Pyro Jack, I choose you!
I don't know who slipped the strong stimulants into the water at Atlus, but it's starting to feel like they're coding new entries to the Shin Megami Tensei series (SMT) overnight. I do believe this is the fourth game just on the PS2 to be released in the past seven hours. And weirdly enough, they all seem to be worth playing. If they can share whatever their secret is, we'd be floating in a sea of awesome for a long, long time!
[image1]Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2 – Raidou Kuzonoha versus King Abbadon (holy crap, the only other name that long belongs to one of those dogs at the Westminster Dog Show!) is the story of you, Raidou Kuzonoha the 14th, a Devil Summoner. Your goal as a summoner is to protect the Capitol of Japan from being overrun by the evils of the world. And not just from cheats, pickpockets, and evil geniuses, but from demons! The whole story is presented like a mystery, with each character investigating another bit of the puzzle to try and figure out just what's going on in this classic-yet-modernized city.
Visually, the game very much reminds me of PSOne-era Square titles like Parasite Eve and Final Fantasy VII: beautifully-painted backdrops, a stationary camera to display all of the action (which only adjusts in the heat of battle), and every character model (even the random NPCs floating around each city) is detailed as much as the PS2's processors can possibly handle... and amazingly, it never even seems to get taxed. The only time this game lags is when it first loads up after the save menu.
I've only played one other SMT title before this one, so I didn't know exactly what to expect regarding the battle system, but I was pleasantly surprised. The actual fights consist of using both your main character and two demons of your choice from the cast you collect backing you up. You can fight with only your character, or with a single demon, but it's just so much easier to have multiple minions at your beck and call. It almost seems similar to a Pokémon battle; each character (Jack Frost is the new Pikachu, bitches!) has their type, their strengths and weaknesses, and thus have to be played accordingly against whomever you might be fighting.
[image2]Like demonic RoShamBo. Kinda.
Demon fusion is also an important element of the game. Every demon can be fused with nearly every other to create a new demon, which can then be controlled in battle. It's really the only way to unlock some of the demons that can't see reason, or be negotiated with... oh yeah, the negotiations! This game actually allows you to try and talk things out with your adversary instead of fighting out your differences. You'll have to give up a little somethin'-somethin' to get on their good side, but usually it's worth it.
There's one glaring flaw, though, that surprises me: no voice acting. At all. Ever. After experiencing Persona 3, I was expecting cut-scenes with full voice work or animated... anything... but alas, it's just a bulk-order of text. Which is especially boring during the long, drawn-out conversations. Each character is right there, next to their word bubble, and their mouths move like they want to speak... but it just stays silent. It gives off that feeling of being unfinished, or “retro” if you'd rather be kind about it (another similarity to the earlier-mentioned Parasite Eve and Final Fantasy VII).
Also, the environments, albeit beautiful, have their moments of being truly frustrating. While exploring the Capitol and all of its individual regions, you not only have to pay to go to certain areas, but to reach some spaces within a given area, you have to go through screen after screen and spot after spot of exploration. It's just becomes tedious, especially since there aren't too many save points scattered around. You could find yourself running through each area for an hour or more, then have to find your way back – after not fighting anything or gaining any items – to a point when you have to give up your fruitless quest or save (just to add hours to your “official” play time).
[image3]And while the story itself is easy enough to follow, a few of the characters bring it down. Many of them are notably cliché, even if they're still somewhat likable. The spunky lady reporter “trying to make it in a man's world” Tae is obviously crushing on Raidou, Narumi is a pompous jackass who's always right, and as for Raidou... he's a main character who never speaks despite being distinctively stylized? Check and mate.
However, there is so much to do here that the flaws in the plot and some scenarios are easy to ignore. Individual cases akin to the missions in Crisis Core: FFVII, demon fusion with numerous possibilities, and the battles themselves make this worth checking out if you're looking for a unique role-playing experience. True, the world of Personaa could use some improvement on the story and experience side, but the ambiance of the world of the Devil Summoners gives it a unique feel that's worth checking out.
And it's nice to see the PS2 getting some good material before it's finished... it's how I'd like to be put down, in the end.