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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Review

(Today’s review is the first one that I will have to attach a tiny disclaimer to: I did not finish this game. As I mentioned before, I have reached a point in the game where it seems frustration and aggravation are this game’s only selling points. As I will note in this review, SMT:DS is by no means a good enough game on its own to be worthy of continuation after having so fiendishly pissed me off, so I’ve decided to end my attempts to finish it and simply review it as I’ve seen it. Below is the review. Enjoy.)

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor for the Nintendo DS is a spiritual port of the critically acclaimed strategy-RPG franchise from Atlus. The game takes place in modern Tokyo, Japan. As Hero (whom you name yourself), you explore the city and try to discover the reasons behind a citywide quarantine enforced by the Japanese Self-Defense Force. A demon infestation hits, forcing the city to cower in fear while only those equipped with mysterious DS clones called “COMPs” are able to fight back against the infernal horde by summoning other demons.

As the first title I’ve ever played of this relatively storied franchise, largely considered one of the most underrated series by the JRPG community, I must admit that I was decidedly impressed at first. The game music is catchy and distinct, with all the panache and high production values you’d expect of a Triple-A title. The graphics are sharp-looking, and fans of anime will find a lot to appreciate with the eyes. Character designs are all distinguishable and each character is very likable. The story progresses crisply and truly makes you want to see what happens next as the mysteries behind the sudden influx of demons are unraveled. The dialogue is well-written, though not perfect. Customizing demons and improving your party with the Shadow Cathedral’s fusion system is a nice touch, and the resulting combinations largely make logical sense.

The story and cross-character interactions are this game’s brightest selling point.

What kills this game, however, is the combat. The slow tempo, pacing, and lack of DS capabilities make this game very underwhelming when it comes time to bring down some demons. Despite the attempt to include semblances of strategy, it all breaks down in a mess of boring turn-taking and winding across battlefields that are too large to keep combat flowing smoothly. Every battle is a shallow, plodding round of elemental roulette that usually takes over 20 minutes to complete. The true gamebreakers are the wickedly powerful “Wave” techniques that allow you to attack parties several squares away on the grid and prevent the enemy from hitting back. Sounds like fun, right? Well, the problem is you’re much more likely to be at the business end of this shaft, as enemies will wall themselves off and attack with impunity while you stand around with a thumb up your ass trying (and failing) to get into range.

Combat is drudging through combat menus. Battles take over 20 minutes each, making each loss particularly painful.

This wouldn’t be such a problem if you didn’t spend nearly 75% of your time maneuvering through combat menus and watching these static images bounce up and down as they “respond” to damage in battle. There’s no character animations, every demon with the same name looks exactly the same, and the game spends too much time trying to be a bad, demon-flavored Final Fantasy Tactics to introduce any innovation. That’s not a compliment: FF Tactics is almost 12 years old.

If you can plow past the combat, you’ll find a lot of interesting character development, sub-plots, and world-shaking conspiracy to be had here outside of battle. If you’re like me, you’ll spend a lot of time trying to avoid battle (battles are marked with helpful exclamation points on the area map) and instead going straight for the cutscenes involving the characters that interest you. There are quite a few of them, and they all bring a lot to the table. Unfortunately, this game is largely about the combat. It’s a good 30-40 hours long, but at least half of those will be spent slogging through menu-based combat and enemies that use cheap abilities in place of good strategy. It’s the very definition of the very gripes that people have had against JRPGs for years: the story is great and all, but it comes at the cost of fun gameplay. It is for that reason that I cannot recommend Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor.

In a nutshell…
SOUND: 8/10
STORY: 10/10
VALUE: 6/10

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