By Spencer . February 28, 2012 . 4:43pm
So, you’re heading home from a cram session when *beep* *beep* you have a new text message with a link to a video where you die. And that’s just the very beginning of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2. Mysterious invaders known as the Septentrion are ripping Japan apart causing a countrywide panic. Your only hope to save your home and perhaps mankind is a cell phone app that lets you summon demons. (Mobile phones are hot while DS-like COMPs are so out of style!)
Devil Survivor 2 follows the formula Atlus established with its predecessor Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor – the world is crumbling around you and the immediate goal is survival. Io and Daichi, two classmates and your first teammates, begin to work with a secret government organization prepared to deal with the threat. Because you can hold your own, the JP’s invite you to join them as a civilian adjunct and move you into a cushy underground facility while ordinary people are fighting for rations.
While you have an ample supply of food and water, you still have to fight in Devil Survivor 2. If you skipped the first title, the game plays like a hybrid of Nocturne’s press system and a strategy RPG. You move four characters on a battlefield like a tactics game, but the game switches to command menus when you’re in a skirmish with an enemy unit. Each enemy icon actually represents a three demon gang, but you don’t have to defeat the entire group. Kill the leader in the center and the other demons lose morale and go back to the netherworld (that’s what I imagine). There is a risk-reward relationship between going for the jugular and sticking around for an extended fight. If you decide to takedown the entire group you can earn more experience points and macca (read: money).
Atlus battle systems are all about exploiting weaknesses and the top screen lets you know if Baphomet is weak against physical attacks or fire magic. Hit a weak point and you can get an extra turn to deal even more damage, but if an attack is canceled out or an enemy lands a critical blow you can lose it. New for Devil Survivor 2 is a skill called "Extra Cancel" that allows you to damage an enemy and steal their extra turn. Atlus also added an extremely handy physical skill called "Assassinate," which deals more damage to leaders. If you want to blaze through fights, a combination of Evil Wave (a demon trait that extends your attack range) and Assassinate essentially turns you into a Shin Megami Tensei sniper.
While Devil Survivor 2 is probably more difficult than other games in the genre, I didn’t feel it was as challenging as the first game. Maybe it’s because I already know about the "power of dancing." Early on in the game, you gain elemental dance skills which do a random amount hits. The catch is you can’t target an enemy, but you get at least two attacks in one turn. Since bosses, like the Septentrion, tend to be solo you can basically turn one turn into three or four attacks with a dance. Add a passive power up skill like "Fire Boost" or even better "Fire Amp" and you’re on level playing ground. Atlus tried to blunt this technique by diversifying demons giving some elemental shields, but you can plow through those with physical skills like "Berserk" and go back on the dancing offensive. If you feel your characters are under par, Devil Survivor 2 has an unlimited supply of free battles. However, you gain less experience when fighting weak enemies so you can’t grind your way to salvation. The key is to fight efficiently and create the right kinds of demons using the fusion system.
Players get new demons through auctions and Atlus changed demon-bay a bit from Devil Survivor. You only have one bid now, so you can’t make rapid fire miserly bid increments when buying most demons. Emoticons give you an idea if the other bidders are going over or under estimates briefly shown before an auction begins. The net result is you’ll probably waste macca and overspend the first few times. Every once in awhile special auctions use the old bidding system from Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor.
The biggest change between the two games is the story. While Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor felt like some of the classic Megaten games where technology opened a door to the demon world, Devil Survivor 2 feels more like Persona. And that’s not just because you can build
Social Links Fate links with them. Devil Survivor 2 switches between the plight of survivors and character vignettes. You’ll learn about Io’s study habits, Otome’s daughter, and Jungo’s passion for cooking while there’s an apocalypse going on in the background.While Devil Survivor 2 has slice of life material, the overall tone of the story is dark with some clever blending of reality and fantasy.
I liked how I got to know at least some of the characters quite well and if you don’t know who your potential teammates are read this overview. Since time is limited I focused on building relationships with specific characters to max out Fate bonuses. At level 1, characters gain natural elemental resistances. At level 3 and 5, you unlock powerful demons. Level 4 gives you a skill that lets you trade demons in the heat of battle. Devil Survivor 2 gives players a larger pool of demon tamers to choose from and I ended with a "super harem" for most of the game. No… it’s not what you’re thinking! Airi and Otome both have two elemental resistances after bonding with them. It’s possible to lose some characters forever. Devil Survivor 2 kindly lets you know when this could happen via Nicaea’s death clips. The path to saving characters is clearer so permadeath is easily avoided and because Devil Survivor 2 has three save slots you can set different reset points if you’re worried about losing someone.
Like other Shin Megami Tensei games, Devil Survivor 2 eventually puts the fate of the world in your hands. I think Atlus did a good job of masking intentions so there isn’t a clear "law" or "chaos" path as there is in other MegaTen games. Of course, that means the final day plays differently and thanks to the multiple save files it’s easy to see what happens if you side with someone else. By the time I got to the "branch point" I was compelled to play through more than one path.