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Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor

By S.A. Renegade on July 11, 2009 in Reviews

Final verdict: B
Final playtime: Not very long.

What up hoes. After my very long hiatus writing my Devil Summoner 2 guide I’m back to play other shit. Wait, actually that doesn’t count as a hiatus. It counts more as, I dunno, being hard at fucking work. But either way, next up is Devil Survivor. Released a mere month after Devil Summoner 2, I gotta say that’s dangerously close, but hey, I ain’t complaining too much. Go ahead and crank as many as you want, I’ll play ’em all. Until you start to suck. Then… actually I might still play ’em for a while after that. Just don’t be surprised when I blast you in my reviews.

But back to the matter at hand. Devil Survivor. When I first saw this game, I honestly thought it was going to suck. Why? Well, a number of things. I saw the character designs in the box and I did not like the art. I check who the artist is and it turns out it’s some no namer. No Kazuma Kaneko art. No Soejima art. Then I check who made the music and there’s no Shoji Meguro either. This sets off all kinds of alarms in my head. The game is for the DS rather than the PS2, and they’re not having their most famous people work on it. It all screamed to me “This is the runt of the SMT series.”

But I was wrong. At least when it comes to the game sucking. About the game being the runt of the series, weeeellll… somewhat. But don’t worry, for now, just know that even though Devil Survivor has a few problems, it’s fun and a good game.

After playing through it, my opinion on its art changed completely. Truth is, the box art isn’t very flattering. It makes the characters look dumb. But past that, I think further exposure to it made me end up liking it.

For the music I have less praise. While it does have a few cool songs here and there (especially the final battle music), it’s not up to par with any of the other SMTs. The intro tries to emulate Persona 3 and 4, but doesn’t turn out as good. I guess the fact that the DS’s sound quality is a shitpile doesn’t help matters.

But probably the most amazing thing about this game is its story. The plot is good by itself (better than both Personas and easily better than both Devil Summoners, though I’m not so sure if I’d place it above DDS and Nocturne) but that’s not why it’s so amazing. The reason is the sheer amount of choice and outcomes Devil Survivor presents you with. There hasn’t been an SMT with this much choice since Nocturne, and Devil Survivor even surpasses it in this regard.

Speaking of Nocturne, this game draws very heavily from it. From many of the demon races, to the weird voices in the battle music, to the story itself and the endings. Obviously they have differences, but at the core their plots are very similar.

But as I was saying, the amount of choice you have is amazing. You get multiple choice questions basically every few seconds, and even when they’re technically meaningless, the chance to get slightly different dialogue based on what you reply is still fun. But it’s the meaningful choices that I want to talk about. Just to give you an example, at one point a friend of a friend snaps and starts going around killing people. He kills some gang members and the leader of said gang gets pissed off and starts searching for him to kill him.

So at one point you find your friend killing some corrupt policemen. You get the choice of either stopping him or not. If you choose not to stop him, he joins your party but another member who disagrees with his ideals leaves you. If you choose to stop him, you get into a fight with him, and can get him to repent and join you. On the other hand, if you decide not to show up at all when he’s killing the policemen and do other things to waste time, eventually the leader of the gang finds him and they get into a fight. If you show up at this point you get a cutscene of them fighting and the gang leader actually kills him! That’s right, a main character killed off from the story based on what you do. All of these outcomes have strong implications throughout the entire game: if he gets killed everyone’s dialogue changes to reflect that and it even affects one of your party members in the way he sees the world. If he lives, you get to have him interact with you and the rest of the party, learn his story and all that good shit, but it’s different depending on whether you stopped him or not.

In another example, you’re trapped in a place full of demons right. You go to the exit and you walk in on a fight between some demons and some angels. The angels are trying to keep everyone inside, and the demons are just killing stuff for kicks. At the same time there’s a group of humans trying to escape from the lockdown. Here you can choose to side with the angels and kill the demons, side with the demons and kill the angels, or side with humanity and kill both. But on top of that, you also get to choose whether you escape along with the humans or keep said humans from getting out. So you can side with any faction. I chose to defeat the angels, the demons AND also the humans. I’m a renegade like that. It was pretty tough fighting all three factions at once though, which brings me to my next point.

Devil Survivor is surprisingly tough even though it doesn’t let you choose a hard mode. Dying from an enemy’s attack is pretty easy, and since there are no items the only way to heal or revive is through the use of skills. Skills which use MP. And there are no items to restore your MP. Or to cure ailments. The consequence of this is that the ailment Mute becomes particularly devastating, because the only way to cure ailments is by using a skill, but Mute seals your ability to use them.

