Despite my renewed hunger for playing RPGs and a long list of really good RPGs for the Nintendo DS, I didn’t really consider trying one out until recently. I’ve been seeing Atlus and Shin Megami Tensei games mentioned in different Nintendo DS/3DS discussions recently, so I decided to try Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, one of the many Atlus RPGs released on the Nintendo DS.
The Megami Tensei franchise is a very successful series of RPGs, almost rivalling the Dragon Quest or even the Final Fantasy franchise, but I’ve never been able to play any of them because these games didn’t get localized for Western audiences until the mid Nineties and even then, only on non-Nintendo consoles. What’s always been interesting about Shin Megami Tensei games is that they are usually set in the modern day era, unlike most RPGs. I decided on trying Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor because it already has a sequel in case I end up liking it a lot.
Aside from the modern day setting, the plot of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor really hooked me the moment I tried it out. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor revolves around a trio of high school students who are caught in a government operated lockdown of an area in Japan after demons started appearing. The protagonist, along with two of his closest friends, are handed special devices called COMPs that allows them to summon, fight and forge contracts with demons. Eventually, they find out that in seven days, the government will take measures to annihilate everything within the vicinity of the lockdown. It’s up to the three to not only survive the lockdown, but to prevent the government from killing everyone else.
I was also drawn by the different way that Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor approached many RPG elements. First of all, rather than have you control an avatar and have it move across different locations, exploration is done completely with the use of menus. Each area in the locked down portion of Japan appears as an option, and the actions that you can do in that area (such as speak with people there) appear as sub-options. Most of these actions won’t eat up your time, but there are some options that represent important events and/or conversations that will take up some time. This is important to factor in while playing as you are limited to just seven days, and sometimes you’re forced to choose between different actions/events that will lead you to one out of six different endings.
Some of these events involve battles, and I have to say that I really like the battle system of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor a lot. Battles involve controlling units – each unit consists of one character (who is considered to be the leader of the unit) and up to two monsters. Combat then similar to tactical RPGs where the battlefield is divided into a grid, and you move your units on an adjacent square to opposing units in order to attack them.
When any unit initiates an attack, the game moves to a more traditional, turn-based means of combat where you assign each unit member a command and a target. If the leader of the unit is defeated, then the entire unit is removed from battle. This opens up some strategic options for players – do you focus all your attacks on the leader of the unit that you’re fighting against? Or do you take out its minions first? You earn experience points and Macca (the game’s currency) for every enemy that you defeat, and you get bonuses for defeating multiple enemies in a unit in one attack round, so you do need to consider your tactics well.
Despite involving COMPs that allow your characters to recruit monsters, you only get the chance to recruit monsters after your first battle. That doesn’t mean that you can’t get any new monsters though – early in the game, you get access to a monster auction where you can spend the Macca that you earn to add new monsters to your party. While each character can only have a maximum of two monsters in his/her unit, you can have several monsters as part of your reserves – as long as leaders are active in battles, they can summon any of your reserve monsters to replace any monster that falls in battle.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor also allows you to fuse two monsters in order to create new ones. Sometimes, fusing monsters will result in the creation of a weaker monster, but usually you get a monster that is much more powerful. Any monster that you create via fusion can also inherit the skills of the originals, so it’s usually better to form your party from fusion than buying monsters from auctions.
Another aspect that I like about Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor is the skill system. Each monster has a set of skills, and COMPs allow your characters to obtain these skills by defeating the monsters that have them (called Skill Crack in the game). Once you’ve cracked a skill, you can assign that skill to one (and only one) of your characters. You also earn a certain amount of a substance called Magnetite when you win battles, and once you earn enough of this, you can assign any skill that you’ve already cracked to your monsters.
To sum it all up, I really, really liked Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. It has a good storyline, good characters, and great gameplay mechanics. The only negative feedback that I have about this game is that it’s very challenging and it can get insanely hard, especially near the end. There are a lot of things to consider in order to be able to play this game well, like the distribution of skills between your characters and the monsters that you have and that you plan on having as well as those in reserve, to name a few. I’m glad I was able to try this game, and I’m definitely going to play the sequel sometime soon.