If it weren’t for my colleague Drew (FrustratedFury), I never would have known about the Shin Megami Tensei series. After he convinced me to play through Persona 3 on the PSP, I was instantly hooked. It stuns me that I am only just now getting into the various MegaTen games (as they are affectionately known), and I feel like I’ve been missing out on a series that has innovated on the often-stale turn-based RPG genre.
Devil Survivor Overclocked is a port of the DS’s Devil Survivor, but features enhanced content along the lines of Atlus’s recent port of Persona 3 to the Playstation Portable. If you’ve never played Devil Survivor, this is certainly the version to get. If you have played it, though, you’ll need to determine if the additional story content is enough to draw you back.
Each of the MegaTen series plays differently, but they all carry a common theme of interacting and negotiating with demons. They share a nomenclature for magic that can be a bit daunting when you are used to the base/-a/-aga naming used in Final Fantasy. Strength and weakness information for allies and enemies is typically readily available, and the game rewards you for exploiting the gaps in your opponents’ defenses. The games usually focus on young people living in contemporary Japan that are inadvertently thrust into peril and must, first and foremost, save themselves.
At the outset of the game, the main character (MC) and his friends Yuzu and Atsuro are given portable gaming systems called Communication Players (COMPs, for short). These are no ordinary handhelds, though, as they have been modified to communicate with and employ the services of demons.
The MC’s COMP also has one additional feature. It allows him to see a number above the heads of anyone, indicating when they are going to die. Additionally, the heroes receive emails that predict the future. Only by facing their fates, overcoming countless enemies and unraveling the motivations of shadowy characters around them will they prolong their lives long enough to prevent a catastrophe that will take place one week from the outset of the story.
The story is extremely well written and, despite some over-the-top dialog, the voice acting helps drive home he intensity and terror that these young people feel knowing that they only have days to live. It’s easy to like your companions and, as with most other MegaTen games, the MC is designed to be a template for your own reactions to the scenarios. You’ll have the opportunity to respond to dialog and make decisions about where to spend your precious, limited time.
Throughout the game, you’ll need to move from location to location, listening to bystanders and talking with your teammates. Many activities are “free” in that they don’t cost any time, but often you’ll need to make hard decisions that will close off one path while opening another. You’ll also have the opportunity to participate in free battles that don’t take any time, but allow you to build your experience and stats. You’ll guide the MC’s stat progression, but your allies abilities will be determined by the AI.
Devil Survivor Overclocked will feel natural to anyone who has played even one MegaTen game, but the combat system is entirely unique, blending strategy-RPG movement around the field with turn-based RPG combat. Each human character can be assigned up to two demon partners. You can mix and match to create up to four well-rounded teams. When the battle starts, you’ll place your teams in the starting area, just like many other tactical RPGs. All of the action takes place on the lower screen, leaving the top for information display. From there, you can cast spells, and move your teams around the battlefield to engage enemy demon teams.
Once you do enter an engagement, the battle switches to a first person affair against up to three enemies, a leader in the center flanked by up to two minions. Your best bet is to take down the flankers first, because if the leader goes down, the remaining foes only provide half of the normal XP and Macca (demon currency). Each engagement only lasts one turn, unless a combatant earns an extra turn. These can be awarded for high agility stats, scoring critical hits or inflicting damage against an enemy’s weakness. Attacking against an enemy’s strength can lose an extra turn that you’ve earned. Planning your attacks carefully and ensuring you have a good balance of skills is the key to victory.
Early on in the game, bonuses will be introduced. You can earn extra Macca for surviving a fight without taking damage, defeating multiple enemies at once or scoring attacks against enemy weaknesses. That Macca is then translated into new demons in the auction house. There, you’ll have a slate of demons to bid on. Each time, there will be a purchase price if you would rather choose not to risk losing out. If you do decide to enter a bidding war, three AI bidders will work to defeat you. At the end of the limited bidding period, if there are multiple interested parties left, you’ll have the opportunity to enter one final bid. The high bid walks away with the demon- unless you decide not to pay. Yes. You can win an auction and choose not to pony up the Macca. It isn’t advisable as successful, paid bids up your auction rating, opening the door for a wider variety of demons to choose from.
Additionally, you can earn new demons by fusing existing stock. You can choose which skills the resulting demon will inherit to create the best mix of active, passive and racial abilities. Demons can also learn new skills from their human partners with Magnetite, which is also earned from battles.
Speaking of learning new skills, another layer of strategy involves Skill Cracking. At the start of the battle, you can pick a skill for each human to target. If that human’s team defeats the enemy that knows the skill, the human learns it. This provides a deep customization system that allows you to tune each of your human characters to your preference.
With regard to the game’s visuals, the tactical battle screen is fairly rudimentary. The character models are sprites, similar to other tactical RPGs including Final Fantasy Tactics. The turn-based battle sequences are also very simple with minimal animations. The simplicity works thanks to the rich color palette and the continuity of the art style throughout the vastly different graphical representations of contemporary Tokyo.
From an audio perspective, the game maintains the J-Pop stylings that permeate most MegaTen games, while featuring solid voice acting and an enjoyable score beneath the game’s dramatic moments. The sound effects are also competently designed, though some of the sounds that demons make can become grating.
One thing I must note is that Devil Survivor Overclocked makes very sparing use of the system’s 3D functionality. The opening movie, fusion sequences, and a few other moments actively use the feature. Otherwise, the game is purely two-dimensional. Depending on how you feel about 3D, this is could be a plus or a minus.
Somehow, despite the complexity, Devil Survivor Overclocked manages to remain accessible throughout. That’s not to say that it isn’t challenging, because it most certainly is. Rather, defeat never seems unfair. Both enemies and allies adhere to the rules of the MegaTen universe to create a more level playing field than you find in most RPGs. While you could certainly play Devil Survivor on the DS, if you do have a 3DS, this is the version to own. With additional 8th Day content that wraps up the story, multiple difficulty levels, additional demons, full voice-acting and visuals that take full advantage of the 3DS’s power, Atlus has another winning port on their hands.
Review copy provided by publisher.