When is a remake not a remake?
[Reviewer's Note: It is impossible to discuss this game without revealing a few spoilers. Though all efforts have been made to minimize them, some spoilers lie ahead. Proceed with caution.]
Need to know the weather? There's an app for that. Need to tell the entire world exactly what you had for lunch in great detail? There's an app for that. Summoning beastly demons from out of thin air? There's now an app for that too—at least there is in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 – Record Breaker.
In this sequel to the spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series, you take control of the protagonist, an average kid in Tokyo just trying to pass his college entrance exams with his best friend, Daichi, the jokey best bud to the hero. Daichi convinces you to sign up for Nicaea, a social media site that will supposedly send “death videos” of important people in someone's life when it is their time to die. What could possibly go wrong there?
The bad news is that Nicaea actually works, and when you, Daichi, and Io, a classmate of the pair, all receive one simultaneously, all three are instantly slaughtered by a catastrophic subway wreck and the game is over. Just kidding! You survive by forming contracts by demons which are then summoned by a mysterious phone app, upping the what-the-hell factor, and if the three don't figure out what's going on within seven days, everyone in the world is going to die. Fun, right? The story is decidedly anime, and takes some weird and wild twists and turns along the way, with certain choices deciding the fate of playable characters and the world itself.
The plot itself can drag from time to time but overall it gripped my attention despite me having to make some disbelief-suspending choices. Record Breaker improves on the original Devil Survivor 2 by including a full-voice cast in English. save for the protagonist himself, making some of the heavier chunks of story more manageable, though much of the story scenes still involve only two people with static cutouts.
Story sections, most of which take up a half-hour block of in-game time, also serve to form relationships between characters, male or female. In doing so, the Fate System assigns a ranking to each character, and as that ranking goes up, not only does the character become more loyal to the protagonist, their stats go up as well, making them better guarded against various elements or magics. It throws elements of a dating sim into the mix, forcing you either to focus on making the strong stronger or develop all characters evenly across the board.
As in the original Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, battles take place in a strategy RPG-style format, laying out the terms of both victory and defeat, the positions of the enemies as indicated by their leader's figure, and allowing you to prep themselves for battle which includes being able to swap demons contracted by the playable characters. Demons can be contracted at the auction house, a function of the demon-summoning app, or fused together to make new, more powerful demons.
When an enemy unit is met on the grid, the game moves to a traditional RPG battle screen, where actions are selected from turn-based menus. Even in this state, strategy is crucial as battles can be won quicker if you aim for the middle unit leader, but won't net quite as much macca (money) or experience as taking them out one by one. This state sang out to me as a traditional RPG-loving “Where Did Final Fantasy Go Wrong?” gamer, while still keeping me locked into an SRPG mindset.
And strategy must be on your mind at all times because this game is fiendishly hard at times—Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker is not even sorry about it. Difficulty will spike unexpectedly, or objectives will change midway, throwing your entire strategy right out the window. A key example that you will face early on in the second day, as your party faces an unnamed, emotionless woman brainwashed by an evil entity. After fighting through new, tougher demons, more and more approach as you approach, and damn, if they aren't already really close to your bruised and battered party members. And these demons are tough as nails.
Grinding is everything in Devil Survivor 2: Record Breaker. Free battles lie in each area that do not take up in-game time, and they are bitterly necessary, from macca farming, grinding for experience, or new skills for the human party members to learn. I realize grinding is a necessary skill in any RPG, but having to replay Free Battles over and over again (which, by the way, can easily take a half-hour or even more in real-world time) when I wanted to keep moving the well-crafted story forward was tedious at best and frustrating at worst. As someone who grasps the concepts of grinding and leveling up and knows they're necessary and vital to create success for your party, even I was ready to chuck my New 3DS across the room. (But I didn't, because I got the Majora's Mask 3DS XL. See everybody? I can be taught!)
[Here's where those major spoilers kick into play…] So when is a remake not a remake? When it adds in a completely new, mostly self-sustaining second story arc on top of it! It's true—on top of the aforementioned Septentrione arc, the game also introduces the Triangulum arc, which takes place after all the events of the first arc. (SPOILER: This includes the world's regression.) The hero reunites with Daichi (still best buds) and Io, though in this world all three of them have known each other seemingly forever, as opposed to meeting at the subway on the day of the practice exams. The kids decide to go to an AiHinoStars concert after school, and they sign up for the 2.0 version of Nicaea. Because what could possibly go wrong with that decision?
The Triangulum, unlike the Septentriones, have no desire to help mankind. Death and destruction is more their bag, and their plan moves forward when the three attend the concert. Surprise, surprise, demons show up at the site of the attack, and with their handy-dandy cell phone app, the three must again right the fallacies of this new world.
Devil Survivor 2 was called “more of the same” from the original Devil Survivor, but it was meant in a good way. Following that, the Triangulum arc is more of the same too, and it's still good. In fact, if you play them back to back, it gives a sense that although the player-characters you meet with don't remember their times fighting against the Septentriones, they have carried some improvement along with them, locked away for the time it was needed again.
Essentially the title is two full games (well, since the second one starts on Tuesday instead of Sunday, I guess it's more like one and three quarters), and well worth the pick up for anyone who may have missed this spin-off of Shin Megami Tensei. For those who have an older copy of Devil Survivor 2, I can't say you'll fall apart without Record Breaker, but you will be missing out on a great original story with your favorite characters shuffled up and reunited. Just be prepared to put your nose to the grindstone.
And your hand. And your feet. And possibly your eyebrows. There's a lot of grinding.