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RELEASE DATE (NA): June 23, 2009 GENRE: Strategy RPG
// review by SoyBomb

Survival is but one possibility.

I have a love-hate relationship with Devil Survivor. On the one hand, it's a fairly unique title, combining the finer elements of tactical RPGs, turn-based RPGs, and Pokémon-style outings. On the other hand, it's damn frustrating at times, boasting a difficulty level that can make certain grown men weep at random intervals. There are aspects to clamor for and aspects to loathe, but Devil Survivor still stands as a decent title, bogged down by a difficulty that is, eventually, surmountable with patience.

Devil Survivor is the first game of the long-running and critically lauded Shin Megami Tensei series. For those unfamiliar with the series, all you really need to know is that although every game has its own storyline, there are generally certain themes present, including recruiting demons, the presence of mythological references, and the need to make crucial moral decisions. Devil Survivor follows all of these trends. Playing the role of the hero (named Hero in the game's introductory sequence, but renamed to your liking when you start), you and friends Atsuro and Yuzu are suddenly provided with COMPs (which look surprisingly like DS systems) by his cousin, Naoya; it is soon discovered that these COMPs allow them to hire and utilize demons from another world. Coincidentally, downtown Tokyo becomes flooded with demons and the Japanese government makes it their perrogative to shut down all services in the area and quarantine the citizens inside for many days, though under the guise of merely a gas leak. To make matters worse, our "hero" somehow learns how to see a death clock over the heads of others and discovers that everyone around him will die within the next seven days. Luckily, through the act of defeating demons and preventing harm to citizens, their clocks and the clocks of others can be altered. Our hero must investigate as much as possible and determine the source of the demons and eliminate it... pronto.

The first thing you'll notice about this game (unless you didn't pick up a copy at your local store, naturally) is that there's nowhere to walk to. I was surprised there was no major overworld to wander through, no towns to browse through... no shops... no items or weapons or armor to buy... no... nothin' of the sort. Instead, you inspect different areas of downtown Tokyo using a text-based menu. Oh, granted, there are illustrated backgrounds in each area -- well, some of them, at least -- but unless an area is specifically marked with an event (typically a conversation or a battle), you'll just get to read what boring insight some random townsperson has. The exploration aspect of the game is hardly exhilarating; I didn't know I had purchased a visual update of Carmen Sandiego for the PC from back in 1989. But when you DO get to see a specific cutscene, it's typically comprised of still portraits to accompany dialogue text. Fear not, reader: I declare that for the DS, it's appropriate to see such things; considering, however, how relatively little other animation is in the game, it's hard not to call Devil Survivor a tad on the low-tech side. At least each character in the game has their own uniqueness... especially that oddly androgynous singer, Haru... ooo...

Can you survive against evil demons? The answer is "maybe".

The game starts to pick up more as you start entering battles. From the first battle, the hybrid nature of the game rears its head. On the surface, it looks like you will be entering into a tactical-RPG style of game, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, and the like. You can see at the top of your screen the order in which each character (and demon) will act. Battles are played in various environments but follow a square grid movement style; there is no ability to simply walk around freely. Your mobility is limited, so you can only travel a short distance during a single turn. You can choose to heal as necessary, cast certain spells to improve your abilities temporarily, or just walk up and engage in a fight with a demon. Upon doing so, however, you're immediately thrust into a more classic RPG-style battle, where each enemy and party member takes turns duking it out until one team reigns victorious. Interestingly enough, taking care of the center character in the typically three-unit party defeats them all. Naturally, once you take down all the demons on a map, your mission is over and you can move on. You can also take some time to level up with practice battles along the way, but these end up being quite dull after a while.

But wait! You may or may not be asking this specifically, but huh? Didn't you also say this game has Pokémon qualities as well? Huh? HUUHHHHH?!?! Well, calm down, me pretending to be someone else talking to me, I'll tell you why I said that. Even though you can only have up to four main characters in a battle at the same time, you can each have two hired demons to pad out each character's party. It's best to carry ones with spells that can cater to your foes' weaknesses... or just ones that can punch the living daylights out of them. You can snag their services one of two ways: by hiring them via an online auction (not really online, just in the game) where you spend your hard-earned money won from battles (called 'macca'), or fuse two demons to make a new one. I'll bet that hurts. There are so many demons to possibly hire, it's zany. Plus, you can only hold a relatively small amount at a time -- only 24 -- so use your demon inventory space wisely. On the plus side, as you defeat enemies, your demons will level up just as you do.

Devil Survivor obviously lives off of its own ambience because, as I mentioned earlier, it's no graphical powerhouse, even for a DS game. Visuals, though sufficient, won't be the game's major selling point. Music probably won't be, either, although it IS a rocking soundtrack, featuring a killer guitar riffin' battle theme. (Much of these issues were actually improved upon in Devil Survivor Overclocked, a remake for 3DS.) If anything, the gameplay itself will probably be the reason anyone comes to this -- plus, perhaps, the Shin Megami Tensei name, should anyone be an Atlus fanboy.

But if there's one point I need to lay out in black and white, it's that this game has the potential to kick you right between the pockets if you don't know what you're doing. It's imperative that you pick up on the subtle nuances early, or else you'll feel like the game left you in the dust. That's right: this game may seem easy at first, but it gets harder than constipation eventually, making for an other less-than-pleasant experience. Of note: magic skills are ever-so-necessary for your survival, as is having powerful demons with solid spells. The game's difficulty may be excruciatingly out of reach for a few players, mind-bogglingly tough for some, and a good challenge for the rest. Either way, it's exactly what you expect from an Atlus release: a game that pummels you to the ground, then picks you up, dusts you off, and then proceeds to pour skunky urine over your head. Check it if you like tactical RPGs and an ordeal of seemingly devilish proportions.

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