92As long as they kept the same tone, I feel like I could play new installments of Shin Megami Tensei for years without tiring.‚  Excluding the most recent console edition, Persona 4, almost all of them take place during desperate situations or in a bleak dystopia.‚  With the Final Fantasy series being escapist in tone “" you ride on birds, listen to long-haired freaks talk about world domination and explore forgotten lands “" the SMT games are oppressively depressing, as if all of them were programmed by George Orwell.

The latest installment, SMT: Devil Survivor, is not an exception, and despite all this negativity, I always look forward to the experience.‚  Frankly, there aren’t enough role-playing games that feature realistic scenarios and characters, as opposed to some tart with a sword.‚  Depressing at times?‚  Absolutely, but it also feels that much sweeter when you do reach that conclusion.‚  You need sour to make the sweet taste so great when you finally do get it.

Tactical RPG
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
June 23, 2009

Devil Survivor takes place in present day Tokyo, which has been sealed from the outside world by a civilian defense force after a demon outbreak and a power outage occur.‚  As the self-named, 17-year-old lead character, you and your allies use COMPs (portrayed tongue-in-cheek by the game as DSes) to summon your own demons to beat enemy demons.‚  The COMPs also receive mysterious e-mail reports that seem to predict future catastrophes, unless you can stop them beforehand.‚  Along the way, you have to make painful decisions that cause people to live or die.

The best way to describe the gameplay of Devil Survivor is as conventional, turn-based RPG with tactical elements.‚  Your human characters serve as leaders of a trio, the other two members of which are demons purchased from an auction house or created via fusing other demons.‚  You can control as many as four squads on a map, for a total of 12 active characters, although you can swap out demons in the middle of a map.

While you form squads and approach enemies on a map, hence the tactics, the battles take place in turn-based fashion.‚  You and your demons attack enemies in rounds of combat based on speed, hitting weaknesses and avoiding strengths.‚  Hitting enemy weak points “" such as using zio (lightning) on mechanical enemies “" sometimes rewards you “bonus” rounds of combat.‚  And, in a welcome improvement from the past Persona and Digital Devil Saga games, the top screen of the DS is used wonderfully to display all the strengths and weaknesses of enemies, meaning you don’t have to memorize them for 100+ demons.

In fact, everything in Devil Survivor is streamlined, simplified and enhanced from previous SMT installments, if that makes sense.‚  For example, the Persona games featured inherited skills by fusing together monsters, but you’d often have to annoyingly try the same combination multiple times to get that Angel-character with fire skills.‚  In Devil Survivor, you can simply choose what skills to retain when fusing.‚  This alone prevents a lot of tedium of past games.‚  Other nice features include an easy-to-use fusion database, and a profile database to keep track of character background and developments.

If I have to find something to quibble about, it would be that the demons are still a bit too disposable.‚  In the Persona games, you have to rely on fusion to power-up characters, as gaining levels only provides incremental stat gains.‚  As a result, it isn’t uncommon to use fuse your way past several demons without even trying them out.‚  There is little room for sentimentality; each new day of the story essentially requires you to cycle your old demons out for new, more powerful ones.‚  However, even this makes sense from a story perspective, since the situation is so bleak you shouldn’t expect to bond with your demons…

BLAST FACTOR: Devil Survivor is yet another near-mandatory RPG for the DS.‚  While the story’s tone and characters aren’t for everybody, if you liked any of the previous SMT games, then this really is mandatory.

About The Author

Stephen Greenwell combines the classic style of a 1950s robot with the dynamic flair of a 1970s street pimp. In his spare time, he plays video games, writes and thinks way too much about sports. E-mail him at [email protected] .

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