Survival of the Fittest
February 24, 2009 – Atlus has been, almost single-handedly, championing Japanese exclusives for the western audience (though to be fair, XSeed has also been joining in on the party as of late), and with the critical acclaim of Persona 3 and, more recently, Persona 4 – both games an elegant addition to the PS2’s swan song – the Shin Megami Tensei series has been garnering a strong fan base here in the States.
Now Atlus takes the series one step further, bringing Devil Survivor (almost five years after the release of the system, and publishers are still having fun with that play on words) to DS for more hip, RPG gameplay you can carry with you anywhere.
An important element to note about Devil Survivor is that it’s actually something of a hybrid. It plays as a strategy, role-playing game (SRPG), but skirmishes are designed to take only a few minutes to complete, allowing Devil Survivor to maintain a heavy focus on its story and characters, as well as complement the pick-up-and-play nature of DS.
Devil Survivor takes place in Tokyo of the not-so-distant future, and though elements of the city have been changed up a bit, fans of Japanese culture will have a great time picking out the many charming recreations of key landmarks and boutiques. Tokyo has been overrun by demons, and the Japanese government has quarantined the city. You and a handful of refugees must escape before the army drops a megaton of bombs on the city in order to obliterate the demon outbreak. Similar to the Persona games, time is of the essence in Devil Survivor, as you’ve only got seven days to flee Tokyo.
From what we’ve seen so far, Devil Survivor is an ambitious undertaking on DS. The recreation of Tokyo is pretty impressive, but it’s the host of interesting gameplay elements that really have our curiosity piqued. Your party will have access to a device known as the COMP, a gaming system curiously similar to the DS. With the COMP, your characters can form pacts with various demons encountered throughout the game. Though there are sure to be some immediate comparisons to Pokémon, Devil Survivor definitely veers in a more serious, story-driven direction.
Battles are an interesting mix of traditional, turn-based combat and strategy similar to what we’ve seen in Archaic Sealed Heat. Characters can summon up to two demons from their COMP to make up a sort of mini-party during battles, and matching the right demons with the right character, as well as posturing and movement on the battlefield, make up the strategy portion of gameplay. When your party members encounter the enemy, however, you’ll enter a turn-based battle from a first-person perspective, á la Dragon Quest.
In similar fashion to the Dragon Quest Monsters series, you’ll not only build a roster of demons as you progress through the game, but you’ll have the option to fuse various creatures together to create more powerful allies. Though Devil Survivor doesn’t keep too tight a leash on the player in terms of pushing the story along, you’ll still need to be mindful of the game’s countdown to D-Day. There will be enough wiggle room to explore and enlist new demons to your cause, but players will never have enough time to see everything the game has to offer in just one playthrough.
Whereas the Persona games allowed you to tinker only slightly with the story’s ultimate outcome, Devil Survivor will open things up even further by allowing the player to mold the personality of the main character. Similar to many BioWare RPGs, Devil Survivor will present players with various choices during conversations and key events. Depending on the decisions you make, you’ll experience different relationships among the game’s characters, as well as various shifts in the overarching story.
If the Shin Megami Tensei games have been anything, they’ve always been hip, and the series is quickly finding a loyal audience here in the States where folks are perhaps a bit burnt out on the same, generic adventures based on medieval themes. Atlus has enlisted Godiego guitarist Takami Asano to handle the game’s soundtrack, and the mix of heavy metal, J-funk, and hip-hop are a welcome change from the traditional arrangements found in most other RPGs.
Having the game take place in Japan also helps, as it’s obviously a Mecca for many gamers. The developers have done a wonderful job of recreating Tokyo and its many prominent landmarks. The sprites are chibi when moving about the battlefield, though character and enemy models are more lifelike when coming in close for combat. The city has an authentic, lived-in look, and there’s a lovely attention to detail overall.
In contrast to prior handheld Shin Megami Tensei games, Devil Survivor has a more mature tone. We expect a deep and interesting story with a host of colorful characters. It’s a breath of fresh air to see a DS game such as this make its way Stateside, and we have Atlus to thank for it. They’re a publisher that really seems focused on giving the hardcore RPG fan more of what they want. Look for Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor to release here in the U.S. this summer.