Once upon a time, the Shin Megami Tensei series took us on a journey to a Japan locked in a crisis destined to end the world within a week. The lives of many characters were covered as the world progressively melted down into a state of chaos, with the final ending changing based on the actions of the player. This game, Devil Survivor, was so good that Atlus decided to do it all over again with Devil Survivor 2. While this sequel may not stray far from its predecessor, it improves upon it while retaining everything that made the original such a powerful game.
At the start, you’re hanging with your best friend Daichi. You meet a good looking girl from your school, Io, at the train station. All seems normal... until a terrible earthquake destroys the station and demons attack. This begins the demon epidemic that takes over all of Japan, plunging the world into madness. Along the way, the mysterious website Nicaea will send video clips of people dying, challenging you to save them from their impending death. This is basically the same story as the previous entry, but it's still an interesting scenario that is well developed throughout the game.
Despite using the same basic premise, Devil Survivor 2 does feature a brand new story, a new cast of characters, and new events. The game takes on all of Japan as its setting (the original focused on Tokyo), establishing the severity of the demon crisis. Your interactions with the various characters affect everything; even the most mundane of choices can change the dialogue of a future scene. Devil Survivor 2 adds the Fate system, which is similar to Persona’s Social Link system in that bonding with your fellow survivors increases their Fate ranking and allows for new bonuses, such as new demons to fuse and resistances to certain attacks. The Fate system rankings are just part of the many decisions that will determine how the story unfolds. Each action during the game takes up thirty minutes of time. Events must be carefully managed throughout the week, or else you may miss out on important scenes or, even worse, miss the chance to save playable characters from their doom.
By the end, you will have invested so much into these characters, heard their stories, watched how they’ve changed as society collapses that you’ll feel for them, and no doubt be affected by what happens to them in whichever ending you end up with. There are many possible endings in Devil Survivor 2, so if your initial play through ended on a somber note, try again, making different choices to change the final result.
In battle, each character on the battlefield is a team leader who has two demons flanking him/her/it to make up the full unit. Defeating all three opponents nets you the most experience, but defeating the team leader immediately ends the battle and removes the unit from the battlefield. This trade-off looms over every confrontation; do you beat every opponent in sight to power yourself up more quickly, or focus on defeating the team leaders and ensuring survival?
The combat itself is focused on exploiting weaknesses. During battle, you can see the resistances and weaknesses for each opponent. To defeat them quickly, you must attack their weak points before they take advantage of your own. Acquiring new abilities does not occur through leveling up. Instead, you use the Skill Crack feature to select which new abilities you want each of your party characters to crack, and if they defeat the selected enemy, the ability is added to your repertoire. New to this process is the Joint Skill Crack, which allows the main character to share any crack with a character that has a Fate level of two or higher. This allows the main character to crack multiple abilities in one battle, making Skill Cracking far less tedious than it could sometimes be in the first Devil Survivor.
New demons are acquired through the Auction House. Demons offer their services for the highest bidder, and your hard earned Macca will be spent to make sure that highest bidder is you. The auction system has changed for Devil Survivor 2. Estimated bids for each of your opponents will be shown before the timer starts. Once the auction is underway, a facial cue will pop up indicating whether the bidder is confident (higher than the projection), indifferent (about the same as the projection), or troubled (lower than the projection). The cues are your hint to determine what your bid will be. After you win, the demon may ask you for more Macca. Accept and you may even get a kickback from the demon. Decline, and you risk upsetting the demon and having it abandon you entirely. Special auctions will sometimes occur, where demons can be had at a cheaper price and have extra skills that they would normally not know. These auctions work like the original’s auction house; opposing bidders outbid each other in a live auction, with a final bid session occurring if more than one bidder remains.
But winning demons in the Auction House will not be enough to create a powerful team. To get the most out of your demons, you must fuse them together. Demon fusion creates demons with higher stats than available at auction, as well as inheriting skills from each demon used in the process. You can create powerful demons with great attacks, healing spells, and skills, such as raising critical hit rate, increasing life or magic, and resisting, nullifying, or reflecting certain elements.
Add-Ons are new to the series and allow the newly fused demons to have increased stats, an increased level, or even abilities not known by either of the “parent” demons. They allow you to customize your demons in a way that could not be done in the original game, making your party of demons truly feel like they're your own.
Graphically, the game looks just like its predecessor. In fact, some character models (mainly the civilians) are taken right from the first game. That said, there have been some light touch ups for Devil Survivor 2 and the game looks impressive even with the lack of changes. This is a textbook case of not changing what isn’t broken.
Music in this game draws you into each scene, getting progressively more dramatic and somber as the world tumbles into chaos. The characters convey the terrible situation they're in, but the music makes it all hit home. Many will point to the lack of voice acting as a disappointment, but the original release ofDevil Survivor didn't have voice acting. Only the 3DS port, Devil Survivor Overclocked was voiced. The game doesn't lose any of its power without voice and should not be written off simply because the words stay on the screen and do not come out of the speakers.
My first playthrough of the game took me about 30 hours, which may seem short for an RPG, but everything that was packed into those 30 hours was exceptional. With numerous different endings to a deep and involved story, you will want to play through the entire game again to see how new choices change the fate of the world. Each playthrough may not be 100 hours, but each one is deep and engaging and the time soon adds up.
Devil Survivor 2 is more of the same, so those who did not like the original will not be convinced by the sequel. However, Atlus has improved upon the already-excellent original title and refined it so that the series is firing on all cylinders. Even in its twilight, the two screened wonder continues to improve its excellent game library. This is not just one of the aging handheld's best RPGs, it's one of its best games, period.