If company-wise I’ll buy practically everything Grasshopper Manufacture puts out, in terms of game series Shin Megami Tensei fits that bill perfectly. I absolutely love it and many of its derivatives.
That includes both Devil Survivor games – the Nintendo DS/3DS exclusive SRPG spin-offs. While us in Europe only saw the release of the first one’s 3DS remaster, Devil Survivor: Overclocked, in 2013 the sequel’s original version also came out over here in that same year. I played both of them and, although I’m trying to get through my backlog as much as possible before I revisit certain games, when the Record Breaker expansion was announced for Devil Survivor 2 with some significant additions, I was convinced to get in on that right away.
The game gives you the option of going straight to the new arc that’s added, but, to be honest, some issues arose during my play-through of Devil Survivor 2 which greatly incentivized playing the first arc again. You see, the setup is similar to the first Devil Survivor –the world is screwed, demons begin roaming around, and Japan happens to have the only people capable of dealing with that shit, so you and your buddies have 7 days to solve it (back of the box description, right there). But despite those similarities, the manner in which the plot unfolds and how you relate with the other characters is rather different, with the second one having a level-up system for the relationships with your teammates.
During the course of each day you can choose which activities to do at which time – most take blocks of 30 in-game minutes – with some being locked after a certain hour. There’s also an online app called Nicaea which shows you your friends’ death in order for you to prevent it. On my first run through what I did was choose the non-progression interactions first until only the mandatory ones (battles, typically) remained. In the first few hours you come upon Keita, a little punk who’s in the boxing club, who was killed before the battle began. “Hm…maybe he was supposed to die?” thought little old silly me. It was only when another character, Jungo, who seemed like a really cool guy also died that it dawned on me that maybe I shouldn’t way before saving someone.
I ended up reaching the ending that I wanted, but with those two plus a couple of other characters missing. I thought that maybe this time I’d aim for something that felt more complete (which I did, thanks to a guide that I didn’t care to use since I already beat it once).
DS1 did the whole team thing in a somewhat uncommon way, with all the characters besides your core 4/5 being dispersed all over Tokyo and your choices of where to go next and when affecting who you interact more with and whose route you get to complete. I did enjoy that approach, but I also appreciate the way the second game gave more focus to the characters.
Even so, I find it interesting how, when I first played it, I felt…let’s say doubtful about how these people developed such tight bonds in such a short amount of time. It’s not impossible for people to become friends with someone after just a day together, but I was unsure if this didn’t take that a bit too far. Funny enough, a year after playing it I had an experience that countered those doubts.
I went with my mother to what is called the Camino de Santiago (some of you may know it, or not, as the Way of St. James), which is a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, in Spain. People usually do it for religious reasons, but not being religious myself I did more for the experience of walking 150 Km and discovering new places. On that way I met an American Priest who went with our group. Maybe I’ll tell you about it in detail another time, so let me just say that, by the end, we became as close as brothers. After spending one week together. With this in mind, my second time with DS2 gave it a whole new meaning.
Moving on to the overall plot, Devil Survivor takes after earlier SMT games and IV with its version of a Law Hero and a Chaos Hero, and Nocturne’s True Demon route for what seems to be considered the canon one, but Devil Survivor 2 actually gets most of its inspiration from Nocturne, with the clashing philosophies and world conception/regeneration.
One aspect that attracts me to this franchise is the Digital Devil aspect of it, the “world as data” view, and both these games (2 waaaay more than 1) really take it far. The world in Devil Survivor 2 is ruled by and Administrator, who’s in charge in keeping the Akashic Record and ruling over time and space. And if you somehow felt the original version didn’t dabble enough into it, Record Breaker goes all out and presents a continuation to those events in a way that doesn’t feel forced – especially if the ending to that first part feels too easy; which it did to me after finishing this one.
I heard many people comparing the new Triangulum Arc to an entire game on its own, which it absolutely does. With the perks of finishing the first arc I got around 35 hours of play (and this one isn’t as long in terms of in-game days), with the most complete ending as far as I could find out. Which, by the way, while seeming convenient in some aspects, does reward the player and characters in a meaningful manner, I believe.
But more than taking the plot even further with a – personally – more satisfying conclusion, I was amazed at how each and every character gets further developed. Some of the cast that only got a small development to them in the final stage of their relationship with you now get much more from their relationship with each other, namely characters like Keita, Ronaldo and Yamato.
I was somewhat apprehensive of the possibility that what had occurred in the first arc wouldn’t matter here, that it would reset those events, but fortunately that is not the case; which is why I recommend picking it up from the beginning, unless you played it recently or have it fresh in your mind.
Another addition to this version was a voice cast. For the most part, the voices simply work - Daichi is impecabble, for example – but there are two or three that have something that’s not quite right. Yuri Lowenthal as Joe and Wendee Lee as Hinako deliver great performances, but the discrepancy between character and voice took a while to get used to; though Jungo’s never really clicked with me unfortunately.
Now, a small digression on Cam Clarke as Ronaldo. I don’t know what the hell kind of directing that was, but the tone of his portrayal seemed so awkward in how he delivered those lines, that went from me wondering that maybe something was wrong to, somehow, it giving more depth to the character when you considered his views and beliefs. I went from being totally out to totally on board by the end.
Considering the staggering amount of demons the series has, some are bound to become favorites. But what the fusion mechanic entails is that this is not Pokémon and they only become stronger to a certain extent, until they reach a sort of level cap. And then it’s a case of deciding if you should maintain that demon because it has a really neat combination of strengths/weaknesses/skills or use to make something else that can grow even stronger, or lead to something more powerful. Take for example, Hecate and Scathach, who in DS2 are demons whose base level is in the 40s. They only stay useful for so long, but they look so cool though!
I’d also like to understand why some demons can’t maintain their level range between games. Yes, it gives the player a chance to experiment with a demons right away, not having to be higher-leveled in every game to get to them, but for someone like me who plays as many of these as I possibly can, but it does get a bit confusing when a Suparna is level 18 in DS1 and 31 in DS2.
Even so, if there’s a demon that’s usually high-leveled that I must get is the badass that is Loki.
I could not end this without mentioning Suzuhito Yasuda, of Durarara!! and Yozakura Quartet fame, who did the character designs. They feel very sharp, with some subtle yet distinguishing coloring and shading to the characters that really rounds out their personalities. It’s pretty impressive how well his art fits in with the other franchise titles.
For those wondering about the Anime, I did watch it after playing the game and maybe that’s why I thought it was severely lacking. Maybe if I had done so before I would have a different view on it, but probably not.
In the end, I absolutely recommend the game to those interested in SRPGs mixed with a team turn-based combat, who played one or both Devil Survivor games or looking for a way to get into the Shin Megami Tensei series.
If you’re still not convinced, there’s always this:
Thank you for reading and keep being great!