Back in 2006, Atlus gave North American players another Shin Megami Tensei spin-off going by the name of Devil Summoner - Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army for the PS2. It told the tale of a young devil summoner, Raidou Kuzunoha, helping out in a detective agency run by his carefree mentor, Narumi. Raidou's role was to aid Narumi in investigations and protect the 1920s capital of Japan from supernatural phenomena. Aside from its unique premise, the game also stood out for being an action-RPG, but the combat aspect fell short, feeling slow and lackluster and only containing a simplistic move list that made fighting repetitive. Despite the mixed reception, Atlus decided to give the series another shot with the release of the sequel, King Abaddon. I was skeptical about how King Abaddon would turn out, but I was in for a major surprise. Atlus listened to the criticism and did some tweaking to create one of the most vastly improved sequels I've ever played for an RPG. Taking place shortly after the Soulless Army installment, Raidou and crew are back and better than ever.
After a short tutorial on learning the ropes of devil summoning, the game starts off with a young woman making a trip to the Narumi detective agency. Her name is Akane, and she humbly asks the agency to look for a man named Dahn, but only provides them with a photo and skips out the details on why she wants him found. Regardless of the vague information, Narumi believes that she means no harm and like the good gentlemen he is, decides to accept the case. At first, the case involves a simple manhunt, but little do they know, it will all lead to a major chain of events capable of destroying their beloved capital.
Instead of a series of smaller cases leading up to a major scenario, there is one main case to go through, but it remains interesting. For a while, you simply go around gathering information on who Dahn is, but it gets increasingly more complex and throws a lot of things into the mix such as assassin clans, luck-stealing bugs, mysterious gods, other devil summoners, strange rituals, serial killings and far more. With a lot going on, the game provides case reviews after each major point to summarize what's been going on and talk about the next course of action. These reports make you feel like an actual detective rather than a mere errand boy. The game also keeps notes when you want to look up information on a character or event.
The story itself feels darker than that of Soulless Army, and the characters aren't simply good or evil. Dahn, whom you might think of as a villain, isn't bad at all, and players can sympathize with his actions. He does things for the people close to him and feels what he does is right, but his actions turn out misguided. The good guys put up a good front, but they mask their sorrow and linger on what they think is right or wrong in the world. The main theme of the story revolves around luck and shows how people fall into despair when they have no luck on their side. You see NPCs fall apart throughout the course of the game when things are not going their way and feel detached about any remaining hopes in the word. The story paints a good picture, managing to keep things engaging and interesting, building things up nicely all the way up to the final showdown.
There is also a series of dialogue choices you make throughout the game that determines the ending you get. The endings are lawful, chaotic or neutral; the same kinds of endings present in classic SMT titles. In addition, the ending you choose will give you an exclusive demon to command, while increasing the game's replay value as well.
Despite a dark plot, there is a lot of quirky humor on the side, most notably from the demons. There are many kinds of demons to interact with, and a lot of them are just wacky and have off-the-wall personalities. The dialogue is always colorful because they say the darndest things ranging from strange statements to nonsensical questions. At times, there is an even fourth wall-breaking, taking a jab at the player and interestingly enough, bash on the previous game's mechanics. In the end, King Abaddon maintains a serious tone at its core, but throws in light humor as a side dish.
Atlus demonstrates that the game can retain the same core fundamentals while at the same time vastly improving upon it. In combat, Raidou moves around the battlefield to hack and slash or shoot down enemy demons. He can also summon AI-controlled demons that have various abilities to aid the devil summoner. Rinse and repeat many, many times, and that's all there was previously, and it got old. You still do all that in this game, but the tweaks make the game actually fun.
Raidou himself gets an array of new moves. He can now roll around to get to enemies faster or swiftly evade oncoming attacks. It might seem minor, but the lack of it is was what partially caused Soulless Army's combat to feel sluggish, and sometimes blocking attacks isn't enough. Not only can he roll, but he can now pull off sword combos as well, in addition to being able to use spear and axe abilities. His gun now has unlimited bullets, but you can only shoot six times before reloading. There are no elemental bullets to obtain, but you can use demon abilities to temporarily give bullets and the sword elemental properties.
Raidou can also summon two demons at once, giving you a greater range of abilities to utilize. Soulless Army was easy enough just having one demon, but Atlus compensates by increasing the challenge, though it remains fairly easy on normal mode. Even so, there are some challenging fights, and having two demons at your disposal helps things out strategically. Raidou now has a shared MP pool with all his demons called MAG. Weapon and demon abilities cost MAG and the only way to get MAG back is by using an enemy's weakness and hitting them while stunned. Since the only item that restores MAG is very rare, you must exploit weaknesses to survive.
Players are encouraged to gather many different demons throughout the game and build up loyalty points on them, which are gained the same way you earn experience. When you max out a demon's loyalty, they gain a passive ability and shower you with gifts every time they level up. Getting enough loyalty points altogether grants you title upgrades, which enable you to carry more demons and relates to other parts of the game.
Typically, the luck stat is more or less useless or neglected in RPGs, but because of the plot's theme, the stat now has importance in combat. Depending on Raidou's luck, you are either granted bonuses or negative effects at the start of battle. Bonuses include stronger attacks, or double experience, loyalty, or cash while the negative effects feature stronger enemies, the inability to summon certain demon types, or Raidou's attacks continuously whiff. You can increase your luck by collecting luck locusts, but if the enemy ambushes you, your luck can decrease.
