By Spencer . October 11, 2006 . 4:00am
While most Shin Megami Tensei games deal with religious overtones and post apocalyptic settings, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner goes an entirely different route. Set in an alternate version of 1920s Japan, Devil Summoner puts you in control of a young detective instead of a dark hero. Even the battle system has changed from the traditional turn based and press turn system that the MegaTen series is typically known for. Instead Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner introduces an action RPG like combat system similar to Star Ocean or the Tales series. Long story short the changes work and Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is the most approachable game in the series.
The character you play in Devil Summoner comes from a long linage of Devil Summoners known as “Raidou”. As part of this elite clan you’re bestowed the power to call demons at your will (hey it wouldn’t be a Shin Megami Tensei game with out demons of some kind) and you’re going to be using this power in your daily job as a detective. One day when Raidou is working at the detective agency his boss Narumi gets a call from a girl requesting that they take her life so she isn’t possessed by demons. When Raidou runs to the scene he meets Kaya Daidouji at a misty bridge for a brief moment before he is attacked by an army of masked soldiers. Things only get more confusing from here when Raidou discovers a demon terrorizing the city known as the Red Cape and he meets another devil summoner who is supposed to be dead. Giving away the story would ruin the game, so we’re not going to do that, but the text will draw most people in due to its sheer originality.
As Raidou you’re going to have to crack twelve intertwining cases with the help of your demons. While walking around town to talk to people and get his facts straight. Since the game is a detective game talking and interrogating is key to progressing through the story, but Raidou isn’t going to do this by himself. He can summon one demon by his side to help out his investigations. Pagan class demons have the skill read mind, which comes in handy when you can’t extract information just by talking. Wind class demons can fly around and reach areas that Raidou can’t on his own. Volt demons can search for hidden objects. Some fury demons have the ability called use force to push obstacles out of the way. Since you never know which kind of demon you’re going to need it is always beneficial to have a diverse selection at hand. If you don’t have a particular demon you’re going to have to spend a little time to hunt it down in random battles. Thankfully, there are always demons with the abilities you need in an area so you won’t have to go very far. Raidou also has another helpful ally in his quest, his talking cat Gouto who gives out sarcastic tips. All of the help doesn’t make Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner a particularly taxing game. You always have what you need to solve quests at your disposal. The episodic structure presents another problem, linearity. There just isn’t as much freedom in SMT: Devil Summoner as there is in other RPGs, probably because Devil Summoner is more like an adventure game with RPG elements. This isn’t too much of a problem since the storyline is captivating enough where players will want to push through to see what happens next.
While running from Ginza-cho to the shrine to enter alternate “dark” areas Raidou is going to run into random battles, a lot of them. Instead of turn based combat that followers of the series are used to SMT: Devil Summoner opens up an arena with Raidou and a single demon on it. You control Raidou’s movements with the analog stick and do a three hit sword combo for a basic attack. More complicated movements include the dragon cyclone, a spinning attack that hits a group of enemies, and the powerful tiger thrust, which knocks enemies back. That’s pretty much it for Raidou’s melee attacks for the entire game. It would have been a good idea to give Raidou more moves as the game progresses or have a skill system where player select which techniques for Raidou to learn. None of that is in Devil Summoner, mainly because Devil Summoner’s combat is all about your demons. Raidou begins the battle with a demon that will cast magic spells and attack with a will of its own. If you want you can choose to give your demon specific commands like to heal Raidou with “dia” or to conserve MP and do melee attacks. Picking out the correct demon and the correct spells is the key to mastering the combat system. If you hit a frost demon with a fire attack like agi it will take a critical hit and remain stunned for a brief moment. While stunned Raidou can hit the demon and deal critical blows, now that’s teamwork. Another bonus is a demon that successfully hits weak points, gains morale faster so Raidou can pull off powerful team attacks with his demon. While Raidou can’t cast magic he can exploit weak spots too with his gun. Raidou can load elemental bullets like “force”, “phys” and “death” into his gun to exploit weak points on his own.
Once again having a lot of demons at your disposal is the key to success in the game. Raidou can recruit new demons by capturing them into tiny vials. First he has to weaken a demon (a la Pokemon) and then stun it with their weakness. Once he does that all Raidou needs to do is run up to the demon and mash the circle button to capture it. Allied demons can be summoned in battle right away and with each battle fought they gain more loyalty. At the Gouma-Don run by the mad scientist, Victor, Raidou can fuse demons to create more powerful allies. Only demons with maxed out loyalty can do this so it is advantageous to rotate your demons frequently. There are no equipment upgrades in Devil Summoner, except for clips, which expand the amount of elemental ammunition Raidou can hold. If Raidou wants to power up his sword he’s going to have to fuse a demon with his blade. The fusion can increase Raidou’s stats and give him elemental resistances as an added bonus to a more powerful weapon. There is an element of trial and error to the fusing process, but the Gouma-Dan is right next to a save point so you can always return back to a previous save point if you aren’t pleased with the results.
Devil fusion is nothing new to Shin Megami Tensei fans, but the setting is. Raidou’s world is in between two political philosophies on how Japan should grow as a country. Kazuma Kaneko, a veteran of the Shin Megami Tensei series, does the artwork for the game. He brings in familiar demon designs from other SMT games and the hybrid 3D/cel-shaded style that’s been around since Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne. The result is a slick looking game with well populated towns and somewhat bland dungeons. The soundtrack is a mix of techno and rock riffs in battle and soft background music while walking around. Shoji Meguro composed the score for Devil Summoner and the other PS2 Shin Megami Tensei games. The North American release should also be commended for its top notch localization. To make it more appealing to western gamers, Atlus USA added in 1920’s slang like “bird” and “get your shake on”.
Version Covered: North American
Release Date: 10.10.06
+ Pros: Clever storyline in an original setting complete with 1920s slang. Also the detective elements blended into the RPG gameplay are seamless integrated.
– Cons: Super linear with few deviations from the storyline and the combat system drags on at the end.
Overall: Shin Megami Tensei fans are really going to dig Devil Summoner. SMT: Devil Summoner might even go as far to bring new gamers to the series with its unique premise and action oriented system.
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