Release Date: October 10, 2006
Thank the Lord (is that who I should be thanking for this?), another Shin Megami Tensei series is finally getting the English translation treatment! Devil Summoner has been around since the mid-'90s, back when the Sega Saturn was an active console. (Those days existed, it's true!) There were not one, but two of these games during those strange days: the original Devil Summoner and its sequel, Soul Hackers. For the 12 people outside of Japan who played through those games, this latest entry, Devil Summoner: Kuzuonha Raidou vs. the Super Power Army, has been a long time coming.
I'll be the first to warn this miniscule handful of Devil Summoner followers, if for some reason, they haven't been scouring the internet for any crumbs of information anybody could ever imagine finding anywhere, and they don't have six sealed import copies (possible investments!) sitting next to three opened playable copies (just in case one of them gets scratched!): This one isn't very much like the first two.
The Shining the Holy Ark first-person view is out, leaving that kind of chicanery to the previous generation and that boring Wizardry "spiritual sequel" for the PlayStation 2. The new look, a third-person view backed by pre-rendered backgrounds, ironically gives the game the look of an RPG – one that wasn't on Saturn, I'll note – from the previous generation. Obviously, this gives the title a very different look and feel from what was established in Shin Megami Tensei 3: Nocturne and the spin-off it spawned, Digital Devil Saga.
Be warned further: The new Devil Summoner isn't anything like Persona, either. No school children – playable school children, at least. Instead, we've got Kuzuonha Raidou, a silent-but-angry detective with a big sword with a mean real-tine three-hit combo and bigger shoes to fill as the 14th in a long line of devil summoners. While I can't come up with a proper Japanese RPG to compare this to, this is the best I've got, and I hope I don't come off like a fool writing this: LucasArts adventure games.
Still with me?
I'm serious here. There's a big chunk of Gabriel Knight mixed up between the random, real-time battles that pop up about every 20 to 35 seconds. These aren't just fun little side-quests, although there are plenty of those around, too. The real meat of the game is running around 1920s Japan, putting together clues from strange conversations with stranger people, and getting to the bottom of the case.
Every aspect of the game is tied up in the investigations. Collecting demons, long the paramount feature of Shin Megami Tensei and related titles (next to the weirdo video game rock soundtracks that have been going around for the last few games, which are present here, too), is even more important than ever before. The demons, which cannot be seen by most regular folks, can cast spells to affect the direction of conversations. That's right; you play as a detective who employs not only his own detective-ish assertiveness, but the coercion of devil-spawn to solve crimes.
You can hear Dante cringing somewhere.
This isn't going to be a top-tier RPG, although it does have a pinch of Final Fantasy XII going on, where the battles are concerned. The budget behind it was obviously too small to be the "next big thing." What it is is the most creative, different RPG I've played in years, and while it has a great deal of flaws that weren't present in the other PS2 Megami Tensei games, it's the most different, experimental, and interesting of the bunch. It's not the best, necessarily, but the most thought-provoking by far. This is a game that is so incredibly Japanese that it may turn off more "Westernized" gamers, but for anybody looking for something truly innovative, this is the go-to weird RPG of the generation.
Between this, Persona 3, Final Fantasy XII, and the remade and new Valkyrie Profile games, 2006 just might be the best year for innovation in Japanese RPGs this generation.
Save up your money for Devil Summoner. You'll need about 50 bucks by October 10th.