Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor: Overclocked for Nintendo 3DS
That may be one of the most…Japanese game titles I’ve ever seen. The Shin Megami Tensei series and its myriad spin-offs are apparently a big deal to JRPG fans, but this is my first. The original Devil Survivor spin-off was released back on the Nintendo DS, but this 3DS remake is my window into this strange and complex game. Devil Survivor is a deep and difficult game, with an interesting story to wrap it all up.
Devil Survivor takes place in a Tokyo in the grip of a major crisis; the city is in lockdown, and demons are roaming the streets. The protagonist (silent and named by the player) and his friends Atsuro and Yuzu are given COMPs by the enigmatic hacker (and the protagonist’s cousin) Naoya; COMPs are personal computers with a startling resemblance to a 3DS, which have been altered to summon demons and bind them to their will. The protagonist can see timers above everyone’s head counting down the days until they die; no one in Tokyo has more than seven days. Our young team set out to discover what it is that will kill everyone, and avert it.
I wasn’t really expecting to get as drawn into the story as I was, but it’s actually a really complex and multi-layered tale. As you travel around Tokyo you meet loads of supporting characters, who shed new light on the current situation, and the events that led up to it. It’s a well-rounded cast, from the pugilistic street tough Kaido to the troubled indie singer Haru. Many of these characters can, through your choices, join your team, and with one or two exceptions they’re an interesting bunch (the primary exception being the unbelievably irritating cosplay girl Midori). When not battling demons, you can wander Tokyo and meet characters for extra conversations, which can unlock or block paths to the multiple alternate endings this game has on offer. From reading up on the others from the one I got, there’s a huge amount of variety in terms of what can happen, and they all sound interesting in their own ways. The plot keeps plenty of plates spinning, with a lot of characters to keep track of and different groups scheming and feuding, with chapters for individual stories often coming a long time apart. I really liked this approach though, and Devil Survivor does a good job of dodging the irritating clichés which can pervade the JRPG genre.
So, gameplay wise, Devil Survivor is basically a Final Fantasy Tactics-esque turn based strategy RPG, but with combat more in common with a traditional turn based JRPG and a Pokemon-esque collecting mechanic. You have up to four humans in your team, each backed up by two demons. There isn’t really that much room for tactics in the battles themselves, with simple map design making the focus instead on preparation and making sure you have the right demons for the job. Demons can be bought at an auction with Macca, the game’s currency, but the most interesting way of getting new demons is to fuse them. Two demons can be fused together to create a new, more powerful creature, which can take skills from both of its ‘parents.’ Between battles you can choose areas of Tokyo to visit, to pursue side goals or just progress the story. Each ‘event’ that you choose eats up 30 minutes of in game time, sapping away from your seven day time limit, so sometimes you’ll have to choose which characters to see and chat to, which can affect which ending you get. There are also ‘free battles’, which take up no time, and allow you to grind for EXP or Macca.
The demon fusing mechanic is absolutely compelling, and it’s always exciting when you luck out and end up with two spare demons which fuse into your next juggernaut. Although the demons do level up, they become outclassed very quickly and your roster is constantly changing to meet the new challenges. Oh, and there are a lot of challenges. This game is hard. Brutally, punishingly hard. I spent over a week trying to take down the final boss, grinding, fusing new demons and just trying to find what worked. It’s the right kind of difficulty though, and however insurmountable a challenge seems there’s always a way, if you’re smart about it. There were some missions where you need to defend useless NPCs which did feel a bit cheap, but by and large this is a well-balanced game, and a lot of fun.
The actual battles look…well, like a DS game. There’s been no graphical upgrade (or any 3D, but who cares about that?) for the 3DS, and the game does look quite dated, especially next to the other big Japanese 3DS strategy release of this year, Fire Emblem: Awakening. Still, the actual visual design is great. The Demons vary from badass, to cute, and some to downright grotesque. Seriously, the naked asexual man beast riding a giant snake is rather horrible, but it all works in the context of the game itself. Lots of the demons are based in Japanese folklore, and this lends a bit of depth to the design. The voice acting, an addition in the 3DS version, is generally pretty good as well, and definitely of a higher quality than your average English JRPG voice over. The music is a low point, incredibly repetitive and dull, but overall Devil Survivor is a pretty slick package.
The 3DS version has an extra 8th day chapter not present in the original, but sadly I didn’t get to play it as my ending didn’t have it. This was quite disappointing, and isn’t flagged up in any way in the game. If I’d known this to be the case I would certainly have gone for another ending, so for those who played the DS original and are wondering if the extra day is worth it, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor: Overclocked is a complex and brutal game, but very addictive and compelling both in its mechanics and its story. If you didn’t play the original, please don’t let this fly under your radar, it’s truly excellent.