Also depending on your luck, you might face hidden bosses known as fiends, brutal enemies that appear suddenly during a random encounter. They can appear anywhere, anytime, but you are given a signal beforehand so you have time to prepare for the challenge. You can escape the fight by negotiating with them and fulfilling their harsh demands. Defeating fiends is mostly for persona satisfaction and grants you a good amount of experience for your troubles.
The method of capturing demons is completely different from before, and this change is for the better. Previously, you had to weaken them and then use a tube in order to try to capture them, similar to the Pokémon games. This time around, obtaining demons reintroduces a series formula absent for years: demon negotiations. The objective is to get them into a good mood in order to request that they become your demon. To do so, you must respond correctly from a series of choices when they make a statement or ask you a question. If you upset them, your demons can help out and use their negotiation skills in hopes of improving their mood. Demons' negotiation skills vary and have different strengths and weaknesses against different types of demons. When you are able to ask them to be your demon, you must fulfill requests they ask for, and must be at their level or higher. As mentioned earlier, the demons provide a good chunk of humor for the game, and negotiations enhance that aspect.
Another series staple, demon fusion, remains once again, though it is a little bit different. For those unfamiliar with it, you select two demons in order to create a new demon. The created demon will receive up to four abilities from the fused demons, along with their passive traits. There are now a series of unique demons, which can only be obtained in certain ways. Fusing two of the same type of demon result in an elemental demon, and fusing those demon types enable unique of demons that can apply special bonuses when fusing normal demons. There is also a devil chart that enables to you register your leveled demons and summon them again at a cost.
A new addition to the game is sword alchemy, unlocked early on. This enables you to upgrade your weapon if you manage to get the right materials and enough cash. Upgraded weapons provide bonuses and can create a spear or axe, though those weapon types are just swords with different abilities. Depending on which weapon you upgrade to, it can branch out to another series of weapons. Sword alchemy is a neat feature that gives players a semi-flexible playing style.
The game contains a fair lot of puzzle solving, and it usually proves more challenging than the fights themselves. You can use demons outside of combat and use their abilities to extract information for the investigation, overcome obstacles, enter new pathways, or protect yourself from disaster. Other kinds of puzzles are riddles that test the player's thinking skills. You are typically given solid clues to figure out a riddle, but sometimes the messages are very cryptic and you have to think outside the box to solve them. There are not many of these types of puzzles, but prepare to get challenged when you do encounter them.
You can also take on sidequests known as case files, available in two types. The majority of them, labeled in blue, are fetch quests in which you provide an item the quest asks for, and can only accept them if you have the item in hand. The rewards are cash, items, rare materials, and sometimes, key items that are used for other quests. The other quest types, labeled in yellow, are field quests in which you head to the objective and fight a boss to complete it. The rewards are usually key items that enable you to get certain demons, and sometimes they're game functions that help the player out. There are dozens of quests to take, but you can only take a quest if your title is high enough.
While King Abaddon has much better gameplay than Soulless Army, it does have a few small flaws. Despite new combat moves and demon negotiations, the combat does still feel repetitive and a little easy to plow through, but the fights feel less daunting this time. The random encounter rate also kicked it up a notch, but at least Atlus removed random encounters in town. Last but not least, the boss fights can be a let down. Most of the time, you fight the same kinds of bugs and some reoccurring bosses, providing less variety. Also, several bosses are major pushovers to the point of being able to destroy them in seconds with the right weakness and exploitations.
Graphically, the game is stylish due to a great array of character and demon designs along with solid pre-rendered backgrounds. Even so, it's the weakest link in the game due to the lack of a facelift and showing the platform's age. In addition, a lot of the graphics are rehashed, but it's unavoidable considering it takes place shortly after the previous game. There are still new areas to explore and enough new locales to keep the game fresh at least. Even though the game has good design, you can't ignore the fact that it still looks like a 2006 game.
The audio is solid, though it has its share of flaws. The soundtrack maintains its mixture of jazz and rock and roll, but half the music was used in the previous game. They are still good songs, but it's not as fresh as it was before, and it does get old hearing them again for another 40 hours. Fortunately, there are new songs present that fit seamlessly with the rest of the music. They are superb songs, but it's too bad they aren't more prevalent. This is a soundtrack that contains quality, but lacks quantity. There is still no voice acting present, but it fits with the game's classic setting and does not detract from the overall enjoyment.
The interface also shows some improvements. There are a lot of menus, but they are neatly organized, and you should have little trouble getting to what you need to see. The biggest convenience comes from being able to utilize demon fusions and sword alchemy at every save point. The only faults in the control portion are from the combat, but it's not bad. It just takes a while to get a feel of the slightly awkward controls in the midst of chaotic combat. At least there's a tutorials for that.
Sequels typically either make only slight improvements or worsen the series, but Atlus went the extra mile to make a major overhaul, and ultimately succeeded on improving the series. It may lack technical advancements and overall challenge, but it does deliver on having a good story and just being plain fun. Those who never played the first game can easily enjoy this installment, and those who played Soulless Army should play this and see just how superior King Abaddon is.