The Megami Tensei series of RPGs (and some non-RPGs) is one of the most prolific I can think of. Megami Tensei has a ton of sub-series under its umbrella, the most well-known of which, in the US, is Persona. DemiKids Light and Dark are part of the Devil Children series which brings Megami Tensei to a younger audience. It started with Red and Black books on Game Boy Color and even spawned an anime series in Japan. While Red and Black book never left Japan, we US gamers got DemiKids Light and Dark on GBA. While there are certainly better Megami Tensei games available in the US (Persona series, Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne), the DemiKids games aren’t that bad.
DemiKids is often compared to Pokémon. That’s not surprising; after all, many elements of Pokémon are concepts that have been present in Megami Tensei since the first game debuted on the Famicom in 1987. Elements include collecting demons/creature for battle and storing them in a computer. However, DemiKids Light and Dark do have some differences that allow them to rise above the level of mere “poke-clones.”
Unlike respective Pokémon counterparts (Red-Blue, Gold-Silver, etc.) which are identical games with some differences in obtainable creatures per game, DemiKids Light and Dark have that along with differences in plot and even some gameplay. Light starts out in the world of Valhalla, where a young man named Shin sends a girl named Amy into our world to find help in defeating the evil empire, “Imperium.” Dark starts out in the world of Dem, with Lucifer’s right hand man, Forlo, talking about time rifts and a philosophy regarding children saving the worlds. Lucifer sends him out to see if the prophecy is true.
Enter a modern-day town called Rem where Jin, Akira, and Lena go to school (the same school where Setsuna and Mirai in Devil Children: Red and Black books attended), and have a little demonology club. Amy, from Valhalla, is undercover as a new student in Akira’s class. Akira is still in class, but Jin is off playing in the arcade. Lena fishes Jin out of the arcade, drags him back to school, and when Akira gets out of class, tells the boys about a demon summoning book she found at the school library. Amy overhears them and expresses interest in seeing the book too. Lena happily lets the new girl into the demonology club and whisks her off to the library with the boys shuffling along behind. The crew gets to the library only to find the demon book is missing. While Lena and Jin frantically search for the book, Akira figures that the librarian has it and coolly asks her for it. Despite some warnings from Amy, our friends decide to try a summon spell from the book. A rather pissed off Gargoyle appears in the library, tries to nab Amy, but Lena steps in and tries to give the gargoyle a piece of her mind with little success. Amy then gives each of the boys a Demiloc and a Vinecom (both of which I’ll talk about more later on.) Each boy fires his demiloc and is then introduced to his “Guide” demon. Jin’s Guide is a Sol Cat named Rand and Akira’s Guide is a Rox (dragonlike demon) named Gale. The gargoyle goes down, but there are bigger problems afoot.
At the front of the school is a time rift. These are holes in the space-time continuum where time ceases to exist. If these holes multiply and get bigger, this could mean the end of existence. Valhalla, Earth, and Dem are all affected. Without a moment to lose, Amy asks the others to meet her on the roof so she can try to explain things further. Jin and Lena follow Amy to the roof and through a portal to the Tower of Light in Valhalla. On his way to the roof, Akira gets stopped by a demon. Said demon is weak, but kept Akira in battle long enough to prevent him from going through the portal to Valhalla. No biggie, though, because when Akira gets to the roof of the school, what should he find but a gate to Dem with Forlo waiting for him.
Thus, the stage is set for Jin and Akira’s adventures through twisted underworlds to try and save everyone’s worlds and prevent nefarious forces from destroying existence as we know it. Each boy has his own distinct adventure and follows different sides of the overall story. Light focuses on the journey of the outgoing Jin, while Dark chronicles the journey of the more introspective Akira. There are points throughout the game where Akira and Jin meet up, but their adventures are pretty much distinct. Jin’s adventure features more dialogue and character interaction (though development is minimal) while Akira’s adventure features the game’s world more and showcases its development. The two boys do come together for the final battle, though, but you only get to play it as your respective game’s protagonist.
