Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner Review (PS2)

The newest installment from Atlus in the Shin Megami Tensei has just chocked up, full as ever of demon love. As with previous games in the series the action focuses on enchantment and summoning those demon folk. This time out, rather than the familiar menu driven encounters, an all new real time battle dynamic has been introduced into the mix.

Take that my beauty
Beware of mysterious sad looking girls!

However, what drives this game is not new gimmicks but a strong and intriguing story. I was impressed by the restraint by which the characters were introduced. Whereas most game would ensure the main protagonists had vocalized to camera their life story and intent before the first five minutes, Devil Summoner takes its time to get going. We are introduced to the teenage Raidou who is coached through the basics of demon summoning, before setting up shop in Japanís capital . Whereupon an equally teenage customer Kaya phones up with a job for him. This is no ordinary request as she insists he must destroy her before she turns 16. Before this has really sunk in she is abducted. As the game rolls on, you slowly fill out more of the back story of the main cast of characters.

From the off you realize that you will be having a lot, and I mean a lot of encounters with the demons of the city. At times this can seem a bit over-blown, but as the game progresses this becomes less of an issue. There are items that can help you pick and choose these encounters and so lessen the frequency.

The encounters themselves benefit from the inclusion of the real time battle system. These take place in a field like arena that enable you to make use of both the ranged and close combat weapons at Raidouís disposal. Obviously, before too long you summon your chosen demon into battle. Each demon can help you against your foe by their range of abilities and hand to hand attacks. Each has strengths and weaknesses that are associated with their particular life elements. These need to be noted as an attack from an element to which the demon is vulnerable causes more damage and temporarily stuns your little friend. The key to these battles are to use your enemies vulnerabilities to your advantage. Attacking them with appropriate demons can make all the difference.

Ok thanks, I'll just be leaving then!
Visually, battle sequences are as compelling as ever

As you encounter and collect these demons you can build up a nice little entourage. More interestingly is your ability to level up the demons to make the stronger. Additionally there is a customization feature that lets you play Dr Frankenstein and melt different demons together. The aim here is to take two weaker subjects and join them together to make a super demon. On top of all that you can also fuse demonís to Raidouís katana to improve its attack value.

In addition to the demons, there is the now familiar leveling up and item acquisition that we expect from every role playing game. The city is populated with non-player characters that are reasonably believable, although not always that helpful. I often resorted to a trial and error approach until I cracked a particular puzzle.

Graphically, it lives up to the previous outings of the series. Kazuma Kanekoartís direction is as unique and stylized as ever. This comes to the fore in the various depictions of the different elemental alignments of the demons. The city environment also thoughtfully designed and textured, which really makes it a joy to explore. It benefits from the interesting 20th century Japan time period. This has led the designers to include signs of modern life and technology without loosing the sense of a city steeped in ancient tradition. Maybe it was just my over active imagination, but I really found there to be an eerie sense of a city in transition.

However, the age of the PS2 is starting to show a little. Some of the technical decisions that have been made about the presentation do make this feel a decidedly previous generation title. The character models are often shown up for being low on details, and the backdrops which are essentially pre-rendered images result in some scenes feeling a bit flat, where the lighting has not been so well managed.

The story unfolds through 12 chapters that should take somewhere around the 30 hour mark. As we mentioned above at times this moves quite slowly, so a bit of patience is required. But a little perseverance really does reap rewards; the play experience overall is excellent.

You will enjoy this game if you are already a fan and want to see a new twist on the successful formula. If you are happy to have a slow paced story that is sometimes a little obscured by heavy handed play mechanics, then youíll also have a blast with this.

Eeny meeny miney mo, catch a demon let her go!

However, if you are looking for something fast paced, with more of a next generation feel then you should probably look elsewhere for your RPG kicks.

Top Game Moment:
The slowly unfolding intrigue as the game introduces each of the main characters. And the equally slow dawning of realization as the story comes to fruition.

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