MegaTen, Megami Tensei is an excellent series of games that has done well in the US, but pales in comparison to the status it has achieved in its homeland of Japan. In Japan, MegaTen is one of the big three major RPG franchise that dominate in sales and fandom alongside the more well known Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior lines.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor is an attempt by Atlus to do something different with Megami Tensei and capture a different audience and what an attempt it is! Devil Survivor is a tactical turn-based strategy rpg that pushes the limits of innovation in that genre combining a different approach with traditional MegaTen themes.
The first thing that I notice about the Devil Survivor is the engine that drives the plot forward is not your standard knight, dragon and princess/save the world stuff. While you are indeed trying to save a lot of people from impending doom by thwarting the big bad; the reason why the characters are there and their own personal stake in it that’s supplied by the plot is a bit different. You essentially are given knowledge of negative events that are yet to come and know approximately when someone is going to die in the near-future. Armed with this information our heroes collect clues to escaping the looming fate that awaits while working to reset the limit on their own lives and doing the same for others they meet along the way. With this interesting little plot device comes the advance of time that really helps the immersion of the game by giving you a small bit of the anxiety the characters must feel as the time they have to achieve their goals slowly dwindles away.
The battles and system of customization that comes with Devil Survivor is also a big step into rarely tread ground. Basically, each character represents a team of a single demon tamer and two demons which you fight other teams usually comprised of three demons or occasionally a human and two demons. Like your standard Tactical RPG you move these units around on a square grid, but where it differs is that each member of your team may use one of their command skills before or after an attack and/or movement then when you attack instead of merely doing damage and ending that units turn, instead you are treated to a classic Megami Tensei battle where you choose the actions of each member of your team. The battle is then carried out with each of your team members and the enemies team members taking their actions; each of these mini battles lasts for one turn of combat with the possibility of one additional extra turn being earned for each character if they land a crit or hit an elemental weakness. In these battles, the character in the middle of the formation is the leader who takes reduced damage so long as he has surviving teammates with him, but if he’s killed that unit is destroyed.
To support these battles, each of your human characters, whom always lead the teams, have three slots for command skills, three slots for passive skills, and one slot for a single auto/racial skill. The human characters start with one command skill each and acquire more by choosing a skill possessed by an enemy at the beginning of battle and defeating that enemy.
The demons that fill the other two spots in your team have the same number of skills (7), and acquire new ones through classic MegaTen demon fusion and through a new system in which they occasionally can learn a skill that your leaders already know. Each demon has its own elemental weakness as well as statistical differences that suit it more towards dealing and receiving physical or magical damage. When you consider the possible combinations that can form your team between 21 skills and different strengths and weaknesses between team members; you end up with a robust yet elegant system which gives you a lot of options to customize the way you play the game.
It’s quite fair to say that I find Devil Survivor to be amazing, but every game has its flaws and Devil Survivor is no exception.
Difficulty – This is a MegaTen game and its difficulty is decidedly Japanese (very difficult and/or time consuming) and while I haven’t actually played through the harder paths of the Devil Survivor yet, I’ve been appraised of their difficulty in relation to the main paths of the game and will probably end up spending a lot of time working through them.
Demons Dying – This somewhat goes along with difficulty, but I felt it was significant enough to mention. Early on the demons on your team can easily die in one turn of combat and you won’t yet have access to abilities that resurrect them. There will be many occasions that there’s really nothing you can do to prevent it which ends up making it very annoying to level up your demons. At the very least, demons level up slower as their level increases to encourage you to replace them with demons that have a higher level baseline so it ends up not being too detrimental to game play. Still super annoying though.
No end turn confirmation – This one really bugs me more than the other two. Once you hit end turn for any particular unit, that’s it; its turn ends and you have to wait till its turn comes up again without confirmation. If you do this on accident you’ll miss a lot of turns which is something I tend to do. It’s not game breaking, (occasionally it can be) but it annoys me so much that it would have been so simple to add a dialogue confirmation for convenience.
Very stylistic in true Megami Tensei fashion. The graphics aren’t cutting-edge for the system by any means, but they are definitely high quality. Devil Survivor is also filled with classic MegaTen character designs for the demons that should be recognizable to long-time fans of the series.
A decent musical score, nothing that I personally would include as a favorite on my play lists or anything but good quality for a hand held, and tends to fit the theme of the scenes.
Who will like Devil Survivor? Fans of Megami Tensei and obviously rpg or tactical rpg enthusiasts. While I feel that the game is far, far more approachable than the other games in the series, I don’t feel its the kind of game you can simply pick up for 20 minutes then put down. It takes effort to play through and the battles can last for longer than a half hour. I would not recommend it for someone looking for a casual gaming experience.