Atlus' Shin Megami Tensei world is a vast one. As of late it seems to be growing in popularity, but what may be the most interesting and unique side of the SMT world has likely seen the least number of visits.
The Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha games are different in that they're set in a newly westernized post-World War Japan, where you'll play as Raidou, a young detective that continues on the family tradition of summoning demons to protect Tokyo. Sword-slashing, gun-firing action battles replace the standard turn-based RPG fighting as your demon pals dance around you to the soundtrack of brassy jazz. Sounds pretty interesting, doesn't it?
The series was kicked off with the 2006 PS2 title Devil Summoner: Raidoh Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army. This was a good game that mostly went unnoticed, though it did have some issues with play balance and control. Now the series returns in Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon, which we can confidently say is a huge improvement over the first.
Read on for our review of Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon.
Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon (PS2)
Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th (yes, the family business is quite old) is on the case again, jumping right back into things just a bit after The Soulless Army ends. It should be said here that those new to the series need not worry about missing the last game. While playing the previous game will definitely heighten your experience, King Abaddon was designed to be enjoyed by first-timers as well.
The young devil summoner leads a pretty busy life, working to save the city from all the strange goings-ons while balancing his time to also help out at the local detective agency, run by his friend and mentor Narumi. It's here that a new case unfolds for the summoner and his usual cast of buddies, including talking cat and trainer Gouto and sassy journalist Tae. What starts as a simple missing persons case evolves into what could potentially be the end of the world, with a big mix-up between people and gods causing chaos in Tokyo.
You'll play as Raidou, who just so happens to be the only one capable enough to do both the detective work and summon the demons needed to right the wrongs of one human that tried to change fate for himself. Luck is the major theme of this game. Characters of the world, including yourself, will see luck gradually decrease as the game goes on, slowly moving the people of the city into despair. You'll see that your own lack of luck even affects your character peformance and battle ability, making the often unused stat very important in this game.
Raidou in old Ginza
We'll leave the rest of the story for you to uncover yourselves, but we will say that the story unfolds fantastically. King Abaddon avoids the whole tired good vs. evil plot; you'll find yourself actually sympathizing with the enemy at times, questioning your own decision to fight against him often.
The well-written, well-paced story is a treat on its own, but the game play is what will keep you coming back. As we said before, battles are action-based. Atlus greatly improves on the mechanics established by The Soulless Army, adding tighter control, more evasive moves, and even more demon assistance. Mashing one button will let you swing your sword, while another fires a gun. The X button lets you roll backwards to avoid attacks, and the L1 lets you block. Raidou is free to run around on the battlefield, chasing down enemies as they attack or retreat. You have the ability to summon two demons on the battlefield, which will carry out your commands and fight alongside you. When they use their abilities, it drains from a MAG pool, a gauge of magic shared between you and all of your demons. This whole system would be fun on its own, but the combo system is what really makes the battles pop.
Just like in most of the other Shin Megami Tensei games, elemental affinities come into play. Even though they've thrown the turn-based menu system out the window, you'll still go up against enemies who go down easiest once you discover their elemental weakness. That's where your demons come into play: summon the demons that have the elemental advantage and have them attack the enemy. This will stun that enemy, letting you slash away as fast as you can to take them down. While normal attacks drain the previously mentioned MAG gauge, correctly identifying and exploiting the weakness of these enemies refills it. The whole process is so fine-tuned and balanced that it just seems to roll off your fingers with ease. From the first game to its sequel, the battle system transitioned from slow and slightly cumbersome to fast and addictive. It's nice to know that Atlus listens to their customers.
Raidou has mad HP in this screen!
The acquisition of demons is a game in itself. In battles, you can opt to negotiate with demons, sweet talking or bribing them to be part of your demon collection. If you're at a high enough level and say the right things, the demon will join your party, letting you summon them and use their abilities. Say the wrong thing and they'll likely kill you. This time around, though, you'll be able to have your own demons help you out in convincing the new demon to join.
You'll work to collect demons that supply you with the abilities and techniques that not only let you defeat other demons, but also navigate the game's world. For instance, you'll have to have a Wind type demon in your party to use her wind-traveling teleport ability to access some map areas. Later in the game, you can use a Frost demon to freeze a body of water to walk across it. If you can't find the demon you need, you can always create one. Victor, a Dr. Frankenstein-like character, is back, and he's more than willing to help you fuse demons together to create new ones. He's also keen on swords, and will let you play with sword alchemy, letting you fuse new powers and traits onto your main weapon.
Pretty cherry blossoms fall when you level up.
Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon manages to be visually respectable on the PlayStation 2. It may not hold up graphically to your PS3 or Xbox 360 role-playing games, but it makes up for that in a dark but stylish appearance that's sure to be a contrast to anything else you've played recently, including other Atlus games. The character design is the real standout: the game's main characters have a stylistic look that manages to be both fun and eerie at the same time. This game's version of a Tokyo in its transition phase is interesting to explore, and makes a great backdrop to this story.
The icing on the cake is the score of composer Shoji Meguro, who combines some of the better pieces of the first Devil Summoner game with new remixes and pieces. Aside from one very short and repetitive loop later in the game, the game's score will have you bobbing your head and tapping your feet.
Shin Megami Tensei and Devil Summoner series fans, we shouldn't even need to say it: You need this game. Atlus has worked hard to improve every aspect of the first title in this sequel, and the result is a shining example of what happens when game developers listen to their user base. But we would also like to appeal to those that consider the other Shin Megami Tensei games to be intimidating or overwhelming: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon is a title that breaks away from old role-playing conventions to introduce a fast-paced action game play that anyone can enjoy. It's a fun, approachable game set in an interesting world, and it tells a great story that you won't have to spend 80+ hours to finish.
Score: 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)