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Disclosure: the author was provided with a copy of the game by NIS America for the purpose of this review
Publishers: NIS America (EU), Atlus USA (NA)
It’s the day of your college entrance exam. After surviving the test you think all your struggles are over. That’s when your friend tells you to download this weird new mobile app called Nicaea. Rumor has it, this app will send you a video of one of your friend’s dying moments. Your video arrives, and you see your schoolmate’s corpse amidst the wreckage of a subway train. The two of you just so happen to have met a female classmate in the same location while seeing the video, and that’s when an earthquake hits; the morbid video’s events have come to pass.
Before this can become all Final Destination on the three of you, the Nicaea app announces that the only way to survive this untimely demise will involve fighting demons. As if things couldn’t escalate further, demons do indeed appear at the scene of the crash, and are here to hunt the three of you. Your student life is over, your days are numbered, and you will need to battle demons, soldiers, and cosmic monstrosities in order to survive another day.
Devil Survivor 2 was one in a long line of spinoffs to the enormous Shin Megami Tensei series – the best RPG franchise you still probably haven’t heard of. Created by Atlus, these games often tell stories of demons, gods, the apocalypse, and a war of ideologies (usually Law versus Chaos). Tokyo is the most common battleground in the franchise, and Devil Survivor 2 is no exception, but it does also take place across the Japanese cities of Osaka and Nagoya. The Devil Survivor series is a strategy-based spinoff of SMT, with players assembling a team of up to 4 characters who have to battle demons across a grid-based map. Each of your characters can also summon 2 demons to support them in combat, and more of these can be purchased in a Demon Auction, as well as fused into more powerful devils.
Progress comes in 2 ways: conversations with other characters takes up most of this game’s playtime, with a cast of around 15 major characters. They’re a fun bunch to talk to though, being rather similar to the casts of the immensely popular SMT spinoffs; Persona 3 and 4. There’s your bumbling schoolmate Daichi, the kind-if-distressed schoolgirl Io, friendly cheapskate Joe, awkward but lovable dork Jungo, grumpy musician Airi, boisterous dancer Hinako, and smug teenaged punk Keita. Your nameless protagonist will have plenty of dialogue options in every scene, with plenty of opportunities for you to play him seriously, or to have him just take the piss.
Each dialogue scene will advance the in-game clock by 30 minutes, so you won’t get the chance to talk with everyone before the next battle happens. It’s important to interact with your allies though, as giving them attention will raise their Fate Level, with each new ranking giving bonus perks such as the ability to swap demons with them in the middle of battle, or unlocking exclusive new demons to fuse. The story progressively introduces even more characters, with secret organisation JP’s (pronounced “jips”), and their members such as the kind nurse Otome, and deadpan computer genius Fumi. It’s a likable cast, and one thing I want to note is just how…normal their designs are. You’ve got some of the more plot crucial characters wearing bizarre or intensely regal clothes, and the main character has a strange white bunny-eared hoodie, but the rest of the cast has a mix of school uniforms and casual fashion that fits right in to the real world. Basically, I appreciated a Japanese RPG knowing to balance its character designs, especially when it’s set in modern-day Tokyo City. Not every game needs to give you blue hair to stand out.
Devil Survivor 2’s combat is pretty much the same as the first game, with an isometric view of a grid-based battlefield. Each character has a team of up to 3 combatants, and whenever a character moves on the map and declares an attack on an enemy, the game transitions to a brief turn-based battle between the 2 teams. Much like the rest of the Shin Megami Tensei games; strategy in combat comes down to exploiting enemies’ weaknesses in order to acquire extra turns. Whether they’re weak to physical attacks, fire, or lightning, it’s all displayed on the top screen for you. The tactical gameplay offered here isn’t the deepest, but the challenge comes from the strength of the enemies, and smart use of your limited selection of skills and demons. There aren’t any items here to help you heal your team, so you had better acquire new abilities to avoid being wiped out. At the start of each mission, you’re given option to “Skill Crack,” which lets you pick a skill being used on the enemy side, and copy it to your collection after killing that enemy with the character who you chose to acquire that skill. If it’s all still a bit too confusing for you and you end up dying, you at least have the choice to either reload your last save, or to start over from the beginning of the mission, with all acquired skills and experience intact. Just be prepared to restart often, because some of the boss encounters in Devil Survivor 2 as brutal as fans would expect from a Shin Megami Tensei title.
Those who played the original Nintendo DS version of this game will be familiar with the main campaign – the 7 day battle against the Septentriones. These bizarre invaders are extremely powerful, and each one poses its own unique threat once it arrives. The variety of challenges these bosses provides is one of the most fun aspects of the story, that kept me compelled and playing in order to see what they would come up with next. One will cover a wide area of the battlefield in poison for instance, while another splits into two separate-but-weaker bosses, and can teleport and fuse back together in case you start overpowering it. The Septentriones often represent a big difficulty spike on each day, but the threat of each new one arriving is a thrill reminiscent of the various giant monsters that attack the casts of Neon Genesis Evangelion, or Pacific Rim.
That’s enough about the original game for now though, since this is a Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker review. Yes, aside from some new demons and visual upgrades for the jump from Nintendo DS to the 3DS, the Record Breaker version of the game adds a whole new campaign on top of the original game. While the Septentriones chapter offered multiple endings, this new story uses the original “true ending” as a foundation, but also alters events and character fates for the story it wants to tell, so it offers a handy recap at the beginning. This new episode sees the cast face another demon crisis, while under threat from new invaders the Triangulum; 3 destructive beings even more powerful than the 7 the team faced before. The Triagulum story is as close as you can get to a full-blown sequel to the original, without really bringing anything new to it in terms of gameplay. Seeing as how it’s a bit shorter than the Septentriones storyline, the pacing is quicker, and there are less battles to be fought, but the plot is an intriguing follow-up that reunites the team, and sees them contend with mysterious newcomer Miyako Hotsuin. It’s noteworthy though that this second campaign also features several different endings to choose from, so as you can imagine, there’s plenty of replay value to be found in Record Breaker, especially when New Game Plus offers various perks such as carrying over skills and demons, and access to secret boss battles.
As I said though, there are less battles there, and I felt like there wasn’t really enough in the original game to begin with. While the original content took me 40 hours to complete, and the Record Breaker campaign lasted around 25 hours for me; overall I feel that Devil Survivor 2‘s biggest flaw is its lack of gameplay. The focus is most definitely on story and character interaction, but unlike Persona 4 there’s no exploration or dungeons offered; no active game experience outside of missions to sink your teeth into. The missions and the boss battles are great fun when they show up, but for the most part, the game plays a lot like a visual novel, and your interest starts to dip once you complete a thrilling demon tamer battle, and realise you’re about to go through another half hour of talking. Nonetheless, Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker is definitely a welcoming, if simple strategy RPG that serves as a good introduction to Atlus’ Shin Megami Tensei franchise; if for some reason you can’t play Persona 3 or 4 instead.
Well then, may your tomorrow bE a nICE daY As wEll…