The Nintendo DS holds a special place in my heart. Years of road-tripping, traveling, and stealth-gameplay-sessions during study hall or concert band practice bonded that little red piece of hardware to me. I discovered many titles and genres I never would have played otherwise because of that DS, including the Devil Survivor series of Shin Megami Tensei games.
Like Nocturne and Persona before it, the Devil Survivor series is an offshoot of the mainline SMT games. While still maintaining a penchant for demon summoning, broad philosophical ideologies and end-of-the-world scenarios, Devil Survivor took the turn-based battles of SMT games and mixed in turn-based strategy. A devilish recipe for sure, and both Devil Survivor and its sequel kept me occupied for countless hours.
I’m happy to tell you that Devil Survivor 2’s port to the 3DS is not only completely faithful, but the definitive version of the handheld SRPG masterpiece. Record Breaker takes many cues from its predecessor’s 3DS port, and expands on those ideas, taking every cue it can to breathe new life into the game.
If this is your first entry in the Devil Survivor series, don’t worry. Each title is standalone in story and characters, and Record Breaker does a good job of acclimating you to the combat system before it ramps up the difficulty. Split into two different campaigns, the Septentrione Arc and Triangulum Arc, there’s a wealth of content to explore and combat to master.
Taking place in Tokyo and the surrounding area, the Septentrione Arc is the original Devil Survivor 2’s campaign. After downloading an app called Nicaea, your avatar and friends start seeing premonitions of their death in videos. Demons then start invading Tokyo, and massive creatures called Septentriones begin laying waste to Japan.
On the verge of the grave, your app comes to life and asks you if you wish to persist; heed its call, and you’ll gain the ability to summon demons of your own. The story then carries on over seven days, as you and your rag-tag motley crew of demon summoners fight to save their homeland, and discover the reason behind everything that is happening. It’s a bit of a slow burn at first, like most Shin Megami Tensei games, but the story picks up fast once you’re through the introductory first day.
While the main story is the same, there’s now full VO for the entire cast and a good number of the supporting cast as well. New cutscenes have been added to flesh out the story, and there’s also changes in difficulty on a lot of the free battle and story maps. The game seems to have an overall better ramp-up – no sudden spike in challenge, like previous Devil Survivor titles. There’s also a “True Ending,” which leads into the Triangulum Arc, that solves the problem many had with the original DS2’s ending ultimatum.
[Note: The following paragraph will contain spoilers for the Septentrione Arc. It’s a little hard to discuss the Triangulum Arc otherwise.]
The Triangulum Arc is a new story, developed just for Record Breaker, much like Devil Survivor Overclocked’s 8th Day. After Record Breaker’s new True Ending, Saiduq has regressed the world to its previous state and given humanity another chance to grow. The new arc begins after an ominous intro, and you’re right back where the first campaign started – in your school exams, with Daichi and Io, except you’re the only one with memories of the previous world. A new enemy called the Triangulum attacks, demons start appearing through Nicaea again, and Yamato and Saiduq are missing, with the former being replaced as Chief of JP’s by the mysterious Miyako Hotsuin…
[Spoilers over, you’re good now.]
The added campaign has a host of new content, and will add another 20 or so hours onto your playtime. You can carry over certain demons and bonuses from the Septentrione Arc as well, and there’s also additional NG+ incentives for those who want to replay the Septentrione Arc on a higher difficulty.
The overall story is great, in both the Septentrione and Triangulum Arcs, but it isn’t exactly the bleak apocalypse its predecessor was. While the first Devil Survivor was more of a dark, moody piece, the second takes more cues from the Persona titles in tone and character, letting its cast bond and come together. That unity creates a much more memorable cast overall, through their group chemistry, and it makes some of the endgame stuff much more heart-wrenching. It also means individual characters only really get fleshed out in their Fate conversations, so you’ll probably want to play through multiple times; while the True Ending is easy to get on your first run, you’ll probably have to replay each Arc at least once to see every character-specific scene.
Combat is the same hybrid of RPG and strategy that former Devil Survivor titles had; you deploy four party members, each with two demons in their party, and move them around a grid-based map in turns. When you engage an enemy unit, you enter a 3-on-3 battle where you throw attacks and abilities at each other briefly, then jump back out to the main grid. The interplay between overall strategy and individual tactics is ingenious, and keeps each battle feeling fresh. Each unit can only have two companion demons, and only equip three active skills at a time, so observing the field and identifying threats and a plan of attack becomes key in later, more challenging battles.
Demon management is a sub-game within itself, filled with a surprising amount of depth that will appeal to your inner monster tamer. New sidekicks can be bargained out in auctions, where you bid against the AI using Macca earned in battles. As you level up, though, your demons will lag behind significantly, and that’s where fusion comes in.
Fusing demons allows you to create new and powerful soldiers for your small army, and allow you to bolster your party’s strengths or mitigate their weaknesses. Unique demons with special abilities can be forged, and through side missions and Fate levels, you can find and fuse the most powerful of demons to assist you in saving the world from those mysterious Septentrione invaders.
Influence from the popular SMT spinoff series, Persona, can be found in the Fate system. You have a pretty sizeable party, ranging from classmates Daichi and Io to a computer hacker, doctor, renegade cop and professional dancer. All bound together by fate in this post-apocalyptic demon world, your team gradually comes together to stand against the rising tide, and your growing bond with each team member is displayed in the Fate system.
Each event takes up a 30-minute chunk of the day, and you can choose to spend that time following sidequests, moving the main story along, or conversing with your friends, which will raise your Fate level with them. Higher levels unlock special abilities, affinities, and allow you to Joint Skill Crack abilities from enemies.
There’s a ton of systems and rules at play in Record Breaker, but they’re all executed so eloquently and serve such unique purposes that they never feel overwhelming. By the end of the first day, you’ll be planning out your next fusion, identifying ideal Skill Cracks for your team in each battle and debating the pros and cons of putting a Basilisk or Thor in your main character’s party.
The rub of all this, though, is that Atlus has put a steep price on the title. $50 is what Record Breaker will run you, a significantly high price for a 3DS title. While for newcomers you’re getting an insane amount of game for your buck, old patrons like myself will likely shy away at the asking price. I can re-assure you all I can that this title is well worth the dollar, but numbers often tend to speak louder than words, and the frugal fan might want to wait for this to drop a bill or two in price.
If you like RPGs, strategy, monster taming, social links, great story or just a fantastic road trip game, then this is a no-brainer. Hours upon hours of content, a great battle system, memorable locales and music, a fantastic cast with great VO and a story that will keep you enthralled until the last day. My only gripe is the price tag, but seeing as you’ll probably have this one in your handheld for months on end, it’s pretty justifiable.