E3 06: Devil Summoner Hands-On Impressions

Demons abound in the latest Shin Megami Tensei title. Also, cute cats!

LOS ANGELES--The Shin Megami Tensei series continues to push the boundaries between the everyday and the occult, combining the two into crazy and wonderful worlds and storylines. Devil Summoner is the latest title in the series, and it seems as though we're in for another long ride into the bizarre, which is always a good thing. We picked up the Japanese PS2 demo at the E3 Atlus booth to see what's on offer this time around.

The main character, Raidou, cuts a dashing figure in the black uniform of a Japanese policeman, complete with cloak, cap, and katana (dating his outfit to a bit earlier in history). We started the demo off in an office of some sort, speaking with a man behind a desk. The Shin Megami Tensei influence on this world was evident almost immediately, as one of the figures in the conversation was revealed to be Gouto, a sleek black cat. Talking cats are the least of the unusual things that can crop up in Atlus' occult RPG series, and this theory was borne out in practice as we stepped outside and onto city streets.

Crowds wandered past in mixed groups of Western and traditional dress, some of the women drifting by in kimonos. We were able to target and speak to some scattered individuals, though the conversation didn't immediately seem to get anywhere. Then Gouto tossed Raidou a suggestion about how to possibly wring more information out of someone, and we used a menu to summon a demon, right there in the middle of town. Apparently, either demons are a common occurrence or the townsfolk just plain couldn't see the sudden appearance of a floating, fiery jack-o'-lantern, as no one gave a moment's pause. We were then able to use the demon's fire magic on the man who had previously been stubbornly unhelpful, and (after a lot of extended burning and screaming), he finally gave up the goods.

A Polaroid photo then emerged of a mysterious young lady with straight, black hair and a somber expression. We started to canvas town for some additional information, jogging alongside the citizenry, when we got our next indication that the metropolis wasn't completely normal--we triggered a battle. The view then cut to a battlefield, but unlike previous Shin Megami Tensei games, which have been turn-based, we had free movement around the zone, as did our opponents. Combat actions were also completely real-time, and most basic commands were menu-free. Pressing the square button would cause Raidou to slice with his katana, the triangle button would make him fire a pistol (and consume ammunition), and the circle button could be used to block oncoming attacks. There was also a special attack we could trigger by pressing two of the buttons, in addition to being able to summon a demon to our aid. The demon wandered about the battlefield attacking completely of its own accord, and seemed to hold its own pretty well. The system is really easy to get a handle on, and we were quickly dispatching a variety of monsters with no trouble at all.

The look of the game bears the signature style of series artist Kazuma Kaneko--dark without being depressing, gothic without being garishly ornate, with plenty of sleek lines and eye-catching design that gives the characters a lot of personality and presence. If there's one thing we know, it's that we can never quite get enough Shin Megami Tensei, so keep watching this gamespace for more news on Devil Summoner.

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