I’m a big fan of the Megaten series. When opening my review copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, I was anxious to find out if it would be more like Nocturne (potential to have your ass handed to you) or Digital Devil Saga (demons and a damn good story) .Well, the answer is-both-and neither. If you happen to be a fan of the Megaten series, Nocturne in particular, then you won’t be disappointed with Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner , however the newest US release is a great game strictly on its own merits. The character design and the ability to capture saucy demons is reminiscent of Nocturne, however that’s where SMT: Demon Summoner parts ways.
Setting: 1920’s Japan. The story begins with main character Raidou Kuzunoha being initiated as the 14th person to take the title of Kuzunoha, Demon Summoner and protector of Japan. It is also a tutorial of sorts. Fast forward to Narumi Detective agency, where Raidou and Narumi are soon drawn into conspiracy involving demons, political intrigue, demons, and… the Soulless Army! Raidou sets out to solve this mystery with his fast talking cat Gouto, a sword, gun and a bevy of demons at his command.
The banter between Raidou and his companions is hilarious at times, and is definitely one of the best features of this game. A particular scene which Raidou must enter a bathhouse to gain information, stark naked for the exception of this hat (ESRB friendly of course)-well, you just have to play it. Demons encountered have a range of personalities, from surly, flirty, horny, tearful, etc. Some can even be encouraged to assist Raidou by plying them with wine and sake. I found the story more on the light side than the other SMT games I’ve played, however it’s just as intriguing.
The battle system in Megaten games can either make a player or break them. The Megaten series is not for the casual RPG level grinder, the battles are usually difficult and you can happen upon an enemy who can wipe your party out in one fell swoop if you’re character is of the wrong element (DDS in particular). I was curious at first how the new battle system would work, as Atlus scrapped the Press Turn for SMT:DDS and uses what I call an Active Battle system. When the battle begins, you can fire your gun (no free bullets… you must get them in battle or buy them- Boo!!) using either normal or element enhanced bullets, hack with your sword, and command your summoned demon to either attack with magic, heal you, assist you, or “leave it up to them”. The demon commentary can be hilarious at times- they’re fired up when you do well, they also won’t hesitate to tell you if you suck. I thought it rather cool that they rely on Raidou, and their dialogue relates directly to how Raidou behaves in battle. Hint: They don’t like being left alone to be beaten. Levelling is simple, you are free to level Raidou as you wish, the summons level in battle, however the raised stat is pre-determined, and they gain new abilities as they gain levels.
The handy thing is, Raidou is element neutral-so you won’t have any losing turns and/or getting the crap whacked out of you if ambushed by an opposite element. You do have to be mindful of your summoned demon’s element though-they do have weakness and will die quickly if left in the battle. Raidou can summon other demons at will in the middle of the battle though-however, it will cost you. If you attack a demon with its opposing element, it will become weak, and if the demon is not too high a level for Raidou to handle, it you can attempt to capture it by mashing the O button repeatedly. One demon even commented, “You sure can mash buttons fast!!”
Just watch the phases of the moon, if its full, no catchee demon. The battles in SMT:DS aren’t a chore, I enjoyed them, and they are not as difficult as previous SMT games. The encounter rate is nowhere near that of Nocturne or DDS.
While investigating, Raidou must speak to certain people to gather information, and the demon cohorts are useful here as well. The townspeople can’t see them either, its rather funny to see Raidou running through town with an enormous two headed dog in tow. Fire based demons can “ignite” to assist with memory, Pagan types can read minds, Volt based can inspect certain areas, etc. They can also go on “Solo” investigations, which they love. My little Volt based guy whips out his “Junior Detective Kit”-.Be careful though..your solo investigator will be attacked, and if he’s a low level, will most likely be killed if unable to flee in time.
Don’t worry though, if a favorite companion dies, you can get them back. SMT:DS allows you to register the demons, so that if they die in battle, or are used in a sacrifice or fusion, you can obtain the same demon using points gained in battles.
Another interesting and addicting feature of SMT:DS, is Demon Fusion. You can fuse demons using Binary method (2 current = 1 new creation), or sacrifice one to make an existing demon stronger. You could literally spend hours playing with fusion, and creating stronger companions will make Raidou’s battles much easier.
The character design another reason Megaten stands out from other RPGs. Fans of the series will recognize Kazuma Kaneko’s handiwork. No spikey haired heroes here. The designs are sleek and fit appropriately into the time period and story. The period clothing designs in particular are quite good.
Speaking of time period, the backgrounds in cities, towns, and shrines have a picture-like feel, and offer a spectacular rendition of 1920’s Japan. The movement does not take place in a 3-D environment, instead the backgrounds are pre-rendered which works well, as the nothing suffers graphically while Raidou moves.
My only complaint is a lack of save points in some areas. I’m not one of those whiney- whiney give me a save point every two steps types..however, an RPG player knows that it really stinks to lose over an hour and a half’s worth of leveling characters wasted due to being killed on the way to the save point-on the other side of town-.
The soundtrack is appropriate to the game, and has a Lupin-esque “detective game” type intro. No tracks really stand out as mind blowing. No voice acting, for the exception of a couple of demons who grunt, squeak, and occasionally speak in battles. I can’t say I didn’t miss it as bad voice acting can really ruin an RPG. However, with the quality voice acting in SMT:DDS, perhaps SMT:DS would’ve been shown the same voice acting love. I really would like to have heard Raidou and Gouto speak.
The latest US release of Atlus’ long running Shin Megami Tensei series has enough of what we love about the series to keep it familiar, tosses in a new battle system and original story line to keep fans happy and perhaps gain some new fans to the series. Atlus games become hard to find rather quickly, and if history repeats itself, SMT:DS won’t be on the shelves long, grab it while you have the chance.