While the plot is fairly simplistic, this being Megami Tensei for kids, I found it surprisingly dark and with more pathos and a heavier atmosphere than I would normally expect from a game intended for children. However, I found that Jin and Akira were two of the most boring and generic protagonists I’ve seen. Setsuna and Mirai, the protagonists of Red and Black books for Game Boy Color, were far more interesting personalities with more involving storylines. For the short amount of time she gets in Light and Dark, Lena struck me as a cooler person than Jin or Akira. Lena had personality. Lena had spunk. Lena should have been one of the main characters. Although admittedly, some of the heavier plot points probably wouldn’t have worked so well had Lena been a main character. Still, better dialogue would have helped. As it stands, it’s pretty cracker-thin.
Another thing I didn’t like was that the game was primarily set in fantasy worlds. One of my main attractions to the Megami Tensei series is its use of modern/contemporary settings, and this game did not use those much. I understand that the game takes place over multiple parallel worlds, but a bit more time in the modern world would have been nice.
The final thing I didn’t like were some of the demon name changes. Megami Tensei games utilize characters and creatures from various world mythologies and a mythology buff like me doesn’t like when that stuff gets tampered with. Two examples of completely changed names are Windfrag (which should be the Norse squirrel demon Ratatosk) and Two-Tail (which should be the Japanese cat demon Nekomata). Other changes I’m a little more forgiving of. I can understand some name truncation is necessary given limited text slots (i.e. Cocatrice was truncated to Kokatris.) Incorrect transliterations are understandable, since some demons come from lesser-known mythologies (i.e. Lasarka should be Rusalka- a Romanian water nymph.) And there are plenty of instances where names are kept in tact (i.e. Minotaur, Banshee, and Succubus to name a few.) However, I still don’t understand why Incubus was changed to Inkubus. Was it to make it Pokémon cutesy? If so, then this wasn’t the right place to do so. A good portion of people who bought DemiKids were already Megami Tensei fans to begin with, and we’re picky about our mythology references.
Gameplay is pretty standard RPG gameplay. For the most part I consider it “MegaTen Lite,” since there are aspects that are simplified from other Megami Tensei games. Battles occur randomly, are fairly frequent, and are where “MegaTen Lite” is most prominent. The turn-based battle engine is standard fare and the commands are self-explanatory. As with many modern battle engines these days, it’s possible to switch out characters and there is even a rudimentary combo system where a pair of demons with some affinity towards each other can do a special attack. The “Recruit” command is where the fun of a Megami Tensei game should be. I enjoy “chit-chatting” with demons and having branching conversations in attempts to assess the demon’s personality. The chit-chat and branching conversations are all but nil in DemiKids. When you select “Recruit” you can choose which demon you want to talk to and which of your party members will do the talking. Once selected, you’ll have a choice of two approaches, which come up pretty randomly. Some approaches include friendly, humor, upbeat, diplomatic, and a bunch of others. Once you pick your approach, a face icon with different moods will appear next to the demon and change like a slot machine. Once the demon decides its mood it will then either attack you, join your party, or give you stuff. I found this process pretty random. With more advanced Megami Tensei games, there is more strategy involved regarding which conversational approach to use and which party member will do the talking.
One can also visit the Battle Net center in various towns to either do gamelink battles with another person or ‘extra credit’ single-player battles for various rewards. Some of the opponents in these BattleNet battles have names you may (or may not) recognize from the Persona series, such as Nate and Baofu. Some names are a tad confusing such as Maxi. Maki in the Japanese version of Persona was Mary in the US version and Maxi here. Reiji in the Japanese version of Persona was Chris in the US version and Ray here. How do I know? The character descriptions say a bit about them. I thought it was cool that old friends from the Persona games made cameos here and used demons in accordance to their personalities in the Persona games. There are also casinos to be found where one can play the mini-games Big & Small and CodeBreaker for prizes. With Big & Small, you’re given a number and you have to guess whether the one that comes up next is bigger or smaller. With CodeBreaker, you have a limited number of turns to correctly guess a 3 number sequence. Said mini-games are often found in other Megami Tensei games.
Thankfully, the Demon fusion system is still as it should be, for the most part. At demon fusion centers, you can fuse 2 demons together to make a new one. Some combinations will yield a stronger demon, others will yield useless demons. It’s all a matter of experimentation. The game allows you to preview a potential fusion result before you go for it. There is also Relic fusion. Relics can either be found or bought, and 3 of them are required for a fusion. Depending on which relics you use and the sequence in which you fuse them, you can get varying results. The Relic clerk will tell you if your hypothetical fusion will be good or bad, so be sure to listen to her. Good relic fusions often yield zombie demons, which can be resurrected to their original “live” forms through hard-to-find soul items. I never did a resurrection, but I have no complaints. The zombie demons are pretty strong.
