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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2

Platform(s): Nintendo DS
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Atlus U.S.A.
Developer: Atlus
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2012 (US), Early 2012 (EU)


NDS Review - 'Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Feb. 29, 2012 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

What would people do if they could see others' deaths before they come to pass? As devastation and ruin begin to spread, the player will have to use a mysterious website with the power to predict casualties in order to save lives, save themselves, and ultimately, save the city.

The original Devil Survivor struck a midpoint between the relentlessly grim atmosphere of the older Shin Megami Tensei games and the relatively more lighthearted Persona titles. It was silly and comical, but it was still about the collapse of society and what humans do to survive. The strategy-RPG gameplay helped it stand out among the many other Shin Megami Tensei titles and spin-offs. Under those circumstances, Devil Survivor 2 is about as safe a sequel as you can get. It doesn't rock the boat, and it provides more of what people expect. Of course, as anyone who played the original Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor knows, that is a good thing.

Devil Survivor 2 is not a direct sequel so much as it's a reimagining of a similar concept. You play a high school student in modern-day Japan. While browsing the Internet, you discover a mysterious Web site that plays "death clips" of your friends and family. Soon afterward, you and two friends witness your own death clips moments before a runaway train barrels into you. You're saved when the Web site installs a Demon Summoning App on your cell phone, allowing you to call forth demons to stop the train. It turns out that the derailment was caused by mysterious creatures called Septentrions, which destroy entire cities. The only ones who can stop them are Demon Trainers with access to the cell phone app. It's up to your character to find a way to survive and stop the monsters before the world is destroyed.

The original game had silly moments, but despite the cheerful art style, it was fairly grim. Devil Survivor 2 has an inconsistent tone. It can have an innocent person being brutally and visually executed with a gunshot to the head in one scene and an apocalyptic demon being subdued by a character wackily smacking it until it submits in another. It's rather incongruous to have a character dealing with the death of a close family member in a cut scene followed shortly by sneaking into an enemy base in a cardboard box, Solid Snake-style. That isn't to say that the entire game is silly, but the mesh of silliness and seriousness feels off when compared to the more light-hearted Persona 4. The original Devil Survivor handled the tone issues better.

To its credit, Devil Survivor manages to do a lot with a large cast of characters. You have 13 recruitable characters, and each one manages to be somewhat memorable and does something meaningful. There are a few boring ones, but they're relatively unobtrusive. It's also noteworthy in that every character can be killed off at some point. If you're not careful, you can end up with a bloodbath. To reach that point takes a lot of time and effort, and most players will keep the majority of the cast alive. Much like Mass Effect 2 or similar titles, it's harder to get your party killed off than it is to keep them alive. Unless you go out of your way, you'll probably lose only a couple of party members. The rest might not join you, but they won't die.

If you've played the original Devil Survivor or its 3DS re-release Devil Survivor: Overclocked, you'll find that the gameplay in Devil Survivor 2 has been left almost unchanged. The strategy-RPG gameplay returns in full force, and the same basics apply. You have a party of four characters, each with two summonable demons. You take turns moving your characters around the battlefield and attacking enemy demons and summoners. There is not a lot to say here that doesn't apply to the original Devil Survivor, including the same strengths and weaknesses. There is new content, but most of it is window dressing on a very straightforward sequel.

The biggest new feature in the game is the Fate system, which is basically Persona 4-style Social Links. When you interact with characters, you gradually build up friendship with them to unlock bonuses for your entire party. This friendship can reach up to five levels, with early level bonuses such as resisting elemental damage or cracking a skill that the protagonist has marked. Later levels allow the instant transfer of demons or unlock new bonus demons to fuse. More importantly, these Fate levels allow you to alter the plot. High Fate levels may let you save a character who is going to die or befriend someone who would otherwise oppose your goals. Low Fate levels can lead to death and tragedy.

