Developer/Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 8.5/10
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is the newest RPG for the Playstation 2 from Atlus. While America doesn’t see nearly as many Shin Megami Tensei games as Japan does, recently there have been more games localized — SMT: Devil Summoner is actually the third game in the “Devil Summoner” spin-off series of SMT. Devil Summoner defines itself by mixing in real-time random battles with a mildly interesting detective story, all set in a large urban area in Japan during the 1920s.
As with any RPG, the story is the major factor that keeps the player going. Following a mute main character, Raidou Kuzunoha the Fourteenth, you are charged with protecting the “capital city” — a group of smaller cities in the same area of an early 1900’s Japan — from demons. Raidou’s job is to investigate any occurrences that happen in the city regarding demons, which are invisible to normal humans and live in a parallel dimension. The main story starts right off within the first half hour of play – Raidou’s detective agency gets a call from a girl asking for help, not saying much more than to meet her on the bridge. On the bridge, there is an encounter with a mysterious legion of red-cloaked soldiers who abduct the girl before anything can be found out. At this point, it’s up to Raidou to discover what happened to the girl, why she needed help, and who abducted her.
The story in Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner, while interesting, doesn’t do itself justice to the world that is created. In Devil Summoner, there are two “dimensions” – the regular world and the “dark” world. The dark world, inhabited by demons, occupies the same space as the regular world, and occasionally crossover occurs. This is where most of the conflict arises in the story, not to mention all the enemies you’ll encounter. The story is pretty simple, to say the least, with details slowly added to make the story more and more intriguing. The only problem with that is that it can take a long time to actually get into the story and, by extension, the game itself. The story also progresses through segmented episodes to show that a period of time passes between each of the main events of the game.
World exploration consists of totally urban settings. As said before, you’ll go to all parts of a bustling city with random non-interactive people walking around to create the feeling of a populated city. While it can be fun running through the different parts of the city to find the next clue needed in your adventure, it can be quite a hassle, especially because of the random battles that seem to happen every fifteen seconds. I don’t know if it’s a theme in the SMT series, but out of the games I have played, there appears to be a lot of random battles happening in a short period of time.
SMT: Devil Summoner’s battle system is definitely a strong point, but is held back by its shortcomings. Being a real-time combat system lends itself to being able to have each battle be over quite quickly. There aren’t too many moves that can actually be done while in battle mode with the main character; a simple dash attack, charge attack, and normal strike are about as much as can be done by Raidou. He also has a gun that can shoot different types of bullets. As can be imagined, it doesn’t make battles too terribly exciting. The main variances that can make or break a battle is the type of demon that accompanies you into battle, and how you raise them.
The game’s demon system is definitely the most compelling element of Devil Summoner. Not unlike a Pokémon game, you can capture the enemy demons you go against during battle. Depending on the ever-present phase of the moon and Raidou’s current level, you can capture practically any demon, unless you’re told otherwise. You must use and maintain a stable of demons by leveling up, sacrificing, and combining them to fit your needs and increase their power, and in effect, yours. By combining two demons into one, you can create new demons, as well as free up another slot to fill with a new demon to use for your agenda. Demons also have extraneous skills that will help you during map exploration and solving puzzles, as well as getting vital information from a stubborn person not exactly willing to let go of the information you might need to progress.
The graphics in the game aren’t anything too special, but there are times that can still make you say, “Wow, the PS2 can do this?” The main agenda of Devil Summoner isn’t to dazzle with amazing graphics as it is to make an interesting world in itself to explore. The sound effects are nice, and every demon has their own little grunts or yelps, making it easy to identify a certain demon, if you ever needed to. The soundtrack is also very impressive, and captures the feeling of the areas you visit with accuracy. What is obviously most disappointing about the sound is that there is no voice acting. To me, it definitely leaves out a certain important feeling that a game like this really needs to immerse the player even more into the setting, especially when it’s one that is as unique as the early 1900s, as it’s hard for someone living today to really relate to how people may have talked or acted nearly a century ago. One thing that is very praiseworthy is the loading time. Battles take almost no time to load, which is a very good thing since they happen so often, but not only that, each part of the city that you’re in does not have to take time to load off the disc, as you can wander through a city with no pauses or ugly pop-ins.
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner is a more traditional RPG for the transitional state of the genre itself. Integrating real-time battles with random encounters makes the game feel like a stopgap between action and turn based RPGs. While the story isn’t all that intriguing or remarkable, Devil Summoner ends up being a quaint adventure mystery title set in an uncommon setting with lots of random battles. Be that as it may, it is a solid title that hardcore RPG fans will want to check out as one of the last RPGs to hit the PS2 before the next generation rears its full might.