Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker Review

  • First Released May 5, 2015
  • 3DS
Heidi Kemps on Google+

Break it down.

Some of the best games for each console come out just as the systems are on their deathbed, cursed to be overlooked as people abandon the old to embrace new systems. Such was the case with Devil Survivor 2, a wonderful Nintendo DS strategic role-playing game that released in early 2012, just in time for shiny new 3DS offerings to overshadow its release. It’s taken its sweet time, but Devil Survivor 2 has now come to 3DS with a host of enhancements in tow. And by “enhancements,” I mean a lot more than just some 3D retroactively applied to an old game--Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker is essentially two games in a single package, both of which are terrific games in their own right.

The Devil Survivor games are strategy RPGs with a twist. Like many games of this sort, you move characters around a grid-based map, carefully utilizing turns and positioning to gain a tactical advantage over your foes. However, Devil Survivor adds another layer to this. Instead of just controlling a squad of individual units, each unit represents a team of three characters. When combat is initiated, the view switches to a battle screen where you choose commands for all of your characters. By cleverly exploiting enemy weaknesses and targeting vital parts of teams, you can earn extra combat turns to perform additional actions. But the enemies can also do the same to you, which can be devastating when you encounter hordes of fiercer foes.

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Careful decision-making is a must at all times. Do you target the weaknesses of the flanking troops to get extra turns or go for the tougher leader to take down the whole squad at once? Will attacking an easy mark put you in range of something more dangerous? Should you substitute in weaker demon companions to earn bonuses like added range and movement? There’s a tremendous amount of depth to the combat, and it’s put to the test in some of the best boss fights of the genre. In these battles, you’re faced with terrifying, all-powerful beings who possess attacks that can absolutely decimate you--fierce long-range fire cannons, repeated multi-hitting strikes, multiple parts that regenerate after a set amount of turns--and you truly have to use your wits to figure out just how to take them down. Fortunately, you can use an infinite number of free battles to strengthen your team, along with access to an auction site for demon contracts and a function to fuse demons into even stronger forms. You need to make heavy use of these to succeed.

The game is split into two scenarios: the Septentriones and the Triangulum. You choose the scenario you want when you start the game. The Septentriones scenario is essentially the entire original game, tasking you and your friends in Tokyo with surviving and quelling a world-rending disaster with the aid of a mysterious demon-summoning phone app. The Triangulum scenario picks up after the end of the Septentriones story, restarting the cycle of destruction, despair, and chaos with a new set of cosmic invaders in a world that’s been transformed in some very significant ways. What is the meaning of the almighty beings and the all-consuming forces attacking mankind? Can the seemingly endless cycle of destruction ever be halted? You must answer those questions during these two quests.

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Because the original game is more than three years old at this point, you’ll probably want to jump into the Septentriones scenario first if you haven’t played it for a while--or at all. Veterans will immediately see some significant changes here. The first is the difficulty selection, which offers you both easy (“Blessed”) and hard (“Apocalypse”) settings. (The original game only had a single difficulty setting, which roughly corresponds with Record Breaker’s Apocalypse setting.) You can switch difficulty levels on the fly, which is a nice touch--this allows you to do things like grind easy optional battles to build up your demon army’s skills while saving the big challenges for the crucial story fights. The other major addition is full voice-over for nearly every line in the game that’s not spoken by the lead (whose words you always control via a menu during conversations). Devil Survivor 2 may have the most voicework I’ve yet heard in a 3DS game, and it’s very impressive, with some standout performances for characters like the hero’s awkward, uneasy BFF Daichi and egalitarian organizer Ronaldo.

The Septentriones scenario itself is lengthy, taking around 50 hours to complete--and that doesn’t take into account the four different endings you can acquire by making different choices and taking sides with certain characters. It’s familiar territory if you’ve played Devil Survivor before, but the big draw in Record Breaker--the Triangulum scenario--is not just a tacked-on afterstory. Taking place after the “true ending” of Devil Survivor 2, it’s both a direct follow-up and an alternate universe story to the Septentriones plotline (given what happens at the end of that particular scenario). The cast of heroes reunites to face an all-new threat in a world that is both the same and very different: characters have different backgrounds, someone very important is missing, and a strange new person has taken their place. On top of that, your companions have recurring nightmares about pasts they don’t quite remember and visions of strange things happening to the hero’s body. While it’s not quite as long as the original quest, it’s still quite lengthy--I clocked in at about 35 hours on my Triangulum playthrough. Much like the Septentriones quest, there are also three possible endings, so you’ll be playing for a while if you want to see everything.

There’s a tremendous amount of depth to the combat, and it’s put to the test in some of the best boss fights of the genre.

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The addition of the Triangulum story elevates Record Breaker from the rest of the intergeneration re-releases that have become popular in the market as of late. While most games are content to offer just an HD (or, in this case, a 3D) upscale, the developers of Record Breaker created what’s essentially an entire second game for this package. While that’s impressive and commendable, it’s brought down a bit by the fact that there’s not really much new in terms of gameplay in the second half--you’re controlling (mostly) the same cast with the same traits, fusing similar demons to what you had before, and fighting similar enemies. There are a few new bosses, which offer some exceptionally challenging and satisfying fights, but for the most part, it’s just more Devil Survivor 2. That’s not a terrible thing, given that the core game is so solid, but it’s still a smidge disappointing given just how much went into creating a whole new story for the game.

The other major issue is that the requirements for getting the “true endings” are too obtuse in both scenarios. While a few very clear paths lead to obvious conclusions, just getting the option to see the “best” endings requires you to make a lot of correct choices and talk to the right people at the right times. If you mess up just once, sorry buddy, better luck next time. The presence of only five save slots doesn’t really help either, especially if you want to run both scenarios. By the time I understood the requirements for getting the true ending in the Triangulum story, every save I had was at a point where it was impossible to go back.

When it comes down to it, though, these complaints seem relatively minor. Devil Survivor 2, in both the original and Record Breaker incarnations, is a great strategy RPG, delivering a potent mix of intense, brilliantly designed combat and a fantastic, endearing cast of fellow survivors. If you missed out the first time around, you should absolutely hop on board for this extended trip to the Apocalypse. If you’re coming back for seconds, you’ll have a terrific time welcoming our new Triangulum overlords with Megido blasts right to their stupid geometric faces.

Heidi Kemps on Google+
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The Good

  • Characters and dialogue are appealing and engaging
  • Collecting, raising, and fusing demons is as enjoyable as ever
  • Clever battles with unique twists that test your skills
  • A second quest that’s essentially a whole new game

The Bad

  • Not much new in terms of gameplay in the Triangulum story
  • Requirements to get the “true endings” are too obtuse

About the Author

Has it really been three years since the original Devil Survivor 2’s release? Heidi thought she remembered every detail her original outing, but replaying the Septentriones scenario in Record Breaker brought back a lot of memories. Also, she still giggles when she hears characters say “Saiduq” because she imagines an all-powerful Pokemon.