The Fate system isn't without its flaws. Rewarding you for using and talking to your favorite characters is a nice feature, and it specializes the characters you want to use the most often. On the other hand, it's annoying if you're forced to use a character you haven't been talking to and lose out on skill-cracking or defensive bonuses. The bigger concern comes near the end of the game. Once the final day has arrived, the characters to whom you have access depend on your chosen path and befriended characters. Befriend the wrong characters, and you can find yourself with a handicap. One path ended with me having one other character, and I had to finish two missions before I could recruit characters to rejoin my party. This isn't big, but it is a potential annoyance. 

There are some other new features, although they're not going to seem as impressive to those who have picked up Overclocked. There are a large number of new spells and demons, but many were already introduced in the 3DS re-release. It makes it hard to be impressed when you've already seen most of them. There are some Devil Survivor 2-exclusive demons and abilities, but a majority of the powers are recycled from one of the previous two versions of the game.

Fusion has been slightly improved by the addition of Add-Ons. Much like Sources in Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, these Add-Ons can be used during fusion to add extra abilities to the demons. However, they are rare and random drops, so it's unreliable to depend on them. They'll show up occasionally after you defeat an enemy, much like the Boost from the original Devil Survivor only slightly more useful. Demon Racial Skills now have the ability to evolve into more powerful forms once you get later into the game. The Fairy Clan's Glamour ability can be upgraded to Fairy Dust, which has the same effect but more powerful and capable of affecting multiple characters at once.

Devil Survivor 2 is significantly easier than its predecessor. Mostly, this is due to the game relying less on gimmicky "protect the civilian" missions. There are only a small number of escort missions in the game, and most are far simpler than their counterparts in the original game. The escorted characters are more durable and can be healed easily, and they often go a short distance. It takes away some of the tension from the game when you can focus on the offense. Your party members are also far more powerful. They tend to have high stats and natural defenses against various elements, so they're much hardier. I actually had one party member in the end of the game who was invincible to everything but fire, and even that he resisted. The addition of Add-Ons also makes it easier to transfer powerful skills onto demons. You can end up with demons who are immune to all types of damage, leaving them vulnerable only to the party leader dying or Almighty spells.

Like the original game, Devil Survivor 2 has a ton of replay value. The main story takes about 15 to 20 hours to finish, but that is far from the end of the game. There are multiple distinct endings, each of which has characters and plots you won't see on the other paths. Like Devil Survivor, there is overlap on these paths, but they're different enough that they're all worth playing. A rather nice bonus is that Devil Survivor 2 includes the same New Game+ feature as Devil Survivor: Overclocked. Once you finish one path, you're awarded a series of trophies for what you did during the game. You get trophies for finishing the game, saving or befriending certain characters, defeating certain demons, avoiding character death, and so on. Each trophy has a point value that you can spend at a store to buy bonuses for the New Game+. These bonuses can be anything from money and skill carryover to new demons to fight or fuse. It's a good way to make replays more fun since you won't begin at Level 60 with maxed-out demons (unless you want to).

As you might expect, Devil Survivor 2 is almost visually unchanged from the original game. It recycles a lot of material, and parts of the game that are set in Tokyo actually reuse levels and areas from Devil Survivor 1, and most of the demons and sprites are the same. There is some greater detail in the new character sprites, and the game has fewer "visual novel" scenes, but for the most part, it's a flat copy. Likewise, the musical score contains a lot of recycled material, although there are some pretty good new songs, too. It's to Devil Survivor 2's credit that this recycled material doesn't feel too cheap. A good chunk of the game is spent outside Tokyo, and that helps a lot since it requires new places to visit and see.

Ultimately, "more of the same" is the best possible description for Devil Survivor 2, which is a safe and straightforward sequel to a great game.  It has new features, new demons, and a new plot, but all of that is window dressing on what is fundamentally the same basic game. However, that doesn't mean Devil Survivor 2 is in any way bad. It's a fun and well-paced strategy-RPG that suffers only from a too-low difficulty level, and even that is because it is more polished than the original Devil Survivor. If you liked the first game, it's pretty hard not to like the second, but if you didn't care for the original, not much here will change your mind.

Score: 8.5/10

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