Finally, after years of waiting for an English trailer to the Level-5 video game 'Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch,' the intolerable delay is over. As suspected from previous Japanese trailers, the premise to the Studio Ghibli rendered game appears somewhat similar to classic children stories like The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in which a child finds him or herself mixed up in an otherworldly adventure with plenty of wondrous magic and fantastical beasts. Here is the most recent trailer:
Looks like Level-5 pushed back the US release of 'Ni No Kuni' once more from winter of 2012 to the first quarter of 2013. I'm slightly saddened by this since it seemed like a such a wonderful Christmas gift (for me and many others). But as long as Level-5 works out all the devious bugs in the gameplay and records prime voice-casting, I am more than delighted to adjust my calendar. Certainly this first English trailer proves the wait is worthwhile.
Also noted recently, Game Informer's Kyle Hilliard reported a possible 'Ni No Kuni' sequel in the works. Level-5 CEO Akihiro Hino apparently "wishes to continue with the series, but it depends on how well the game performs overseas." My advice to anyone who wishes for a sequel based on the above trailer: begin spreading the word. Post the video on your facebook, send the url on your phone, share pictures on tumblur. Basically do anything you can to gain interest in the game, and slowly yet surely a fan base will begin to gobble up this delight. If we start early, we have a chance. Who wouldn't want Studio Ghibli involved with another video game?
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Making the Apocalypse a Blast! by Justin Hopper
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
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. Japan
What is "Shin Megami Tensei," and Why Should You Be Playing It! by Justin Hopper
I have always been a fan of GOOD video games. Unfortunately right now, anyone who knows how to write a computer program seems to be producing video games for any kind of media you can imagine. Right now we are stuck with a few gems worth trying out while the market is flooded with boring sequels, horrible adaptations, and overall crap that seems like the producers and directors didn’t put one ounce of thought into. I personally feel that part of this is due to the “Americanization” of video games. More and more games are coming from United States publishers who throw together pretty visuals with a couple of explosions, a fart joke and girls with huge boobs and they think they have a best seller. Unfortunately a lot of gamers in today’s market fall for it. These games make millions, and they keep producing them like an assembly line; it’s all about the money. That’s not to say all American games are bad, but the ratio of good ones to bad ones isn’t impressive. Gaming to me is about the overall experience. I personally put most of my attention to the story of the game (granted visuals and playability do factor in as well). Luckily about three years ago I was introduced to a game titled, “Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4”. I already had high standards for video games, but this one raised the bar, and started me on a love affair with an entire series of quirky characters, powerful demons, and a library of titles that has surpassed most games and franchises in my eyes.
The “Shin Megami Tensei” (SMT) franchise has quite a history. “Shin Megami Tensei” roughly translates into “Reincarnation of the True Goddess”, which really has nothing to do with the spinoffs. SMT originally started as a novel series titled Digital Devil Story by Aya Nishitani (which has never been adapted into English). Shortly after, a game adaptation for the Famicom in Japan appeared under the name “Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei” in 1987. From there many sequels and spinoffs have been produced for various consoles and media. The series has been a huge success in Japan. Being an RPG (Role Playing game) it has rivaled Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest since it first appeared. More recently it has caught on in the U.S. through Manga, Anime, and English adaptations of the most recent games. Recent spinoffs in SMT’s history include; Persona, Devil Summoner, Digital Devil Saga, and Devil Survivor. Most of the games center on a protagonist and their group of friends (usually high school students) who are faced with some kind of mystery; serial murders, mass suicides, suspicious natural disasters, or distorted reality. Most of the games in the series focus on the protagonist (usually unnamed and silent) making choices as the story progresses that help them make friends (which strengthens his/her power as well as that of the party members), and choose the path of Justice or Chaos. Also in most of the games the main characters of the story are able to summon or recruit demons to help them solve these mysteries that they are facing. So let’s summarize; an RPG, about teenagers who solve mysteries, make friends, and summon demons. Confused? That’s not even half of it.
Each of these games are driven by their stories and the characters that push the action along. The situations that each of the characters face are surprisingly real. As the majority of these games take place in modern day Japan, the characters deal with situations that can be crushingly true and close to what the player may have experienced in their own past. While playing these games I have come across characters who were questioning their sexuality, crushed by family obligations, dealing with the betrayal of a close friend, coping with the illness and eventual death of a loved one, and desperately fighting to accept who and what they truly are. At first each of these games starts with bubbly J-Pop music that could sicken the cutest of puppies, but it quickly turns into an examination of the dark side of human existence. They explore the angst that people experience in their everyday lives – then they throw in demons, evil beings, monsters and the possible destruction of the world just to make things more interesting. All of these games have characters that I can personally relate to. I have been touched by how characters reacted to deaths of other primary characters (which isn’t uncommon), moved by how they dealt with family discord, and I’ve even been choked up when someone’s mother died of an illness and you were given choices how to react to her. This kind of open ended story telling that can have consequences on so many levels makes the depth and complexity of the story and its characters exciting and fulfilling when played through. The choices also allow for play throughs again and again.
