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Devil Survivor 2 review: Neon Genesis strategy


If you need any proof that Japan is still madly in love with Neon Genesis Evangelion, you need look no further than Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2. Both show, if anything, that gifted teens, massive supernatural monsters, and religious symbolism remain enduring tropes in Japanese pop culture.

If you want to know the truth, I don't mind that it borrows so liberally from Hideaki Anno's seminal anime. It's just a reminder that Shin Megami Tensei is designed with a certain demographic in mind -- the kind of people who went through the trouble to see Rebuild of Evangelion in the theaters. People like me, if you want to know.

Gallery: Devil Survivor 2 (2/29/12) | 20 Photos

For all the comparisons to Evangelion, Devil Survivor 2 is still a unique RPG. It straddles the difficult line between tactical and traditional RPG, and succeeds in adapting many of Shin Megami Tensei's best features to the genre. But more importantly, it avoids one of the genre's biggest pitfalls, and ensures that the battlefield is every bit as interesting as the character customization.

Devil Survivor 2 manages this feat by mixing traditional party-based combat with an isometric map screen, which makes for an excellent combination. Nowhere is that more apparent than the battles with the massive bosses -- Devil Survivor 2's equivalent of Evangelion's Angels -- which are often extremely tricky. One notably difficult battle features a creature whose neurotoxins have to be neutralized with a special device lest it crush your entire party from afar. From there, it's a race against time as you get into position and try to hammer it with your best abilities while fending off its minions. I wish more strategy RPGs had these sorts of multi-layered encounters.

The other side of Devil Survivor 2's battle system is demon fusion, which is once again in fine form. At its most basic level, the system is a matter of taking two demons and combining them into a new, more powerful monster utilizing the abilities of both. The strength of the system, as always, is the exponential rate the possibilities grow as you stockpile more and more demons, encouraging further experimentation. There's nothing quite like stumbling across the right combination of demons and abilities to create a truly formidable beast, then turning it loose on the battlefield.

Devil's Survivor 2 does its part to enhance the demon fusion system by adding two familiar Shin Megami Tensei features that were absent in the original Devil Survivor. First is the Demon Compendium, where older demon patterns can be stored and withdrawn for a price -- a real godsend when it comes time to fuse more powerful party members. The compendium does a lot to encourage experimentation, but it never feels like an exploit, since withdrawing demons can be quite expensive.

Demon fusion is also improved via the ability to build relationships with Devil Survor 2's large cast, usually by talking to them between missions. Building relationships unlocks resistances and, more importantly, new and more powerful demons. It works well as an incentive to get to know the various party members, and it's good to see it in Devil Survivor 2.

Building these sorts of relationships is essential because permanent death is a constant threat. I soon learned to dread the story-based "death clips," which periodically show the future death of a main character. Time in Devil Survivor 2 is divided among seven days consisting of roughly 15 hours apiece; so when a death clip appears, you've got a limited amount of time to intervene and save your friend. Fail, and they are gone forever. Luckily, it's easy enough to be in the right place and the right time to save your compatriots, so long as you avoid wasting too much time gabbing with your teammates.

On that note, I would like to point out what seems like a rare missed opportunity. The main portion of Devil Survivor 2's story takes place across Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka, and all three areas have their share of main characters. Midway through the story, a special transporter is introduced that makes it possible to move between areas at will. The result is that the distinction between the three areas is basically meaningless, as traveling between them is a simple matter of clicking a menu. I wonder how much more tense those death clips would be if using a transporter were to cost 30 precious minutes?

That aside, Devil Survivor 2 does a good job of managing its rather large cast while continually raising the stakes, which is more than I can say for most games -- or most television shows, for that matter. There were points, of course, when I couldn't help laughing at how brazen Devil Survivor 2 is about borrowing from the most famous anime this side of Gundam. It even goes so far as to essentially reenact one of EVA's Angel encounters in its entirety. Needless to say, if Devil Survivor 2 were an anime, it wouldn't be getting high marks for originality.

But Devil Survivor 2 isn't an anime, and it more than makes up for its lack of originality with well-drawn characters, a branching storyline and excellent mechanics. For that, I'm more than happy to accept any similarities, overt or otherwise, to the most popular -- and most screwed up -- anime ever made.

This review is based on a retail copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 for the DS, provided by Atlus.

Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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