There are a lot of games under the Shin Megami Tensei umbrella, but each one offers a different style of gameplay. In the Devil Survivor series, you will be enjoying turn-based strategy combat with all the demon-hunting and RPG elements you would expect from a Shin Megami Tensei title. Demons here are really more like the monsters you might find in any other game, such as pixies, ogres, and Dragons. Devil Survivor Overclocked provides an intriguing storyline, difficult decisions, and deep and very strategic gameplay. If this is your first or just your latest Shin Megami Tensei title, Devil Survivor shows why the series and spin-offs have such a niche, but hardcore, following.
Devil Survivor’s story is one of its major selling points. It begins with Atsuro giving you, himself, and another friend, Yuzu, individual COMPs. The COMPs were originally given to Atsuro by your character’s cousin Naoya. He acts as an overseer type who often delivers cryptic messages and tips via the COMPs that lead you to believe he is more than a normal teenager. From the first message detailing three prophetic incidents, you understand the device will become an important part of what you do outside of battles.
The game takes place over the course of 7 days, beginning with demon appearances taking over Tokyo. The city goes into lock-down and one of your first missions is to find a way to escape. From the first day, your character has the ability to see numbers over the heads of everyone he meets. You soon discover that you and your two friends have the number 0. As you read the COMPs, it explains that the number indicates the number of days until you die. Obviously, being on 0 on Day 1 of 7, you find out there are ways to increase the numbers.
As the days progress, you will have the option of taking on optional and mandatory battles, visiting various environments in Tokyo, and choosing different dialogue choices. The clock is as important in choosing what do as anything. When you get a message on your COMP that an event will happen at a certain time, it is your duty to choose and complete an objective. The story will keep you coming back and is the source of the game’s replay value. What you choose changes the storyline and dictates which of the multiple endings you’ll reach.
Another one of Devil Survivor’s strong points is the great localization. While the cast, setting, and look remain distinctly Japanese, they feel completely relatable to Western audiences. Considering the primary ages of the cast is in the late teens – early 20s, their reactions seem realistic. They are often scared, looking for people who can give them answers, and just trying to survive. These elements make them easy to like and you will want to help get them through this ordeal.
When you consider Japanese-style, turn-based strategy, one of the first titles that comes to mind is Final Fantasy Tactics or even Disgaea, but Devil Survivor is an entirely different beast. One of the first differences you will notice is a lack of a true job system. As your characters level up, they learn new spells and attacks, but never deviate from their core. While this points to a lack of character customization, Devil Survivor offers many other intriguing mechanics.
As mentioned previously, the Shin Megami Tensei series is synonymous with demons. Devil Survivor allows you to capture, auction, and breed demons in an almost Pokémon type way. Each method of acquiring demons is unveiled as you traverse through the game. In your first battle, victory will give you your first three demons, one for each character. Later, you will be given access to buy or bid, eBay-style, on demons of various types and levels though a demon auction. Lastly, you will acquire the ability to fuse demons. Winning battles will give you Macca, the game’s currency, along with the obvious XP you’d expect from a RPG. Another element found in RPGs like Pokémon is that your characters and demons gain spells or commands as they level up. A demon, like the ogre for instance, may seem a generic attacker, but level it up and you’ll gain the Hero Guard ability, a tactic that could be the difference in more difficult battles.
The battles themselves are laid out in the genre’s traditional grid-based battleground. Before entering intoa fight, your first task is to create your teams. Using a combination of playable characters and acquired demons, you build multiple teams of up to three characters. Then, you dispatch each team onto a pre-selected group of grid squares. Setting up your teams and placing them in strategic positions is the key to a successful battle. Once you attack or are attacked by your demon enemies, the battle screen turns into a first-person perspective RPG where all the characters take their turns. Quickly selecting your actions in battle can allow you to take extra turns, something that really comes in handy.
While some of the game’s elements seem familiar and Devil Survivor is accessible in that it explains many of the basic elements well, the game can get brutally difficult. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, making the wrong decision can turn the tide of battle quickly thanks to the advanced opponent A.I. used by the demon teams. Strategy and creating the correct combination is the best way to survive. A better tutorial may have helped newcomers adjust to the grid-based surroundings, as even for strategy RPG veterans, it can feel like you’re playing chequers while your opponents are playing chess.
Utilising advanced strategies can give you more Macca and allow you to buy and craft better demons. Saving often, setting up balanced teams, and finding the weaknesses of your opponents is truly the key. Even if you die, you can restart from the pre-battle checkpoint and figure out some necessary adjustments. The occasionally hardcore difficulty may turn some off, but reaching success by finding the right strategy is so satisfying that it borders on addiction. Sadly, there is no multiplayer, an addition that would’ve expanded the game’s popularity.
With more games utilizing the 3DS’s graphical prowess, Devil Survivor will look like a step in the other direction. There are little to no graphical improvements from the original DS version, released in 2010. The characters and streets of Tokyo look and feel static and uninspired and, while the traditional anime graphical style remains, there is little that impresses.
Like the graphics, the sound in Devil Survivor feels dated. The soundtrack offers some decent tunes, but is repetitive and lacks the pop of some of the other Shin Megami Tensei titles. The anime-inspired voice acting is also disappointing, almost to the point of grating. Considering that Overclocked added voice acting to the original version, it feels disappointing that it is so forgettable.
VERDICT: On the off-chance that you may have imported the original Devil Survivor, Overclocked’s extra content of an 8th Day and voice acting doesn’t warrant the double dip. For everyone else, there is no reason to ignore another quality addition to your 3DS library. Some genre fans may not find it as deep or engrossing as other strategy-RPGs, but as you peel off the layers, you will find the addictive qualities and unique story elements that will you see you playing until the 8th Day. It is one of those titles that can pull off the difficult combination of feeling accessible and hardcore at the same time. It’s not for everyone, but you won’t be disappointed if you’re willing to give Devil Survivor a chance.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.