Oh JRPGs… you’re like cider… you lure me into your sweet lair with delicious promises of comfort, laughter and an easy-going time. Then…then…then it just goes horribly wrong. All the people begin to grind on my nerves with their frustratingly tedious tales, everything feels wonky and awkward and I have to fight people a lot to level up. Well, probably scratch the last one as alcohol makes me sleepy rather than fighty. Anyway, it usually both ends with me cradling a headache.
Well, the good news is I lack the headache of cider, the bad news is I also lack the merry cheer associated with it.
Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker, by Career Soft, is the latest JRPG in a long line of Shin Megami Tensei games. If you’re getting that weird fuzzy deja vu sensation staring at the name, that’s because it is a polished up version of the original DS title. You get extra demons, voice acting to the majority of characters including nameless NPCs (that while not great, very rarely makes me want to stab myself through the eardrum) and a brand new campaign.
I’m honestly finding myself in an odd position where I think those already familiar with Devil Survivor 2 will already know if the remake for the 3DS is their cup of tea and will excitingly throwing down money or will be waking away with a tired look in their eyes. To you, Devil Survivor 2 veterans, consider if getting voice acting and a new story set directly after the first one and roughly the same length sells you on it and pay according to what you believe is a good price for you. Aaahh, a delicious time-saver to those who already know what’s what.
To those who are clueless as to what Devil Survivor 2 is, it is a JRPG that uses mild strategic elements (i.e. positioning on a map) where you control four characters at a time on a map who each have up to two supporting demons. Rather than the demons biting your head off and sucking your innards out like a freezer pop, they will act as your team-mates due to a contract you’ve made with each one. They have their own moves they can do, health, mana and elemental affinities (i.e. what they’re strong or weak against).
One by one you pick a character to move on a board, use any out-of-combat abilities they have and throw yourself into combat with who you want. This then launches you into the second part of the gameplay, where you decide what to do on a turn with your character, and their two “friendly” demons (who, by the way, are totally not tonguing their lips in delight while staring at your jugular behind your back, don’t trouble yourself with that knowledge, it is fine).
Sometimes you can gain a singular extra turn due to your actions (e.g. hit someone with a weakness) or even steal them with the right ability. This comes without the odd stacking of extra turns that’d lead to an awkward combat purgatory where you beat a corpse forever and ever, time looping the clock like merry-go-round, trees blooming then dying, and even the odd tub of Marmite you bought on a whim going stale. So fortunately none of that! You get one extra serving of combat and that’s your lot! At least before reintroducing it again on someone else’s turn…
Now, here comes the twist: The characters and demons on either side separately take their turns in an unknown order. This can lead to insane moments where just before the enemy unleashes a torrent of fury onto everyone on your side, you manage to slide in with a quick kill.
That twist likely feels cool like accidentally leaving your game disc/cartridge in the freezer for a few hours. Instead it feels just cold and brittle. Imagine picking a fight and the enemy managing to decimate your team before you even got a moment to act; or even worse imagine an enemy picking a fight with you and doing it. It can be someone the same level, but through attacking your weaknesses before you can blink your demons have faded away and your character has lungs filled with blood. It isn’t to say this is necessarily unfair, as the enemy move set and elemental affinities are set out in the open for you to exploit, but it leaves a very unfriendly landscape that is unforgiving for those less confident.
While we’re on the combat subject, we should also talk about our previous friend: tactical positioning. In theory, it sounds fantastic and it might be a good introduction to those unfamiliar with it. However, for some it may be a bit too plain, like the strategic equivalent of chewing bread. Besides obstacle positioning (leading to multiple people ganging up on one enemy or bottle-necking) as well as the ability to do ranged attacks so the opponent can’t attack back, there isn’t anything there. No terrain concerns, zero in ally positioning creating interesting effects (e.g. two allies next to each other support each other to some degree) and not enough environmental manipulation to really feel substantial.
Fortunately, this game has choices. The non-intimidating kind that calmly asks you what you would like to do.
For a start, there are so many demons to pick from. Enough that it might actually earn its Record Breaker subtitle. Each one has its abilities, ability scores and affinities. You can either buy them at auctions or, better yet, fusion two demons into one unique one. This doesn’t just give you more and more choices but even gives you additional control of what each demon is made up of. You can decide to build your new demon up with the abilities of the old with the spaces you have left, like a less cruel form of eugenics, allowing you to keep the precise abilities you know and love and kicking to the curb those you just don’t care about.
Outside of combat, you also get some control of your destiny (also known as the story). Between hacking up demons, and sometimes humans because they can be awful too, you get to visit places to trigger events. Every time you do this you spend 30 minutes. This leads to situations where you want to be friends with everyone and level up their friendship levels (which makes them more powerful fighters) because you like them so much, but with a limited time you must pick who you prefer. On top of this, without spoiling, there are sometimes time specific events that can go awry and kill player characters if you arrive too late. This isn’t game-over. That character is dead, for good, and the story continues on with your failures left behind you.
My only problem with this part is that often these time specific events will continue the main story when activated. So if you arrive too late you kill the character, but too early you miss out on valuable bonding time. You’re usually not told when the deadline is, so it is total guess work. This does end up having an effect, as an ending or two do depend on everyone surviving while also having a particular friendship level (actually called Fate which eliminates some cheese of the mechanic). Although despite my singular issue, the time specific event system is wonderful as it allows you to have a reason to be friends with characters (at least beyond if you like them, which you’ll likely find someone you can get behind) while keeping it streamlined so you don’t end up drowning in backstory text.
The final score, thinking it through for those who are fresh to the party, is a 6/10. This game doesn’t really have any problems. Even the voice-acting, characters and the narrative are actually okay (well, except a really odd, forced moment at the beginning involving a friend signing you up on your phone to a website filled with videos of people dying). Even though within the JRPG genre these can be prone to catering to a… Specific audience. However, the positives aren’t quite impressive enough or in enough quantity to really get excited about. It is inoffensive, but I also find myself just being reminded of Shin Megami Tensei’s other descendant, Persona 4, or of fellow 3DS tactical RPG game Fire Emblem: Awakening. It wouldn’t draw new players into the JRPG fold, but it’ll sate the hunger of fans of the genre begging for something to fiddle with.
A 3DS copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker was provided by NIS America for the purpose of this review