Finally we have the use of the Demons. The term “Demon” in the series refers to any of the supernatural creatures you can summon (This includes actual demons, gods, monsters, and angels). Think of them as Pokémon with attitudes that wouldn’t mind killing you. The most interesting thing about these demons is that they are demons and gods that are actually found in the myths and folklore of many cultures around the world. Upon playing through one of the games, I went and researched several of the demons that were used in the game and found every one of them were actual demons from other cultures. While playing these games I have come across Cait Sith, Thor, Beelzebub, Amaterasu, Cerberus, Satan, and more. Literary characters and creatures are also available; Alice from Alice in Wonderland (who was surprisingly the best demon I have used in any of the games), H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep, and Shakespeare’s Othello are some I used. Depending on the game, they can be bosses that are incredibly difficult, starter demons that are like Squirtle or Charmander, or badass demons that won’t join you until you can prove you are worthy of their power. Unlike Pokémon you can usually take those demons and “fuse” them into other demons. There are rules that dictate how the fusing goes (so intricate I would need another twenty pages to describe), but most times they create demons that share the traits and strengths that the original ones had with several upgrades. This type of system adds a kind of depth to the games that can become obsessive if you want to fuse every demon possible. The idea of summoning creatures to help you complete your mission isn’t something new to gaming, but SMT started back in the 80’s and has evolved it into something unique and fun that varies from game to game. For Digital Devil Saga the characters change into the demons during battle; in Devil Summoner you contract them to help you through persuasion, force, or bribery; Persona’s demons are actually other “personas” of the character that reflect the kind of person they are; Devil Survivor has you fight demons after summoning them through a computer program and making a pact with them once you defeat them. Along the way you find favorites (just like Pokémon) that you want to keep in your party all the time, and are reluctant to fuse, only to find the fusion creates a demon that you like even more.
On the downside, the reason these games have struggled to gain success in the U.S. is they are deeply rooted in Japanese culture, which for many people makes it difficult to understand or relate to. All of the games in the series, except one, take place primarily in Japan. There are references to the geography, culture, and lifestyle that the Japanese are accustomed to that many people in the U.S. just won’t get. That is why this awesome series has struggled to find its niche in a western market that idolizes muscle bound heroes and crude humor. Even though I love the SMT series as a whole, I do have to say that there are definitely some things that get lost in translation. If you are willing to put in the extra work and do a little research, most of the confusing elements can be explained and you can have a bit of insight into some of the more intricate parts of the stories that may not make all that much sense. However, without the Japanese culture that is so prevalent in the series, most of the depth of the game would be lost. It’s the superstition and respect for the folklore and mythos of Japanese and other cultures that allows for a varied and unique experience (I’m sorry, I don’t see a lot of U.S. made games indulge in varied cultural folklore for inspiration). The cultural traps are there, but they hardly mar the overall experience. Some of the stories even revolve around Christian and Hindu religion (one story is directly related to the biblical tale of Cain and Abel). It is wonderful that this series that revolves around Japan plays with other cultures, making it appealing on many levels.
The SMT series is definitely one of my favorite game franchises. After completing my first adventure with Persona 4, I actively sought to find every SMT game that has been released in the United States. Although I have my favorites in the series, I love each of the games for their intricate and deep stories. I’m thrilled that the SMT series is finally starting to catch on in the states, and Atlus (the current publisher) is looking back and re-releasing older games in the series on the DS or the PSP that U.S. gamers have expressed interest in. I highly recommend these titles in the series:
Persona 4 (Available on the PS2 and soon on the PS VITA): Serial murders have broken out in a country town in Japan, and a small group of students have to use their remarkable powers to solve the mystery and fight the evil behind it.
Persona 2 (Available on the PSP): Rumors are starting to come true in Japan, everything from ghosts lurking in school hallways to the Third Reich and its diabolical leader resurrecting and attacking. Only Persona users have it in them to defeat the power manipulating Japan.
Devil Survivor (Available on the Nintendo DS and 3DS): Demons have started to erupt from a strange computer program and wreak havoc in Tokyo. Swiftly the military cordons off the affected areas, but little do the people know that a power of biblical proportions is waiting to consume everything if a band of young “Demon Tamers” can’t stop it. (My personal favorite)
If you don’t like these three titles, then SMT isn’t for you. I feel that these three embody what the SMT series is all about. They are all radically different (even though two are sequels of one spinoff) and show what kind of power this series really has. I just started the most recent addition to the SMT family, “Devil Survivor 2”. I already know this is another game that will keep me hooked until I complete everything! If you love RPGs and games with depth and a challenge, defiantly check out the SMT series. I wish they were easier to find, but now the games available in the U.S. have become collector’s items. They aren’t easy to find, and when you do they tend to be pretty expensive. Despite this, I think these games are at least worth trying. You never know, you might find a new obsession like I did.