are also forced to be aware of which demons you add to your teams. Several times I found myself with a leader and demons who all had “fire” based magic, but the creature I was fighting either drained or reflected the magic back at me. The battles alone are worth playing the games several times. On my second play through I was able to keep a few of my overpowered demons and watch as a level 99 Satan mowed down a level 2 Pixie…kind of masochistic I know, but it’s fun!

Even though this game had some very likeable characters, I have to say that I feel this is the weakest cast SMT has put together. In the first Devil Survivor each character had problems and deficiencies that made them relatable and real despite their anime design. In DS2 the cast as a whole is very sugar coated. A lot of the angst and drama from the first game was replaced by bits of inner turmoil offset by humor that in some cases seemed out of place. As you advance the “Fate Meter” you see that there is more to each of the characters than originally thought, but there are no real revelations with the exception of one that you don’t really get until the very end of the game. I felt that the characters were a letdown. In all fairness, the deep dark characters from the first game spoiled me and I was expecting more of the same. I definitely can’t say that I disliked any of the characters, but the multi layered developments of the characters from the first game are gone, replaced by a bunch of teens and twenty-somethings that seem way too well adjusted to the end of the world. There are moments in the story, however, where I really related to what the characters were experiencing, especially when one witnesses the death of their mother. 

Despite the downfall of the character development, the story as a whole saved this game for me. Again, I was spoiled by the dark, at times downright evil, story that the first Devil Survivor offered up. DS2 is much more light hearted. Essentially the question in DS2 is, “Did humanity chose the right path?” The obvious answer is “no”, but you as the hero are forced to examine each of the characters views on what path humanity should take and make your own decisions. There are some great revelations about the origin of the human race, as well as the origins of the demons. I found myself rooting for nearly all sides of the conflict that arises when the final question of what direction humanity should take is posed. You are forced to make your choice and fight for it regardless of which path your friends choose, making some of the decisions very difficult to make. The questions that were asked of humanity in these choices were deep enough to make me consider where I would really align myself should this kind of apocalypse really occur. If I could alter reality into anything, which path would I set humanity on? Eventually I chose all of the paths to achieve all endings, but I have my personal favorite.

As much as I loved the first Devil Survivor, I think had I not played it first (especially since 1 and 2 are not connected at all in story) I probably would have loved DS2. Unfortunately I was extremely spoiled by the original Devil Survivor, and although DS2 is a very loyal sequel, it wasn’t my favorite. That being said, it is still an excellent game! As games go, this one is defiantly above average in style, sound, presentation and story. This game is definitely the last great game on the Nintendo DS before the 3DS takes over the market completely. Even though I had my own personal gripes about story and character, I still loved fighting through the apocalypse to save humanity from a power greater than the strongest demons. Where Devil Survivor had revelations and characters that made it more of an experience than a game, DS2 was a situation driven apocalyptic story that was simply fun to play. It is a great addition to my SMT collection, and I really enjoyed it as a whole. The success of this game has spawned a Manga adaptation in Japan that focuses primarily on Io rather than Hero. I personally would love to see this translated and brought to the States as I am curious to see the game from her perspective. I definitely recommend this game for anyone who had played Pokemon as a kid as I often refer to this series as “Pokemon for adults”. If you have a Nintendo DS this is a game that can’t be missed. It definitely isn’t perfect, but I love it all the same. Take the dive and decide what path humanity should take.


By Justin Hopper 

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