By Spencer . May 27, 2009 . 5:45pm
These days everything under the Megaten umbrella sports the Shin Megami Tensei label in North America. Digital Devil Saga, Persona, and even Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon are actually spin-offs. However, Devil Summoner 2 is the closest thing to a traditional Shin Megami Tensei game since Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne.
Core Shin Megami Tensei games are known for demon negotiation, fusion, and moral questions which force players to pick a side. The alignment system has always been a highlight since players interact with the story rather than simply reading it. Games like Persona 3 have fusion, but you can’t choose if your character fights for law or chaos. Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne has an in your face alignment system where you select a faction to side with. Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon’s system is more subtle with probing questions like how Raidou relates to his demons.
Atlus intentionally revealed little about the plot. This was one of the few games where I wasn’t really sure what to expect in terms of the story. It begins with Radiou at a training hall reuniting with Gotou, the talking cat from the first game. (Quick note: Don’t worry if you missed Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. Soulless Army. Many of the characters and locations are familiar, but the story is its own thing.) After a training battle you head to the Narumi Detective Agency and Akane steps in. She’s searching for a man named Dahn and offers a large sum of money if you can locate him. Since this is a detective story, Dahn, Akane, and many of the characters are more than meets the eye. Truths are slowly unfolded and to make sure players are up to speed Narumi occasionally holds meetings with Raidou that go over how every character is connected.
One of the themes in the story is luck and Raidou must have a rainy cloud following him. The legendary Devil Summoner is bested by… banana peels. Devil Summoner 2 has a quirky sense of humor and this is an early reoccurring gag. Raidou can increase his luck by capturing luck locusts. These insects look like fireflies in battle. These insects can also be used as items to trigger a roulette wheel with battle bonuses like divine punishment which dishes damage, an attack boost for Raidou, and an experience boost. Occasionally, the bonus roulette spins when battles start, giving Raidou an immediate bonus. There is also a wheel of misfortune which can seal demons and prevent Raidou from running. Since I usually carry a fully supply of luck locusts the bad luck wheel comes up much less than the bonus wheel.
When you start the game don’t expect to demons to jump you. Raidou isn’t assaulted by demons in towns. Only specific maps and dark areas have creatures to fight. This may be a hot point to debate, but I like this change. Devil Summoner 2 has a detective side where you talk to everyone to move the story forward. Fighting weak enemies while you’re showing people Dahn’s photo and transforming into suspicious characters to sneak out information would interfere with this portion of the game. Demons help in investigations by reading minds, but not as much as the previous game where I felt like I needed one of each demon at all times. Demons have more field abilities instead. Kamikaze lets Raidou ride wind paths and light up which illuminates dark areas. Remember light up! You’re going to need it to avoid losing a ton of cash from deadly banana peels.
When it’s time to fight Raidou has two demons by his side. You can command them manually by pulling up a menu and selecting skills. Otherwise demons use a pre-set skill automatically. Before a battle begins you can summon demons and choose a skill to set to auto attack. This seems like the biggest change in Devil Summoner 2, but it’s actually the magic system that makes the game very different from the first title. All your demons share a common magic meter for spells and special attacks. If you continually cast Agi (that’s fire) the meter will drain quickly. However, if you hit an enemy’s weakness the creature freezes in place and releases MAG (short for magnetite) every time you hit it. If you can memorize weaknesses and mash the X button you can end almost every fight with a full magic meter. If you ever find Raidou low on HP just fight a weak demon, hit it’s weak point to refill your magic so you can heal. Follow this strategy and you’ll rarely die. Maybe you’ll never die, which is an unusual thought for a Shin Megami Tensei game!
Atlus made a few other tweaks for the action battle system. Just like the last Devil Summoner game battles take place in a small arena. Demons teleport and cast spells which you need to dodge. Raidou is a pretty agile guy. He can dodge roll out of the way or do a back handspring if you press X. You can also pull your demons out of harm’s way by holding L2 which makes them invisible and invincible. Circle makes Raidou start a sword slashing combo. Triangle unleashes a special attack. There are three types of weapons in Devil Summoner 2: a sword, a spear, and an axe. Each weapon has a different MAG consuming special attack. If Raidou has a sword he whips it around and hits a wide area with a flurry of glowing green strikes. The axe gives Raidou a heavy attack that you charge by holding triangle. Players can craft weapons with ore at the Gouma-den, a laboratory run by Victor whose design seems to be inspired by a certain Mary Shelley novel. Raidou also has a gun, but it’s not that useful unless you imbue it with a spell like Fire Bullets. The only thing the gun does is stun some flying enemies which allows the two demons under your control to attack while you shoot it.
Most battles end in under a minute, but you don’t have to fight. You can negotiate! Pick this option and you can talk to a demon as long as the moon isn’t full. When speaking with a demon you pick what to say. There are usually three choices. If you say the right thing parlay continues. If you anger the demon your allied demons can try to remedy the situation by speaking for you. Each talking ability has an optimal target like sexy voice works best on female demons and extortion is effective on weak demons. Negation seems a bit random since I used the same choices on the same type of demon and ended up with different results. If you get to the negotiation part you can ask a demon to join your group, ask for an item or ask it to go away. Demons won’t do any of the above for free. Prepare to shell out money, give items, and even your life to make them trust you.
Negotiation also unlocks case files when a demon asks something like, “I have a friend that’s looking for something do you know where he can go?” Respond with the Narumi Detective Agency to fill the demon’s request. Most of the side quests are fetch quests. You can beat a bunch of them in a row by flipping through menus and handing over gems. These are around to extend play time, but Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. King Abaddon is a pretty long game on its own. Expect to spend 40 – 50 hours only on the main story.
Food for thought:
1.) It’s nice to see Raidou with weapon based attacks, but it would be better if Raidou had a customizable move set.
2.) Atlus could take the alignment system further by having multiple case conclusions depending on your alignment. Something similar to Hayarigami.
3.) Compared to the last game it feels like there is less 1920s slang. I remember Narumi using a lot of slang like “bird” to refer to women. He says “dame” now, but not much other antiquated slang. Atlus did an interesting localization trick to make the rural residents sound less sophisticated than folk from the capital. They say things like “yew” to refer to “you”. Very clever!
4.) Devil Summoner 2 has a number of new demons. Even old demons look different. Angel, which you encounter early on, looks more like a heavenly being rather than the typical SMT angel. Oh and the packaged Raiho is a demon you can recruit.