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Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Genre: Traditional RPG
Format: Cartridge
Release: US 06/23/09
Japan 01/15/09



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Take that, Pyro Jack!
 
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In Soviet Russia, Ogre summons you!
 
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Atsuro's got a good head on his shoulders.
 
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Indeed, this is the lament of all handheld gamers.
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Sam Hansen
Hands-On Preview
05/21/09
Sam Hansen

Hee-ho, RPGFans!

During the final weeks of June, Jack Frost and the rest of the demons you've all captured and slain from Atlus' well-acclaimed Shin Megami Tensei series will be making their way to Nintendo's dual-screened console for the very first time in the form of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. While I have yet to encounter Mr. Frost in-game (though I did spot his precious little mug on the DS's startup screen), he's been with me in spirit from the moment Devil Survivor graced my stylus-ravaged touch screen. He puts me in my happy place; a place I need to be since this is a difficult SMT game with plenty of spooky undertones. Read on to see why a mere handful of hours has already sold me on this delicious piece of interactive entertainment.

With Tokyo under governmental lockdown, the entire city has been halted to a standstill. Train stations have been blockaded and special defense forces have been ushered in to prevent the disgruntled city folk from making their exit. To make matters far, far worse, demons have naturally started to swarm in and commit grotesqueries upon the trapped civilians. Sucks to be you, Tokyo.

From the looks of it, you and your group of teenage companions are the only ones properly equipped to handle the situation, thanks to your media handhelds called COMPs. While these devices are normally used throughout Tokyo for social purposes, the trio in your possession has been modified to allow all sorts of fun, demon-related activities, most notably demon summoning. But let's not forget what these fun little toys are originally made for. Seeing as though they are intended for communication, COMPs have email support, and it doesn't take long before you and your friends start putting it to good use. Strange, prophetic messages from an unknown sender begin making their way into your inbox, all of which predict various tragedies hours before they actually happen.

By using this insightful information, it's your job to muster up an army of Pyro Jacks and Pixies to stop these tragedies from coming to fruition. There's an obvious incentive to doing all of this, but spoiling the most fascinating part of the story (thus far, anyway) is hardly my intention. Let's just say Devil Survivor is about as appropriate and literal of a title as you're going to get, with an extra scoop of emphasis on the "Survivor" bit.

Aside from the story, you can expect to see survival playing a large role in battle, as well. If that comes as a surprise to you, then I don't think we should really hang out anymore. Not unlike the recent DS RPG Valkyrie Profile: Covenant of the Plume, Devil Survivor sports a battle system that combines the mechanics of two completely separate RPG mainstays: turn-based and tactical gameplay. Players will be moving around on grid-based maps, positioning themselves to the best of their abilities. Moving and attacking should be self-explanatory, though players are also given the option to use various magic spells before and after the turn-based mechanic comes into play. Skills for healing, reducing enemy movement, and guaranteeing critical hits are but a few of the potential skills available from a ridiculously large and diverse compendium.

The fun begins once you hone in on your prey with your best battle sneer. After selecting an enemy to attack, you'll be shuffled into SMT's signature Press Turn battle system, where three-on-three parties will partake in a single round of wailing on each other. The Press Turn system, for those unfamiliar with it, is a system that greatly rewards strategic play. Everyone, be they friend or foe, has elemental strengths and weaknesses. Exploiting an enemy's weakness will do above average damage and, more importantly, award you with Extra Turns depending on who performed the attack. The opposition can do the same to you as well, making out-of-battle planning and preparation infinitely more vital than a first glance would suggest.

Other battle mechanics include the Skill Crack system, which essentially lets you steal skills and abilities from enemy demons after you kill them with specific characters. A bonus system used to get more Macca (the game's form of currency) is also in place. Receiving Extra Turns or completing fights unharmed, among other conditions, will net you some additional cash that can later be spent at the Demon Auction house, where players will bid on demons against other aficionados. People seem to love their demons so there is stiff competition at every auction. Who knew demonic labor was in such high demand? In all seriousness, you will be coming here often since this is the only surefire way to recruit new demons for your squadron.

Lastly, demon fusion is back from past games but with improvements. Patience has always been a necessity when it comes to SMT's demon fusion, since it is usually a trial and error process for those who want the absolute best skill sets for their creations. So imagine my excitement to learn that Devil Survivor has updated the old system in favor of one that lets us, the players, select what abilities we want our demonic offspring to inherit from their "parents." That has me leaping for joy and I'm sure you are too.

Devil Survivor should be a slick addition to the DS's stupidly huge RPG library. In SMT fashion, the game has a certain freshness and energy to it that allows it to stand out from the RPG crowd. Look forward to a full review of the game next month...

If you can survive that long.



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