Review by Exodist

Reviewed: 09/09/13

Quite possibly one of the best SRPGs available for the DS and 3DS.

Devil Survivor is the Shin Megami Tensei series foray into the strategy RPG genre, originally available for the DS, and now ported to the 3DS. This review will focus on the game itself, not the quality of the port (which, as it stands, is pretty minimal) mostly because this edition of Devil Survivor was the first available in the UK. Overclocked is by no means a remake of the original Devil Survivor, offering a limited amount of extra content (a new game day, which includes new story and so on), some voice acting a few differences in gameplay such as new demons.

Devil Survivor sees you and your friends trapped in Tokyo during a lockdown. Demons have appeared around the city and are causing havoc. Meanwhile, your cousin, Naoya, has given you and your friends mysterious devices called COMPs, which allow you and your friends to summon, fuse and buy demons. With the ability to fight with demons, you and your friends have 7 days (and an added 8th day for Overclocked) to escape Tokyo. The story somewhat surprised me because it was actually good. This isn't to say the Shin Megami Tensei games are known for having bad stories, because they aren't. I just wasn't expecting to enjoy the story this much. There aren't exactly loads of twists and turns, and this is a good thing, as although the premise remains the same, there is a lot of depth also hidden behind the scenes. It's interesting, mature and fits the dark tones that SMT are known to have. Place that with a cast of generally likeable characters (Midori is a prime example of a bad character in the game), along with multiple paths to take at the end of the game and you have a great RPG story.

The premise of the story also leads into how the game is played outside of missions. You are free to visit different parts of the city via a menu, which different events at different locations being available at different times. Doing an event or a main battle will proceed the timer along by 30 minutes. This presents the player with the freedom to choose which people they want to talk to, also meaning you only have a limited choice: you can't do everything in one day. Although the setup is interesting, sadly it's full potential is not realised. You see, the game also has a plot device where each day your characters receive an email which tells the future. You're told about different events that are going to happen in the day, mostly involving fatalities. There was potential to have multiple events forcing the player to choose who they want to save and what to do, however sadly this doesn't happen. At one point in the game, there are a few different characters who are in danger, but if played right, it is entirely possible to save both characters, rather than having you choose. Instead, you're simply forced to choose who you talk to, which ultimately effects what ending path you can take. It's a great idea, but it could have been much better.

Like other Shin Megami Tensei games, Devil Survivor still features the ability to collect a number of different demons used for fighting. The game lets you have 4 different teams, each consisting of a leader (a human party member), and two demons of your choice. You can use the same demons over, rather than being limited to one of a kind. To obtain demons, you must either fuse two together, the best way to get more powerful demons, or buy them at auction. The auction is an interesting replacement of a contact system usually seen in SMT. You can bid for different demons, with the selection usually consisting of 'base' demons used for fusing better demons. Added to Overclock is the demon compendium, which allows you to buy any demon you've previously had. Sadly, the prices are so ludicrous this feature is practically useless, with demons usually costing five times the price of the demons you'd need to fuse it.

The skill and progression system in Devil Survivor is really interesting and most importantly, extremely customisable. You have a library of skills, ranging from Command Skills, Passive abilities, and auto abilities. Command spells are actual spells, for example fire, ice, or healing spells. Passive are skills which give added effects such as more damage on certain elements, more HP or resistances to elements and so on. Auto skills activate automatically at the start of the battle, and are pretty similar to passive skills. To learn skills, you must 'crack' them from enemies in battle, done simply by assigning a team to kill an enemy for that skill. Once you have the skill, you can assign it to any of your human characters. However the spell can only be assigned to one character at a time. This means you're pretty free to give any skill you've earned to any character over the entire game (although spells do require the character to have certain attributes). A bonus in battle sometimes achieved also lets you teach any spell from your library to a demon, which is very useful. You can build your character anyway, and fortunately the attribute requirements aren't too ludicrous, meaning you usually have a high degree of flexibility with your characters.

The actual battles in Devil Survivor blend SRPG with JRPG. Although the field is played like any other SRPG, once you reach an enemy and initiate combat with them, you'll go into a classic turn based battle system. You get one turn each, and you can earn extra turns by exploiting weaknesses. Simple. The reason Devil Survivor excels is because of its highly challenging and mostly fair (but not always) difficulty, and the pure amount of options available to the player. The reason Devil Survivor is fair is because you are always provided with the information you need. Before you've even deployed any of your characters or set their skills, you are free to look at every enemy on the field. You can instantly see their health, their mana, their spells, and most importantly, what they're weak to. This means that whilst the game often features incredibly infuriating enemies, such as those which reflect a number of spells, absorb physical, or enemies with annoying spells, you can always see this before you play. This allows you to fully plan out your strategy.

Where the game does get frustrating, along with the previously mentioned enemy spells, are some of the mission objectives. The game is pretty varied in its missions, however a number also feature AI civilians which have a knack for dying in two hits. If this happens, you instantly fail a mission, and this will happen a lot, so prepare. The game features free battles which don't progress time, allowing you to freely develop your characters, earn more money to get new demons, and to just generally grind. Whilst the game will feature grinding, strategy ultimately comes out on top. This said, I actually found the combat to by highly enjoyable, and developing your characters by improving their skill sets, and getting the stronger demons is pretty addictive and enjoyable. High variety in the missions, the challenging difficulty and the customisation makes this, for me, an incredible strategy RPG. You will have to actually apply strategy in all battles and there is never a dull moment. This said, if you're new to the genre, I recommend playing on the easy difficulty. This is a very tough and frustrating game, and whilst ultimately rewarding, I wouldn't feel bad for playing on easy if necessary.

The graphics in Devil Survivor are the same as the original DS version. The maps are 2D and isometric, featuring a variety of city locations which look exactly as you'd expect. The sprites in the field are basic but still identifiable, and the in-game demons have the great artwork you'd expect from a SMT game, featuring the series well known excellent demon design. The voice acting in the game is pretty extensive and also serviceable, however some characters may grate (Midori, again). The music is also pretty good, but not to the standard of say Lucifer's Call or the Persona games.

Devil Survivor Overclocked won't offer anything worthwhile to people who have already played the original. However, what is here is an highly enjoyable SRPG. The gameplay offers huge customisation to the player, highly rewarding and challenging gameplay and a pretty good story. Quite often, the difficulty can be so overwhelming the game proves to be extremely frustrating. That said, I can't think of a time where I truly felt like giving up. I kept coming back for more and the 50 hour playtime I had by the end (3DS activity log, save file was about 40 hours) was ultimately a wonderful experience.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked (EU, 04/05/13)

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