Sunday, October 15, 2000

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner 9.0

While Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs the Soulless Army isn't actually an SMT game, it is a member of the franchise. It is actually part of a family of spin-off games in the MegaTen series that is just using the SMT name to establish connections between the different series in the franchise finally appearing in America. While not too many people are familiar with the games past, this one takes the series in a new direction.

Devil Summoner is the first game in the MegaTen franchise that has moved past the traditional or tactical RPG style combat and gone straight into the action/RPG genre. In this game you play as a young man who has just attained the title of Kuzunoha Raidou the 14th, the successor to a long line of Devil Summoners tasked with the protection of the capital city. With his ability to see and control demons, Raidou must solve a mystery that becomes increasingly more and more twisted as the game progresses.

The story begins with the player earning the Raidou name (essentially this is the tutorial) and being assigned to work at a detective agency in the capital. One day you get a mysterious phonecall from a girl pleading for help and wants to meet with you late at night. Reluctantly Raidou and his partner at the detective agency head out to meet her. They find out the girl who contacted them has an odd request; she asks them to kill her. Before anyone can respond, she is kidnapped by mysterious men in red and so sets forth a tale of demons, evil, and curses.

Essentially the game progresses much the way you would expect a MegaTen game to, you travel to different locations via world maps and explore the different locations on larger area maps. While wandering around the areas searching for clues and information, there will be several random encounters (the franchise is known for high encounter rates) that will allow you the opportunities to capture new demons for aid. More on that later though. While exploring the areas you are able to have a demon deployed to follow you around (keep in mind the normal people can't see it though). Every demon type has special skills that can be used in the areas such as flying to reach far items, scouting to find hidden items and enemy info, and even mind reading to get some extra information from people. These skills are essential to getting the information you need, so it is wise to keep a demon of every type as often as possible.

Now for the battles. This is where fans of the series will either love the game or hate it. Gone are the pressed turn systems used in Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga. Instead they are replaced with real time action battles. You directly control Raidou and can use combinations of sword strikes and gun shots to defeat your enemies. Raidou can't use magic, so the only way he can deal elemental damage is using special bullets. Luckily for him though, he is able to have a demon deployed with him in battle (but only one!). It will typically act on its own, but you are capable of assigning it specific orders or general strategies. By using your monsters in battle, they will grow in loyalty to you. When their loyalty is maxed out, they will often give you bonuses and can then be used in fusions to create new demons. Essentailly the system can get a little bit repetitive and while it will takes a while to get used to, once you do it becomes a matter of knowing what enemies are weak to which attacks. Once you figure that out though, it's just a matter of keeping your levels high enough and capturing and fusing demons to keep gaining strength.

The style of capturing is brand new as well. Gone is the negotiation system used in Nocturne and the original SMT games. Instead it is replaced by a system that forces you to exploit enemy weaknesses. When you hit an enemy with an element it is weak too, it will become stunned and give you the chance to capture it by repeatedly pressing circle until a meter empties out. You must empty the meter before the creature revives or you will not capture it. The easiest way to do this is to wear down its health ahead of time before attempting a capture. One note though, you will automatically fail to capture if the enemy is a higher level than Raidou, the moon is full, or it is a boss battle.

The graphics and music in the game are a little different from what was seen in previous SMT releases here in North America. It still uses the same form of cel shading, but they are a little bit more defined and detailed. Nothing too major, but it is enough to really change the visuals overall appearance from the other games. Also, this game is not as dark and gritty as Nocturne or DDS. In fact it has several amusing scenes and is much brighter and more vibrant overall. This is greatly illustrated by the music which is often much more lighthearted and is comprised of a lot of horns and brass instruments. Not nearly as dark and brooding as the other two games. But since this game takes place in 1920's Japan and not a post-apocalyptic world this time, it fits in quite well.

Overall, Devil Summoner is a new spin on an old franchise. While it does display that full action battles aren't as well suited for the style of the game, Atlus was able to do it well enough that it still remains fun and keeps the game enjoyable. For a lot of people who found the turn based systems of Nocturne and DDS overbearing and cumbersome, this could be a nice way to ease into the world of the MegaTen franchise. While it is not nearly as epic as the previous games, it holds its own and the story alone is enough to keep a fan of the franchise sated long enough to finish the game off regardless of whether or not they like the change of style. Definately not the best game in the franchise, but a nice refreshing change that is fun none the less.

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