Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor: Choose Your Path

By Spencer . July 4, 2009 . 1:16am

image Tokyo is, once again, in trouble and you’re caught in the center of confusion. In Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor you — a silent protagonist with headphones, a computer whiz, and a frightened female are locked in the metropolis… with demons.

 

Early in the game the main characters are handed COMPs, short for communication player, by the protagonist’s creepy looking cousin. These devices are purposely modeled like a Nintendo DS. As a neat touch, the game breaks the fourth wall when you fail a mission by saying “mind to COMP disconnected” before resetting to the title screen. COMPs act as your link to the demon world. With these devices your characters and eventually many others trapped in Tokyo gain the ability to tame and summon demons.

 

Devil Survivor’s strategy RPG battle system is closer to Archaic Sealed Heat than anything else. You place four characters, each armed with up to two demons, on a map. Characters can move, but battles are actually turn based. When you run into a demon you pick moves like attack, lightning spells like zio, and overly powerful elemental charged dances that can hit enemies multiple times. Since this is a Shin Megami Tensei game you’re encouraged to exploit weakness, which are conveniently shown on the top screen. Having the extra information sounds like it makes the game easier, but it’s actually a necessity. Grinding your way through Devil Survivor’s free battles only takes you so far since there is a limit on the amount of experience points you earn. If you want to survive fights and beat the game you have to fuse the right demons for the right situations.

 

One twist in Devil Survivor is you don’t need to beat all three enemy demons. If you kill the leader the other demons suddenly give up, presumably cowering in terror. However, if you just aim for the leader you earn less experience and macca. There’s a good risk vs. reward relationship here that other strategy RPGs don’t have.

 

image Not all missions are about exterminating demons either. Sometimes you have to protect civilians caught in the chaos. You can lose these missions if a single defenseless, AI controlled civilian dies. Rescue missions can be rough since one unlucky critical hit on an office lady can end your game. Here’s where fusion comes in handy again. Demons in the wilder taxonomy have a skill called Devil Speed, which boosts the number of squares a character can move. If you can just get close to a demon attacking a civilian you can usually distract it.

 

Demons gain new skills by leveling up and fusing them, just like any other Shin Megami Tensei game. Devil Survivor doesn’t have any demon negotiation. Instead you purchase demons from an auction, which pretty much comes down to how fast you can increase the price to buy a demon before other bidders do. Player characters like the protagonist get skills by “cracking” them, better explained as extracting them from enemy demons. Before a battle begins each human can set one skill to crack. If that character’s team defeats that specific demon you get the skill. Since skills can be shared between human party members you only need to crack agidyne (that’s a powerful fire in SMT) once. However, only one party member can use agidyne at a time, which forces the players to diversify their human team leaders.

 

image Battles are the bulk of gameplay, but only a part of the game. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor also has a story, told like a visual novel, to follow. You pick locations in Tokyo to “visit” and from a menu you can read what’s going on in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and other major areas. Story events, indicated by a clock, consume time and since time is limited you can’t do everything. Each day begins with the protagonist getting a mysterious LaPlace Mail which predicts key events of the day. The daily LaPlace Mail acts as a guide in an otherwise elastic story.

 

Shin Megami Tensei games are about choices and deciding which ideology you support. Since they started coming out in North America with Nocturne (OK, Revelations: The Demon Slayer was technically first) players could explore multiple paths without restarting the game. All you needed to do was save at the right time. That’s how I played Nocturne and I’m sure I’m not the only one who did that. You can’t use this trick in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor since there is only one save file. I guess you can bend the rules a little by suspending the game and using that as a second game, but since Devil Survivor has so many branches you won’t be able to see the whole game that way either.

 

image Because of this I found myself more cautious about the choices I made. Even though it’s considered a spin off in Japan, Devil Survivor has the usual Shin Megami Tensei beliefs to side with like believe what I believe or die, might makes right, and of course neutrality. Yuzu also presents an interesting option, attempt to run away instead of confronting the conflict head on. What you make the main character say or don’t say (he can “say” …) affects which characters join you and even which enemies you run into. Even though Devil Survivor has a set beginning and a few endings to discover, the game feels like it’s tailoring itself to your choices. The paths aren’t obvious either and since you’re bombarded with questions whoever dares to make a FAQ for Devil Survivor is going to have quite a challenge.


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  • Dorf

    nice overview. Shame there’s only one save slot.

    In most early SMT games, demons didn’t actually level up, which is why fusion was such an essential mechanic to survival

    there’s also a few other RPGs where you can end combat early by killing a group leader. Unfortunately, the only one that comes to mind right off the bat is the Record of Lodoss War game for SNES. Then again, the combat in that game was partially based on chess – you can actually get a “Check Mate” bonus by trapping an enemy leader in the corner of the battle board and then “pushing” them off the screen with an attack.

