The Shin Megami Tensei brand has a pretty strong portfolio. Games like Nocturne, the Personas, and Digital Devil Saga have all been met with critical and cult acclaim. Devil Summoner, yet another franchise to fall under the SMT umbrella, may not have reached the stellar review heights of its demon-infused brethren, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t a solid and entertaining game. From the setting in 1920s Japan, to the solidly written mystery story, to the change from turn-based battles to action oriented combat, there was quite a bit to like about the original Devil Summoner. Even though I enjoyed the original, due to the extremely small niche in which Devil Summoner fell, coupled with the recent revitalizing success of the Persona series, I’ll admit to being surprised when Atlus announced a sequel. After playing a great deal of SMT: DS2 – RKvKA, and enjoying the improved combat, a story just as great and involving as its predecessor, and that same old demon infused gameplay, it was clear Raidou could be more than a one hit wonder.
Raidou’s second adventure picks up just after the conclusion of the first game, though you won’t have had to play the original to understand this one. Returning players will likely get more out of the experience, but SMT: DS2 is completely accessible to newcomers. The major players you’ll need to know, Narumi, Tae, and Gouto, are reintroduced right off the bat, getting first-time players up to speed quickly, which is nice because the story gets rolling almost instantly. As the Devil Summoner in charge of protecting the Capital, it’s your job to keep supernatural forces at bay with the help of your friends at the Narumi Detective Agency. The game begins with Raidou taking the case of a young woman looking for a mysterious man named Dahn. It’s during your initial search for the missing man you notice that the world’s luck has been thrown out of whack. Some people have become extremely lucky, while others can’t get a single thing to go right. As you progress, it becomes clear how the two mysteries are connected, and it’s up to you to set it all straight. There are some interesting twists, compelling characters, and oddly funny situations you’ll run across during the game’s forty or so hours. In fact, my only problem with the story is how the game needlessly recaps prior events over and over again. At almost every major reveal, Narumi pulls you aside to go over all the previous plot points to make sure you remember what’s going on. It’s not insulting, as I’m sure it’ll come in handy for people who played this game for a bit, then had to come back to it a few days later, but it does get a bit tedious. Thankfully you can just keep pressing X to skip through the dialogue as fast as possible.
While you’re busy trying to investigate cases, you’ll have a few tools at your disposal, even though there’s not much traditional detective work other than talking to people to get more information. Using the demons you have under your command, you’ll be able to read minds, transform into people or animals, and teleport otherwise unmovable objects from your path. There’s not a lot of guesswork involved in whom you’ll be able to read the minds of, as the interaction menu above their head will have an indicator letting you know they have a secret at least mildly important to your case. Transformation occurs much less frequently, but is still a valuable tool. You’ll probably use it more to search areas for items as a dog, but occasionally you will have to transform into another person to gain access to areas otherwise blocked. Certain demons can also provide you with the ability to transport on the wind, or smash barriers in your way. Learning to use your demons is an important part of the game, as you’ll rely on them during the exploration parts of the game nearly as much as you do during a battle.
Random encounters and boss battles will take up nearly as much of your time as the story does, if not more. When in a confrontation, in typical SMT fashion, you have the option of fighting demons, or talking to them, in an effort to convince them to come work for you. You can bring up to two demons with you into any battle, and their skill sets and negotiation tactics will come in handy when trying to recruit new demons to your cause. How willing the demons are about joining up with you depends on a few factors. One is the cycle of the moon. There are eight phases of the moon, ranging from New Moon (1/8) to Full Moon (8/8). When the moon is full, you can forget negotiating because demons will be completely wild, and you won’t even have the option of trying to talk to them. The weaker the phase, the easier it is to talk to demons. However, when the moon is weak, there are also weaker demons that spawn during random encounters. Frequently demons will ask for something of yours, like magic, health, items, or money, before they even consider talking to you. Sometimes they’ll just take your money and run. Other times, they’ll see you have a similar demon working for you already, and heal your whole party before disappearing. Negotiating can be extremely frustrating if you’re not patient enough to learn the intricacies, but it can also reap high rewards for those willing to put in the time it takes to put together a stable of high-powered demons.
Even if you’re not able to convince demons to stand by your side in battle, you’ll still have a chance to get powerful demons by fusing two of your existing recruits. Certain areas of the game grant you access to the Dragon Cave, a portal to the mad scientist Victor’s lair, where you’ll be able to meld two demons into one. The traits your fused monster takes on depends on the level of the demons you fused, as well as what skills and spells they learned. The combinations are nearly endless, with just about every melding creating a beast that you may never see again. The best part is, even after using a demon in a fusion, you can buy it back at any time. Any demon you have had under your command is available for you to purchase from Victor. It won’t have the same skill set the original had, but it will be the highest level you last had that demon at. Victor can also forge new weapons for you with special traits, as long as you have the items he requires to do so.
Raidou spends most of his time in combat dealing physical damage with a sword, halberd, or lance. He has a pistol as well, but it’s very weak, and only meant as a means to stun an enemy from a distance so you may approach them to inflict damage with your melee weapon. Your demons are what you’ll rely on for most of the magic damage being dealt in combat. Every demon has strength and weaknesses, and knowing which demons to bring into battle is important. Thankfully, if you need to call in another monster, summoning it takes nothing more than a few button presses. Your demons don’t defend themselves, but by simply pressing L2, you can call them to your side, where they’ll turn invisible, and thus won’t take any damage. Confrontations are very fast-paced, with the tide of battle able to turn for the worse or better very quickly. Boss battles are very intense, even when you’re properly leveled. The game makes sure to implement save points fairly generously, so if you come across a boss that keeps whipping your butt, grinding a bit just before the encounter will do the trick. Luck will also play a part in many of your fights, and depending on whether or not it is in your favor, there are different stipulations, like Raidou whiffing on every attack or demons gaining double experience, granted before the fight starts. It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, it adds an extra incentive to perform well, regardless of the qualifier involved.
The fact that the game appears on the PlayStation 2 should tell you all you need to know about the presentation. The graphics are solid, but not on par with what we’ve been seeing in the recent games of the Persona series. The character models look fine in-game, but during conversations, they seem awkward. The most glaring offense has to be the reuse of the map from the last game. Virtually nothing has been changed or modified to the existing render of the Capital. It’s a little strange that they couldn’t be bothered to change anything. Even the camera angles used are identical. As with many of the SMT games, the soundtrack is fantastic, and thankfully lacking in J-Pop. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the Persona score as much as the next guy, but the 20s style jazz-infused score to Devil Summoner 2 is much easier to hear over and over again. The lack of any voice-over at all is surprising, but not that much of a detractor. Since I read faster than characters talk in games, I’d likely have sped through it anyway.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner 2 – Raidou Kuzunoha vs King Abbadon may not bring very much new to the RPG fold, but it’s still an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding game. It doesn’t burden newcomers with complicated gameplay, or having to spend nearly 100 hours playing to complete, and yet it still offers a robust action experience even the hardcore SMT fans can enjoy. Even though it’s not on a current gen system, Devil Summoner 2 is still one of the best games you’ll play this year.