The demon is in the details
Throughout my life, I’ve had something of a complicated relationship with strategy-RPGs. In concept, the idea of an epic storyline told through a series of meaningful, challenging battles (instead of a flood of mindless random encounters) seems right up my alley. In practice, too many examples of the genre end up boring me with their overdeveloped narratives, bloated character rosters, and combat engines that can negate 20-plus minutes of effort after one tiny mistake on the part of the player. To get me into these games, I need something more—some hook, some quality I simply can’t ignore.
When Atlus decided to try its hand at crafting a new SRPG series set in its Shin Megami Tensei world, it found my weakness, and I was forced to pay attention. The result of the developer’s efforts—Devil Survivor—still very much followed in the footsteps of previous genre entries, as grid-based battles broke up conversations between characters, ones where the player would move all of their teammates and perform planned-out action, then wait as whatever was left of the enemy forces would take turns of their own. Of course, everything was then infused with that trademark Atlus flair, as everyday teenagers gained the power to communicate with and summon demons, square off against rogue monsters in first-person battles, and try to survive as the real world around them slipped into the surreal.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 continued that tradition of trying to offer a twist on the SRPG genre when it released on the DS back in 2012, and now, we receive that continuation of the series refreshed and renewed for the 3DS in Record Breaker. Much like the previous DS-to-3DS conversion Atlus put together in Devil Survivor: Overclocked, this is the original game brought to Nintendo’s current handheld, given a few additional features such as selectable difficulty, a vast amount of voice acting throughout the adventure, some revised UI, and a bonus chunk of content.
Unfortunately, it’s hard not to be a bit underwhelmed by the effort put into this re-release. What we’ve been given beyond Devil Survivor 2’s original contents are definitely nice, but—much like Overclocked—there’s always the feeling that Atlus could’ve put more effort into the presentation. For example, most of the game takes places on the 3DS’ lower screen, a perfectly sensible decision back on the original DS (with its two screens of equal size and shape), but one that seems awkward here as the bigger, 3D-capable main screen so often goes underutilized. Sure, it probably would’ve been considerably more effort for the team to rework the game to properly run on the 3DS’ top screen, but even if that change had only come during conversation segments, it would’ve gone a long way to make this re-release feel more modern.
Devil Survivor 2 – Record Breaker still has a lot to offer, however, due to its most important offering: the game itself. After the original game found success among both longtime MegaTen fans and newcomers alike, the team at Atlus produced a follow-up that improved on its predecessor while also adding in new ideas. This was, and still is, an engrossing and satisfying SRPG experience from beginning to end—one that’s challenging but never unfair, rich in gameplay but never overwhelming, and complex in story without ever being too hard to follow. Returning concepts like Extra Turn (the ability for party members to gain additional actions during a single round of attacks, similar in concept to Atlus’ long-running Press Turn mechanic), Skill Crack (gaining new skills by stealing them from demons during combat), and demon auctions continue to help Devil Survivor 2 stand out from its competition, while new features like the Fate System—where you can build up your relationship with other characters to improve and expand their abilities—bring in a touch of the MegaTen brand’s most popular offering, Persona.
An SPRG has to be more than just a series of well-crafted fights, of course, and while Devil Survivor 2 definitely has the combat thing down, it also does a bang-up job in its quieter, more narrative-driven moments. The cast of characters here is even better than that of the first game (once they find their footing), and you want to see what happens to those guys and gals next as you try to figure out what exactly is going on around them. In many ways, Record Breaker is the superior to Overclocked in this regard—but it also, at times, feels like a game that can never escape the shadow of its predecessor. (Once again, we venture along with a cast of high schoolers who have suddenly, and mysteriously, been trapped in a half-destroyed Tokyo, and many of the faces we meet along the way feel strangely similar to those we encountered in the first Devil Survivor.)
Storyline is also the place where Record Breaker justifies itself over its previous DS release. For this reworked version of Devil Survivor 2, Atlus has included a new scenario called “The Triangulum.” This builds off one of the original story’s endings, and players get what amounts to a direct pseudo-sequel to the main scenario, continuing the game and adding an impressive amount of gameplay, new content, additional twists, and length (around half the runtime of the main storyline, dependent, of course, on your personal playstyle). Even better, you can jump directly into The Triangulum right from the very beginning, a most welcome option for those who’ve already experienced the main portion of Devil Survivor 2.
Is this new chunk of content enough to give players reason to double dip if the original Devil Survivor 2 currently sits on their game shelf? Quite possibly—especially if you’re eager for more of Atlus’ take on SRPGs and don’t want to wait however long it might take for us to get a third chapter in the franchise. I think this release’s true value, though, comes for those who have never played the original game, something that’s quite possible given how late in the DS’ life it appeared. If that’s you, then Devil Survivor 2 – Record Breaker is a better and far bigger version of what was already a pretty fantastic strategy RPG.
|Developer: Atlus • Publisher: Atlus • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.05.2015|
While Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker isn’t the full 3DS remake some might hope, it’s still a bigger, better version of what was already a fantastic, engrossing strategy-RPG twist on Atlus’ beloved demon-summoning series.
|The Good||A stellar strategy RPG given a second chance and a beefy amount of new content.|
|The Bad||Feels a little too similar to the original Devil Survivor at times; wish this reworking took more advantage of the 3DS’ hardware.|
|The Ugly||The back problems a number of Record Breaker’s female characters must have.|
|Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 – Record Breaker is available exclusively on Nintendo 3DS. Review code was provided by Atlus for the benefit of this review.|