Sometimes innovation doesn’t come from wild, crazy new ideas but from the melding of old. Like combining the wheel with fire, Devil Survivor melds two of the oldest RPG battle systems and the result is a flaming tire of fun. Battles take place on a grid following the standard SRPG trope of battles taking place on grids, but when two combatants meet the map cuts to a standard turn-based party-on-party RPG system. Suffice to say, the integration of these two long lived standards is almost as exciting as the monetary standard integration of Europe following World War II.
What Yuzu lacks in personality she makes up in breasts.
Battles are entertaining and copious; free battles are always available and the grind is only mostly mind crushing and soul numbing, a definite improvement over most RPGs. Unfortunately, mission design is poor in general and objectives range from “kill stuff” to “save them and kill stuff,” hitting no points between. The redundancy of your team’s goals means Devil Survivor is mostly composed of throw away battles, also known as “being a Nippon Ichi game.” Those few battles that focus in the radically different objective of “kill stuff like that giant unique demon” are significantly more fun, though it is a testament to Atlus’ cunning combination of combat concepts that the usual boring battles beckon to be bested.
Generic battles are not fun in themselves necessarily, but in what they afford – copious amounts of demon fusing. Shin Megami Tensei’s not particularly well kept secret is that most games in the series contain a healthy dose of Pokemon collection. Only instead of Pokemon they’re demons, and this demon collecting predates Pokemon, and instead of evolving like Pokemon, demons can be combined to create new demons. In other words, Devil Survivor might as well be called Pokemon Brimstone.
Demon fusing is handled well; the outcome, along with a full table of stats and skills, is displayed before you commit to combining demons, so any waste is solely at the players discretion. There have been some complaints about the fusing system, but compared to the first Shin Megami Tensei game, which I am currently playing, the Devil Survivor system is as smooth as artificially smoothened butter. In other words, something being marginally superior to a similar thing a decade old is what I call progress.
Leveling and fusing demons allows you to create an army tailored to your preferred tactics. If you fight like a man and choose to rush your opponents and decimate them with potent magic, there are demons for that. If you prefer to fight like a child who misses his mother and wishes he hadn’t just soiled his diaper, there are demons who can attack from a distance as well. The variety of demons and amount of skill customization greatly increases Devil Survivor’s shelf life.
This may look complicated, but it’s only because you’re stupid.
The plot is somewhat dark, as in all games of this series, though because it is a DS game they did tone down the angst slightly. Instead of surviving in a post apocalyptic world as in many other Shin Megami Tenseis, you control a group of teen agers trying to prevent a nuclear holocaust, which gives the game a light and breezy feel. Fortunately, there are enough shades of grey in the game and its characters to create Gears of War 3. Good is not always acting in humanity’s best interest, and Evil is as cool as ever.
Unlike many Western RPGs that offer you unlimited choice and near zero consequences, Devil Survivor makes use of what I call Branching Linearity â„¢. Many of the choices you make are irrelevant and only serve to flesh out characters through dialog, but some are very significant to the point where there are five distinct endings to the game. The lack of a second save slot is something of a kick to the spleen but the game does allow you to retain your demon roster when you begin a new game.
Devil Survivor does not rise to the same heights as other greats in the SRPG genre because too many of the battles are irrelevant and obviously not designed with a keen eye for the subtleties of turn based strategic warfare. It does, however, offer a wealth of customization, nearly endless fusing and collecting, and a well written plot all delivered in a very aesthetically pleasing package. By the end of the tenth hour you will have forgotten that so many of the battles were generic because you will be wrapped up in gathering money, demons and new skills all in the noble pursuit of killing God.