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.
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.
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.
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.
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.