And one thing you cannot forget to do is fuse your Guide. Your Guide levels up when you fuse demons to him. Depending on the types of demons you generally fuse him with, along with some in-game decisions you make, your Guide will evolve in different ways. The Guide is the only demon that evolves, and there are four stages in Guide evolution.
There are a couple of minor differences in fusion rules in both games. In the Light version, there is a chance of “accidental” fusions where the resultant demon is different from the predicted one. The occurrence of “accidental” fusions is very rare, and is one of the only ways to uncover some of the more rare demons. In the Dark version, there are no “accidental” fusions, but it is possible for you to fuse two of the same demon together for a “pure” fusion. This cannot be done in the Light version. I personally had more fun doing fusions in the Light version since I got to see a wider variety of demons. In the Dark version, I got sick of seeing the same old demons over and over again.
Exploration is pretty standard fare. It’s your classic RPG combination of town, field, and dungeon. Movement through the field is pretty slow, but can be speeded up when you choose to ride your Guide. You can only ride him in demon infested areas. It’s also nice that you can talk to you Guide and he’ll often give you hints as to where to go and as the game progresses, the information he provides is increased. To ease things along, there are items and spells that allow you to revisit places you’ve already been to on foot. Oh, and the ability to save any time you want outside of a battle or cutscene is always great.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Demiloc and Vinecom. The Vinecom functions much like a Pokedex. The Demiloc is a gunlike computer used to store and summon various demons. There are various upgrades available for the Demiloc in the form of modules. Some modules allow you to summon more demons in battle; some modules reduce the encounter rate; some up attack or defense, and all kinds of other things. I customized my demiloc (and kingloc, a massive upgrade which you get later in the game) to my style of play, and you can customize it to your tastes too.
The games are pretty short. You’ll beat the main story mode in each game in 12-15 hours. The real fun comes after the ending, where you can go around the world, revisit areas, access areas that weren’t available to you before, find new demons, and traverse the obligatory bonus dungeon in each game. The bonus dungeons are very long and mazelike. This is in stark contrast to the dungeons in the game proper, which tend to be fairly short and linear, but never insultingly so. I’ve played RPGs for the older set with even smaller and more linear dungeons, so the Megami Tensei credo of creating dungeons that challenge the target demographic is here as well.
The graphics are rather nice. What they lack in flash they make up for in style. The sprites and environments are pretty standard 16-bit spritery, but many of the environments have a unique look and style to them. One of my favorite places is Center Town in Dem. It is a rather large town with an old-world quaint charm along with demonized buildings. The character and demon designs are wholly different from the highly stylized designs in other Megami Tensei games. For the most part, they’re cutesy and generic. Some character designs manage to be very cool within the cutesy parameters, such as the Fusion Relic clerk. Others, such as Jin, fall into the realm of mediocrity. However, there are some demon portraits that make me question the game’s E rating. The Succubus and Incubus come to mind. The demons don’t animate during battle, but are large and drawn with good detailing. There are occasional cutscenes with larger character portraits, which do look nice.
The sound is easily the weakest part of the game. The sound effects are nothing special and there is no memorable music. The music generally sounds very MIDI-ish, which is in stark contrast to many other GBA RPGs, such as Car Battler Joe, that utilize the GBA’s sound chip much better. It’s nice that some of the music is different in the two games (for example, the battle themes in Light and Dark are different), but ultimately, the music was mostly annoying to me. The Valhalla field music and the Center Town music were two that really got on my nerves.
Over all, while the games are decent GBA RPGs that rise above the dreaded category of “Poke-clone” there are many better Megami Tensei games available in the US, such as Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne for PlayStation 2. Of course, if you maybe want to get a younger sibling into Megami Tensei through something a little darker and edgier than Pokémon, then DemiKids may fit the bill. The storyline is best enjoyed when both perspectives are played, as some aspects of one will make more sense with knowledge of the other. So, if you can get the DemiKids games cheaply, try to get them as a set.