Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 is available on mobile devices worldwide. It is quite a big deal! The game attempts to bring what people enjoy about the RPG series to mobile devices. Moreover, it is doing so with a free-to-play model for the first time. The good news is, it is mostly well executed! Sure, there are some social elements shoved in, like an in-game chat with strangers that can be turned off and demon compendium commentary, but it does try to offer the same element of choice, integration of real-world problems, and array of tactical options depending on which creatures you decide to recruit, train, and fuse.
Remember in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, where people had a demon summoning app on their DS-like systems? Well, something similar is happening here. You end up becoming a Devil Downloader (Dx2), thanks to an app on your smartphone. This means you are caught up in a fight between two factions, the good Liberators and bad Acolytes. Acolytes are using demons to hatch unpleasant schemes with demons that include using viral, impromptu dance parties and drug-related VR experiences. It’s fine. Certainly, the story is not as enthralling or well executed as Persona 4, but it tries. If you do not care for it, there is always an option to skip it.
The attempt to offer a sense of choice and direction is also admirable. In many of these Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 story segments, the game will allow you to respond to the other characters. These replies can be lawful or chaotic. The effects of such decisions are not always immediate, which might make it seem sometimes like you are doing nothing at all beyond voicing an opinion, but I appreciated the option. At least it allowed me to feel like I had some agency when dealing with characters I disliked, like Rika.
Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 looks fantastic, which is another point in its favor. The character models for all of its demons are detailed, give us a chance to see them in new ways, and clearly had a lot of care put in to keep them true to the 2D art we have seen in many of the console and handheld games. The battles are my favorite part, since we get to see these creatures in front of us as rounds begin, then move to execute their attacks. They are the sorts of assets you would like to see reused in future games, and considering what has happened with older demon designs being recycled for titles, I hope that they are.
Of course, the Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 battles are also fun because they remain true to everything Shin Megami Tensei is about. When you head into a fight, you can have up to five demons with you. Four are your own, with you able to bring in a set equipped to yourself or one of your allies, and the fifth is a friend’s creature. Each excursion requires stamina, which is an unfortunate reality for a free-to-play such as this. Also, eventually you will reach a point where you will have to fuse or level grind to keep making progress. But when you can just battle for the sake of it, it taps into everything right about the process.
Fights are turn-based, with each of your demons and each of the opposing demons in every wave getting one attack each round. That is, unless you hit a weakness. Then, you only use up half of your in-round turn and can earn more turns to attack. Your opponents’ weaknesses are shown when targeted, provided you have fought and found them before. The creatures in your party have skills that they can get from transferring and awakening. Everyone has elemental strengths and weaknesses. It just flows well and works. I especially like how these make you think more critically about skill usage, as characters have a limited amount of MP and fights happen one-after-another in each story segment. It might mean you have to consider getting through earlier rounds quickly and unscathed, but then risk a harder fight later with no MP.
Even getting and improving demons rings true to Shin Megami Tensei’s roots. You can speak with demons in battle, if a prompt appears. Right answers and giving in to their demands gives you a chance at adding them to your party. When I played, an event was on that made them more willing to speak to me, which was handy and I hope happens with some regularity. They can be fused at the Church of False Gods, with costs hovering around cheap and mostly manageable initially, but eventually having expected costs when greater demons come into play. You can pay in-game currency to summon, with some daily log-in rewards making it easier to test the RNG gods.
The only times I didn’t appreciate what Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 was trying to do is when it was going too over the top. It attempts to be “hip” with its characters. In so doing, it turns them into caricatures, rather than people I wanted to spend time with or even hear speak. The two worst examples are the ones you are confronted with the moment you begin playing the game. Different peoples’ experience may vary, but I could not stand Megakin and Rika. With Megakin, every instance where he is trying to offer exposition feels disingenuous. Everything about him annoyed me, from his closing one of his “shows” by talking about the latest fidget spinners, to the rambling spiels he would give when I opened the app each day.
With Rika, we have a character who could have been interesting, if handled tactfully. In the first one or two missions, she comes across as the more chaotic character of the two. I expected her to be to Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 what Jimenez is to Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. Unfortunately, she quickly devolves into a character who seems obsessed with only one thing: guns. Whenever she has an opportunity for the fixation to shine through, it does. Ready to start the next leg of the story mission? She’s disappointed since it is “supposed to be air gun maintenance day.” Visiting a victim of a case involving illegal drugs? Rika tactlessly says, “In gun terms it would be like she JUST got shot, huh?” Somebody says something that sets her off? She pulls a gun on him. At best, it is lazy storytelling. At worst, it comes across as tone deaf in an era where school shootings are a serious concern in the United States.
Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 is a game that can have its moments. It certainly does sample more than a few Shin Megami Tensei hallmarks and tries to work with them. The battle system especially is enjoyable, and I felt demon negotiations and fusions were handled well. I did not care for some of the characters, which is unfortunate since the ones that bothered me most appeared so frequently. (Fewer pop-ups trying to get me to spend money would have been appreciated too.) Still, it is something Shin Megami Tensei fans may want to try for free, if only to see the new demon character models and maybe use the AR functionality to see those characters in the real-world.
Shin Megami Tensei: Liberation Dx2 is available for Android and Apple iOS devices.