Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Review

Enthralling combat and a potent story make Devil Survivor 2 a great strategy role-playing game.

The original Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor was one of the sleeper hits of 2009, endearing itself to many players thanks to its brilliant blend of story, in-depth strategy, and fun collection elements. Though the original Devil Survivor saw a rerelease on the 3DS, the sequel returns to the older DS hardware that spawned it. But just because the platform might be aging doesn't mean that a game is less impressive; in fact, Devil Survivor 2 has such a captivating story and enticing combat that you won't care which system it's on.

You'd think the world were ending if you saw this on the street, too.

Devil Survivor 2's story follows the intrepid young hero (you choose the name), a normal high school senior just trying to pass his college entrance exams in modern-day Tokyo. All the kids in class are going nuts over an underground website that can allegedly predict future deaths of people, which you sign up for out of morbid curiosity. It isn't long before you and two friends receive a creepy email on your cell phones containing a movie showing your own impending deaths. While you manage to dodge your predicted fates, a cataclysm seems to have struck, destroying much of Japan's infrastructure and leaving citizens in a panic.

Making things even worse are demons running rampant and terrorizing the masses. Fortunately, you and your friends have been mysteriously gifted with a demon summoning app on your phones to conjure up your own otherworldly minions. But as the death predictions you receive become more and more frequent and society collapses around you, you need to not only excel in combat, but make wise life-or-death decisions to determine the fate of your friends--and even the world itself.

The story is excellent, filled with drama, tension, and interesting characters that you form a strong attachment to over the course of many hours of play. While the original Devil Survivor took place strictly in central Tokyo, Devil Survivor 2 has you traveling across the whole of Japan to many of the country's famous locales, adding some variety and local flavor to your team's ongoing quest for the truth behind the madness. This expansion of the game's world helps establish the scope of the calamity that has taken place. It's more than just a localized disaster; it's something that has worldwide repercussions. It isn't a linear tale, either: you often have choices about where to go and what to do. These choices can have a variety of effects, from simply strengthening your relationship with a companion character (and thus increasing his or her combat ability), to altering story sequences that can affect the game's ending.

Are you my mommy?

As superb as the story is, the combat is the meat of Devil Survivor 2. The core elements of these sequences are largely the same as in the original Devil Survivor. Characters take turns moving around a map along a square-based grid. When an enemy unit is in range, an attack can be initiated. The game then switches to a screen like that of a traditional turn-based role-playing game, where your group of three characters (a human leader and two demon allies) faces off against a similarly constructed team.

Each character in combat chooses what sorts of actions he or she wants to perform, be it physical attacks, magic skills, or other support-driven actions. Based on your choices (and a little bit of luck), you can potentially earn extra attack turns that let you get in some bonus strikes or recovery/support actions. But everything you can do, the enemy can do as well--and sometimes you're up against foes that have some downright brutal tricks up their sleeves. There's a tension to combat with even basic foes, since a few ill-advised choices can leave the enemy taking advantage of you. Even figuring out which member of a team to attack first is laden with strategy: taking out a team's leader fells an entire team, but leaders with teammates still alive take far less damage and yield less experience and money when defeated.

While you are always fighting in Devil Survivor 2, the skirmishes have a variety of goals, some of which can even change in mid-fight. Some battles simply ask you to eliminate all enemies, while others have you rescuing hostages or making sure foes don’t escape, among a myriad of other goals. While these varied objectives keep combat from growing stale, they also contribute to some serious fluctuations in the game's difficulty, because some objectives are much more challenging than others. This inconsistency can be frustrating at times, practically necessitating grinding in optional free battles to build levels in order to conquer the next story mission.

Maintaining good relationships with your friends yields benefits in and out of combat.

Another element that makes the game interesting is the broad variety of skills at your disposal. There are hundreds of demons (many new to this sequel) you can recruit in the game, each with a unique skillset and strength/weakness array. These companions can be acquired through a specialized auction house where the demons offer their companionship in exchange for money from the highest bidder. It's possible to get some fierce friends this way, but the most powerful demons come from fusion. When you combine two of your demon companions, you get a new fighter with a mix of abilities from the two characters. This allows demons to learn extremely useful and beneficial skills they wouldn't be able to obtain simply by leveling up.

Items can also be used during fusion to bestow skills and stat upgrades of your choosing, but since these items are removed after use, they must be used wisely. The complexity of demon fusion seems overwhelming at first, but a tremendously helpful interface lets you easily look up which demons you need to monster-mash together to get a desired result. Creating your otherworldly army and dividing it into two teams plays into the game's deep mix of strategy, but the human characters can be extensively customized as well. While most human characters excel in set stats, you're free to set an array of learned skills on them as you please. Deciding which skills best benefit which characters--and their teams as a whole--is crucial to excelling in combat.

Travel to faraway places, meet interesting people, and perform strange rituals with them.

Devil Survivor 2 does a great job of building on the strong foundation its predecessor set, but it still retains one rather aggravating issue from the original. The game offers multiple endings, and choices made and actions taken at the beginning of the game can have a serious effect down the line. You might find yourself saved into a corner you can't get out of if you're not very careful. You can even get characters killed off permanently by taking too much time or making the wrong decisions during story scenes, and some of those choices don't offer obvious consequences. A bit more transparency to the game's consequences would have been ideal. If you want a perfect playthrough, you're best off keeping multiple save files across various points so you can return to one if you make a critical mistake.

