Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Review

Japan, Taisho 10th. A time of great change for the Empire. Many new foreign influences conflict with centuries of ritual. Tokyo is a town in conflict, with people walking about in 1920’s era dress from the Western World and hakama and kimono bound by obi sashes. You step into this world as a Devil Summoner whos sole purpose is to make sure that the seat of the capitol is safe from supernatural threats. Well, let us see how this title stacks up to the long standing Shin Megami Tensei name! After playing Digital Devil Saga 2 (which was a 2 disk title for the PS2) I was actually surprised that Devil Summoner was only a single disk. As I started to play the game, I could see why. The designers took an ‘old school’ approach to the graphics and made the game 3D models overlaid on a pre-rendered background. To their credit, the team has made the backgrounds sufficiently high quality enough that it is hard to tell. The graphics for the characters and monsters are very well done, having the Shin Megami art style both in stills and in game shots. When speaking to important characters, you get a close up in full 3d (rather than flat artwork) which is very nice, and shows some detail of the character you couldn’t see in normal gameplay. Overall, the 3d on 2d display works well, and when you add in the overhead map of the city that you navigate in, it all comes together and looks very nice. The sound for the game was confied to short sayings from your demons (usually just noise, though some of that noise may have been japanese) and background noise in the city. It isn’t bad overall, and comes across quite clear. The complete lack of voice acting in the game is missed, but is a hidden blessing. There is a solid English text translation for this game, and there is no Japanese voice support in the game but there isn’t an English voice track either. (I could not say if this was the case for the original Japanese game.) So there is no complaining about poor dubbing choices, sound quality, or the usual debate of original soundtrack versus english soundtrack.

The music for the game is pretty standard fare for orchestral music, but it works. In fact, it reminded me a lot of an anime series, set in the same era of Japan as Sakura Taisen (or Sakura Wars as it was known in the US.) Very rousing, with a mix of Oriental instruments and Western themes in the music. Several of the pieces I almost found myself humming almost absent mindedly.

The controls for the game are very simple, and work well. The menus feature the use of the R1 button for pulling up frequently used menus. This button, depending on whether you are in the field screen or in a battle, lets you pick your demon, and quickly jump to other features you might need at the time, such as reloading bullets in mid-combat. This sinlge feature makes it very easy to pop up the menu, hit the feature you want and go right back to combat/exploring with less than five seconds of interruption. Of course, you can press square to launch the normal menu and select almost the same options, but They have done much to innovate. During my play of the game, the other shoulder buttons went largely unused which is okay.

The only thing really holding back the controls feature was the lack of advanced moves (during the period I played the game) in combat. Square was my sword, which had a triple slash or a thrust. Triange let me empty my revolver on a monster. X + Circle let me unleash my combo attack on a monster. That was pretty much it. Even though, the controls were responsive and most of my complaints really lie in the Gameplay section.

When I first played this title, I quickly announced‘GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!!!”, at which point I had to duck the glares coming from the development team and my editor.

“Okay, can I add the phrase ‘and find the bad guys using good ‘ol shoe leather!’ to it?”

The only response I recieved was the sound of crickets.

All humor aside, this is a game of monster capturing, detective work, and keen sword skills in the world of 1920s era Japan. You play the role of a Devil Summoner just recently come into his own in a forest shrine. From there, you join a true gumshoe…and proceed to become Kato to his Green Hornet. the plot starts out simple, after a basic tutorial, with you just going to meet a girl on a bridge. From there it spirals into a deeper story with corrupt businessmen, possession, spunky female reporters, dark bars, and the story of a Devil Summoner who is caught up in it all. As Raido the 14th, you head into the city to find out what part demons have to play in this plot. The game has only minor gameplay elements that put it above your standard advanture / role-playing title, but they come together to make a game that keeps you wanting to know more about what happens.

the main level of gameplay has you moving about the city looking into various cases as dispatched by your less than earnest employer. This is where you encounter the first advance in the RPG genre. Even when moving about normal city streets, you may be drawn into combat against monsters. And just like in the Highlander, no-one else can see the fights because they occur in a shadowy otherplace. As you meet various people to talk to on the streets you can sometimes perform more than the standard ‘Ask’ option on them. These options vary depending on which devil you currently have active in your employ.

Along with moving around the streets, you will frequently move to an overhead map of the city. It is important to note what exit you used from each area, as the overhead map is just as much a maze as the dungeons. There are even have people to talk to and items to find. You even have to pay your way along the streetcar routes to move to the different areas of the city which open up as you play and advance your cases. I was vewry amused when my cat familiar (not a demon) paid my way along the routes several time, and then turned around and demanded it back once I had enouch money at the next station.

The final areas you will explore are the ‘dungeons’ of the game, dark showdy versions of the real world. These areas also open up to you as you go and provide even stronger demons for you to fight against and recruit in your quest.

The demons that you encounter are the most interesting part of this game. Much like Pokemon and Monster Rancher, they define your play style and abilities as you go. When fighting a demon in combat, you can frequently send it into a ‘WEAK’ status and then run up to it and attempt to subdue it by repeatedly pressing the Circle button. If you are successful, you can then summon it to your side and use its unique abilties in and out of combat. There are several classes of demons (each with their own powers, such as the PAGAN series which can read minds in the field) and then varios types under each class. You will frequently awitch out between your various demons to make sure you haven’t missed any details about an area or a conversation with a person.

What really got me with the gameplay is the writing in this game. With the start of the first case, the writing pulled me in to see what was happening in the Daidouji family and the events ensuing. I think the only part of the writing that bothered me was the fact that they did little to translate names from the standard Japanese Romanji. this isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes I was confused about whether I was looking at a place name or someone’s proper name, or a subsection of the larger areas. This didn’t dock any points from the score per-se…but some players of the game may need to take notes early on. The other thing I really disliked was the frequency of fights. Since the game establishes that fights can be anywhere..they occur often. It can be frustrating.

Replay for a title of this type is hard to measure. I can see people going back and trying various monster combinations just to play the title again, or challenging themselves to get through without using a monster type. I unfortunately did not have enough time to play the game through to its completion, so I don’t know if any other modes are opened up once you complete the game. I think with the level of writing in this gmae (much like the story for Digital Devil Saga 2) will have me coming back every six months to a year, just to experience the story again.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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