Reviews: In the next episode, it's Raidou Kuzunoha vs. Jason vs. Predator.
If the greatness of a game was based on length of title alone, then Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner ? Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army would be white gold. After all, isn't the subheading an epic hook? ?Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army!? Sounds like something out of the Golden Age of comics. But with this being a Megami Tensei game comes apocalypses, messiahs, philosophies, and the ever-present demons, right? Well, perhaps?
Devil Summoner takes us back to the Roaring Twenties of Japan, only with a few important differences, such as the presence of countless demons wandering around. Okay, I can't say that they didn't exist, as these demons are invisible to the human eye. However, there are humans who can see and interact with them; those known as ?Devil Summoners'. You happen to play as the fourteenth from the lineage that bears the name ?Raidou Kuzunoha?. As a guardian of Japan, you're sent to the Capitol to work with the detective Narumi and subsequently keep watch over the demons, foreigners, civilians, and basically anything that could harm the nation. It's not long before a curious case arrives: a girl named Kaya Daidouji calls on the agency with the ominous request to be killed. The request can't be accepted or denied though, since Kaya's snatched away by a group of masked soldiers in red, right in front of Raidou and Narumi. Of course, discovering the secrets behind Kaya is only one of the mysteries, what with rumors flying around about the sightings of a demon known as the Red Cape, military conspiracies, and other devil summoners.
The synopsis of the plot has the makings of a dark little tale, doesn't it? And since this is a Megami Tensei spin-off, it would make sense to go along the vein of the other Megami Tensei games like Nocturne, Digital Devil Saga, and Persona. Not so! A tongue-in-cheek attitude was on hand throughout Devil Summoner, evident in characters like your partner, Gouto, a talking cat. Don't get me wrong, we're not in sunshine-and-lollipops territory, but compared to the others, Devil Summoner is much more light-hearted and clear-cut. It's likely due to the cast that the mood was kept this way; sadly, not many stood out because of the lack of time spent developing them. We don't even learn much about the backgrounds of characters like Narumi, Tae, and Kaya, who are pretty integral to the story. Some details about them can be discovered by talking to various NPCs, but it's easy to overlook them and the actual information isn't too important either. Tae, for example, is a female journalist, something seemingly uncommon in the era and place. It's never really touched upon, just skirted around. Unfortunate, since the added characterization could've given more personality to everyone. I doubt it's the fault of the translators; they did their work well and tossed in 20s slang for good measure. Does it help that Raidou is, like all protagonists of Megami Tensei, a silent one? Aside from the usual yes/no answers, he has nothing to say but fans will likely not mind. Ah, one of the great gaming questions: does having a silent protagonist actually succeed in allowing the player to place their own identity within the protagonist? Regardless, Devil Summoner still entertains, thanks to the brisk pace. You'll jump from episode to episode, solving problems only a devil summoner could solve, and landing into bigger and bigger mysteries. Fiction in history, already seen in the Shadow Hearts series, is such a fascinating thing. Nothing like the clash of cultures between the fading Eastern Japan and the looming Western Japan to make a good setting for a story. Why, Raidou himself uses both a gun and a sword.
And you'll use them too, in order to take down any demon that decides to cross your path. ?What's the big deal? Digital Devil Saga had guns, demons, and cannibalization. Beat that!? you say. But did Digital Devil Saga have real-time combat? No? It was all turn-based? Well Devil Summoner's real-time, believe it or not. Square's for the sword, Triangle's for the gun, X is to block, and the analog stick is to run around. Yes, you've got yourself an action RPG on your hands. Now, it's not a complete overhaul of the present Megami Tensei battle system. The Press Turn system is present in a way: no longer does attacking an enemy's weak element give you an extra turn; instead the enemy freezes up and allows you to get close and strike for massive damage.
?Wait a second! As a human, you can't exactly cast magic. How do you hit their weak point then?? You've got options. You could equip your gun with bullets that correspond to the demon's elemental weakness. But you've only got so many bullets and they don't exactly do that much damage. There's always your second and more recommended option: have a demon help you out. Hey, you're not called ?Devil Summoner Raidou Kuzunoha the 14th? for nothing. Before you can summon a demon, you'll need to capture one or acquire it through a fusion. Capturing demons isn't that difficult: all you have to do is attack its weakness and then hammer the Circle button when it's paralyzed, which fills up a bar at the top of the screen. Fill the bar completely and you've got yourself a demon. Course, your own level will have to be higher than the demon for this to work, since being a weak master who can't control his demons wouldn't be preferable. Then there are the demon types (usually ?Skill' demons) who refuse to ally with you unless the ever-changing moon is full (another mainstay of the Megami Tensei universe). But capturing demons isn't going to be enough and soon you'll be paying lots of visits to the Gouma-Den, a laboratory run by the mad scientist Victor. There, you'll be able to fuse your demons together to make a new one, as long as their loyalty to you (which can be gained by putting them into battle) has been maxed out. It's only by fusion will you be able to pass over skills from demon to demon, making them even more powerful and well-rounded. Considering that all your demons will also have their own weaknesses, having a balanced party is absolutely necessary. The amount of demons you can carry around will depend on the total amount of loyalty accumulated. Like the rest of the Megami Tensei games, the fusion system holds strong and remains one of the most extensive systems around. As if it weren't deep enough, there's the addition of sacrificing and forging. Sacrificing involves the obvious act of sacrificing a demon to raise the stats of another. Forging is sacrificing a demon to strengthen your sword, which also alters the elemental attribute of it.