I actually died twice to the final boss. Once because I didn’t expect to fight 7 bosses back to back and ran out of MP, and then because all my party got hit with mute. And it was a hell of a long fight too. But hey, at least I got to hear that badass final battle music several times.

The gameplay’s a cross beween turn based strategy RPGs like Fire Emblem and, when you get into a fight with a foe, a bastardization of the press turn system like in Persona (read: as always, not as good). Still, it’s pretty fun so it’s all good.

But enough o’ THAT. I’ve told you the cool things about this game, now I gotta tell you the bad things. First of all, the fusion system in this game takes a lot of getting used to, and even then I still don’t like it. While it improves on past SMT games by letting you choose the skills your demons inherit (rather than having to constantly roll dice until you get the skills you want), you just don’t get the same amount of freedom in using a wide variety of demons like you would in, say, Devil Summoner. It’s because of how the game is designed. Every race has a specific racial ability that only they can use, and the truth is that some racial skills are just clearly better than others. Namely, the one that allows you to attack from a distance or the one that allows you to move more spaces. Giving up these skills is just too crippling, and means the game encourages you to mostly use a limited variety of demon races.

If that wasn’t enough, demon stats suddenly have an inordinate importance. Because there are no items, using demon races that naturally have lower MP just isn’t practical. Why use a demon that will run out of MP after attacking twice and then be relegated to using physical attacks? This means that if you have a demon with high MP and have the option of fusing it, but all of the results have lower MP than said demon, you don’t really have much incentive to do it. I will say that by the end of the game I had a character using nothing but physical skills to great effect, but in general it’s not as useful as having access to all the elements.

Furthermore, the fusion menu is just downright a pain to use. Rather than the streamlined chart you get in all other SMTs where you have your demons on one side and the results on the other, here you have some bullshit where they add in unnecessary portraits so that you only get 6 demons on the screen and you have to go through different pages, and on top of that you have to press a button to change between parent and result. JUST DO IT LIKE IT’S ALWAYS BEEN DONE MOTHER FUCKERS.

Another thing I don’t like is the way leveling is handled. Because this game has no exploration (oh yeah, I didn’t mention that?), the only way to level outside of story fights is to choose to play a “free battle” and grind on purpose. Blegh. Plus the way exp is awarded is gay. If you’re below what I call the “sweet spot” level, enemies give you huge amounts of exp and it’s not uncommon to find yourself leveling every couple of kills. But once you pass this sweet spot, exp suddenly takes a ridiculous dive and you start getting almost no exp. That’s retarded, it feels like I’m being boxed in and forced to be the level you want me to be.

And finally, I said the amount of choices and outcomes in this game was amazing, but that comes at a severe price: Devil Survivor is way too fucking short. The game takes place during a single week and a day goes by distressingly fast. The fact that there are no dungeons, no exploration and no sidequests that don’t advance the time just further exacerbates this problem. This game is made to be replayed several times doing different things each time and you know I ain’t wit dat shit lieutenant. I like choice and I like having new things in my next playthrough, but I’m not down with this being taken so far to the extreme that your first playthrough leaves you unsatisfied and feeling like you missed a ton of content. And even though I felt this, unlike other SMTs I didn’t feel like playing again immediately. I guess the fact that they don’t give you the option to play a newly unlocked hard mode didn’t help matters.

So in the end, does all this bitching mean I’m against bold game-changing choices? I fucking guess so. I’d rather have a 100 hour game where choices only affect the ending or trivial things than a 30 hour game because the devs wasted their resources making branching paths for content that I won’t get to see. Not that I’m saying Devil Survivor’s combined content could approach 100 hours. I highly doubt that. Obviously there’s also a great deal of regular garden variety laziness going on here.

Devil Survivor is a good game, but it’s missing that certain something in all the other SMTs and lacks that feeling you get with the other ones where you open the game, sit down and just know you’re going to be playing that shit for a while. This one feels like it rushes to the ending and you can’t do anything about it. It’s especially apparent in the last day when you can’t do anything other than move on to the next plot progression scene. Hell, there are 5 major demons that you have to defeat throughout the game, right? You fight the first and second one with a reasonable interval between them, but when the last day comes you just fight all the rest back to back like the developers were going “Holy fuck you guys, we planned for all these battles with all these major demons but we need to finish this RIGHT NOW!” It’s a shame. I think this game could’ve easily taken the best DS game title if just a little more work had been put into it.

Final Verdict: B

Final Playtime: They don’t tell you. Believe me, it wasn’t very long though.

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