Even if you just play through to see where the story takes you, however, Devil Survivor 2 is a great game. Combat is strategy-laden and engaging; amassing and preparing your demon companions is loads of fun; and the story is filled with memorable characters and set pieces that keep your eyes glued to the dual screens. With multiple endings and story paths, there's also a considerable amount of replay value, making this a nigh-irresistible package for any genre fan. It may be tailor-made for older hardware, but Devil Survivor 2 is every bit as excellent an experience as the best of its higher-powered brethren.

The Good
Masterful combat system with lots of depth.
Great story with multiple endings
Demon fusion system is improved over the original
Ever-changing variety of combat objectives keeps you on your toes
The Bad
It's still too easy to make major, game-altering mistakes
Difficulty spikes considerably in certain fights
Lack of stylus support in combat is irritating
8.5
Great
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32 comments
Crok425
Crok425

Actually, it is a good thing to easy make a mistake in an altering-game choices. I mean, if it was like Persona then that would be bad because in Persona you can change the ending in just one part of the game. In the case like Devil Survivor, it's like Shin Megami Tensei where you change the ending throughout the game.

nate1222
nate1222

Games like this are exactly why I own a DS.

Sunuva22
Sunuva22

fun and addictive hopefully somebody posts alternative endings on youtube. lol I remember getting the worst ending in the last Devil Survivor game my teammates were just going crazy I actually thought they would continue off of the last game in number 2 but the story in this one is still great

advocacy
advocacy

Truth be told, this game has a better story than Mass Effect 3.

singhellotaku
singhellotaku

I need to go back and finish Devil Survivor 1 one of these days.

Feryraiser
Feryraiser

I am so loving this game, I started playing on Friday and I'm already 15 hours in and I'm loving every single moment of it. Great game!

noah364
noah364

If it is "every bit as excellent of an experience as the best of its higher-powered brethren," then why did it get a lower score?

Dragard_Kaos
Dragard_Kaos

@desperate001 I wouldn't recommend waiting for a 3DS version... It would take a few years, IF they decide to even do it. I'd just buy it now, while you still can.

desperate001
desperate001

As much as I need to own this now, should I wait for a possible and/or eventual 3DS enhanced version as with the first game?

Ka3DX
Ka3DX

@fireboltDS what are you talking about? it's on the main pages top 10 right now and on top of the DS pages top 10 as well.

FireboltDS
FireboltDS

@soulless4now Probably gamespot's morons don't think the NDS is worth of attention now

soulless4now
soulless4now

Nice to see this game get a good score, but I also wonder why this didn't show on the main page. GS might be playing a game of "favorites" again.

RealHarry
RealHarry

The Atlus team deserves so much more success and recognition than it's getting right now, releasing ridiculously good RPGs consistently. And why has this review been overlooked on the main page. I didn't even know it was getting released.

Techmaster666
Techmaster666

"The Bad" for this game are actually "The Good" to me. 1) You don't make mistakes, but you won't get the ending you want automatically, you'll have to finish it more times for that; 2) Difficulty spikes, in a world in wich you can finish a game half-afk it's a pro; 3) No stylus? This is a DS game not cos of the stylus, but rather because software houses think they won't sell on "TV-consoles" unless the game has an amazing graphic. One of the best DS games since... Devil Survivor 1.

GamerYnoX
GamerYnoX

I'm in love with Altus. Most of their games are a must for me. Announce Persona 5 and you've made my day.

Stealth_Knight_
Stealth_Knight_

another top japanese rpg. Not really suprising that awesome machine keeps turning

GunBladeHero
GunBladeHero

Maybe the only DS game I will get this year. Oh wait, Pkmn Black and White 2 was announced.

Hurvl
Hurvl

"Are you my mommy" Dr Who reference?

ShinMegamiLouka
ShinMegamiLouka

Just like P4 for the PS2 this game is the last great game for the DS.A great closure.

nate1222
nate1222

Games like SMT Devil Survivor (and SMT DS2) make me glad I own a Nintendo DS.

red-ray
red-ray

DS is not dead, not yet.

spetz_naz_basic
spetz_naz_basic

"... some of those choices don't offer obvious consequences. A bit more transparency to the game's consequences would have been ideal." It seems developers can't win. Offer clear-cut and transparent choices like inFamous and Mass Effect did and that element of your game gets derided as shallow or "laughable" (inFamous 2 review). Take away the certainty of consequences - i.e. make it more realistic - and it becomes "aggravating" because you can't get a "perfect playthrough" the first time. It shouldn't even be a point of criticism either way. It's really a matter of taste whether less transparent decision making is a good thing. In any case, I'll definitely check this one out after I finish DS1.

nunchuk28
nunchuk28

Definitly gonna get this as soon as I can, I loved the original!

elbert_b_23
elbert_b_23

the game is great just like the first one

JustPlainLucas
JustPlainLucas

Never checked out this games before. Wish I had the time. Maybe when this gets released for the 3DS I'll look into it.

fafdsfr
fafdsfr

@desperate001 They revamped the 1st game in Overclocked, so it's entirely likely they'll revamp this in Break Record. If you're willing to wait for... based on the wait between Japan's release and the US release and the current date... about a year, then go ahead and wait.

@Dragard_Kaos Break Record is announced for Fall 2013 in Japan. It took 7 months for the original DS2 to localize here.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 More Info

  • Released
    • DS
    Devil Survivor 2 is the sequel to the award-winning RPG/SRPG hybrid.
    8.7
    Average User RatingOut of 111 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    ATLUS
    Published by:
    ATLUS, Ghostlight
    Genres:
    Role-Playing
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    All Platforms
    Alcohol Reference, Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence