How'd they get it to fit?

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot

HIGH A very faithful Shin Megami Tensei experience in a teeny package.

LOW Lacking the typically-excellent and usually-plentiful Atlus voice work.

WTF The AI gets another turn… why, again?

Another entry into the long-running and highly-respected Shin Megami Tensei series, Devil Survivor from Atlus brings the same kind of quality fans expect, condensed down into a much smaller package—the only real difference? Instead of being the expected role-playing game like its predecessors, the developers took a left turn into new territory and crafted a uniquely hybrid strategy RPG instead.

Set in an alternate version of Tokyo, the game begins by locking down the entire city after a mysterious incident. No one can leave, no one can enter, and within its confines, strange things are happening. Soon after events are set into motion, the game's protagonist realizes that magical numbers appearing above peoples' heads represent how many days they have left to live, and the quest to prevent those numbers from reaching zero begins. It's an interesting premise that might remind some of the recent Square-Enix DS title The World Ends With You but I daresay that Atlus's take is superior. Not only are the characters better-written and more likable, the mechanics of play are more satisfyingly cerebral and deeper, despite being a rather substantial break from the norms of both Shin Megami Tensei and SRPGs.

For example, although the player's party is visually represented as the usual gathering of young people, in battle, each character actually employs three distinct units—that character beside two demons. Doing the math, a group of four story characters actually means that the player will be managing at least twelve different active entities per battle, with the option to switch others in and out as the need arises. Having these micro-parties was something unexpected, but it works quite well.

Besides that new twist, the combat system itself is fairly unconventional as well. A hybrid of standard SRPG grid-based play and traditional first-person turn-taking (similar to Dragon Warrior or Phantasy Star) positioning each character on the board is still important, although the affinity-based system familiar to Atlus fans is also in full effect.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Screenshot

Hitting fire monsters with ice spells (and similar strategies) are the keys to victory, and players hoping to go the distance will have to realize that the game can't be played the same way that others like it are. All aspects of its design must be given equal consideration, and more than the usual amount of time will be spent before each battle making sure that each character's team is the best it can be. It's certainly a complex system, but there's no denying that the developers gave it the same sort of care and attention that would be found in any of the Persona or Shin Megami Tensei games. It seems almost absurd to say, but the quality of these games is so high that their "standard" is easily a couple notches better than a lot of the competition's best.

Although there is much to recommend Devil Survivor to players looking for the trademark Atlus experience on-the-go, it must be noted that the difficulty curve rises fairly quickly. Perhaps a little too quickly. It's true that the game cuts players a break in many areas (it's not too difficult to collect needed demons, and the way skills are inherited during stat-enhancing demon-fusing is quite lenient) but I ran into more than a few instances where the only real way for me to progress was to grind a few levels until my characters were tough enough to survive. I appreciate that the developers made sure that optional battles are constantly available for just such occasions, but I would've appreciated it even more if the grinding wasn't necessary in the first place.

Besides that issue, I noticed the game's AI sometimes cheated when it came to taking extra turns. Similar to the Press Turn system seen in other Shin Megami Tensei titles, extra goes are granted when a player (or the enemy) takes advantage of elemental weaknesses in the enemy. However, I witnessed multiple occasions when the AI was granted extra turns despite not doing anything to earn them. It's not game-breaking and not a major problem, but it did make me feel as though the combat system wasn't nailed down quite as tightly as it could've been. In a game of this sort, everything needs to be predictable and explicit. This element of randomness was quite unnerving.

Despite those minor rough patches, it's not hard to recommend Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor to anyone looking for an above-average SRPG experience, especially on the DS. The writing is strong, its unconventional take on the standard SRPG formula shows creativity, and there's just no denying the fact that this series keeps putting out top-quality game after top-quality game. Anyone looking to sink a few hours into their DS with a game that's actually worthy need look no further. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the DS. Approximately 18 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed at the time the review was written. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains fantasy violence, language, partial nudity and mild blood. Although this particular game has been rated appropriate for Teens, be aware that the series this game is related to is usually slanted more towards adults. That said, in the eighteen hours I spent with the game I didn't find anything particularly objectionable, and certainly nothing more explicit or offensive than what you would see on prime-time television. Keep the young ones away (it's probably too hard for them, anyway) but most older teens should be quite all right.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You will have no problems. All dialogue in the game is presented through text, and because it's turn-based (and also on a handheld) audio cues are a non-issue. It's totally accessible for anyone.

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway

Brad Gallaway has been gaming since the days when arcades were everywhere and the Atari 2600 was cutting edge. So, like... A while.

Currently, he's got about 42 minutes a night to play because adulting is a timesuck, but despite that, he's a happily married guy with two kids who both have better K/D ratios than he does.

Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody at the office is looking, and his favorite game of all time is the first Mass Effect -- and he thought the trilogy's ending was Just Fine, Thanks.

Follow Brad on Twitter at @BradGallaway
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11 Comments on "Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Review"

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CannabisDelux
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CannabisDelux
7 years 4 days ago

This game is amezing.
An aboud the ai cheating on extra turns, i think the reviewer should pay more atention to the beginning of the game since its clearly explained there. (there are more then 3 way’s to get turns an im still learning how to take full advantige of it bud its a complex system somtimes)

Bud realy this game is not better then any of the rpg’s on the ds cose its so completly deferent from all its competition.
Gottalove it if you like a good story, a nice rpg, manga/anime/ stragetie or the collecting monsters (demons)

Yang
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Yang
7 years 21 days ago

Is the extra turns granted when the battle begins? Maybe it’s the “surround” bonus, i.e. being flanked by two or more enemy

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 1 month ago

Thanks for the comment. Yeah, I understand about the passive abilities, but it wasn’t even the bosses, it was just the standard encounters i was referring to. either way, it’s a system that should be more transparent and explicit, especially in the SRPG genre… keeping players guessing or unable to accurately predict actions or turns is just not the best idea. still a great game, just not as flawless as the others in the Persona/SMT series.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 1 month ago

Don’t forget that some bosses and enemies in the game have passive abilities that let them act twice in one turn, that means if they get an extra turn, they get to act 4 times. This can easily be missunderstood as the AI cheating. Well, at least til you check the demon’s abilities.

cozyduck
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cozyduck
7 years 1 month ago

Concerning the extra turns, as far as I understand they are randomly granted to combatants at the start of a fight, with higher chances of this happening with higher agility values (in relation to the enemy party). Having initiative also helps. After that is decided, you can still further influence the situation through affinities.

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 1 month ago
When I played the game, it didn’t have any documentation along with it, so I was pretty much on my own. Having been extremely familiar with the previous Persona/SMT games, I figured out most of it pretty quickly, but the extra turn aspect really confounded me. It was obvious that by taking advantage of the elemental strengths/weaknesses that extra turns could be added or lost, but I noted multiple times during each play session that the AI would often have an extra turn despite doing apparently nothing to get it (no crit or elemental strike) and at times the enemy… Read more »
Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 1 month ago

The AI cheats? Are you sure you didn’t accidentally hit an enemy’s elemental reflect or absorb? Or that the enemy didn’t just crit you and steal your turn or something?

The game pisses me off sometimes for being lucky/smart but not for cheating.

Anonymous
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Anonymous
7 years 1 month ago

The MegaTen series actually had a few games in this genre:

http://hg101.classicgaming.gamespy.com/megaten/majintensei.htm

Danuab
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Danuab
7 years 1 month ago

Great game but a little tough for my liking, and too many instances where enemies can do something cheap (like one hit ko a civilian group you were meant to protect.) Little design flaws like this add to the frustration of an already challenging game and leave me wondering whether its fun enough to continue. And yet, continue I do..

Brad Gallaway
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Brad Gallaway
7 years 1 month ago

Well, I would say that it’s definitely easier to understand than Disgaea, although probably a little more complicated than Fire Emblem. It’s easier on the player than both of those, though… although the difficulty curve can be a little tedious at times, the game is very fair in giving players opportunities to level grind, and that management of the demons (your allies in battle) is very lenient. It’s not as good as Persona 3 or 4 on PS2, but it can definitely hold its own against most of the crap that’s on the DS.

Zolos
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Zolos
7 years 2 months ago

It looks like a good SRPG if not spectacular. How does it compare to Fire Emblem and Disgaea? Easier and/or more rewarding?

I still haven’t found a SRPG to really sink my teeth in since Jean D’Arc. FFT:War of the Lions was impossible for me to complete without a guide which is something i really don’t like in games.

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