Ready for the End?
The Shin Megami Tensei series has always been known for its dark and occult themes. Whether it is 1940s Tokyo or a modern-day high school, SMT has a flair for making everyday settings paranormal. The latest SMT title, Devil Survivor, follows this trend closely and takes place in modern-day Japan during the end of the world. Demon appearances, rolling blackouts, and predictions of doom and gloom have punctuated the landscape, and everything is looking fairly bleak at the start of the game.
The game’s story revolves around some young Japanese kids that are able to use the power of special COMPs that allow them to summon demons and fight the evil that is infecting Japan. However, the game’s story isn’t as easy as “kill the badguys” and “save the world”. Unfortunately, one of the key elements in Devil Survivor is time. The main character has a special ability which allows him to see how much time someone has left to live, and you’ll have to make hard decisions about how to extend the time of those close to you.
Since the game takes place on a very rigid time system, you’ll only have a certain amount of hours to prevent catastrophic events from happening. Every action takes 30 minutes, and the game routinely gives you more to handle than you are capable of accomplishing within the time goal. Will you save an entire apartment building or those closest to you? Could you choose between your friends if you only had time to save one? The game’s storyline branches in some interesting ways, and when you’re hard-pressed for time, the decisions you make will have a serious impact on the way the narrative evolves.
In addition to deciding who to save and when, the game also gives you narrative choices that help shape how other characters behave in relation to you. The text-system allows you to react to situations in a number of different ways, and based on what you say while in one of the game’s many dialogue scenes, other characters may respect or abhor you.
The story in SMT: Devil Survivor is reason enough to pick up this title. There are so many narrative possibilities that replay is a must, and the game challenges you to examine what is important to you in a game. Although other titles like Fable II and Mass Effect have put the fate of their respective worlds in your hands, Devil Survivor lets you know up front that the world is ending, and it is up to you to pick the survivors. It’s pretty heavy stuff, but the story does an excellent job of keeping you immersed and thinking about your next move.
Although the story really is the hallmark of this title, it doesn’t hurt that the battle system is quite good as well. True to SMT form, the game relies heavily on demons that you can summon to fight battles for you. The game’s battle system is a lot like the Devil Summoner series, with many of the demons from those titles making repeat appearances here. However, forming contracts with demons is not as difficult in Devil Survivor, and generally it just involves entering an auction and purchasing new demons.
Using the demons is very straightforward, and each demon will have its own set of attacks and special abilities. You can only summon two demons at a time, but you can keep plenty in your reserves, and the game lets you switch out your demons on the fly, which is helpful when you are fighting elemental-type enemies.
Actual battles have a two-part combat system. You begin battles on a big grid-based field, and you will use your first few turns to stake out a nice strategic location for your characters. You can also use status-enhancing magic and healing mechanisms on this board. However, once you approach an enemy and launch an attack, the game puts your character in a first-person battle mode where you can trade attacks with your enemy.
Attacking is as simple as selecting from a sub-menu with attacks, but there is a subtle hint of strategy embedded in this aspect of the game. You see, each enemy will have demons of their own which will spawn when you launch an attack. These demons are weaker than the enemy you initially attacked, but the catch is that if you kill the head demon, then the other two will be eliminated as well. So, strategically speaking, you have to figure out whether it is best to focus all your attention on the head enemy (who might be getting status upgrades or healing potions from its minions), or to take out the subordinates first.
Visuals in this title are pretty basic as far as the DS hardware is concerned. Characters and enemies are represented by sprites during gameplay, and immobile character silhouettes during plot scenes. There aren’t any animated cutscenes, but the game still does its job visually, which I can’t really complain about. The game’s visual style is also very good, and it should feel familiar to fans of the SMT franchise.
Audio in Devil Survivor is well done. Although there is no voiceover, the background music is amazing. The score is nicely varied, and there is a good balance between moody themes during the plot scenes and high-energy battle music. This is definitely a title you want to play with the sound turned up, and the soundtrack greatly enhances the dark tone of the game.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor is an excellent entry in the Shin Megami Tensei series, and I can’t recommend this title enough. Though it is the series’ first foray onto the Nintendo DS, none of the gameplay has been sacrificed in the transition to the handheld. However, it is not the gameplay (as good as it may be) that will keep you coming back for more. It is the plight of the main characters and the branching storyline that will keep you coming back again and again to this title. Devil Survivor is a game that will get under your skin, and trust me, you’ll like it!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Sprite-based animations are not technically impressive, but SMT fans will appreciate the game’s style and character designs. 4.0 Control
Turn-based mechanics work very well and the entire game is controlled with the DS face buttons. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Background music is extremely good and fits the dark narrative well. Lack of a voiceover is regrettable, but in lieu of the excellent music, it is not sorely missed. 4.8
SMT: Devil Survivor is an intense game that has branching paths that allow for an endless amount of plot twists and ending possibilities, so replay is not just recommended, it’s a must.
4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.