"If you haven't picked up this series yet, now is the absolute best time to do so."
Back in 2012, Atlus graced us with yet another Devil Survivor game — the second in the series. Later, we received a repackaged version of the first game (Overclocked), and it was only a matter of time until we saw the second title return to store shelves. Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 — Record Breaker functions as a slightly polished regurgitation of DS2, but with a 25-hour campaign tacked on. With some extra content and voice acting, newcomers should definitely hit this title now, but what about previous owners of DS2? Is the new Triangulum campaign worth the Atlus tax?
For those not in the know, DS2 takes place in the major cities of Japan, primarily Tokyo. The lead protagonist discovers that he and his friends have access to a demon summoning application on their cell phones that can be used for good or evil. Of course, being a JRPG, the game heavily leans toward altruism and world saving at the expense of one's life on a routine basis. When I say "routine," I mean several times every day over a seven day period. The theme of dread and human depravity gradually becomes stronger as the condition of Japan worsens, much like one might expect in a real apocalyptic situation. Atlus' writing and the dark scenarios delivered create a rich, satisfying experience for mature gamers. This is the core game. How will you and your (mostly) high school friends save not only Japan, but the entire world?
One of the most profound draws of DS2 is its emphasis on morality and player decisions. While several of the dialogue choices likely don't change the game's outcome much, the choice of who to visit each half hour impacts the protagonist's relationship with each comrade. In this way, the player is sort of picking favorites. Cosplayers will find a sister in Hina, while chill grub-aficionados will find a mate in Jungo. Gameplay preferences rear their head, as well, which will bully some players into picking allies who specialize in physical or magical attacks as mixing stats doesn't translate well to success in battle, but the opportunity is available for those who wish to role-play.
However, DS2 is brutally difficult in parts, oftentimes fluctuating from breezy battles to mind-numbingly exhausting gauntlets with bosses. For this reason, wooing less optimal teammates may not be feasible unless one chooses the easy difficulty. On the other hand, a strong leader doesn't solely determine success. Buying and breeding demons to accompany your team of three in battle can, and often will, sway battles in your favor. Although players can control what traits and abilities human leaders have, demons have less customization available.
The battles present themselves as standard Strategy RPG goodness, but with a slight twist: instead of your character on the map simply striking or casting a spell on a foe, attacking an enemy in the field transitions to a sort of turn-based battle wherein your group of three faces off with the other group of three. Sometimes you and your demons will only receive one action, but if you exploit weaknesses efficiently, you can earn extra turns. Devil Survivor 2 is all about jamming one's icy finger into a fiery enemy's side. And twisting. All while protecting your — electric-y pressure point? Failed metaphors aside, tactical enthusiasts will find a warm, buttery home here to thwart seemingly insurmountable odds. Since most battles present a challenge, every encounter feels like it matters, especially with regard to the plot.
Positioning and balance between each of the four units is essential to winning every battle. If a challenging onslaught rears its head, composing a team to exploit the enemy's weakness the next time around can make for an easy second round. Can. Not will. I had intended on having this review written two weeks ago, but a particularly difficult final boss in the Triangulum campaign stone-walled me, and I was too proud to write a review without finishing the game. Those easily frustrated may feel the loss of immersion as they grind hours' worth of attempts into the final boss.
If you're thinking about purchasing this title and already own DS2, you may find this a worthwhile purchase later, when the game is on sale (though, that may take a while). Record Breaker adds to DS2 in terms of small extra content, voice acting, and a new campaign, but players should focus primarily on how much a 25-hour campaign means to them. This 25-hour campaign is complete fan service, but enjoyable, nonetheless.
Without giving away too much, a problem occurred while resetting the world (based on Atlus' canon ending in DS2, your preferences be damned). As a result, the protagonist has to track down his allies once again to fend off a new otherworldly being. In order to facilitate a full adventure in such a short amount of time, each character starts off at a higher level and experience gain seems amped up. Tasty skills are available early on, and the difficulty curve slides upward satisfyingly — until the end.
One might also wonder how character development occurs, since all of the characters were so intimately familiar with each other at the end of DS2's Septentrione campaign. This is where the fan service comes in. Most of the character interaction includes talking about the previous campaign, freaking out about why this is happening again, and inspiring everyone to be their best. Overall, the discussion is less plot-centric and more "fun," which is fine, if that's what fans are looking for. I was frustrated that most of the dialogue choices were slight rewordings of each other with the same basic message, simply because the illusion of choice feels insulting and forced. Also, several of the interactions with females seem guided toward the protagonist flirting or perving out with each and every woman.
In terms of presentation and control, Record Breaker is identical to its predecessor. For those not familiar, most of the game occurs with a text box, a backdrop, and two still images of people talking to each other. For a handheld, this presentation is fine, and the artwork is anime-rific. This time around, however, voice actors bring the script to life. Initially, I found the casting jarring, as I had already established each character's voice in my head, but after a few hours, the actors grew on me and I came to accept Atlus' vision of what each character should sound like. The actors weren't afraid to ham it up, either — wacky or serious, everyone conveys their message clearly and expertly.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 — Record Breaker is more of the same with a bit of polish. In fact, when I initially reviewed DS2, my takeaway was that it was a repackaging of the first game. This is even truer of Record Breaker, but, again, is that so bad? Devout fans will likely want to pick this reiteration up, but those who casually enjoyed DS2 should wait until they want to pay for a 25-hour campaign in the same universe. If you haven't picked up this series yet, now is the absolute best time to do so.