With the recent release of PERSONA5 the Animation reminding me how much I enjoyed the game, I had a desire ignite to play another Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) game. I’ve been a huge fan of the franchise from the moment I first played Persona 3, and ever since then, the Persona series has been my favorite in the Shin Megami Tensei universe. As I’ve played the Persona games more than a fair share of times, I was hoping to find another game in the SMT universe that still gave me that Persona-esque feel. What I ultimately landed upon was this gem, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked.
Devil Survivor has enough in common to scratch that Persona itch while maintaining its own identity and having some unique qualities that make it a breath of fresh air. I was deterred from it at first due to poor graphics, but once I was able to get beyond that it was a rather enjoyable experience.
I find that the characters and setting are what makes it most appealing for those who may be having post-game-depression after spending a hundred or more hours beating an entry in the Persona series.
While many SMT games take place in a post-apocalyptic setting or even feudal Japan, one thing I find endearing about Persona and Devil Survivor are their modern day settings. It’s easier for me to get immersed in a game when I’m able to relate to the technology used in the story, or when I see areas that look familiar to places I’ve been to. Sadly, in Devil Survivor you don’t have the ability to explore the world as much as you can in Persona. You traverse the areas through a menu based system that brings up a picture and some text, so at first, I wasn’t expecting it to be that exciting. However, despite this, I found that I was still getting just as familiar with the areas and being just as excited to go back to them - the way the storytelling is done helps the world building exponentially, so even though you don’t have the three dimensional space to explore, a surprisingly lot of the atmosphere manages to not get lost in translation. In fact, I found it refreshing to play after coming home from a day at work, since everything goes at a slower pace.
Combat also works a quite a bit differently. When you enter a battle, you're greeted with a tactics-based grid map - similar to Fire Emblem and Final Fantasy Tactics. Here, you're able to activate skills such as healing abilities, or buffs - like an increase to your critical chance. Once you engage with the enemy, you're taken away from the grid and sent into turn-based combat. The screen is, once again, not very appealing visually. You’ve got some images to represent the enemy demons you encounter, and then some subpar effects that look like they came out of RPG Maker. Thankfully, there’s a lot of good going in all of this that overwhelms the less than desirable visuals.
For each battle, you’re allowed three squads, and each squad is made up of one leader and two demons. You get some core party members who are human and play a main role in the story, these are the leaders of the squads. If you want to get more demons on your side, you have to purchase them from an auction, although as in the Persona series, fusion between demons you already have is a welcomed way to get some strong party members.
The mixture of tactical and typical RPG elements coming together gives it more strategy than your typical turn-based game. Figuring out how the overworld skills interact with the abilities you can use inside of combat is a twist that I found myself enjoying more than I thought I would. The game’s rather challenging, so it promotes figuring out these combinations rather than just bashing through the combat full speed without much thought - an issue I have with many strategy and tactics games. After all, if I’m going to play a game in that genre then I want to actually have to think about the moves I make. I found that the game also has a better balance than other challenging games in the genre. In other games, it often feels like you’re expected to lose constantly and just learn through trial and error. In Devil Survivor, however, I felt as though the game gave me just enough room for error that if I actually took the matches slowly, I would be able to figure it out along the way even if I had made some mistakes earlier.
However, what the game lacks in visual appeal and exploration, the game more than makes up for with a mysteriously fascinating story and characters that have some depth to them.
The story’s about a group of high school kids figuring out how to survive in a sector of Japan that has been barricaded off from the rest of the world after some demons leak out from another realm and start to attack Earth. An interesting power that some of the characters receive is the ability to see how many days before someone will die. Although, the number is up for negotiation if you’re able to stop certain events from happening. After realizing that everyone in the barricade has no longer than six days left to live, but those outside have an average lifespan, the main cast figures that something needs to be done from within, which leads to confronting some powerful demons in order to try and escape the area. My personal favorite part of the game is seeing how these characters handle the crisis and the amount of growth they go through in a short period of time, as they each come from interesting backgrounds, such as Yuzu who seems to have grown up rather spoiled but also as a bit of a scaredy-cat.
Overall, the game lacks a lot that would make me recommend this to anyone as an entry to Shin Megami Tensei, such as the combat; graphics; and lack of exploration; however it has a certain appeal and many intricacies that I think fans of the Persona series would enjoy. It feels sort of like a middle ground between Persona and the rest of the SMT franchise, allowing for a nice transition for those interested in playing more SMT after playing Persona.