  • Malek86

    It sounds cool, but I’ll wait for it to come out in Europe – uhm, because it’s coming, right?

    I’m not against the enemy’s weakness being directly shown to you. Normally, it would just be a process of trying every single element when you meet a new monster, until you get the right one, which you’ll then use in all next encounters with said monster. Not quite as interesting as it sounds. I liked Riviera’s system of telling you all that you needed (but that was necessary because you could only bring a handful items into battle), even if I could’ve done without them telling me the enemy’s special moves too. I guess telling you the enemy’s weak element is a good compromise.

    • Hraesvelgr

      Unless a European company has decided to release it, you’ll have to wait, as Atlus doesn’t have a European branch.

  • http://myanimelist.net/profile/Kuronoa Kuronoa

    I should be getting the game in the mail any time now. Thanks for this article ^^

    Now I wonder what name I should give the MC…

  • Lacan

    Looking forward Devil Survivor.

    BTW: In the last Pic, Yuzu and the MC reminds me to Yukari Takeba and the MC but more cartoonish

  • http://www.nisamerica.com NickyD

    My only qualm with this game is the sheer lack of difficulty. But the enjoyable story and personal choices more than make up for it. It’s interesting how, try as you might, you won’t be able to get a certain character or a certain path because of a few different answer selections. I like that, though I did end up with the characters I didn’t want on my team -_-

  • http://denpanosekai.blogspot.com denpanosekai

    This is my favorite SRPG since Jeanne D’arc, and I’m usually not a big fan of the genre. I was however disappointed at the lack of any item/equipment management. I know hardened veterans consider this one ‘easy’ but it’s about right for me. I grind because I enjoy the battle system and cracking new skills. Well done, Atlus, hope this gets a sequel.

  • http://terracannon876.livejournal.com Laura

    Ugha… still need to play this…

    On another note, I’ve heard that this game is really hard, strategy-wise. You think a player that isn’t the best at SRPGs could find his/her way through?

    • MadMirko

      Sure. If you keep in mind what Spencer wrote (about exploiting the elemental weaknesses of the enemies) you’ll have a decent chance. It’s also a good idea to spend some time with fusing demons and inheriting their most useful skills to stronger specimen, experimenting with what suits your play style most.

      As the post says, levelling up in free battles only gets you so far (which is also a plus, because that way the game never expects you to grind), but they are excellent for testing new demon and skill combinations.

      Personally I think there is nothing wrong with the difficulty. It’s just of a kind most players seem to be unused to. The brute force method won’t cut it, but clever play will. That’s how a strategy game ideally works, IMHO,

  • BlackFreefall

    This game is fun and the key to winning any battle is the right fusion monster. I don’t like the story and didn’t care much for the characters. (Maybe I’m stuck with some of the annoying ones.. Midori, I am look at you)

  • teasel

    personaly i think it’s a great shin megami tensei game (the battle system has no easy exploit unlike say… persona one more system,it works great and the idea of giving different skill to different kind of demon is pretty cool altough quite a lot of skill end up being useless or harmfull!) but a terrible boring game otherwise… battles are somewhat slow,character are uninteressing,music is generic repetitive rock riff and the game seems to have a knick-knack at throwing “protect the dumb civilian” mission at you… and really the entire “choice” part is kinda throw under the rag… the game never bothers with it until the end at which point he just goes “ehy which one of these character do you like more?”

  • teasel

    also something i would wish to add… it’s kinda pointless to say “you need the right demon” skill can be easily carred over between a demon and the other and soon enough you will find yourself with a party where everybody knows at least 1 elemental spell of every kind… even if your guys lack something the game has a magnetite system that let you teach ANY skill you learned to your demons

  • Sir Fratley

    I don’t find the game so hard, maybe because im really fan of the megaten series since Nocturne, but i like the way how the game interact with the player as the main character.

  • UFO

    one save slot?

    Boycotted.

  • MegaTen Talkbacker

    picked this up on Saturday. This game is so amazing, but I can’t stand all the battle art. The 3d characters are sort of forgivable, but the demons look like such shit. If they looked 1/3d as good as the character 2d art it would be awesome.

    still a great game tho.

  • SurviveX

    I have play it and i must say it is the best game where i have ever play. Not only for DS, for all consoles. It’s still amazing. I hope it come to Germany, then i can buy it in german…

  • joer

    GRRRRRRRR. I’ve hade this game for 2 weeks now and have just gotten to the last boss fight against babel. i wanted to see what others thought on how to level up for the fight. but now im dissapointed in myself because i realize that im stuck with Yuzu, MC, Atsuro, and Amane. i accidently let Kaido kill Keisuke too. and i’ve also learned that you can get Naoya to join you too! now i feel like i should just restart to get better. if anyone knows how to get Naoya’s path pleaze let me know ^.^

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