"Fans will be delighted to know that the second game in the sub-series departs only slightly from the first."
Those of us hesitant to invest in a new Nintendo platform two years before any killer apps come out let out a sigh of relief when we heard Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (DS2) would appear on the Nintendo DS. For good reason, too, because the first installment wowed strategy RPG enthusiasts and folks who just enjoy a gripping, non-linear story. Fans will be delighted to know that the second game in the sub-series departs only slightly from the first.
Devil Survivor 2 begins much like the first game: two friends in Tokyo chat casually about their average daily lives; add in one part female, and we have ourselves familiar territory. The three discuss a new web site, Nicaea, which supposedly displays friends' deaths before they happen. While waiting in the subway, their cell phones load a video of each of them dying. Our nameless hero has the option to use demons to save his life, but why did the disaster happen in the first place? What follows is a destroyed Shibuya full of annihilated buildings, panicked civilians, and a complete information blackout.
DS2 differs from the first in that players find themselves traveling throughout Japan in an effort to discover intel on the unusual disaster, not just on Tokyo. Unexpectedly, the protagonists run into potential allies along the way who contribute to the complex plot in that they both answer some questions and supply new ones. The cast already appears larger than the first, and in order to build on these relationships, Atlus seems to have increased the amount of conversation options available. Throughout each interaction, players frequently have a choice between two, and sometimes three, different responses to another character. These choices seem to impact the lead's relationship with others, but the gravity of each decision is initially unclear.
However, Atlus has implemented a new feature to help gauge one's relationships to each character called the Fate system. Here, thirteen major character slots are available that display a potential 0 to 5 levels of bonding. If one clicks a character portrait, the Fate app lists major story events for that character, including participation in major boss battles. After story events finish, a Fate level up may appear, along with a gameplay bonus specific to that character. These can aid in battle or demon summoning.
Combat closely follows that of the first Devil Survivor. Four allied characters fight on a square grid, and each battle has different victory conditions, including defeat all demons, rescue civilians, stop the enemy from escaping, and so on. Before deploying units, players choose which demon each protagonist will try to "crack," or steal, an ability from. If that team kills the specified monster, then every hero has access to the ability, given they meet the stat prerequisites. Upon meeting an opponent on the field, a mini 3 vs. 3 battle pops up that can last one to two bouts depending on strength and strategy. Each character has three active abilities, three passive, and an automatic or racial ability. Automatic abilities help during battle while race abilities typically help out on the field. If the center character dies on each team, the entire unit is wiped out. Allies tend to have a human sandwiched between two demons.
Demon summoning strays little from the original, as well. The two primary ways in which players obtain demons are through the auction and breeding. Devil Survivor's auction system worked adequately, but served more as a chore. Atlus seems to have agreed, because the auction system is a little riskier this time around. Players have the choice of flat-out buying a demon, or bidding against anonymous opponents. Each NPC has an average bidding price, and over a period of five seconds they display a face of conservatism or excitement which the player uses to guess the price that he has to top. Occasionally, demons will ask for more Macca, the game's currency. Demon breeding functions almost exactly the same as DS', except that when two monsters are paired to create a new one, the player has the option of using a stat enhancer to improve the little tyke. Or big tyke.
The Compendium is a new way in which players can buy demons. This app lists all of the monsters bought or bred, along with a small blurb about each. If players update their Compendium, they can buy a demon with the exact stats and abilities as the one they currently have. This also serves as a sort of Pokédex so that one can catch 'em all. Although the Compendium can be expensive, Free Battles are almost always available at the event selector.
Players choose their paths the same way they did in the first game. Starting from morning all the way into evening, players pick events in half hour increments. Typically, each event depletes time, with the notable exception of Free Battles, which can be used to grind for money, abilities, and levels. Most events don't involve battle, but all of the battles seem to purposefully progress the plot, as well. Of course, depending on one's choices, different events show up over the course of the day, giving players the chance to shock, entice, or hypothesize alongside their compatriots.
In typical RPG series fashion, DS2's music and artwork align closely to the first game. While the composer is different, the style is fundamentally the same. However, although a new cast debuts, character reactions and poses bear a striking resemblance to Devil Survivor. In fact, Atlus opted to use the same exact demon artwork as the original, save the occasional new beasty.
Devil Survivor 2 has got me saying well into the night, "One more event. Just one more. Then bed." Then, once I finally get to bed, I lie wide-eyed in my dark room pondering what could possibly be going on, what the best team is, or which characters I'm going to befriend. Truly, I had wondered if I were capable of such involvement in RPGs anymore. Thankfully, the Atlus-developed and -published Devil Survivor 2 will hit shelves February 28 this year for everyone to enjoy.