Surviving the End of the Nintendo DS
Though not my first foray into the Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series, SMTIV came along, and as is often the case with games of its caliber, it got me jonesing for more. I had just completed Soul Hackers a couple of months before that, and I had also played Strange Journey and Persona 3 when they each released. My appetite for the series was growing, and with the addition of voiceovers, a demon compendium, and additional gameplay and demons, Overclocked was looking a whole lot better to me than it had previously.
One of the things that initially attracted me to Devil Survivor was its hybrid combat. You move around a grid map a la a typical SRPG, but actual battles are much the same as they are in other mainline SMT games: first-person, turn-based, with some semblance of the Press Turn system. On the Normal difficulty, you will probably need to replay Free Battle missions on occasion in order to earn enough experience and macca to get the demons you want and the skills you need, but if you exploit enemy weaknesses properly and use sound strategy, progress is steady and enjoyable.
That being said, my first attempts at the game were hampered by the nature of the gameplay. I went in thinking to approach it like Final Fantasy Tactics or the like, and that's not really at all how Devil Survivor plays. It can be confusing at first, but the Overclocked version comes with minor tweaks that have a surprisingly big impact on the game's approachability.
The voice work has been a big help in keeping me interested in the story and dialogue. Some of the voice actors may seem a bit out of place for their characters, or perhaps the voice acting simply isn't stellar in some cases – not to mention there are some minor leaps in the story set-up – but considering it as a presentation for a video game, Devil Survivor tells an engrossing tale.
Progression is quite fresh when compared to other games like it. It's not a simple matter of fight a few battles, take on a boss, rinse and repeat. You have a set number of days to survive the lockdown, and the story unfolds with organic pacing. You'll get caught up in the lives of other characters, with some even joining the fray as you progress.
I dig the fact you can't do everything in a single playthrough, too, and if you enjoy the game and want to see all of its branching paths, you can zip through NG+ with the levels and demons you've earned. It's a smart system that lets you mine the package for all its value without burning you out on the experience.
And if you're not sure what it is that justifies calling this a Shin Megami Tensei game outside of the demons and spell names, rest assured it comes complete with many of the trappings fans love from the series' games. Of course, you won't be conversing with demons in order to recruit them; the Devil Auction takes place of that. But you will be fusing to create new, more powerful demons, and it's as addictive as ever. Also, though they don't call it the "Press Turn" system here, hitting enemy weaknesses and landing critical hits sets you up to earn additional turns in battle. Agility also factors into extra turns, and of course, it works both ways for your party and the demons. Hit a demon with a spell they drain, nullify, etc. and you may end up giving them an extra turn instead. It's the same great risk/reward combat that makes SMT gameplay so damned fun.
I haven't tried the Easy difficulty (which I believe is new to the Overclocked version), but the Normal difficulty feels perfectly balanced. The game's challenging, but like other games in the series, it doesn't require heavy grinding if you make the most of the mechanics at your disposal.
Visually, it's still quite worthy of the 3DS. I wish the sprites animated more in battle like they do in other SMT games, but the map sprites look particularly awesome and animate quite well. The battle locales, though, are definitely my favorite thing to look at. There's a lot of detail, and everything has a very authentic vibe to it. The conversation art is handsome and colorful, and battle animations are exciting yet snappy. A lot of folks complain about long, drawn-out attack animations in RPGs, and you simply won't have to worry about that here.
A minor criticism, though: there are all these locations you can visit, and even occasionally someone will offer you macca if you simply listen to what folks are saying in the area. But mostly these places are lifeless locales that offer sparse, fairly unimportant information and dialogue outside of the main story events and battles that take place there. I appreciate that SMT touch of showing more and more of Tokyo as the game progresses, but it would have been nice had there been something to actually see and do in these places when you click on them.
Devil Survivor's music and sound effects are obviously a highlight. The game follows more in the hip footsteps of games like Soul Hackers and Persona, rather than the daunting and/or brooding themes of Strange Journey. It's a welcome change of pace after you've trudged through the much darker Toyko of SMTIV for close to 200 hours.
Sound effects for spells and critical attacks have great punch, and though I think Atsuro's voice actor is a weird pairing for his youthful character, he and most of the other voice actors do a bang-up job. I have to give a special mention to Yuzu's voice actress who truly captures the immature yet loveable character she portrays. You'll often feel sorry for and annoyed by Yuzu, in no small part due to the excellent delivery.
All in all, I'm really glad I came back to this one. There was nothing I disliked about it the first couple of times I tried it; it just didn't grip me at the time, and I had a sense I wasn't quite following everything properly in terms of gameplay. A boatload of SMT games later, and I was much better able to enjoy this really tight, really fun adventure that is chock full of content and replay. The music is ear candy, the visuals are an otaku feast, and the game even comes with one of Atlus' famous (and probably their last) fat, colored instruction manuals.
I don't know what the fate is of this company (at the time of this writing, Index's future is up in the air), but I sure hope it continues on and the Shin Megami Tensei universe sees many more great games like this one. If you've got a 3DS and haven't played it, definitely nab a copy asap. To me it's even worth a purchase if you've already played the DS version, but regardless, the Overclocked version is easily the "definitive version."
As a sort of footnote, there's minimal 3D in the game. This is mostly an enhanced port, not a remake. The opening movie looks cool in 3D, with some nice layering, and fusing shows a quick 3D animation, which is not as good. Truly, though, I stopped thinking about it soon into the game. I look forward to one day hopefully seeing a "built from the ground up for 3DS" entry in the series, with visuals perhaps on par with Fire Emblem Awakening, but Overclocked still more than holds its own in all other respects.