It's a shame not all facets of the gameplay are completely tip-top. You see, the actual combat occurs through random encounters, which can occur at practically anytime. Yes, the encounter rate is as high as ever but as long as you play tactically smart, they end quickly. I believe the fact that Devil Summoner's combat is real-time makes this one of the easier of the series, but it also makes it rather aggravating at times. For starters, Raidou's abilities won't extend beyond a three hit combo, a spinning slash, blocking, or a few shots from his gun. The focus seems to be mainly on demon usage, with Raidou as support and finisher. The camera remains fixed, so there'll be times when you'll lose sight of Raidou as he gets overshadowed by larger demons. You may also get your own summoned demon mixed up with others of the same kind, since the indicator for your demon is just a small icon over its head. This leads me to note the act of summoning. You can only have a single one on the field at a time, leading to a lot of switching between demons. You can't simply switch all the time either because summoning takes up MAG. This summoned demon acts on its own unless given explicit orders otherwise. It should be expected that the AI isn't the brightest; for example, your demon may just cast fire spells on an enemy demon that absorbs fire or waste MP healing you when you're not that badly injured. I've also noticed the only way a projectile spell can hit anything is if the target is standing still, meaning there'll be a lot of wasted MP on your demon's part. Thankfully you can give out specific commands; unfortunately you can't control your demon's movement. You can warp the demon to your location though, a sort of last resort to get it out of harm's way. There's always the option of recalling the demon, as you don't always need one on the field. Summoning demons will be necessary even outside of combat. Each has certain skills depending on the type of demon (Frost, Volt, Pagan, etc.) which will allow you to further your investigations, get past obstacles, or find items. A good example would be using a Pagan demon's ?read mind? skill to discover truth behind a lie. As said before, be prepared to switch demons often and keep a balanced party.
If changing up the battle system wasn't enough, Devil Summoner also marks the break from the cel-shaded graphics of previous games to full 3D. The transition isn't jarring so those weaned on Nocturne's slick sense of style shouldn't be bothered. This likely gave Atlus the opportunity to make more detailed backgrounds; it's a shame that there are still several dungeons that are dull and the blas? people that populate the streets of the Capitol end up with clipping issues. It's a good thing this only applies to the civilians since having non-descript characters would be awful. Of course, with the long-time artist Kazuma Kaneko on hand, that's an impossibility. Side note: Are Kaneko's protagonists becoming more androgynous with every game or am I imagining things? Not that I'm complaining; I've no qualms about androgyny in the series. The demons themselves all have portraits that appear when summoned, so that's a nice touch. Also apparent to fans will be the return of Shoji Meguro for the music. It's noticeably more animated with the usual blend of techno, rock, piano, and to suit the era, jazz. Although probably the most catchy of all Megami Tensei soundtracks, it suffers from a lack of variation throughout the game. It's fine stuff, just try not to get annoyed by hearing the same tracks over and over.
How about the voices? Don't many quality games cause distress on the account of horrific voice acting? Here's the thing: there is none. I don't believe there was any for the Japanese version either, so it was a choice the developers made. It does detract from the cutscenes but perhaps it was for the best, considering having the characters speak English in a very Japanese game could've become distracting. Then again, Japanese games like Fatal Frame and Yakuza were completely in English?
Like many linear RPGs, Devil Summoner suffers in the replay department. Granted, there's more replay in this one, given the experimentations available in fusing demons, but with a single ending and few sidequests, the average gamer should be able to get 30-40 hours out of this. And yes, it's quite linear, with fetch quests abound. So if you don't like going from one place to another, dealing with impediments along the way, this may not be your game. Other things I should mention are the items. You can only carry up to nine for each item (bullets go up to 24, unless you purchase extended clips) meaning you're going to end up finding a lot of items, only to have it wasted if you already maxed out the amount you can carry for it. I suppose a reason for this is the game is already rather easy for a Megami Tensei game. You're not going to see the game-over screen (which, like recent Megami Tensei game-over screens, is still pretty cool) all too often compared to the others but as a warning: save often. It's very easy to have a party afflicted with ailments and having no items to aid you. There is the beneficial option of instantly warping back to Narumi's office, which doubles as a save point and home base, but you won't be able to use it all the time. Overall, Devil Summoner turned out to be likely one of the most accessible of the series, managing to cover all features of the RPG genre proficiently.